Andrew Wilson on Perseverance

I posted a bit about perseverance a couple of years back, when I was running a course on the doctrine of salvation. One of the papers I read at the time as part of my preparation was a masters thesis by Andrew Wilson, who argued for a “loss of reward” interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews, a position I find unconvincing (although I firmly agree with the first of his concluding points – that the warnings address Christians).

So I was interested to notice that he has a new paper out in the Tyndale bulletin, which focuses in on the interpretation of Hebrews 3:6b and 3:14, and seems to reflect a shift in his understanding of Hebrews. The verses in question are important because of their “if X then Y” grammatical structure:

And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. Heb 3:6b (NIV 2011)

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Heb 3:14 (NIV 2011)

Whilst the paper contains some fairly complex technical discussion, the basic issue boils down to whether these are “cause-to-effect” or “evidence-to-inference” conditionals. In other words, does holding firmly to the end cause us to be sharers in Christ (an Arminian approach), or is it evidence that we are already sharers in Christ (a Calvinist approach)?

Both options quickly run into problems – the first seems to make a present reality dependent on future event, while the second seems to undermine the warning passages later in the book.

I won’t attempt to summarise the whole argument, but the conclusion is that the evidence-to-inference interpretation is preferable, and that the objections to it can be answered by the possibility that the warnings are in fact a means to our perseverance. At this point he is in agreement with Schreiner, whose book I found very helpful. Anyway, it’s well worth a read if you get the chance, and you can join the discussion on the what you think matters blog.

Book Review – GodStories (Andrew Wilson)

After thoroughly enjoying Andrew Wilson’s previous book, Incomparable, I was very much looking forward to getting my hands on this one. In many ways, the format is very similar. There are lots of short three or four page chapters, each of which can be read standalone as a daily devotion. Interspersed throughout the book are “coffee breaks” which encourage you to reflect a while on what you have been learning.

The subject of GodStories is the gospel. The book presents the gospel as one big story, broken into lots of little stories. At first I thought this meant it would be a metanarrative type book, similar to Vaughan Robert’s God’s Big Picture, but although Wilson moves through the Bible in a roughly chronological manner, each of the little chapters is self-contained, and often draws out the New Testament fulfilment of the Old Testament stories immediately.

As with Incomparable, the book is written in a way that will be very accessible to teens and twenties, with plenty of illustrations drawn from contemporary films and culture. The book is broken up into five “acts” (a nod to Tom Wright?), which are:

  1. Creation and Fall
  2. Israel and History
  3. Poets and Prophets
  4. Jesus and Rescue
  5. Restoration and Hope

As well as taking you through some of the main storyline of the Old Testament (creation, fall, flood, Abraham, tabernacle etc), he dips into the prophets, again making some of the big themes from these difficult biblical books very easy to grasp. A number of chapters echoed the emphases of Chris Wright in his superb “Mission of God” book. Also there are shades of Tom Wright as he highlights similarities in the rhetoric used by the Roman empire to describe the emperor to those used by Luke and other New Testament writers.

The longest Act, “Jesus and Rescue” features several chapters dealing with various aspects of the atonement. There is some excellent material here, and Wilson is not afraid to tackle some theological hot potatoes such as penal substitution and the New Perspective on Paul. Whilst the majority of this book is theologically non-controversial, he’s not afraid to let his distinctives show from time to time.

One of his greatest strengths is to take deep theological truths and present them in a very straightforward manner, yet without dumbing them down. Some of his illustrations are brilliant, and I certainly plan to make use of a few of them for in my own teaching. Overall, this is a great follow-up to Incomparable, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from him.