Book Review: Our Secure Salvation, by Robert A. Peterson
One of the most central questions related to the daily, practical living out of the Christian life, in any age, is that of preservation and apostasy â€“ May I be sure of final victory over sin, the flesh, and the devil? If so, for what reasons and upon what basis? What can I do today to increase my assurance of final salvation? And what if I apostasize? If I have come to Christ with genuine faith, can I fall away later and lose my salvation? These and similar other questions have plagued (and sometimes paralyzed!) believers in Christ throughout Church history. Beliefs about the security of salvation in Christ and the reasons for that security (or lack of it) have a greater impact upon the everyday experience of Christians all across the world than just about any other theological topic. Wrong beliefs may lead to a lifetime of fear and frantic, works-based endeavors, on the one hand, or a casual flippancy and carelessness, on the other â€“ but right beliefs are certainly one great means of energizing humble, faithful, joyful perseverance in the truth of the gospel and the fruit of good works. Robert Peterson's biblical-theological treatment of the themes of preservation and apostasy, Our Secure Salvation, has found just the right balance: in this substantial and yet accessible volume, Peterson deals competently with the many strong preservation texts and the sobering apostasy texts alike, and brings them all together in a coherent and mutually-supportive whole.
Dealing with four basic blocks of text: the Old Testament, the Gospels and Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and the General Epistles and Revelation, Peterson first moves in clear, logical progression through the multitude of texts dealing with preservation; then, through the equally numerous texts dealing with apostasy and its certain end of eternal torment; and finally, he ties all the data together in a unified overview. The discussion and exegesis throughout is brief, to the point, and easy to follow, but it is also up to date, deals fairly and extensively with opposing viewpoints, and is not loath to quote from sources friendly to his thesis. The balance of academics and forthright, non-technical presentation is a perfect fit for any serious-minded Christian who struggles with assurance of salvation, regardless of his level of theological training.
The capstone of Peterson's book is his last chapter, entitled, â€œConnecting the Dotsâ€. This chapter contains a summary of his findings, for one thing; but more than that, it also brings together all of the seemingly-contradictory bits of information in a way that they can be understood in their manifold and consistent inter-relationships, and then applies that full-orbed understanding to the Christian's psyche. Sin, Satan, fears, doubts, sorrow over failures, anxiety over future temptations â€“ these all afflict the soul of Christians in many ways. How can such an afflicted believer gain hope and peace in the gospel? Well, Peterson's analysis seems directed specifically toward answering those questions. His conclusions are not just abstract, they are experimental (in the old, Puritan sense of the word).
Peterson gives four reasons to vindicate his attention to his themes: 1) the Bible often speaks of preservation and apostasy; 2) God uses preservation to assure his children; 3) God teaches his children the need to persevere to the end; 4) God warns his children of the danger of apostasy. These are the conclusions that he has spent the better part of his book laboring to establish. But at the end of his book, he takes another step, and traces out in brief the relationships between these themes â€“ how does God use the doctrine of preservation to assure his children, for instance? By basing that doctrine, not on our lives of fruitfulness, but upon the roles of the Trinity in salvation, the attributes of the godhead, the saving acts of Christ, the faithfulness of God's promise. This foundation paves the way for understanding the nature of our need to persevere, and the complex relationship between perseverance as a fruit of divine preservation, on the one hand, and a necessary means of divine preservation, on the other. The apostasy warnings, given in the light of this basic paradigm, have several vital functions and purposes as well, which Peterson draws out â€“ in sum, all the parts of a complex whole are given an appropriate place, and the result is a solid foundation for pursuing a godly life that is serious and sober, but also joyfully and assuredly rooted in the certain truths of the gospel.
Peterson ends with a reference to what was perhaps the most compelling chapter of the book â€“ his treatment of the Hebrews warning passages, and in particular the warning found in 5:11 â€“ 6:12. In this justly famous passage, Peterson finds not just one of the strongest warnings against apostasy, but also (although not quite so well known!) one of the strongest assurances of preservation. In fact, the four joint themes of perseverance, apostasy, assurance, and preservation are all found in full and harmonious expression in this one passage. Just this one chapter on the warnings in Hebrews would be well worth the reading.
The Church is full of Christians who are growing dull of hearing, and need to be woken up by the serious apostasy texts of scripture; it is also full of insecure, struggling, and doubting Christians who desperately need their faith in the immutable nature, promises, and saving acts of God to increase. Peterson's book deals fairly and in context with both of these widespread biblical themes; and therefore, it is a recommended book for believers whose personality, background, and theological underpinnings tend to cast them into either one of these dangerous and potentially deadly errors.