Review of Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews

            In the last several years, there has been a trend of books that have come out covering several different perspectives on some pretty divisive issues; baptism, eschatology and so forth. This book while called four views almost represents five views, because in Bateman’s introduction he cannot help but present his own view on the text. The work itself covers four major positions both the classical views of Arminianism (Grant R. Osborne) and Calvinism (Buist M. Fanning), along with a Wesleyan Arminian (Gareth L. Cockerill) view, and a modified reformed perspective (Randall C. Gleason).
            For each position there is a well-respected scholar who argues his position and each also has the chance to refute the other positions mentioned in the book in another short article. By the end of the book each author has offered us close to 75-100 pages of their view on these passages of Scripture.  While there are four major voices that are heard throughout this work we cannot forget about the General Editor Herbert W. Bateman, and the man who has the final word George H. Guthrie.
            Right now you may be asking yourself “What are warning passages, and why are they such a big deal?” According to Bateman “… the warning passages clearly force us to address the issue of assurance and the doctrine of eternal security…. The biblical theologians who contributed to this book believe that the recipients are true believers.”[1]These are going to be some of the major areas this review is going to be focusing upon.  While there are four views expressed in this work, it is this author’s intention to focus on the classical views.
The Classic Arminian View
            Osborne starts his discussion on the warning passages by first drawing a line in the sand in regards to the classic Arminian view verses the classic Calvinist perspective. Once he has established his a priori he moves into his understanding of some of the most controversial verses found in the NT. One topic that is of great importance to Osborne and the other authors as well is whether or not the recipients of the letter are truly followers of Christ or not. For example Osborne says, “This fits well the descriptions above; indeed, it is hard to see this language as fitting those who are members of the church but not actually saved. Such strong depictions can hardly describe such people—they must be actual believers.”[2]
            Another area he seems to concentrate on for a period of time is the greater to lesser argument that can be found throughout the book of Hebrews; he makes it a point to show the areas of similarity and difference between the OT and the NT. In one reference to these differences Osborne states, “What they are disregarding is “so great a salvation,” meaning “so much greater” than the Torah.”[3]
            The greatest concern of the book and for anyone no matter what angle you chose to look at this from is the thought of apostasy. He feels that there is the chance for those who have made a profession of faith could actually tergiversate from the faith they have claimed to be their own. According to Osborne, “While the promise remains, the danger is quit real, for some might fail to receive the promise due to unbelief.”[4]In a section from pages 111-116 he tackles what he calls the central passage of the whole argument Hebrews 6:4-8. Osborne also calls this the “strongest warning passage in Scripture.”[5]If all we had to go on was Osborne’s point of view he makes a very strong argument, however, we have other author’s to consider and that is what we will do now.
The Classic Reformed (Calvinist) View
            Even though Buist M. Fanning’s section is called the classical reformed view there would be some that may disagree, so let’s get that out in the open from the start.  There is much to be appreciated from his view and the way he approached the topic as a whole. Fanning did not address each section one piece at a time but rather he addressed it topic by topic in an effort to “synthesize” the material. Fanning’s very first sentence lets the reader know that this is not going to be an easy process, but one to be taken seriously. He says, “In most Reformed circles the warnings of Hebrews requires a “solution,” because they seem to go against our larger doctrinal stance regarding security of salvation.”[6]
            Unlike some of his counterparts in this work Fanning wants us to view the whole theology of the work, and not piece by piece; therefore forcing us to have to find ways that synthesize the material to make sense as an entire literary piece (or sermon in this case).  He says, “The warning passages in Hebrews are best approached by considering the interpretation of four or five elements or themes they all have in common.”[7]  As any first year Bible student would tell you this is a proper way to do exegesis, Fanning makes an excellent point when he says, “What is to be avoided at all cost is a firm decision about the sense of one passage or one element in isolation, which is then imposed upon all the others.”[8]
            Just as Osborne, Fanning feels that it is vital to determine the status of the audience to whom the pastor of Hebrews is writing. It is my understanding (which could be wrong) that Fanning feels that these are not true Christians. One line of argument that is made is “Jesus’ eternal priesthood is said to provide complete and lasting security for his people.”[9]It should be noted that there are some very important grammatical observations that need to be kept in mind when reading all of the warning passages.  Several of them when dealing with the falling away and apostasy are predominantly written in the third person, while the exhortations are frequently written in the first and second person.[10]Fanning in his final summation says, “…those who repudiate Christ thereby give evidence that they have never partaken in the benefits of Christ’s cleansing sacrifice….”[11]
            This work as a whole is very well executed, but is at points very in accessible to people who have no background in the original languages.  The book itself could have been much shorter had the introduction been scaled back 80 pages seems a little excessive for an introduction in my opinion. For someone working on an exegetical work on the warning passages this book could very easy be an invaluable tool. But as mentioned previously by Fanning we should not enter into this without the willingness to review all the material before making a snap judgment.
While I personally do not agree with Osborne’s view there are some things that can be taken away from his essay. Such as, “In Hebrews, in fact, there are two antidotes to apostasy: the vertical side, the confession of our hope before God; and the horizontal side, the involvement of community in the life of the individual believer.”[12]He also focuses on one specific section that speaks of the lack of motivation where the pastor ultimately calls the hearers lazy, sluggish, dull, dim witted or just plain negligent.[13]
Fanning near the beginning of his essay makes a statement that gave me a greater respect for an author whom I honestly had never heard of. He says, “In the process I want to be held accountable to handle the biblical text responsibly and to focus on the issues and not pursue personal or belittling attacks.”[14]
For me Fanning offers the best reasoning and gives us a well-rounded approach to show that just as people in a church today could be unbelievers the same was possible in the ancient church the pastor was writing to. I have no qualms in saying that I am a full five point Calvinist and in reading this work I was challenged by the different points of view, but ultimately the presentation made by Fanning was the best presented. Even though he admitted there were challenges to how his point of view worked he offered a clear and well arguable points to substantiate it. This is a work easily recommended to someone who is struggling with the topics covered: apostasy, eternal security and so much more.


<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY <![endif]–>Bateman, Herebert W. ed., and et. al, . Four Views on the Warining Passages in Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2007.

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[1] Herebert W.Bateman IV, ed., and et. al, . Four Views on the Warining Passages in Hebrews. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2007)24.
[2] Ibid., 90.
[3] Ibid., 93
[4] Ibid., 103.
[5] Ibid., 114.
[6] Ibid., 172.
[7] Ibid., 175.
[8] Ibid., 176.
[9] Ibid., 198.
[10] Ibid., 192.
[11] Ibid., 219.
[12] Ibid., 99.
[13] Ibid., 108.
[14] Ibid., 174-75.


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