February 03, 2010

I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God

In this classic study (published originally in 1969 and republished with a new substantive epilogue in 1995), Marshall looks at a key theological issue in the New Testament, the perseverance of believers. In a setting of persecution, the question of perseverance is one that arises often in the NT texts, and it is an important pastoral issue still today. But it is also extremely useful as a lens through which to view the NT understanding of salvation, election, judgment, and many other interconnected ideas. In short, it is a vital test case, or maybe better put, it is essential data for a robust NT doctrine of God and of salvation.

Marshall digs in to the relevant NT texts by first investigating the OT and Jewish background concerning perseverance. He then moves through the various corpora in the NT: the Synoptics, Acts, Paul, Pastorals (may or may not be by Paul, but treated separately from though with an eye toward the undisputed Pauline corpus), Hebrews, the Catholics, and the Johannine literature. This systematic study is largely exegetical, as Marshall works carefully with the individual texts on their own before summing up each author's perspective.

Marshall then brings all of this data to bear on a conclusion: "We can say firmly that, while it is possible for a Christian to fail to persevere after a genuine experience of salvation, yet, with all the promises of a faithful God to sustain those who trust in Him, the main emphasis of the New Testament is on confidence and assurance of final salvation" (210). In short, while we can't explain away the possibility of falling away, believers may be "confident of persevering through the power of God" (199).

I am greatly appreciative of Marshall's study. I think it is a wonderful exegetical survey of this important area. And I think it provides an important testimony to the work of God in salvation. It obviously has much bearing on the Calvinist-Arminian debate (though Marshall prefers the designation "non-Calvinist" in this context because the second position isn't necessarily in conformity with Arminius). He has many insightful discussions of election, calling, monergism vs synergism, and some of the other relevant theological areas that are touched on by this topic. I greatly benefited from this book, and think Marshall has taken a robust, biblical line on the question of perseverance and, more broadly, on God's working in salvation.

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