In response to John L. Drury’s review of Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities I was inspired to explore the difference between Assurance and Security.
As a United Methodist pastor I pastor churches in which theology has, for generations, usually been whittled down to something like “God loves you,” “Be nice,” “Don’t judge.” With this “foundation,” my folks have no means to deal with the baptists (usually the biggest herd here in E. Texas) have to say about “once saved always saved,” and how THEY believe it and Methodists don’t.
When I teach on the subject I observe that from a phenomenalistic point of view, we all have the experience of people who at one time in their lives appear to be self-avowed, practicing Christians, clearly people of faith, who later in life would claim no such thing. Baptists (who are at least 3 point Calvinists around here) would say that person was never really saved but was just “fooling himself,” or “playing games with God.” The Methodist – if he or she said anything – would stereotypically describe the person as “falling from grace,” or “backsliding.” Same phenomenon, two explanations.
A quick glance at the bible doesn’t help much here – both sets of ideas can be found fairly easily.
In this context, however, the common baptist approach to “eternal security” seems to undermine “assurance.” Eternal security is something I can have – in theory – but I cannot have assurance that I have it, because it is always possible that I am “fooling myself” or “playing games with God.”
Wesleyan theology (moving beyond the bare folk theology of many contemporary Methodists) puts its pivit foot on assurance rather than “eternal security.” Through the work and witness of the Spirit, the believer can have assurance of salvation. Can this assuance ever be clouded? Yes, plainly. Can one lose the acceptance of God? I think the Wesleyan tradition (at its best) is fuzzy here.
How can it possibly be good to be fuzzy on such an important subject? My take is that such fuzziness is a proper stance to take in light of the biblical teaching and its contrast with the modern expectation of certainty. Descartes and his successors (he has many children in theology) tell us he need certainty – even absolute certainty. From what I see of the way this modern epistemological yearning has worked itself out, it has been reduced to absurdity. Sure you can have certainty – if you go no further than solipsism.
So – to sum up all this verbiage, I see a bi-polar doctrine of Assurance/Security, with one tradition putting its foot down on one pole, and the other tradition on the other pole.