Kept By the Power of God:
A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away
by I. Howard Marshall
One of the recent publications which has been raising a furor in evangelical circles is this book by I. Howard Marshall. In the “Forward,” Clark H. Pinnock said,
“The form of the book is simple and straightforward. The author does exactly what is needed to be done. He conducts a historical-grammatical investigation of all the Scriptural materials which treat the subject of apostasy and falling away, and produces ample evidence to support his thesis that the security of the believer is conditioned upon his faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It is simply not possible to maintain that the warnings in the Bible against turning away from the truth describe an imaginary or hypothetical danger. They are addressed to us all, and we all must heed them. Dr. Marshall’s case rests on solid exegetical foundations, and is not to be set aside on dogmatic or a priori grounds. It is very common in this area of doctrine to hear people arguing from election or predestination, or Irresistible grace so as to reach the opposite conclusion. But this will not do. To the word and to the testimony. Unless Dr. Marshall can be refuted exegetically, he cannot be refuted at all. The evidence of Scripture cannot be cancelled by the systems of men” (p. 9).
Pinnock has well analyzed Marshall’s book in this foreword. Marshall’s book systematically examines all of the passages in the New Testament pertinent to the possibility of apostasy and to the security of the believer. In his examination of these passages, Marshall demanded that presuppositions from Calvinism cannot be allowed to influence the verdict of the scriptures themselves. He charged that Calvinists generally prove [he doctrine of perseverance from election or irresistible grace and not from the scriptures themselves. Thus, he called for a reexamination of the scriptures. Beginning with Old Testament and Jewish backgrounds, Marshall proceeded to examine the pertinent passages in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, epistles of Paul, Hebrews, catholic epistles and Johannine literature to see what the scriptures themselves say about the possibility of apostasy.
In his conclusion, Marshall said,
“In our study we have found repeatedly that the way to persevere Is simply-by persevering. The believer is not told that he is one of the elect and therefore cannot fall away, nor Is there any particular character of his faith which indicates that he is the kind of person who cannot fall away. He is simply told to continue in obedience and faith and to trust in the God who will keep him from falling. He perseveres by persevering. Perseverance is not some particular quality of faith or something to be added to faith, but the fact that faith continues” (p. 208).
Thus, Marshall has denied the Calvinistic doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy. Calvinists, consequently, are not very impressed with Marshall’s book. James M. Boice, “pastor” of the Tenth’ Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, reviewing the book for Eternity magazine, said,
“The express purpose of this expanded doctoral thesis by a lecturer in New Testament exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, is to go beyond the Calvinist-Arminian stalemate on matters of backsliding, perseverance, apostasy, free will, and irresistible grace. But this is just what it does not do. It certainly does not go beyond Calvinism. It merely abandons it” (October, 1975, p. 52).
Marshall’s book is well worth the price that it costs. However, I felt that the author used too much space in considering the options suggested by modernism in his book. I cannot see that those who do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God have much concern about what the Bible says on any subject so far as their faith is concerned. Their faith does not rest on the scriptures. Notwithstanding this minor criticism, the book is well worth your purchase price. That other students of the New Testament reach the same conclusion regarding the possibility of apostasy as we do is encouraging.
Truth Magazine, XX:3, p. 13-14
January 15, 1976