Assurance of Salvation: Implications of a New Testament Theology of Hope

By Matthew C. Hoskinson
Greenville, S.C. : BJU Press (2010). 228 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 243-245

After an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion, one comes to the end of a very thorough examination of passages on hope in the NT. Current views have been critiqued. Tables and charts make their contribution to understanding what is being explained or outlined. An extensive set of instructive footnotes makes its mark in that the bulk of the data which would be in the main text of a dissertation but which obviously became footnotes. At times, it seemed that the comment made in the footnote was only indirectly related to the subject matter, but the comment showed the author’s awareness of the original languages and the movement of thought/argument in a biblical book/epistle, if not also the debates through the ages. The contemporary question of too many Christians is, “Do I know for sure that I will spend eternity with God?

The history of assurance begins with the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas, followed by those of Martin Luther, of John Calvin, and of John Wesley. These four theologians were chosen because contemporary opinions regarding assurance grow out of the views held by these scholars (50). Disagreements among the scholars today result in three major views being identified, namely, Present Only View (POV), the Time of Conversion View (TofC), and the Composite View (CV), all of which headings or labels were original with the author (51). The major difference between the views is that the POV rejects the idea of present assurance of final salvation being possible. The other two views agree that it is possible (51). Only the objective promises of God form the basis for assurance, so says TofC. The believer’s life style after conversion is rejected as a means of assurance. The CV, as its label suggests, synthesizes the other two views. The objective and subjective are combined, causing some debate with the other two (52).

Chapter Two then goes on to explain the three views in more detail. POV, as anticipated, holds to genuine believers falling from grace and not persevering in faith and obedience, and asserts that one cannot know whether or not he is part of the elect. TofC proclaims the objective work of Christ as the only basis for assurance (57). The linkage between faith and assurance is strong enough to declare that assurance is of the essence of saving faith, and saving faith on the other hand is necessarily antecedent to good works (62). Inserted at the end of Chapter Two (71) is a very helpful diagram showing how the three views relate to the objective and subjective “Means of Assurance” and the possibility or impossibility of having “Security of Final Salvation.”

From this point on the author states his intention to evaluate the three views in the light of the biblical theology of hope and to pinpoint the one closest to Scripture. Four chapters examine “hope.” “Abraham and Hope” which basically gives consideration to Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans 4 and then in Hebrews 6 (ch. 3). “Hope” in the NT Historical Texts (ch. 4), is followed by “Hope in the Paul’s Writings” (ch. 5) and closed off with “Hope in the General Epistles” (ch. 6). Seven tables on references to hope under various categories appear in each of the four chapters (74, 75, 101, 107-8, 135, 198-99, 206-7), as noted above, making their contribution to the clarity of what is being expressed. The lengthy footnotes are almost intimidating at first, but then one recognizes that the format allows for a swift reading of the material, and if need be, the reader can stop and wade through the information given in the notes.. Hoskinson well observes that Abraham’s life proves that growth is fundamental to justifying faith. Constantly, points made from the text are applied to one or more items in the different views. A comparative critique is conducted through these chapters as well. The study of hope in Chapter Four introduces the reader to five mundane references in Luke and Acts, two OT citations, and then the rest of the occurrences being treated under “Redemptive/Salvific Hope” and under the heading “Hope as a Cornerstone in Paul’s Defense.” The latter is a subset of the former heading, since it is a reference to his redemptive hope, although stated while defending himself before the authorities no less than four times (127). His hope for the resurrection was one of the grounds for his incarceration. His message is consistent with the Word of God:. His hope for the future is based upon the Truth.

Note is made too of the Messiah having first to rise from the dead. God’s promises of the future provide hope. In the writings of Paul hope is to be found mentioned numerous times (134-68). A wealth of information on this topic fills these pages. The table of references shows 45 under five categories, which includes hope and the believer’s conversion, sanctification, and eschatological future. Hope as a divine gift and individual/mundane references are also noted. This is a ‘rich’ section and worthy of being read slowly and thoughtfully with Bible and Greek text at hand. Two broad statements succinctly summarize the teaching in the Pauline writings: “God is the originator of the believer’s hope,” and “The believer’s hope is inextricably tied to his perseverance in faith and obedience” (167).

The job would be left incomplete were the examination of hope in the General Epistles to be omitted. Fourteen references from Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John receive attention.

The book’s conclusion reviews the contemporary views spelled out on its pages. An appendix on assurance as of the essence of saving faith closes off the book which is a pleasure to read. The final sentence of Chapter 6 is a worthy ending to this review: “[F]ar from being irreconcilable foes, the promises of God and the endurance of the Christian form a twofold means by which the believer may enjoy present assurance of his final salvation” (195). Preach it!