Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy, by Robert A. Peterson. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009. Pp xi + 239. $14.99. Soft cover. ISBN 9781596380431. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.
Do you question whether God will certainly preserve you in your faith to the end of your life? Are you afraid of falling away from His saving grace?
Confessing Reformed believers know that, due to God’s irresistible grace, this is not possible. But where in the Bible are we assured of this? And what of the Arminian spin on various Scripture texts, making them appear to teach that my preservation depends on my own faithfulness? And what is my answer to Satan, when he whispers powerfully in my ear that I, for whom Christ died, might not get to heaven after all?
In this book, Robert A. Peterson examines 18 Scripture passages that teach that God preserves His people, and 24 Scripture passages that warn God’s people against apostasy. All of these are New Testament texts, except that in chapter 2 he examines the subject of preservation and apostasy in the Old Testament. I recommend this book to all who struggle with the questions I raised above.
I also recommend this book to all who desire to grow in their faith in God’s sovereign work of preserving His people and of keeping us from the apostasy of which He warns us. I recommend this book for several reasons.
1. It treats doctrines that are precious to the true Reformed believer.
This is apparent from the subtitle of the book: “Preservation and Apostasy.” These doctrines are precious inasmuch as they are part of God’s revealed will to us; but they are also precious as they assure us of our salvation.
Of course, apostasy is an unsettling reality, and the suggestion of it frightens some into thinking that perhaps they will fall away. In fact, God teaches His true children about the reality of apostasy, in part to assure them that they will not fall away, even when they see others around them renouncing the doctrines that they once claimed to believe.
2. It is doctrinally sound.
While a discerning Reformed reader might find some value in reading a book that is not doctrinally sound, anyone who struggles with his understanding of God’s preserving grace will certainly want to read a book that is doctrinally sound. This book gives evidence that Robert Peterson is committed to the sovereignty of God. He sees that God’s preservation of Israel as a nation, even when she was unfaithful to Him, was rooted in His “choice of and love for his people” as well as His “covenant faithfulness” (15). Also the faith of the New Testament believer flows from election, rather than being the cause of election (34). Nor is our faith the reason for our perseverance (93). One major conclusion that he draws in the last chapter is that “God’s preservation is the cause of our perseverance” (202).
In the section on apostasy, Peterson correctly explains that anyone who today professes the Christian faith, but later renounces that confession, or does not end up going to heaven, never was truly saved (103, 116). He correctly notes that the Spirit’s leaving king Saul (I Sam. 16:14) means that Saul lost, not his salvation, but his divine power to function as king (24). And he is correct in teaching that the true believing child of God will never apostatize, so as to lose salvation (175). This does not mean that the warnings against apostasy are irrelevant to us. As a body, God’s people might compromise on or minimize the importance of certain doctrines, thus beginning the road to apostasy. So we need these warnings, better to guard against false teachers who would lead us astray.
At this point I must add that I did not agree with every aspect of Peterson’s interpretation of certain passages. For example, his idea that Romans 11:20-22speaks only of judgment on Jews or Gentiles as abody, and that Paul does not have individuals in mind, is not correct. Nor did I agree with every statement that Peterson made in the book. Some statements the discerning Reformed believer would certainly question as to their doctrinal accuracy.
However, these questionable statements are few. And never do they weaken Peterson’s insistence on God’s sovereign grace in preservation. Always Peterson’s basic understanding of each text, and his use of that text to defend the doctrine of preservation, and his theology of God’s preserving work, are soundly Reformed.
3. It not only helps the reader understand the proper meaning of a passage, but it also shows how the passage does not teach the Arminian view.
In treating the various Bible passages, Peterson not only refers to them, but spends time explaining them. Then he answers objections to the Arminian explanation of the text, which answers are also helpful to the reader. Peterson explicitly rejects the Arminian view of preservation, and any interpretation of a Bible passage that supports the Arminian view.
4. It is easily read.
Peterson’s goal in this book is to explain the scriptural evidence for a doctrinal truth with appeal to a wide audience. To this end he does not use any Hebrew or Greek terms, and he writes in an easily readable style. It is for this reason that I recommend this book to the readership of the Standard Bearer.
5. It includes questions for study and reflection.
At the end of the book, in addition to an index and some additional resources on the topics of preservation and apostasy, one finds a list of six questions regarding the contents of each chapter of the book. Answering the questions will enable the reader better to digest the contents of the book. This part of the book also makes it useful for pastoral guidance of one who struggles with assurance of his preservation.
Robert A. Peterson is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO (the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America). This book is part of the series, “Explorations in Biblical Theology,” in which other doctrinal subjects are treated on the basis of Scripture and with appeal to a wide audience. The book is available at the publisher’s website, www.prpbooks.com, or for a discounted price atwww.amazon.com and www.christianbook.com.