A Review of “The Race Set Before Us” by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday

Christians have, for generations, wrestled with the idea of the assurance of salvation. Can Christians lose their salvation? What is the relationship between the promises of salvation and the warnings of apostasy? Is there any hope of confident security in our salvation? These are all important, recurring questions that each generation in the church must wrestle with afresh. In The Race Set Before Us, Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday offer a truly fresh perspective on the subject. This book looks at an old subject with fresh eyes and offers a compelling theological conclusion. That freshness is most evidently seen in their willingness to let the text of Scripture itself determine the theological conclusions.

Over the centuries of debate and discussion four dominant views to the questions of perseverance and assurance have developed: (1) loss of salvation; (2) loss of reward; (3) tests of genuineness; and (4) hypothetical loss of salvation. Each view approaches the subject from within a certain theological conclusion. It is precisely because each view insists on a predetermined conclusion that Schreiner and Caneday believe they fail to rightly understand the warning passages of Scripture. The author’s write:

None of the advocates of the four popular views arrive at their interpretations of biblical warnings on the basis of the warning passages themselves. Rather, they read the warning passages in view of their prior assumptions concerning the possibility of falling away and perishing under God’s wrath. Because they all seek to protect their prior conclusions concerning falling away, whether consciously or not, all four views fail to ask the right question concerning biblical warnings. We believe the right question concerns the function of biblical warnings in relation to biblical promises. The question does not seem to occur to those who adopt one of the four popular interpretations of biblical warnings. (39)

As the writers see it, the advocates of the other views superimpose the God’s warnings onto God’s promises, or superimpose God’s promises onto His warnings, thereby limiting their logical and obvious function. Instead, Schriener and Caneday see that the promises and the warnings each have their distinct function and ought to be allowed to accomplish what they were designed to do. In particular they believe that the warnings and promises both serve to illicit belief in God, the function to preserve faith in their own distinct fashion.

It is the author’s unique contribution to this discussion is found in their refusal to be limited by a logical resolution to the tension that exists between the promises of God and the warnings of God. They want to emphasize the distinct rhetorical functions of each. The temptation for many scholars, pastors, and Christians is to minimize the impact of either the promises or warnings by emphasizing the significance of the others. So, Arminians, for example, will interpret the promise passages through the lens of the warning passages. Calvinists, on the flip side, will interpret the warning passages through the lens of the promise passages. In each case they fail to let the text speak for itself. Schreiner and Caneday do a compelling job of honest exposition and allowing the text to define our theological conclusions.

The book is meaty. It is hailed as a “Biblical theology of perseverance and assurance,” though it focuses solely on the New Testament. The authors spend the initial three chapters developing the support for their argument. Chapter four is the most important of the chapters as it develops their theological and expositional conclusions most thoroughly. The book concludes, then, with some wise pastoral insights.

Overall this is a brilliant and fresh look at an important and common issue within theological discussions, and church life. Schreiner and Caneday remind us to let the text determine our theology and they make a compelling case for a new take on the subject of assurance. I highly recommend The Race Set Before Us. Whether you draw the same conclusions as the authors or not you will be challenged by their exegesis and spurred on to more diligent study.

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