Thomas R. Schreiner. Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 128 pp. $10.61.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is an important teaching in the word of God. At the same time, this doctrine is often misunderstood or caricatured to the detriment of those who misunderstand it. Thomas Schreiner, author and seminary professor, attempts to clarify this doctrine in a simple and accessible way in Run to Win the Prize.
Run to Win the Prize is a condensed and simplified version of a larger work entitled The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Schreiner and Caneday. At the same time, Run to Win the Prize is an attempt by Schreiner to respond to some misconceptions about the conclusions of the larger and more exhaustive work on the topic. But readers need not fear that this shorter version is unhelpful. Schreiner uses the smaller book size to great effect as he helps readers to consider some very important perspectives on perseverance.
First, Schreiner insists that the New Testament does teach perseverance. He argues that a person genuinely saved by God will remain saved. At no point does Schreiner allow for a view that holds that we keep ourselves saved by good works—a form of legalistic works righteousness. Nor does Schreiner ever offer a view that Christians who are genuine Christians can ever end up ultimately lost.
Sometimes, when people hear a strong message of eternal security for the saved, they will respond with a twisting caricature of the doctrine. Opponents will claim that a person can pray a prayer, be saved, and then live however sinfully they want without consequence. Schreiner’s work speaks boldly against this view by arguing that the warning passages in Scripture are very real, very serious, and intended for believers.
Many Christians interpret passages such as the opening verses of Hebrews 6 as passages intended for people considering Christianity, but who are not yet converted. They, if they turn from grace, will be lost. Others suggest that the warning texts teach that someone can lose their salvation by intentionally walking away. Schreiner offers a third option.
Schreiner suggests that the warning passages are genuinely for Christians. He argues that the passages say exactly what they want to say, warning that a believer who intentionally turns from Christ and walks away will be lost. But Schreiner adds the biblical perspective that no genuine believer actually will make such a turn against the Lord. Schreiner argues that the warnings, genuine warnings, are means that the Lord uses to keep genuine believers. Like warnings on bottles of poison that declare to a person, “If you drink this you will die,” the warnings in Scripture, Schreiner argues, tell believers that if they turn from Jesus they will die. And, Schreiner argues, just as you and I would never drink the poison because of the warning, neither will genuine Christians ever turn against Christ so as to fall away eternally.
Schreiner also addresses briefly the misconception that an understanding of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints leads to a Wesleyan doctrine of perfectionism. The author is clear that he is not in any way teaching any form of sinless perfection among saints before the eschaton. Instead, he argues that believers are warned by God and kept by God. Believers will grow and be sanctified. But Believers will not be perfected until they leave this life.
I found Run to Win the Prize to be thoughtful, encouraging, and helpful. Personally, I am not certain that I agree with Dr. Schreiner regarding the audience for all of the warning passages. I believe it is possible that some of the passages are for those who have been exposed to Christianity, are considering it, are understanding its truth, but who are tempted to reject Jesus and walk to the Jewish temple religion (obviously pre AD 70). But, even if I disagree there, I must be humble enough to allow Dr. Schreiner to cause me to think my conclusions through thoroughly.
For sure, this book is a great help for believers in showing us that a true understanding of eternal security, perseverance of the saints, does not do away with our call to obedience and sanctification. Schreiner’s book sounds a clear call for all saints to recognize that God warns us sternly to remain in the faith, and God works in us, even using those warnings, to keep us in the faith.