Ask A Theologian – Once Saved, Always Saved
Written By Boston Avenue
Transitioning from the Baptist faith has given me many ways to think and believe differently. I struggle with the fact that Methodists believe they do not have the assurance of “once saved, always saved.” While disagreeing with some of what Baptists believe, it’s really hard to surrender my confidence in Jesus not giving me everlasting life. What am I missing?
Thanks for this question. There is a lot in those few sentences!
On the matter of assurance of salvation: John Wesley struggled with an elusive experience of assurance all of his life. When he had his famous “heart strangely warmed” experience, he seemed to feel what he so envied in the calm Moravians he observed during their storm-tossed ship journey to the American colonies. But soon after his heart-warming experience, he doubted again. Wesley knew God’s grace is powerful, but he rejected that grace overpowers human assent, a willed or at least yielded response.
But Wesley also rejected the “quietism” of the Moravians, their waiting for God to work in them. Rather, Wesley’s faith was an activist one. While he rejected that faith is earned through good works, his life of relentless Christian activism, as well as his writing, are evidences he believed one should act as if one is saved. Indeed, during one of his periods of doubting his eternal status, he was advised to act first (“preach faith”), and faith would be strengthened. In other words, Wesley acted as a saved person should act, according to his understanding: doing all the good he could, for as long as he could, in all the ways he could. In Wesley’s view, such a person is of much greater use to God than one who claims to be saved but acts as if grace was not in them. Thus, based on observed experience, Wesley could see people who claimed salvation but did not evidence salvation in their actions. In my opinion, Wesley had more affinities with the Letter of James than the missives of Paul.
Martin Luther, who relied heavily on Paul, found assurance during his dark nights in the objective fact that he was baptized and, therefore, sealed in Christ. Luther and Wesley would’ve had quite the argument on this matter of assurance!
I don’t think anyone at Boston Avenue would tell you that you have to adopt Wesley’s disposition and reject the confidence you have in everlasting life derived from Baptist theology. What one might add to a Baptist understanding of assurance of salvation is a Wesleyan “therefore”: if one has assurance, what should be done with it? For one is then free and empowered to do all the good you can, to all you can, in as many ways as you can, for as long as you can.
Our Theologian in Residence
Gary Peluso-Verdend is the President Emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since 1993, he served at Phillips as a program director, the dean, development executive, president, and founding director of the Center for Religion in Public Life. For five years (2000-2005), he was the director of church relations at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. Gary retired from Phillips in February 2023.
Gary is a retired ordained elder in The United Methodist Church (Northern Illinois Conference). He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1991. He attends Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa where he teaches adult church school classes frequently.
Gary serves on the board of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and on working groups for the Braver Angels Alliance in OK and Compassionate Tulsa.
He and his wife live with their daughter in Tulsa, in the fourth (and last) house-in-need-of-updating they have owned. Gary’s three grown children and their families live in the Chicago area.
On Sunday evening, the annual Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols will help prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of Christmas in a unique and beautiful way.
We are delighted to share the fruits of our learning and celebrate the Joy of the Season with the Tulsa community.
Advice from Boston Avenue’s Theologian In Residence