There is considerable confusion in terminology when talking about current views of assurance on the theological scene. In this post I want to clarify at least one significant difference.
Calvinists and Arminians agree on a signifcant point: all the elect will persevere in faith. Those who do not persevere in faith are not elect. They further agree that faith is the instrument by which God perseveres the elect though they disagree about the nature of human participation in the origin and continuance of faith.
But another perspective is quite popular in the American context. It first arose out of 19th century Dispensational thought, was promoted by the Schofield Bible, and is commonly found among Southern Baptists communitites (though not all of them) as well as in other faith communities. It is sometimes called “Eternal Security” or “Once Saved, Always Saved.” Good examples of this perspective are found in some popular Southern Baptist preachers (e.g., Charles Stanley) and promoted by the Grace Evangelical Society.
“Eternal Security” is understood, in this perspective, as the possession of eternal life by a believer at the moment they believe and even if they stop believing. A person is eternally secure (saved) whether they continue to believe or not if they have at least at one moment in their life trusted in Jesus. It is not merely that faith alone saves but that faith eternally saves at the moment of belief even if one later stops believing. The warning texts in Scripture and the role of good works is an oft discussed topic among adherents of this perspective but generally the function of works and warnings is about the nature of the reward in the eschaton than about entrance into the grace of the eschaton. In other words, works and even the perseverance of faith will determine the level of reward but they have nothing to do with salvation itself.
Here are a couple of example statements.
Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, 74: “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.”
Bob Wilkin, “Saving Faith and Apostacy: Do Believers Ever Stop Believing?”: “While our salvation is guaranteed from the moment we trust in Christ, our faith is not.”
I don’t intend to engage a critique of this position in this post. Rather, my interest is merely to point out that there is a huge difference between the Arminian/Calvinist notion of perseverance and this particular definition of “eternal security.” The former recognize that saving faith perseveres while the latter does not believe faith must persevere for salvation. Of course, advocates of this persuasion encourage believers to persevere and they would think it detrimental to the nature of the heavenly reward for believers to dismiss the importance of sanctification and growth in faith.
Arminians and Calvinist hold significant common ground on this point. Here there is practical and ecclesial agreement, but this agreement is often missed because the position identified as “Eternal Security” is sometimes mistaken as a Calvinist position. Calvinists and Arminians both share the conviction that saving faith will persevere. Each should value this in the other.