David Pawson: The ‘Alpha’ Version of Once Saved, Always Saved

The ‘Alpha’ View

This is the simple understanding of OSAS.  Its proponents believe that, once faith in Christ has been exercised, a person is safe and secure for eternity, no matter what happens afterwards.  To put it another way, one moment of faith in a whole lifetime is sufficient to secure a place in glory.

All one needs to do is start the Christian life.  You are now ‘saved’.  You have a guaranteed ticket to heaven.  Everything is settled.  To start is in a sense to finish.  Only the first step is absolutely necessary.  You only need to begin at the beginning.  Hence the ‘Alpha’ label seems appropriate.

This is implicit in the preaching of many evangelists, who must be held responsible for conveying this notion, even if they do not realise it.  Perhaps unconsciously, they present the gospel as an insurance policy for the next world, offering an escape from hell rather than a liberation from sin.  This is done by focusing on death rather than life (‘If you die tonight, will you find yourself in heaven or hell?’)  So often a guaranteed place in heaven is offered in response to a thirty second ‘sinner’s prayer’ repeated after the evangelist, often without mentioning deeds of repentance towards God or reception of the Holy Spirit, much less baptism in water – in marked contrast to apostolic evangelism in the New Testament (see my book The Normal Christian Birth for a more detailed examination of Christian initiation; Hodder & Stoughton, 1989).

Though it is rarely stated, the impression is left that, however life is later lived, the convert’s standing with God cannot be affected.  In a word, admission to heaven requires forgiveness but not holiness.  In theological terms, justification is essential, but sanctification is not.

Not surprisingly, this can and does lead to moral and spiritual complacency.  At worst, it becomes possible to rejoice in salvation while living in known sin.  This was the case on the Clapham train and at Spring Harvest (see the Prologue).  Typical were the remarks of an American mother reported to me: ‘My daughter’s a prostitute and drug addict but praise the Lord, when she was seven she made her decision for the Lord and I look forward to seeing her in glory.’

Such is the ‘popular’ view of OSAS.  It takes a very light view of both sin and holiness in the believer.  Neither can seriously affect eternal destiny, one way or the other.  The main thing is to get as many as possible ‘saved’, which means to get them started …

… It is tempting to call this an ‘escalator’ salvation.  Having once got on, one can step up or down, but never get off again.  Sooner or later, one is certain to arrive at the top.

– David Pawson, Once Saved, Always Saved? A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance (1996: Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 9-12

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