Shepard affirms that from a covenantal perspective a person may pass from an elected and justified status to a non-elect and non-justified status. This transition does not mean simply that a person is first treated as though he were elected and justified and then that he is treated as though he were not elect or justified. For from this perspective on the covenant, the person actually is elect and justified, and then becomes non-elect and non-justified.6 Mr. Shepherd also expresses his view by stating that good works are necessary for continuance in a state of justification. This “necessity” of good works, from the perspective of the covenant, is a necessity of “maintenance.” Good works, including the diligent use of the outward means of grace, are said to be necessary to maintain a person in the status of justification from a covenant perspective.7 From this covenant perspective, neither justification nor election is irreversible. As Israel moved from being a justified and elect nation to being “not my people,” so also the individual justified and elect liked person under the new covenant may move from being justified and elect to being non-justified and non-elect.8
6. “Reprobation from within the context of the covenant (please understand underline with about four lines that expression); reprobation from within the context of the covenant; that is to say, reprobation from the point of view of the covenant is not incontrovertible. Now we have seen that in terms of the concrete language of Scripture those with whom God has established covenant and who are therefore the elect of God, they, again from the point of view of the covenant, may stumble and fall.”(“Reprobation in Covenant Perspective,” an address given at Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Spring of 1978).
In this address, Mr. Shepherd appears to place God’s reprobation and God’s election on two levels. From the point of view of the decrees of God, election and reprobation are unchangeable. But from the point of view of the covenant of God, election and reprobation are changeable.
If it were the case that Mr. Shepherd only were saying that from the human viewpoint, men appeared to pass between a status of election and of reprobation, the problem would not be quite so difficult. But it must be remembered that the “covenant” is not simply a human administration. The covenant perspective of Scripture is God’s perspective. It is God who declares a person to be reprobate at or elected in the covenant.
Mr. Shepherd’s dilemma maybe explained as follows: if he distinguishes between a “covenant” election and a “decretive” election, then he has created a dialectic in God. For then God will be treating the same individual as “elect” and “justified” from a covenant perspective and as “non-elect” and “non-justified” from a decretive perspective.
But if Mr. Shepherd affirms election and justification to occur only on a single level, then he has described this election and this justification as changeable.
7. October, 1976 Study Paper, pp. 14, 15. Note also the necessity of continuance attributed to obedience in relation to justification in theses 21 and 23.
8. Mr. Shepherd’s primary example of movement from an elected (and justified) status to a non-elected (and non–justified) Status is the experience of the nation of Israel. When exiled from the land, they moved into a non-elect (and non-justified status)(“Reprobation in Covenant Perspective”). It might be supposed that Mr. Shepherd is speaking only from the human perspective. But in his comments on Deuteronomy 7, it is clear that he intends to say that Israel is indeed elected by God, and then becomes reprobate. He affirms specifically that the experience of Israel in this regard also may be the experience of the individual living under the new covenant.
In citing examples of elect people who became reprobate as did the elect nation of Israel, Mr. Shepherd says: “Now what is true of the nation is also true of the person. Judas is introduced into the community, the covenant community of the elect, but he is rejected as a son of perdition because of his apostasy (Jn 17:12)…the brother in I Cor. 5:1–5…Simon of Samaria…those who escape the defilements of the world…and then becomes entangled therein…(II Pet. 2:20). Here we have elect persons who are excommunicated.” (“Reprobation in Covenant Perspective”).
—O. Palmer Robertson and Paul G. Settle, “Minority Report to the Board of Trustees” (May 19, 1980), in the Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees (Part II – Pages 57–98) (May 27, 1980), 5–6 (Board Minutes), 62–63.