This is a rough draft of a case I want to polish later.

Assurance of being in a state of grace is a distinctive of Puritan Calvinism as in the Westminster Standards of faith. It differs from the Baptist view by holding that one could be saved but yet not be assured of it, like David in some psalms. It also differs from the Catholic view by holding that assurance is possible in life. How is such a view possible?

First, the issue turns on the second premise of this:

(1) Whoever believes in Christ will be saved.
(2) S believes in Christ.
(3) Therefore, S will be saved.

While one could question (1) to avoid the conclusion, the doctrine of assurance addresses those who are Christian and accept it as try based on the gospel testimony but who are insecure about their position, hence unsure about (2) for some S (oneself).

But why doubt (2)? Doubt is possible because faith is just assent to a proposition as true, but a response of the whole soul not only mentally but also affectively and behaviorally. One must believe in a practical sense as well as theoretical, entrusting all to Jesus, turning away from sin, and taking up Jesus’ example of crossbearing. Good works from sincere motives should be natural to one who believes. Further, those believe are promised the Spirit of God such that he will work to change their lives from sin to good works. So if one perceives no such change they may think their faith is “non-faith”, as one of the varieties of temporary faith that fails to endure to the end.

Biblical exhortations to self-examination for genuine faith are understandable. It is clear that the Bible expects substantial but not exhaustive change in a believer’s life, even with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus remaining sin does not imply by itself false faith. It is not the absence of sin but the presence of some new virtues that matters, which are called the fruit of the Spirit. If there is evidence of that fruit that only comes to S from the Spirit: love, peace, self-control etc then S may assured of her salvation.

This brings us to the rub. If the evidence to be sought is the fruit of the Spirit and this refers to virtues of some sort, then a problem is that such virtues are vague. Much that appears virtous could insincere and much of what may be ineffectual in making a difference. S may feel that she has no evidence because her evidence is open to different evaluations.

Let’s say that results of an evaluation of a life fall in three types: paradigmatically holy, paradigmatically obstinate, and penumbral. I’ll skip the first two types: if cases were nothing those that fell under either of the first two, then the implications for (2) are clear. But if someone is struggling with assurance it makes sense to think it’s because her evidence is penumbral. It could be construed sa fruit of the Spirit but it could also be construed as self-righteousness or hypocracy.

Such a case sounds like a live belief option and so the conditions seem to fit William James “will to believe” requirements. The doubt is based on two opposed interpretations of the evidence of the life of S. In Jame’s terms, both hypotheses are live belief options. It is also momentous because of the issue at stake in assurance and forced because the skeptical option is not really available. It may seem so at first but as time goes by, and if every penumbral case is treated as no evidence one may conclude that they have not been saved just as if they had paradigmatic evidence that they haven’t been when they have nothing of the sort. So the option to take the penumbrial case as evidence in favor of (2) becomes forced.

If so then S has an obligation to believe (2) in such circumstances. Such belief is not presumption since it is aspect of the invitation to believe in the gospel promises in the first place which include promises concerning the spiritual resources for new life. Further, the cash value of accepting the belief is greater encouragement to press on in one’s moral transformation, rather than give in to dispair. It in fact plays a role in acquiring that transformation and helps make (2) true. It thus may be said that God may value providing assurance in this way. It clearly is a case that on the question of assurance it better to risk being in error than to miss out on the truth.

Won’t simply taking assurance in such cases breed spiritual pride? Not if the will to assured remembers the account of his basis of her assurance, especially that it’s not the same as having paradigmatic evidence, which she should keep seeking. This feature of recognizing her dependency and contngency of belief acceptance should keep her humble. Finally, since it is possible that (1) was accepted on the basis of being a live belief option, one can’t object to applying the same reasoning to (2).

The problems with accepting the Puritan doctrine of assurance could be our entrenchment in Cliffordian evidentialism, which I think is a driving factor in the Federal Vision Movement. But with James’ will to believe criteria, we can see that assurance is possible.