Soteriology


Story of ChristianityMuch of the Bible is written in narrative form.  It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless.  There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture.  So how does one put it all together?  What is the essence of the Biblical story?  What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation?  Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line.  Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is.  I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told: (more…)

One of the arguments Arminians level against Calvinism is that it makes evangelism superfluous.  After all, if your neighbor is part of the elect God will ensure that he comes to faith whether you preach the Gospel to him or not.  As part of God’s elect, it would be impossible for him not to come to faith.  Likewise, if your neighbor is not part of the elect, no amount of evangelism will be effective for his conversion.  So why evangelize if Calvinism is true?  What’s the point? 

Calvinists typically respond by saying God doesn’t just predestine the ends, but also the means.  While God may have predestined your neighbor’s salvation (the ends), He also predestined that your neighbor would receive that salvation in response to your evangelism (the means).  

While I can appreciate this response in principle, how exactly is God using your evangelism to bring about your neighbor’s salvation?  To speak of God using evangelism to bring about salvation implies that evangelism contributes to the desired end in some way.  I fail to see how this is so, given the strict monergism of Calvinism.  Let me explain. 

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Inclusivism is the doctrine that while no one can be saved apart from Christ, one need not have conscious faith in Christ to be saved.  So, for example, while a good Buddhist may not trust in Christ for his salvation, since he is a good Buddhist Christ applies the merits of His substitutionary atonement to him. 

The NT is opposed to inclusivism.  It is quite clear that one must exercise conscious faith in Christ to experience salvation: 

John 3:14-18  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

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Would you still serve God if there was no hell in which to be punished for your evil?  Would you still serve God if there was no heaven in which to be rewarded for your good?  Would your behavior change at all?

I would venture to say that most church-going Christians serve God, not out of a desire to be in relationship with God, but out of a desire to avoid hell.  If there was no hell, they would not serve God, or at least would not continue to live the way they do morally speaking.  While desiring to avoid hell is natural and a good motivator for initially deciding to serve God, it is a very poor motivator for continuing to serve God.

I don’t necessarily want you to respond in the comments section with your answers, but I do think this is something worth thinking about in the way of self-evaluation.

Update on 6/21: A new study appearing in the Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE, has evaluated crime rates involving 143,197 people in 67 countries over a span of 26 years and found that crime rates are lower in nations that believe in the possibility of some sort of divine punishment after death, and higher in nations that do not (or that only believe in divine rewards after death).

In The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight argues that the gospel being preached in evangelicalism today is a truncated or distorted version of the original.  Some think the gospel is justification by faith, while others identify it as the saving work of Christ.  However it is characterized, the gospel is understood to be all about personal salvation.  While that is surely part of it, the gospel is much more.[1]

McKnight argues that the gospel as preached in the NT consists of four elements:

  1. The story ofIsrael
  2. The story of Jesus
  3. The plan of salvation
  4. The method of persuasion

We cannot make sense of the method of persuasion apart from the plan of salvation, and we cannot make sense of the plan of salvation apart from the story of Jesus, and we can’t make sense of the story of Jesus apart from the story ofIsrael.  All four elements were integral to the preaching of the gospel in the early church.  

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In the latest edition of Philosophia Christi[1], Jerry Walls argues that no Christian should be a theological determinist.  What is a theological determinist?  It’s someone who believes that God’s sovereignty extends meticulously to every aspect of the world, including human “choice.”  The problem with determinism is that it eliminates human freedom since there are factors external to humans sufficient to determine our choices, such that we could not do otherwise (or even want to do otherwise since even our desires are the product of God’s sovereign acts).

Most theological determinists are compatibilists.  Compatibilists think determinism can be reconciled with free will: If one acts according to their desires, then their choices are free.  But this is a veneer.  At best this shows that we may feel like we our will is free, even though it is not.  The fact remains that both our desires and our choices are determined by God wholly independent of our own volition.  It should be no surprise when our desires match our actions when God has determined both.  Given theological determinism, there can be no freedom of human will, despite attempts by some to evade the obvious.

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I’ve read a good number of books since my last “What I’ve Been Reading” post, but have failed to write about them.  I hope to write about these books in the coming days or months, but for now I’ll just write about my most recent reading escapades.

I recently finished reading Christianity without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism (thank you Michael for purchasing this for me from my Ministry Resource List!).  Historian Thomas Fudge has written a well-researched history on the history of the doctrine of salvation in the United Pentecostal Church.[1] Fudge documents the evidence that those involved in the merger of the Pentecostal Church International (PCI) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ (PAJC) into the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) in 1945 held two different views of salvation.  The majority believed that one is born again only after they have repented, been baptized in Jesus’ name, and baptized in the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues.  A sizable minority (mainly from the PCI), however, believed one was born again at the point of faith/repentance.  While they believed in baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, they understood such to be the result of salvation, not the cause of salvation.  The two groups agreed to fellowship their soteriological differences, not contending for their own views to the disunity of the new fellowship.

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