Quick Thoughts on Soteriology

The theological arena of soteriology (the theology of salvation) is a subject I have thought long and hard about. I love the hymn “Maker, In Whom We Live” as it lends a soundtrack to the soteriological discussion. Having once been a Calvinist, I have come to reject TULIP Calvinism as a misreading of scripture and eisogetically imposing Platonic philosophy into Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9. Now that is a mouthful so let me explain a bit.

            I believe there is a spectrum of beliefs with two extremes on each end. At one end is the Universalist (it doesn’t matter which religion you choose; all get into Heaven), and close to it is Open Theism (we all have a free choice, so God doesn’t know our futures). Pelagianism is close to that (we are all born good and attain salvation through good works). All three are heretical beliefs and denigrate scripture and/or God’s revealed character. On the other end of the spectrum is Exhaustive Determinism (held by most scientific atheists) and Exhaustive Divine Determinism (EDD – held by hyper Calvinists). These two are also heretical for the same reasons.

            Further in the middle and thoroughly biblical is Calvinism. While close to EDD, the Calvinist and the TULIP formula popularized at the council of Dort (1618-1619) emphasize the Sovereignty of God in salvation. Next to that is the theology of Jacob Arminius (where Arminianism gets its name). Arminius affirmed that men have free will in their decisions of salvation, unlike Calvin, who believed it was entirely God who selects those who go to Heaven (and he also selects those who do not). However, many, like myself, affirm free will when it comes to salvation but are uncomfortable with the label of Arminian. Arminius was much closer to Calvin than is popularized and, I believe, made some of the same presuppositional mistakes Calvin did.

            Where I stand is pretty much in the middle of all of this. Modern soteriological work that affirms human choice in salvation is much better labeled Provisionism (God provides salvation to every human, although not all take it). Dr. Leighton Flowers and his books The Potter’s Promise and God’s Provision for All provide a deep Biblical and theological defense of Provisionism that I affirm. I also have a strong affinity for the work of Louis de Molina (Molinism). This approach (popularized by William Layne Craig and Dr. Timothy Stafford) emphasized God’s omniscience and middle knowledge. God not only knows all things, but he also knows all possible things. He knows all the decisions we make and the possible decisions we could make.

            In short, my concern with Calvinism and Arminianism arises from three places – 1. The individualizing of Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 & 9; 2. The problem of double predetermination (God chooses who does and who does not attain salvation); 3. A mis-defining of sovereignty (which means authority, not absolute deterministic control) and predestination (which is not the same as predetermination.

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