Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Soteriology - Quick and Dirty

Often when one is in an unwanted place it is good to change places. Thus when affliction sets in within the mind it may be good to get away into a good bit of theology; and what better topic than one that will start a heated debate among almost everyone I know? Instead I think I will simply summarize (emphasis on simply) the differing views of soteriology (doctrines of salvation) that have rooted their heads within the Christendom.

Heretical Systems:
Pelagianism - Named for a Fourth century British Monk named Pelagius who first formalized this teaching. (Pop culture reference, King Arther's hero in the 2004 film starting Clive Owen, which on this point was historically inaccurate.) Pelagius taught that men were not corrupted in any way by Adam's sin, he was merely a bad example for us. Christ was a good example who taught us how to live morally. Through hard work following Christ's good example rather than Adam's bad example one might achieve salvation. Furthermore without grace or faith man can choose to move toward God without any prompting by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in this view of salvation man is the effectual agent, but he is also the only acting agent, faith and grace are unnecessary. This does not mean that the atonement of Christ was unnecessary for the forgiveness of sins, however, it did not compel anyone to actually seek the forgiveness of those sins, nor does it play a role in sanctification.

Semipelagianism - After Pelagius was defeated in debate by St. Augustine, a new breed of his teaching popped up. This view held that man was still in most ways unrestricted in what he can and cannot do with his relationship to God. The difference between this view and the fully Pelagian view is that man cannot make it to God apart from grace. This view does hold however that man can turn to God apart from any act of Grace on God's behalf. Again in this view the effectual agent of salvation is man. Both Pelagianism and Semipelagianism were condemned as damnable heresy by the Council of Orange in 529 AD.

Hyper-Calvinism - Hyper-Calvinism is not John Piper sitting in starbucks after five vente lattes. This is a view that believes the command of the Gospel is not for every single person but only for the elect. Further this system also denies God's love for mankind as a whole and that evangelism is necessary at all because God has predestined some to life and others to death.

American Decisionism - This view picks and chooses what it likes from all of the major views and rejects what it doesn't like. Therefore it is often hard to pin down what this view is actually espouses. However the majority takes Arminian or Palegian free choice and combines it with half of the Calvinist's Perseverance of the Faith. This creates the mentality that "I chose Christ at one time in my life so I'm saved and can live like a pagan if I so choose," or as I call it "decisional once saved always savedism," or "conditional unconditionalism" e.g. that salvation is by a one time admittance that Jesus is Lord that being said I can do whatever I want. One could liken this position to the argument, "well my spouse loves me unconditionally so its okay if I go and have an adultery."

Systems Within Orthodoxy:
Arminianism (Wesleyanism) - A theological system named for Jacob Arminius and better articulated by John Wesley. Far to often zealous, though well meaning Calvinists, will wrongly overgeneralize this position labeling it as semipelagian or even pelagian. (Though sometimes this analysis is correct of the individual or group.) However this seems to come from a lack of knowledge of what this system actually teaches. There is much that Arminians and Calvinists agree on, first that men are born spiritually dead, unable to come to God outside of His grace, and that salvation is only possible by grace through faith. They also agree that men must actually choose to follow Christ. Finally they agree that if one is saved they must continue in the faith. However after this the two part ways.
The Arminian believes that while all men are dead in their tresspasses and sins that through prevenient grace, (common grace) can be made alive by submitting to it rather than resisting it. (The Calvinist also believes in common grace, but believes it serves a different function.) This prevenient grace is granted to all men allowing all the capacity to turn from their wickedness to righteousness. On the cross Christ died for all men in the same way so that, among other things, this grace could be given to all men. However as fore mentioned this grace can be resisted and rejected, and by this condition one obtains their election. Finally in this system one who does not continue on in the faith loses the salvation they once had. So in this view while the major agent of salvation is God, the ultimate agent of salvation is the individual man who continually makes the choice not to resist the grace of God so that they are able to choose Him.

Calvinism (Reformed) - This theological system named for John Calvin, which was greatly influenced by St. Augustine, and was later made into an acronym by those tulip obsessed dutch. This view is often wrongly overgeneralized by zealous, well meaning, Arminian Christians as Hyper-Calvinism, which I believe again comes simply from ignorance of the system. (Though sometimes this analysis is correct of the individual or group.) As mentioned in the above paragraphs about Arminianism, Calvinists believe that all men are born spiritually dead, unable to come to God outside of His grace, and that salvation is only possible by grace through faith. However for the Calvinist there is no prevenient grace in the sense that it quickens men to life. Rather the common grace of God to all men is displayed in every good thing that every man has. God does grant some men the gracious gifts of repentance and belief to the elect. Now to be sure these gifts of grace can be resisted and rejected but the Holy Spirit can overcome any resistance man might build up.
This factors into the way in which the Calvinist views the atonement; Christ died for all men, to be sure however he did not die for all men in the same way. He did not die for Judas the same way He died for Peter, so while the cross of Christ is sufficient for all the world, it is effective for only the elect, therefore election is not based upon the condition of "making a decision for Christ." That being said, if you remember I wrote both Calvinists and Arminians believe that once a Christian is saved they must remain in the faith. Where they differ is that while the Arminian believes one can lose their salvation, since they might fail to continue, the Calvinist does not, because God will continue to work in the Christian transforming him into the image of Christ. This however does not mean that a Christian will never stumble, only that when he does he will be granted the grace of Repentance and Belief again.

Modified View, 4 Point Calvinism - There are many forms of this and to try to touch on all of them here would be quite a task however what they all try to accomplish, some more than others is a bridge between Arminiansm and Calvinism. This group might also include the Lutheran view though putting it here seems funny to me.

Yaayy for Quick and Dirty - Unfortunately far to many within the American Church fall outside the realm of orthodoxy on this core issue of the Gospel. Work for reformation in those churches and pray for their revival. Oh also if my facts are mistake please feel free to comment, however try not to turn this into a huge debate over which view is most correct. There are plenty of other places for that.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. - The Apostle Paul