One of the topics that is most often discussed in the world of soteriology (salvation theories) is the principled debate of Calvinism vs Arminianism . I thought I would try my best to explain the difference to those who may be new to the discussion, also serving as a primer to my own thought process.
I found these propositions below by Thomas Talbott to be helpful, and so would like to use them as the basis of understanding the main salvation theories. I am also including another theory (Universal Reconciliation) as this is actually Talbott’s position. I don’t think there is much of any Biblical support for this theory but I’m including it here because it has become popular as of late. If you are familiar with Rob Bell’s controversial book ‘Love Wins’ – Bell takes this position.
In this post I am not advocating any one position – this is just an outline to understand the discussion. I will however add some thoughts at the end of this post to indicate where my thinking is heading.
In Talbott’s book “The Inescapable Love of God” , he outlines the following three propositions which he deems are all Biblical:
- God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.
- Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.
- Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.
I Think most people would agree that these are Biblical concepts, but here’s the kicker – None of the three main salvation theories accept all three of these propositions.
Calvinism adopts propositions #2 and #3 and rejects #1- In Calvinism, God wills the redemption of the elect and not all of humanity.
Arminianism adopts propositions #1 and #3 and rejects #2 – In Arminianism, God’s ‘Saving Will’ includes the freewill response of humanity, not simply God’s own desired will.
Universal Reconciliation adopts #1 and #2 and rejects #3 – In Universal Reconciliation, God wills to save all people and will eventually do so in the end.
So there you have it, as you can see… each of the main theories lack something. Of course the proponents of these theories will argue that their position has more Biblical support, and I’ll leave it up to you to come up with your own conclusions. There are other less popular theories as well, for example Molinism is one that I particularly like, which does a good job of attempting to reconcile these three propositions, however Molinism does have it’s own problems as well.
Closing Thoughts – re-framing the question?
My thoughts as of late has me questioning if one of the reasons we as modern Christians have trouble reconciling these concepts is because we are looking at the salvation question strictly as propositional frameworks. It’s interesting that Christians in the first hundred years didn’t discuss salvation theories in this way, and it only became more prominent when Greek thought came into the picture. Why is that? perhaps because the early Christians had a more narrative perspective on salvation – integrating the fulfillment of OT Israel in the culmination of the Messiah Jesus.
Is there a way to read scripture in such a way that salvation makes sense within the historical narrative? and less about how it functions as a universal theory? I don’t have an answer to that question but that’s where I’m currently headed in my own thought process. More to come.