Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 3
by Jonathan Hamilton
Before we move forward, I want to add something that I had to leave out last time. I was writing Part 2 from Alaska where my wife and I were visiting family, and did not have access to this chart that I copied down in class. It is a wheel that helps us to picture the various positions along the soteriological spectrum (can a spectrum be circular?). Start at the bottom of the wheel and work your way to the top. Immediately after the chart we’ll jump into Part 3.
[And yes, I am aware that my PowerPoint drawing skills leave even more to be desired than my golf game.]
How Great A Salvation
If we are to understand salvation, we have to understand lostness. We are not poor little sheep who’ve lost their way. We are creatures who hate God and hate truth. We are repulsive to God. We are guilty. And guilt requires retribution.
All of this is what makes it so astonishing that God loves us; that He sent His only son to die on the cross for our sins. And what do we do? We reject it! We reject what came at infinite cost to Him. We despise it. We aren’t even capable of accepting it.
God would have been completely fair had He condemned all of us. He would have been doubly fair if He had condemned us (again) after we rejected His gift. If God singled out just one of us, just one, to seek and save, this would still be an infinite display of grace. But God has bent over backwards in a thousand ways to manifest His love. God’s love is not what’s at stake in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. Even if I believed in limited atonement as it is traditionally defined God still would be infinitely gracious and merciful (this is why I don’t have a big problem if someone does believe it, I don’t think it really matters. It still wouldn’t make God unfair or unjust. To think it does is absolutely backwards).
We are not innocent little sheep. We are infinitely treasonous wicked beings who hate God and hate truth. You have to understand this to understand the glory of God’s salvation.
Arminian Understandings of Election
1. Category Election (Karl Barth; R.B. Thiem; Robert Jordan)
In category election, God chooses a group but individuals choose to leave or enter the group. It’s like the bus to Los Angeles: you choose to get on or get off the bus. (Evidence cited: Romans 9-11 where God chooses a category in the people of Israel.)
Problem 1: It doesn’t solve any of the problems. It just moves the problem back one step. Ultimately our question is why do some believe and some do not. So now God elects a category. This still leaves the question why some people get on or off the bus.
Problem 2: The Bible specifically states that God chooses individual believers, and not just a category. 2 Thess. 2:13-14 speaks to specific individuals.
Very few notable theologians hold this view.
2. Conditional Election
God elects people based on some condition that He sees in them, namely, that God in eternity past looks down through the corridors of time and foresees who will be willing to trust Christ as Savior. Based on His foresight, God chooses people. There are two versions of this view:
1: God foresees that they will believe and chooses them to be saved. He can also choose them to be un-saved again. Losing salvation is not a necessity, but it is a possibility.
2: God foresees that they will be saved and chooses them to be glorified. What He foresees is different than what He elects them to. In this view they get around the problem of loss of salvation by saying that those whom God chooses to glorify cannot be lost.
In Part 4, we will handle Calvinist understandings of election.