Introduction to Soteriology

[Articles in the Multiple Views series are intended to present various views held by Christians, in an objective and unbiased manner]

Soteriology concerns the doctrine of salvation and over the years, many views have arisen. The focus of this post is to present a few of the more prominent views out there, using sources which adherents of these positions would regard as accurately depicting their beliefs.

We’ll be focusing on what Arminianism, Calvinism, and Traditionalism (arranged in alphabetical order) have to say about the following areas:

  • The state of man
  • Election
  • Atonement (extent)
  • Nature of grace
  • Apostasy
Sources
1) Arminianism The Five Articles of the Remonstrants
(1610)The Arminian Confession of 1621
2) Calvinism Canons of Dort (1618-1619)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646-1647)

3) Traditionalism A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation (2012)
Perspective on the state of man
1) Arminianism  A) Five Articles of Remonstrance

“That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free-will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good …” [Article 3]

“Man in his fallen state is unable to accomplish any thing really and truly good, and therefore also unable to attain to saving faith, unless he be regenerated and renewed by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.” [Phillip Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom. Volume I.”, p.524]

B) Arminian Confession

“Because Adam was the stock and root of the whole human race, he therefore involved and implicated not only himself, but also all his posterity … and consequently are now born subject to that eternal death of which we spoke, and manifold miseries.” [Chapter 7, Article 4]

“For without it [divine grace, prepared for us in Christ the Savior before the ages] we could neither shake off the miserable yoke of sin, nor do anything truly good in all religion, nor finally ever escape eternal death or any true punishment of sin. Much less could we at any time obtain eternal salvation without it or through ourselves.” [Chapter 7, Article 10] (emphasis mine)

2) Calvinism  A) Canons of Dort

“Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent …”

“Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.”

B) Westminster Confession of Faith

“Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. [Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 9, Para III]

3) Traditionalism  A) Traditional Statement

“We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

“We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.” [Article 2]

Perspective on election
1) Arminianism  A) Five Articles of Remonstrance

“That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ.” [Article 1]

“God has immutably decreed, from eternity, to save those men who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, believe in Jesus Christ, and by the same grace persevere in the obedience of faith to the end; and, on the other hand, to condemn the unbelievers and unconverted (John iii. 36).
Election and condemnation are thus conditioned by foreknowledge, and made dependent on the foreseen faith or unbelief of men.” [Phillip Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom. Volume I.”, p.524]

B) Arminian Confessions

” The first decree is the decree of predestination to salvation, or election to glory, by which is established the true necessity and at the same time the usefulness of our faith and obedience for obtaining salvation and glory.” [Chapter 9, Para. 3]

2) Calvinism  A) Canons of Dort 

“Since all men sinned in Adam and lie under the curse [according to the Augustinian system held by all the Reformers], God would have done no injustice if he had left them to their merited punishment; but in his infinite mercy he provided a salvation through the gospel of Christ, that those who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life. That some receive the gift of faith from God and others not, proceeds from God’s eternal decree of election and reprobation.”

“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, he has, out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen from the whole human race, which has fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation. These elect, though neither better nor more deserving than others, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by him, and bestow upon them true faith, conversion, justification and sanctification, perseverance to the end, and final glory (Eph. i. 4, 5, 6; Rom. viii. 30).”

“Election is absolute and unconditional. It is not founded upon foreseen faith and holiness, as the prerequisite condition on which it depended; on the contrary, it is the fountain of faith, holiness, and eternal life itself. God has chosen us, not because we are holy, but to the end that we should be holy (Eph. i. 4; Rom. ix. 11–13;Acts xiii. 38). As God is unchangeable, so his election is unchangeable, and the elect can neither be cast away nor their number be diminished. The sense and certainty of election is a constant stimulus to humility and gratitude.”

“The non-elect are simply left to the just condemnation of their own sins. This is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger.”

B) Westminster Confession of Faith

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.” [Chapter 3, Para. III]

“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.” [Chapter 3, Para. V]

“Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” [Chapter 3, Para. VI]

“The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.” [Chapter 3, Para. VII]

3) Traditionalism  A) Traditional Statement

“We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.” [Article 6]

“We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.

We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.” [Article 7]

Perspective on the atonement (extent)
1) Arminianism  A) Five Articles of Remonstrance

“That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins.” [Article 2]

“Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, and his grace is extended to all. His atoning sacrifice is in and of itself sufficient for the redemption of the whole world, and is intended for all by God the Father. But its inherent sufficiency does not necessarily imply its actual efficiency. The grace of God may be resisted, and only those who accept it by faith are actually saved. He who is lost, is lost by his own guilt.” [Phillip Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom. Volume I.”, p.524]

B) Arminian Confessions

“… He submitted to the cursed death of the cross for us, and offered Himself to God the Father as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the entire human race …” [Chapter 8, Para.7]

“Indeed by this merit, whether He earned eternal salvation for us because of His obedience, or because of that mediation, especially of His violent and bloody death (just as a λουτρόν, or price of redemption, and propitiatory sacrifice), God has thus far reconciled all sinners to Himself [2 Cor. 5:19], in order to restore them by His grace through and because of this ransom and sacrifice [by means of faith in Christ] …” [Chapter 8, Para. 9]

2) Calvinism  A) Canons of Dort

“According to the sovereign counsel of God, the saving efficacy of the atoning death of Christ extends to all the elect [and to them only], so as to bring them infallibly to salvation. But, intrinsically, the sacrifice and satisfaction of Christ is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”

“And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves”

B) Westminster Confession of Faith

“God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit does, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them. [Chapter 11 Paragraph 4]

3) Traditionalism  A) Traditional Statement“We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.” [Article 3]

Perspective on the nature of grace
1) Arminianism  A) Five Articles of Remonstrance

“That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting; awakening, following, and co-operative grace, elm neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible …” [Article 4]

“Grace is the beginning, continuation, and end of our spiritual life, so that man can neither think nor do any good or resist sin without prevening, co-operating, and assisting grace. But as for the manner of co-operation, this grace is not irresistible, for many resist the Holy Ghost.” [Phillip Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom. Volume I.”, p.524]

B) Arminian Confessions

“Yet a man may despise and reject the grace of God and resist its operation, so that when he is divinely called to faith and obedience, he is able to render himself unfit to believe and obey the divine will, and that by his own true and conquerable fault, either by secure carelessness, or blind prejudice, or thoughtless zeal, or an inordinate love of the world or of himself, or other inciting causes of that kind.” [Chapter 17, Para. 7]

“For whoever God calls to faith and salvation, He calls them seriously, that is, not only by an external show, or in words alone (that is, when His serious commandments and promises are declared to those that are called in general) but also with a sincere and unfeigned intention of saving them and the will of converting them. Thus He never willed any prior decree of absolute reprobation or undeserved blinding or hardening concerning them.” [Chapter 17, Para. 8]

2) Calvinism  A) Canons of Dort

“Faith is therefore the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should, by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.”

B) Westminster Confession of Faith

“All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. [Chapter 10 Paragraph 1]

3) Traditionalism  A) Traditional Statement“We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.” [Article 4]

Perspective on apostasy
1) Arminianism  A) Five Articles of Remonstrance

“… whether they [those who an incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his lifegiving spirit] are capable. through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.” [Article 5] (emphasis mine)

“Although grace is sufficient and abundant to preserve the faithful through all trials and temptations for life everlasting, it has not yet been proved from the Scriptures that grace, once given, can never be lost.” [Phillip Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom. Volume I.”, p.524]

B) Arminian Confessions

“Even if it is true that those who are adept in the habit of faith and holiness can only with difficulty fall back to their former profaneness and dissoluteness of life, yet we believe that it is entirely possible, if not rarely done, that they fall back little by little and until they completely lack their prior faith and charity.” [Chapter 11, Para. 7]

“And yet in the meantime we do not absolutely deny it is possible that those who have once truly believed, when they fall back to their former profanity of life, may be renewed again by [the benefit of] divine grace, become good men, even if we believe that it usually rarely happens and with great difficulty.” [Chapter 11, Para. 7]

2) Calvinism  A) Canons of Dort

“By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace if left to their own strength. But God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.”

“Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion that they ever will continue true and living members of the Church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.”

B) Westminster Confession of Faith

“They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” [Chapter 17 Paragraph 1]

3) Traditionalism  A) Traditional Statement

“We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.

We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.” [Article 9]

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