WHAT IS MEANT BY A MEDIATE THEOLOGY OF SALVATION?
Or, How Does God Save People?
By Gordon Olson
As far as theology of salvation is concerned, Evangelicals seem to be divided into two or three polarized camps. Christians get the impression that one must become either a full-fledged five-point Calvinist or an Arminian, and that there are no other viable options. Indeed, there is a no-man's land between the two, with little communication or interaction on salvation-theology issues. With few exceptions Calvinists are not reading and responding to Arminian thought regarding salvation-truth, and Arminians are not reading and responding to Calvinistic treatments. After all, the issue was settled almost four centuries ago! And evangelical Lutherans are quite disengaged from the controversy since they are quite confident that Luther settled it in his lifetime, despite the paradoxical nature of Lutheran theology. There is, however, some encouragement in a few recent works from both sides responding to one another, but they are more like volleys from opposing fortresses, with little recognition of any middle ground in between.(1)
This polarization of positions among Evangelicals is unhealthy and does not foster honest inquiry into what the Bible really teaches. There are many intermediate positions which are not recognized by those at the antipodes. Indeed, years ago B. B. Warfield distinguished six distinct salvation-theology positions among Evangelicals,(2) and in reality there are more since he did not recognize a mediate position. This polarization is harmful to evangelical theology since extremely contradictory positions discredit us in the eyes of non-Evangelicals. I believe that a less polarized, mediate position must be developed by the careful use of a radically fresh inductive methodology My proposal. In 1981 I proposed a mediate theology of salvation at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Toronto. I had entitled my original paper, "Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism," because I was convinced that we must progress beyond the theological giants of past ages to a more inductive theology of salvation: a mediate soteriology.(3) Indeed, there is significant evidence that John Calvin did not consistently hold to what passes today for Calvinism, especially in his later years, and that Jacob Arminius never really became fully 'Arminian' before his untimely death. Thus it was their followers who polarized the traditions significantly. It seems that Luther's view was quite paradoxical, virtually self-contradictory, and Lutheranism today reflects that tension.
Be that as it may, rather than keeping on going back to them as the touchstone of truth, as many do, we must go beyond them and their followers' systems and do fresh exegesis of Scripture as the sole foundation for our theology. Only when we have developed our theology of salvation inductively from the word of God may we go back into Christian history to find any confirmation of our conclusions.
I am referring to the theology of salvation I am developing as a "Mediate Theology of Salvation" for at least two reasons. It is intermediate to Calvinism and Arminianism. It also emphasizes God's mediate mode of carrying out much of His plan in the present world: through His agents. Historically this view might be considered semi-Augustinian, but since salvation-truth was little developed in Augustine's day (354-430), it would be better to use new terminology. It needs to stand in its own integrity based upon fresh biblical study.
A neglected legacy. My thesis is that there is a viable middle or mediate position which has been grossly neglected, even repressed. Indeed, among Evangelicals there is a substantial centrist mainstream of Christians who are essentially semi-Augustinian and see themselves somewhere in the middle. They might facetiously refer to themselves as 'Calminian.' Many might call themselves Calvinists because they hold to eternal security, but don't accept much of the rest of the Calvinistic system.
There seems to be a great ignorance of the semi-Augustinian position, even among theologically knowledgeable people. During the century after Augustine the controversy raged over his views of predestination and irresistible grace. At the Synod of Orange (529) a semi-Augustinian consensus was achieved which was the official position of the Catholic church until the reformation, even though in the main it became increasingly semi-Pelagian.(4)
This ignorance of the semi-Augustinian view has led many Calvinists to erroneously label any mediate view as "semi-Pelagian," thinking that it makes salvation partially dependent on human merit. Since Pelagius was presumably a heretic, no Evangelical likes to be termed halfway to heresy, and such a term is extremely pejorative and prejudicial. Also we are erroneously labeled "synergists" by our Calvinistic associates, since they misunderstand that we believe that man cooperates with God in salvation. This is a term that came out of Reformation controversies since Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were quite Augustinian in their views.
I have found at least nine distinct movements within two centuries after the Reformers, which sought to moderate their deterministic views. Some of these could rightly be called semi-Augustinian in essence. There is a gross ignorance, even among theologically knowledgeable people, of the whole spectrum of intermediate positions that have emerged over the centuries since the Reformation. But the fuller historical discussion of these views will be held off until chapter 15.
Let me briefly summarize that investigation here. After the Reformation the earliest view to emerge was the Anabaptist movement, which broke with Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich in 1524. Quite apart from their view on baptism, leaders like Dr. Balthaser Hubmaier and Hans Denck, based upon study of the original languages and the church fathers, felt that Scripture militated again the Augustinian emphasis of reformation theology. Even Zwingli's successors in Zurich, Bullinger (1504-1575) and Bibliander, opposed Calvin's rigid view.
It is well known that Luther's successor, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) modified Luther's extreme views, which is not only manifest in the great doctrinal standards which he drafted, but also in the move of Lutheranism away from Augustinian thinking in some respects.
The reader needs to understand the crucial part played by Calvin's successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza (1519-1605). Undoubtedly he, more than anybody else, moved reformed theology back into a more scholastic methodology which resulted in a more rigid determinism.
It is well known that the Calvinism coming from Geneva had a great impact upon the Anglican church and the English reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. Less known is the fact that most of the early leadership held to general redemption and sought for a "middle way." Latimer, Coverdale, Cranmer, Hooker, Davenant, Preston, Ussher, and Hall can all be so identified. In Scotland, John Cameron (1580-1625) is most significant because of his incredible impact upon the Reformed churches of France.
First chronologically, however, we must take note of the pastor/professor of Amsterdam with impeccable Calvinistic credentials, James Arminius (1560-1609), who began to be disillusioned with the scholastic Calvinism he had been taught by Theodore Beza in Geneva, and thus fathered the Arminian movement which bore his name. He never went as far as his successors, the Remonstrants, and it was for John Wesley, a century later, to move it back closer to its Calvinistic roots.(5)
There is also good evidence that Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), an early developer of Covenant Theology, saw it as a "way to blunt the sharp and highly debated view on predestination current in his day,"(6) although it subsequently reverted back.
Perhaps the most overlooked reaction to Augustinianism was the Amyraldian movement of the 17th century Huguenot Reformed churches of France. Having been taught by John Cameron, Moyse Amyraut (1596-1664) and his colleagues at the seminary at Saumur promoted a moderate (and, I believe, original) form of Calvinism, which emphasized general redemption.(7) This movement was scattered by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) to Holland, England, and the New World. Its theology also influenced the great Puritan evangelist, Richard Baxter, and many in Scotland and New England.(8)
Lastly, we must mention the pietistic movement of Philip Spener (1635-1705) and Auguste Franke (1663-1727) among Lutherans and the Moravian movement of Nicholas von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), as rejecting deterministic theologies of salvation. Both of these movements were vital to the beginnings of the modern missionary movement (see chapter 16).
Dispelling the fog. In the light of all this historical data it is astonishing that reputable scholars can claim that there is no middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. Not only opponents of a mediate view, but its advocates also seem naive of the historical foundations of this position. Samuel Fisk, in defending a middle way, made no reference to the historical antecedents in his two books, although he quoted hundreds of commentators and theologians from the last two centuries who supported such a position.(11) Although I graduated from a seminary (Dallas) which was essentially Amyraldian, I had never heard of the Amyraldian view until my second year of teaching systematic theology, and Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of that seminary, made no reference to it in his systematic theology.(12)
Following the lead of B. B. Warfield I have been able to distinguish at least eight distinct positions on salvation truth among Evangelicals. Warfield, Chafer, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., and Henry C. Thiessen, all distinguished three kinds of Calvinism.(13) In addition, the Lutheran, Anglican, and Wesleyan "evangelical Arminian" positions must be distinguished from that of the Remonstrant Arminians.
Thiessen's systematic theology in its original edition (1949) espoused conditional election and thus can be designated as a mediate theology of salvation.
In more recent years there have been only a few works from a mediate viewpoint. Samuel Fisk's Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (1973) and Calvinistic Paths Retraced (1985) are significant. Although Fisk shows that hundred of scholars held a mediate view, only Thiessen wrote a systematic theology. Laurence M. Vance, in The Other Side of Calvinism (2nd ed., 1999), has exposed the serious weaknesses of Calvinism from a mediate position with a plethora of quotations from the literature and has positioned himself somewhere in the middle. I have found this 800-page work most valuable, even if voluble. Michael Eaton, in his significant work, No Condemnation: a New Theology of Assurance (1995), was clearly looking for a mediate ground and repudiated both extremes. It is not quite clear where in the spectrum he fits. There are a number of other recent works which address certain aspects of the issue, but it seems that no one has written a complete mediate theology of salvation. This is what I am attempting to do.
There are many works from an essentially Amyraldian Calvinistic viewpoint: A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (1907), Lewis Sperry Chafer's unabridged Systematic Theology (1948), Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died, (1967, 2nd ed. 1999), John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (1969), Norman F. Douty, The Death of Christ (1978), Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (1985), Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (1986), Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (1990), Norman L. Geisler, Chosen, but Free (1999), all defended general redemption.(15) These works are most valuable in moving away from extreme Calvinism.
The polarized views
Undoubtedly Calvinism has its good points and bad points. Its emphasis on the sovereignty of God has been a strength, although developed to an extreme. Its view of human depravity has been essentially sound, although often defined in an extreme way. The defense of a substitutionary understanding of the cross is foundational. The emphasis upon grace and eternal security is vital, although wrongly developed as the perseverance of the saints. Perhaps the greatest strength has been the emphasis upon theology itself.
But many of Calvinism's weaknesses have derived from its tendency to a deductive theology, often colored by Greek philosophy. This is especially evident in conceptions of God's simplicity, timelessness, static immutability, and decree (s). It is also seen in putting regeneration before faith. Among developed Calvinists there is the widespread insecurity of not knowing whether one is among the elect or not. God's love for the whole lost world gets lost in the doctrine of unconditional election and is consistently denied by more extreme advocates with a graceless view of God's omnipotence. Whether admitted or not, there is a determinism among many which tends to minimize human responsibility. Irresistible grace is based upon flimsy inductive evidence. Eaton has highlighted the tendency to introspection and legalism he experienced in "developed Calvinism."
Arminianism also has its strengths and weaknesses. Its emphasis upon general redemption and concomitant universal gospel proclamation is vital, and today the Arminians seem to be way ahead in use of modern media in world evangelism. Their emphasis upon God's omniscient foreknowledge is, I believe, sound. And their emphasis upon human responsibility is biblically clear from Genesis to Revelation.
The first and foremost weakness of Arminianism has been its denial of eternal security. Generally its doctrine of sin has been marred by a denial of imputed sin and its theology of salvation by a denial of substitution in the cross. Grace and simple faith have been vitiated by a tendency to add continuance in works as a condition for justification. There is also a strong tendency toward sinless perfectionism. In some Arminian circles there has long been weakness in the area of inspiration and especially the inerrancy of Scripture, which frequently opens the door toward liberalism. More broadly we could say that there has been a de-emphasis on doctrine and overemphasis on experience as a basis for truth. At times the truth of God's love is not balanced off with the truth of His justice.
The above are generalizations and obviously not rigorously true of all Calvinists or all Arminians. But it is my conviction that the solution to the errors of these polarized positions is found in a mediate view.
An overview of a mediate theology of salvation
It is my thesis that a totally distinct, cohesive, and viable system can be derived inductively from Scripture. Even though its historical roots derive more from a semi-Augustinian position, it is not a truncated form of Calvinism or on the other hand a form of Arminianism. It stands in its own integrity. Just as Amyraut was accused of Arminianism by some Calvinists and as an inconsistent Calvinist by some Arminians,(16) just so a mediate position will be misunderstood today. For example, the Gerstners see Billy Graham and Bill Bright as Arminians!(17) I suspect this is erroneous. Such categorization is an indication of the failure of many to understand the diversity of viewpoints.
I propose to chalk out a mediate theology of salvation by following the lead of Henry C. Thiessen and Samuel Fisk, with some refinements and modifications. Such a theology of salvation may be developed by use of an inductive exegetical methodology and may be confirmed by synthetic, deductive methodology and is logically self-consistent. I should like to delineate this position under a number of propositions, which will be developed in detail in subsequent chapters.
God limited the exercise of His sovereignty by creating autonomous moral beings and by delegating authority to His creatures.
An inductive study of terms related to the sovereignty of God reveals that the exercise of His sovereignty is not exhaustive in reference to all that transpires in His universe, but that He has delegated significant areas of autonomy to angels and humanity. This is confirmed by the historical record of Scripture. Study of terms like God's kingdom, decrees, counsel, purpose, etc. uncovered no hint of the Augustinian view of sovereignty. Calvinists speak much about God's decrees or even a single decree as all-encompassing. But no such decree is mentioned in the Old Testament and the word is never used of God's decrees in the New. Far too much dependence has been put upon one text, Ephesians 1:11, which has been made to say far more than the grammar and context allow.
Calvinism assumes an exhaustive sovereignty of God based upon an all-inclusive decree of God, which leads to the notion of unconditional election by an a forteriori argument. However, when we focus the investigation upon the implications of God's sovereignty upon salvation-truth we find no inductive basis for determinism in salvation either. A careful examination of Romans nine in the context of the flow of Paul's argument does not support an arbitrary sovereignty in salvation. Our research on the meaning of God's sovereignty is developed in chapter 3.
Human depravity does not imply loss of the image of God or total inability to respond to God's initiative.
God created humanity as the noblest of creatures, uniquely made in the image of God Himself, suitable for the ultimate incarnation of the Son of God. Inherent in that creation was a delegated autonomy, which made man responsible for his disobedience in Eden. In the fall that image was marred, but not lost. Although now a slave of sin, humanity's God-given autonomy was not withdrawn. This becomes abundantly clear in the record of the first chapters of Genesis and is continually confirmed throughout the rest of the Scripture narrative.
As we examine the nature of the spiritual death incurred in Eden we find that it did not vitiate humanity's ability and responsibility to respond to God's persistent confrontation of the human race.
Augustine's doctrine of "original sin," with his recognition of Adam's natural headship and imputation was a real advance in the understanding of depravity beyond personal and transmitted sin. However, many Augustinians have extrapolated total depravity into total inability. This is a non sequitur which is unsupported in the Scriptures. Our investigation of the true impact of the fall is developed in chapter 4.
Some New Testament terms for Christ's death are general and objective; others are limited and subjective.
Most of the discussion over 'limited' versus 'unlimited atonement' is beside the point since 'atonement' is not a New Testament word and it relates only to the mercy seat in the temple. Chafer and Walvoord have advanced the study by distinguishing redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.(18) But it was Lightner who pointed the way to even distinguishing the many Greek words, especially for redemption.(19)
When we focus upon propitiation, the objective satisfaction for the sins of the whole world comes into view (1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10). Calvinist attempts to limit the use of the word world (kosmos) to the elect do violence both to its usage in the Johannine literature and the context. John uses kosmos mostly of the hostile world of unregenerate sinners. I would like to focus upon the usage of the different Greek terms for redemption which point in different directions. It would seem that three of the eight words for redemption are used in the objective, universal ransom sense (agorazein, lutron, & antilutron), two of the words (lutroein & lutrosis) seem to include both the objective and the subjective, while the other three words (exagorazein, apolutrosis, & lutrotes) relate to the subjective redemption-liberation sense, limited to the elect.
This essential distinction between the two phases of redemption is graphically illustrated by the story of the ransom of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst some years ago. Her father paid the ransom price, but she did not go free because of her own will. We could say that her father bought her (agorazein) and paid the ransom (antilutron), but that she did not experience release (apolutrosis, etc.). The distinction of usage is far more significant than the connection of etymology.
The words for reconciliation are used of the subjective reconciliation of sinners to God: katallassein, katallage, & apokatallassein all have the idea, 'to change thoroughly so as to bring into harmony, to exchange, to reconcile.' These words are always used of reconciling sinful man to God as a unilateral process, not bilateral (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Rom. 5:8-11; 11:15; Col. 1:20-21). The sequence is clear that Christ has reconciled us believers to God, that in the cross God was in the process of reconciling the world to Himself, and that our message to the world is, "Be reconciled to God."
Thus we may speak of a general propitiation, a ransom price paid for all, a limited redemption-liberation, and a limited reconciliation. The investigation of five New Testament pictures of the cross is developed in chapter 5.
Although Christ's death is particularly efficacious for believers, it is potentially available to all humanity.
This question only arises because of the extreme- Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. We just noted that some words for Christ's death are objective, general, and universal, while others are subjective and limited to believers. As we examine all scripture, we see that the whole truth is two-sided, and they are guilty of the reductionist error of trying to force one aspect of the truth into the mold of the other.
The historical background. Limited atonement is the most recent and obviously problematic of the Calvinistic doctrines. None of the church fathers, including Augustine, nor any of the reformers, including Calvin himself, held to it. His successor Theodore Beza probably developed this notion from the logic of unconditional election as held by Calvin. Although limited atonement is rejected by Arminians, Lutherans, moderate Calvinists, and those like myself who hold a mediate view of salvation truth, Beza was extremely influential in molding the doctrine of the reformed movement.
A problem of logic. The problem, as Calvinists have struggled with it, is a logical one. If Christ died as a substitute for a whole world of sinners, then why are not all men saved? If Christ paid the price for the sins of the non-elect, then isn't God demanding a double price for their sin by sending them to hell? Thus extreme Calvinists insist that the intent of Christ's death was only for the elect and that His death not only makes their salvation possible, but also makes their salvation certain.
Over the centuries the major response has been that Christ's death is potential, provisional, and conditional in its application. The cross, in and of itself, saves no one, not even the elect. Only those who respond positively to the gospel with repentant faith are saved. The objective, historical dimension of propitiation and the ransom price is only part of the whole, the foundation. But it is not automatically applied to the individual. For that the subjective, personal dimension of liberation-redemption and reconciliation come into play. This duality is expressed in 1 Tim. 4:10: ". . . the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers."
We could also suggest that the basis of condemnation has been changed by the cross. It is not now primarily the sins of man, but more significantly the one sin of unresponsiveness to the gospel. In a sense there is one sin for which Christ did not die, the sin of unbelief (Jn. 3:18).
The Biblical data. There is no disagreement over the fact that there are numerous references to Christ's death for a limited group of people: the church, the sheep, us believers, etc. However, it is never said explicitly that He died for the elect, per se.
On the other hand, there are many passages which give general reference to Christ dying for the world, for whoever believes, the lost, the ungodly, and all mankind. These cannot be explained away as extreme Calvinists do and as Calvin himself did not do (See appendix E).
Problems with a limited view. Some of the problems with limited atonement to be discussed in chapter 6 are:
It restricts the love of God only to the elect.
It denies the universal offer of the gospel message. Why does God invite all to salvation, if Christ did not die for all?
It minimizes the necessity for repentant faith on the part of the sinner.
It ignores the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit promised by Christ.
It makes it impossible to personalize the gospel.
Election is distinct from and conditioned upon foreknowledge of faith
There are only two passages which relate foreknowledge and election to salvation, and both maintain the same sequence of foreknowledge before election (1 Peter 1:1-2; Rom. 8:28-31). Realization of this simple fact forced me to reexamine the linguistic data upon which the Calvinistic understanding of foreknowledge (proginoskein) was built. It was clear from both passages that there must be an essential and significant distinction between foreknowledge (proginoskein) and foreordination (prooridzein). This study convinced me that there is no unambiguous basis for understanding foreknowledge, as having "an active and ordaining force that the Eng. equivalent would not of itself readily suggest."(20) After parroting Berkhof's discussion of the Hebrew and Greek words for years, I began to realize that the mind is a slippery thing, and that if one comes to those same passages without Calvinistic presuppositions, the arguments from the usage of these words evaporates. What was most distressing to my Calvinistic bias was to find that nowhere in classical, Koine, Septuagint, or New Testament Greek usage does proginoskein mean more than "to know beforehand." I discovered that centuries of theological tradition have read into this word a meaning inconsistent with its usage in Greek literature. In Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20 in reference to Christ it cannot mean 'to choose beforehand' since Christ was not one chosen out of many!
More recently I have been forced to reexamine the meaning of proorizein (foreordain). I was shocked to find that it was only used once in classical Greek before the New Testament and rarely after that. Examining horizein and aphorizein uncovered the fact that the idea of 'destiny' is totally absent from this group of words. Thus 'predestinate' is a totally inappropriate translation, which was derived from the Latin Vulgate (ca. AD 406).
We would all agree that God's election has to be according to His plan. Since Peter and Paul are consistent in their order, we must not exclude God's omniscience and prescience from His plan. Certainly God does not close His eyes and throw darts! Why should we retreat back into the secret counsels of God to explain the basis of His elective choice?
Romans 8:29 must be examined in the broader context of the theme of the whole book, which is a righteousness which is by faith from first to last (1:16-17). This is confirmed by the 57 times 'faith' and the verb 'to believe' occur in Romans. Thus we cannot leave faith out of the plan of salvation (ordo salutis) derived from this passage. Election must therefore be seen as conditional, just as salvation is clearly conditioned on faith. An inductive study of foreknowledge, election, and foreordination is developed in chapter 7.
The Spirit's initiative is conviction wrought mediately before new birth.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, by devoting ten pages in his systematic theology to the convicting work of the Spirit, first pointed up the great importance of this doctrine, announced by Christ in John 16:8-11. He saw it as preparing the heart for faith and regeneration by breaking through the spiritual death and blindness which obstruct faith.(21) J. O. Buswell, a Calvinist, also saw quite clearly the relation of conviction to the plan of salvation (ordo salutis). Since I show in chapter 11 that the Holy Spirit works mediately in reference to faith, the convicting work of the Spirit also seems to be mediate in its operation and therefore in its extent. That is, it is as the word of God is preached that the Holy Spirit uses the word and brings men under conviction. We can best understand the ministry of the "other parakletos (helper, encourager, exhorter, advocate)" by noting the parallel with the first parakletos, Christ Himself. He most effectively used the Mosaic Law in the Sermon on the Mount to bring about conviction of sin. He used the Law to bring the rich young ruler under conviction so that he might repent of his failure to love the poor. John Walvoord rightly affirmed that the conviction of the Spirit is neither universal nor limited to the elect, but operates mediately through the word.(22)
A basic and neglected way to understand the ministry of conviction is to examine its historical fulfillment in Acts, since Christ's brief reference to it in John 16 is part of the Upper Room Discourse, a major subject of which is the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It follows then that the events on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 should be the first exemplification of the conviction of the Spirit as promised by Christ. First, the Holy Spirit, the divine Advocate, used Peter to charge the nation with the sin of crucifying Christ. As a result, we are told in 2:37 that they were "pierced to the heart" and cried out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Luke uses a unique word, katannussein, which means "to strike, or prick violently, to stun."(23) These men were under conviction but had not yet repented as seen in the fact that Peter responded with the imperative, "Repent!" It would seem that the usage of diaprio in 5:33 and 7:54 may be negative examples of conviction which did not lead to repentance. These passages reinforce the mediate nature of conviction. This neglected biblical truth will be developed in chapter 8.
God's calling to salvation is efficacious but not irresistible.
The doctrine of irresistible grace, like the doctrine of unconditional election, was first touted by Augustine about AD 416. Earlier church fathers knew nothing of these two doctrines, and after the Synod of Orange (529) little was heard of them again until the time of the Reformation. The Greek-speaking Eastern churches never accepted these doctrines.
Calvinistic presuppositions. The doctrine of irresistible grace is based upon a number of unstated presuppositions. Foremost is that effectual calling necessarily implies irresistible grace and that repentant faith is the immediate gift of God. This doctrine is loaded by the doctrine of unconditional election and the notion that regeneration precedes repentant faith.
Problematic prooftexts. John 6:37, 44, and 65 are misused as prooftexts for this by failing to see the context of Christ's statements. He is here not saying that all the elect shall infallibly come to Christ, but the context indicates that He is rather speaking about the remnant of regenerate Israelites who belonged to the Father. Now the Son has come, and that remnant is being turned over to Him by the Father and will certainly come to Him. But most in that multitude were not a part of that remnant.
Similarly, John 10:16 has also been pulled out of context to support irresistible grace. The Calvinistic interpretation of Acts 13:48 is based upon the usual translations. However, there are a number of alternate renderings which are linguistically and grammatically defensible and do not imply irresistible grace. Acts 16:14 has been given an uncalled-for Calvinistic spin and needs to be balanced off with Acts 17:11-12.
A word study of 'calling.' Upon examining the many occurrences of the Greek words for calling used in an effectual sense, I would suggest the following definition. Calling is God's action in bringing the sinner to salvation, thus commissioning the believer to an exalted position with a new name for service to God. It is used of the process and circumstances of our coming to faith viewed from the divine side, as contrasted with conversion, which is the human side. It implies that we have responded to the general invitation and thus by hindsight appears to be effectual.
Contrarian Scriptures. There are a number of passages which stand in direct contradiction to the notion of irresistible grace, which are ignored by determinists: Luke 7:30; Acts 7:51, 54; Matthew 13:1-43; 23:47; 1 Corinthians 4:15 & Philemon 10.
Thus it will be seen that the historical and exegetical basis for irresistible grace is absent, especially when the historical context is carefully considered and presuppositions are examined. Chapter 9 is a full investigation of this issue.
God declares sinners to be righteous by repentant faith alone apart from works.
Ever since Martin Luther trumpeted the watchword of the Reformation, not only did Roman Catholicism vigorously oppose it, but there has been a continuing erosion of this biblical truth among Protestants and even Evangelicals. Most outrageously the recent Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement has totally compromised this glorious truth by sweeping it under the rug. Arminians have patently added man's continuance in faith as the basis of ultimate salvation. But Calvinists also have subtly added sanctification to repentant faith as a basis for inclusion among the elect and therefore for ultimate salvation. This was especially strong in the 'experimental predestinarian' Puritan movement, which sadly undermined their assurance as badly as that of the Arminians.
It is my purpose here to update, defend, and develop the Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone. I will seek to clarify the relationship of faith alone (sola fide) to repentance, conversion, sanctification, and other terms and concepts which might compromise simple repentant faith. This is necessary since some of these terms have been grossly misdefined. I will also seek to spell out how the different theological movements have so compromised the simplicity of the gospel. This is the focus of chapter 10.
The new birth is conditional on repentant faith.
The primacy of faith. The primacy of repentant faith is basic to a mediate theology of salvation. Calvin himself emphasized the primacy of faith but was ambiguous about the order of faith and the new birth. I will follow Calvin's lead in starting with faith rather than election. Extreme Calvinism puts the new birth before faith, since they believe that spiritually dead humans cannot exercise faith and therefore need to be born again before they can believe. It is ironic that the five points of 'Calvinism' do not even mention as central a concept as faith and thus do not follow Calvin's lead! Since repentance and faith are key words in the apostolic proclamation of the gospel, it is essential to examine the relationship of faith and regeneration inductively.
Related to this is the Calvinistic concept that faith is the immediate gift of God, that the Holy Spirit gives the elect faith like a bolt of lightning. Roy Aldrich has raised some serious questions about this which require answers.(24) I would suggest that we must see faith as given mediately rather than immediately, indirectly rather than by the direct activity of the Spirit, and that it is man who is responsible to exercise repentant faith, not God to give it.
The exegetical flimsiness of using Ephesians 2:8-10 to prove that faith is the gift of God is well known and will be examined carefully. Some proof texts like Romans 12:3, Philippians 1:29; 2:13; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25; and 2 Peter 1:1 have been blatantly pulled out of context to support this misinterpretation..
The priority of repentant faith. If the subject is approached inductively it is overwhelmingly clear that faith is the condition of the new birth and therefore always precedes it. As to how those who are spiritually dead can hear, believe, and live, we struggle to understand; but as to the fact Christ's own words are clear: "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and now has come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live" (John 5:25 NIV). Note that Christ did not say that the regenerated shall hear! They are dead when they hear!
The answer is found not in regeneration but in the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, as is discussed in chapter 8. It is the conviction of the Spirit which is the divine initiative, thus enabling dead men to hear and believe. As a foundation for this investigation in chapter 4 we examined the definition of spiritual death and the implications of the fact that the image of God was not totally lost in Eden.
The human factor in faith. Years ago in teaching the life of Christ and the book of Acts I kept coming across statements of the Lord Jesus and the apostles which just did not fit with the idea of God directly giving faith to the elect by some work of irresistible grace. In addition, missionary service in the Muslim world and missiological studies forced me to focus upon the process by which sinners come to faith. Although the new birth is an instantaneous work of the Spirit of God, the process by which people come to faith involves heavy human involvement. Many Christians, especially those from a hostile background, can testify to months or years of spiritual struggle in the process of their coming to faith. This is totally harmonious with the case studies found in the New Testament. It should be clarified that faith is not the cause of regeneration; it is the divinely appointed term or condition of salvation. These topics are examined more fully in chapter 11.
Christ's discipleship teachings are not the way of salvation, but are a challenge to believers.
A serious compromise of justification by faith alone is the tendency of both Arminians and extreme Calvinists to interpret our Lord's discipleship teachings in Matthew 10, 16, and Luke 9, and 14 as conditions of salvation rather than as He intended them to be, a challenge to believers' lifestyles.
It is especially important to examine these teachings in their contexts in a sequential way. The foundational pattern was set in Matthew 10 where the Lord sent out His regenerate apostles with an extended warning of the persecution they would face as they proclaim the good news. The exhortation to cross bearing (Mt. 10:37-9) is not a condition for salvation, but rather of being worthy disciples.
He picked up the same theme when He had the apostles apart at Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16; Lk. 9) to first announce the founding of His church along with His first announcement of His impending death and resurrection. After inviting in a larger group of dedicated disciples, He repeated the challenge to cross-bearing and added self denial. The crucial word in this discourse is in Luke 9:23, where daily cross-bearing is stipulated, which clearly eliminates any consideration of this as being a statement of the conditions of salvation.
The third context in Luke 14 expands the teaching to include counting the cost of true discipleship. How muddled is the thinking of those who imagine He is here telling how to get saved and yet think they can harmonize this with salvation by God's gracious gift.
It is important to also examine Christ's salvation interviews with individuals, such as, the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, Matthew, the man born blind, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus, and Judas Iscariot, especially since this material has been grossly misunderstood.
It is especially important to critique so-called 'lordship salvation,' which I prefer to call 'discipleship salvation' teaching. In this investigation I examine the question of carnal Christians and fruitless believers, as it relates to the distinction between salvation and rewards. This study is the content of chapter 12.
Since regeneration is irreversible, the true believer is eternally secure in Christ.
Although I have argued that election is conditioned upon faith, the truly regenerated believer now participates in an unconditional aspect of salvation truth, the assurance of ultimate salvation. The overwhelming plethora of Scripture promises of eternal security have been contradicted by Arminianism's misunderstanding of the warnings of Scripture, especially of the book of Hebrews. Without belaboring all of the arguments fully covered by other writers, I believe that a fresh inductive analysis of these passages in no way contradicts eternal security. My own inductive treatment of Hebrews Six is fresh and heavily drawn from the context of the book. Far too much of the interpretation of these passages has been colored by the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.
It is also significant to distinguish the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints from the biblical teaching of eternal security, since Calvinism has significantly intruded a believer's experiential sanctification into our assurance of ultimate salvation. This had led to an introspective mindset which seriously undermines such assurance. This is a serious backloading of salvation with sanctification. In the limited scope of this book we can only touch on these issues in chapter 13.
Christ charged us not to make salvation's terms too hard or too easy.
Christ's most important instruction at Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16) has not only been distorted and usurped by the Roman church, but ignored and misunderstood by most Evangelicals. There are a number of significant questions I investigate here. Despite the diversity of opinions about the identity of the Rock upon which the church was built, the evidence for Christ being that Rock is actually quite one-sided.
The victory of the church over the gates of Hades is best understood as a reference to His impending resurrection as the basis for the church's victory. As the Lord gave Peter the awesome responsibility of opening the door of faith to the nation Israel and subsequently to the Gentiles, He also charged him with the responsibility not to bind on earth what God has not already bound in heaven (as the Pharisees were doing), nor to loose on earth what God has not already loosed in heaven (as the Sadducees were doing). This truth is explicit in the periphrastic perfect passive participles, which are poorly translated. Thus it is an admonition to proclaim the good news on heaven's terms, unadulterated by man's traditions and philosophies. This makes the subject of this book of the highest priority for all believers as is emphasized in chapter 14.
Church history is replete with antecedents for a mediate theology of salvation.
Although we must not derive our theology from church history, we should check the results of our exegesis and theological pursuit by the test of history. Even though we recognize the imperfection of the historical record and the progress of the development of Christian doctrine over the centuries, we should find some support and confirmation in the history of Christian thought.
I have found significant support in a number of historical realities:
For four centuries before Augustine the church fathers all defended free will. Thus it is widely recognized that Augustine was the first predestinarian and the originator of the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace.
The Synod of Orange (Aurasio, AD 529) approved Augustine's emphasis upon grace but without his doctrine of predestination and irresistible grace. Its decision was semi-Augustinian, not semi-Pelagian. Virtually nothing is heard of these doctrines until Martin Luther resuscitated them a millennium later.
There were at least nine movements in reaction against the Augustinian emphasis of the Reformers, all of which sought for a middle way of explaining the plan of salvation. In the main they were initiated by men who had excellent spiritual and scholarly credentials.
Luther, Calvin, and the first generation Reformers did not hold to limited atonement, which was not included in any creed until the Synod of Dort (1619). See appendix E for over 30 clear quotations of Calvin on general redemption. See chapter 15 for the fuller historical study.
The thrust of world evangelism has come in the main from movements which rejected determinism.
A second test of our theology of salvation should be its harmony historically and logically with the implementation of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus, which is central to God's plan. If our theology seems to be counterproductive of evangelism and global missions, we must re-examine our theology. My study of the history of missions has indicated that the main thrust came from the radical reformation, those movements which began to distance themselves theologically from the determinism of the mainline Reformation. While we must avoid a pragmatic approach to theology, we must also be concerned with the impact of our theology of salvation on the progress of world evangelization, since this was central to Christ and His apostles. There was a theological cause for the "Great Protestant Omission." Paul was the greatest integrator of missions and theology of the church. This test is investigated in chapter 16.
The Resultant Plan of Salvation
As relates to the application phase of salvation then the plan of salvation (ordo salutis) would be:
A. Foreknowledge of repentant faith
B. Election to salvation and service based upon foreknowledge
C. Conviction wrought mediately by the Spirit through human instrumentality
D. Repentance towards God and faith in Christ
E. Justification and regeneration
F. Outward conversion results from regeneration and justification.
G. A truly regenerate and justified believer's salvation is eternal.
H. Sanctification and discipleship are the believer's responsibility by walking in the Spirit. The overcomer will be rewarded in the kingdom.
I am thus proposing a distinct mediate theology of salvation whose historical roots are found in the semi-Augustinianism of the Synod of Orange (529) and a long line of postreformation leaders and theologians who reacted to the determinism of the Reformers. A large number of preachers, commentators, and scholars of the last two centuries have held a mediate position, many without knowing its roots.
It is intermediate between the opposing views of the exercise of God's sovereignty. While affirming God's initiative in salvation, it recognizes God's demand for man's response as a condition for salvation. The mediate view alone is able to avoid the compromise of justification by repentant faith alone. It alone recognizes the essential place of the convicting work of the Spirit wrought mediately. It alone avoids the confusion of discipleship salvation. It is the soundest way for the believer to experience the full assurance of security in Christ.
In common with Calvinism it holds to an essentially Augustinian view of the total depravity of man (properly defined), some limited or particular dimensions of the cross-work of Christ, the eternal security of the truly born-again believer. In common with Arminianism it holds to some universal dimensions of the death of Christ without becoming universalist, conditional election and the rejection of irresistible grace.
©1981, 2000 by C. Gordon Olson
The two volumes Clark Pinnock edited started a new interchange: Grace Unlimited (Bethany, 1975) and The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism (Zondervan, 1989). The InterVarsity 'four views' book, Predestination and Free Will (1986) sought clarification. The Calvinists responded with their two 1995 volumes from Baker: Thomas R. Schreiner & Bruce A. Ware, eds., The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will. They respond to each other but not to a mediate soteriology, which solves most of the problems they have with each other.
B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Eerdmans, 1935), p. 33.
Soteriology is theological jargon for the theology of salvation, usually focusing on the application of salvation in the life of the individual sinner and sometimes including Christ's work on the cross itself.
Pelagius was the British monk whose purportedly man-centered view of salvation was vigorously opposed by Augustine. Semi-Pelagianism is the view that man has to take the first step to God.
Indeed, Alan C. Clifford in Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790 argues that Wesley was closer to Calvin theologically than was John Owen.
Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp. 184-187.
Although Roger Nicole is of the opinion that Moyse Amyraut held to conditional election, both Brian Armstrong and Leonard Proctor are clear that while Amyraut held to unconditional election, he did not emphasize it in his theological system. From the historical perspective, Brian G. Arrmstrong's Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (1969) was monumental. Other than Roger Nicole's bibliographic dissertation, this is the only published work in English on the Amyraldian theological movement. Although Armstrong quotes and translates extensively from Amyraut, it is tragic that none of Amyraut's extensive writings in soteriology are available in English. There are also two unpublished doctoral dissertations on Amyraut: Jurgen Moltmann, "Gnadenbund und Gnadenwahl" (1951) and Leonard Proctor, "The Theology of Moise Amyraut considered as a reaction against seventeenth-century Calvinism" (1952).
I have found that few theologically astute people are familiar with Salmurian theology, as it is otherwise known, and the term Amyraldian is only slightly more familiar to most. Only the older theological encyclopedias, like Hastings, even give a listing for Amyraldianism, with the exception of Roger Nicole's article in Palmer's work.(9)
Roger Nicole, "Amyraldianism, Amyraldism, Amyraldus, Amyraut" in Edwin Palmer, ed., Encyclopedia of Christianity (Wilmington, DE, 1964), pp. 184-93. (10)
Arthur W. Pink, The Atonement, (Venice, FL: Chapel Library, n.d.), p. 2.
Samuel Fisk, Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1973); and Calvinistic Paths Retraced, (Murphreesboro, TN: Biblical Evangelism Press, 1985).
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947).
Thiessen and Chafer didn't get together on the nomenclature.(14)
Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (GR: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 343; Chafer, III, pp. 178ff. -
Although Norman Douty repudiated the Amyraldian name, he was essentially Amyraldian in his theological viewpoint.
Hugo Grotius quoted by James Nichols, Calvinism and Arminianism, I, pp. 220-41.
John H. Gerstner and Jonathan Neil Gerstner, "Edwardsean Preparation for Salvation," Westminster Theological Journal, 42:5-50.
John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ, Our Lord (Chicago: Moody, 1969), pp. 163-90.
Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died, (Des Plaines, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1967), pp. 73-91.
Ibid., p. 592.
Chafer, VI, pp. 88-99.
John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen, 1954), p. 111.
G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937), p. 236.
Roy L. Aldrich, "The Gift of God," Bibliotheca Sacra, 122:487.