Chapter 2 – Sovereignty and Salvation: A Summary of the Non-Calvinist View

Within Protestant Christianity there has historically been two very different answers given to the question “What is the biblical gospel?”  And it remains so today in conservative Evangelicalism.  Before we examine the Calvinist soteriology I want to briefly lay out the contrasting non-Calvinist view. This view generally goes by the name Arminianism, but different nuances have given rise to labels such as Traditionalism, Provisionism or even Molinism. The point is that these views all stand in direct contrast to the determinism of Calvinism.

Most Christians believe the “gospel” to be the “good news” that given the hopeless and helpless condition of separation from God that man finds himself in due to his fall into sin, nevertheless, God, in being gracious to all of us who are undeserving of salvation, has accomplished salvation (i.e., justification, redemption, reconciliation, etc.) for every person through Christ’s death on the cross.  The wrath of God that is due us because of our sin was laid upon Jesus on the cross.

The clear message of the Old Testament prophets regarding the messianic salvation to come was that it would be universal in scope.  F. F. Bruce states,

“Not only does Christianity provide the proper fulfillment of the earlier revelation of God given through the prophets of Israel in Old Testament times; it also supplies the answer to the quests and aspirations expressed in the philosophies and cults of the other nations.  It was divinely intended from the beginning to be a universal religion.”[1]

This universally intended salvation, being of the nature of a gift, is offered freely to all.  Therefore, anyone may receive that gift.  This is done simply by believing in the “good news” of what God has accomplished for us in Christ.  We are saved by faith.

The response of faith is everywhere in Scripture contrasted with works, therefore simple faith, which is the only condition for receiving the gift of salvation, cannot be considered meritorious.  It is never presented as a person contributing to their salvation. Rather, faith is the humble recognition that any restoration of fellowship with God is not within human possibilities and must be accomplished by God himself.  This he has done in Christ.  God’s love and grace for every sinner is found in the person and work of Christ – in his life of perfect obedience to the Father and his selfless death on the cross.  God, and God alone, has accomplished our salvation. Faith is agreeing with God that salvation comes only through his saving work in Christ.

Now, the Bible teaches that a faith response of believing and trusting in Christ’s work on your behalf is how this salvation is appropriated to oneself.  Salvation is accessed by sinners through faith.  This salvation springs from God whose nature is justice, love and grace.  God’s demand for a just punishment for sin was satisfied and displayed in the death of Christ on the cross.  By faith – believing that “good news” – we are granted forgiveness and freedom from sin and its punishment.

The nature of salvation as a historical fact, publicly displayed, known, testified to and universally proclaimed makes God’s grace and salvation accessible to all.  Entailed in the public and universal proclamation of the gospel, and its content as “good news,” is God’s faithful and true offer of salvation to all.  In the gospel we see God’s loving desire that everyone believe and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Therefore, whoever hears this message may be saved.  In that this is “good news,” and by virtue of its invitation or command to believe, we therefore know it is God’s will that all sinners believe this message and receive eternal life.  In its nature as a gift, people can either receive or reject it.  That is, the sinner either surrenders to God’s love and grace demonstrated to them in Christ’s death on the cross and made personal and accessible to them in the telling of this “good news,” or, they willfully suppress God’s general and special revelation to them, resist the work of the Spirit in the gospel message, reject him in unbelief and refuse to acknowledge their sin and the way of salvation in Christ, and remain in their sin and condemnation.

Again, the “good news” is both a command and an invitation.  It therefore is a divine call that is genuine. It applies to every hearer. Every person may come to Christ and be saved. No one is excluded. Those who obey the command and accept the invitation, that is, believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, are granted eternal life and kept by God’s power.  With the exception of one’s intentional, defiant, willful denunciation of the faith and rejection of the truth of the gospel, the humble believer is kept by the power of God through all of life’s vicissitudes.  Nothing and no one can pluck them out of their Father’s hand.  But those who refuse to believe remain under condemnation and judgment for their sin and unbelief.  If they persist in their rejection of the way of salvation, this will result in their eternal damnation and separation from God.

A. W. Tozer explains what constitutes the gospel message.  He writes,

“The gospel message embodies three distinct elements: an announcement, a command, and a call.  It announces the good news of redemption accomplished in mercy; it commands all men everywhere to repent and it calls all men to surrender to the terms of grace by believing on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

We must choose whether we will obey the gospel or turn away in unbelief and reject its authority.  Our choice is our own, but the consequences of the choice have already been determined by the sovereign will of God, and from this there is no appeal.”[2]

Therefore, also, there is no contradiction or incoherence in maintaining that we human beings are finite creatures, who although we are subject to the sovereign determinations of our Creator God, are also free moral agents.  It is just that, in contrast to Calvinism, those sovereign determinations are not exhaustive, that is, God does not determine “whatsoever comes to pass.”  The Bible clearly indicates that God’s sovereignty is not to be understood as him being the sole determiner and cause of everything that occurs.  The Bible everywhere testifies to the substantive freedom bestowed upon us by that same sovereign Creator God.  God endowed his human creatures with a will by which genuine choices or decisions are freely made. These choices are “real-time” and change effective.  They involve real contingency, possibility and potentiality.  This sovereign decision of God to create us in his image makes us free moral agents and gives meaning to personal moral responsibility.  It frees God from being the source and cause of all evil and makes man both praiseworthy for the good he does and blameworthy or culpable for the evil he does.  Such genuine freedom is not a threat to the sovereignty or glory of God.

This is the position I current hold.  It is consistent with “the gospel” as “good news.”  In that it reveals the universal love of God for all sinners and therefore the salvific will of God to save all sinners by making a way whereby they may be saved, it is truly “good news.”  It has explanatory power and scope in that it accounts for more of the Scriptural data with consistency and coherence by maintaining that salvation is a sovereign work of God and allowing for the human freedom and responsibility to accept or reject that salvation.  God has sovereignly and yet lovingly established the way of salvation.  In justice and equity he leaves each person’s eternal destiny up to them.  But in the preaching of the gospel, by its very nature and content, the Spirit is present who enables the sinner to respond positively to its message.  By virtue of the content and power of the gospel message, anyone hearing it can respond positively to it.  Those who reject it, resist the Spirit and disregard its offer of salvation.  This position best accounts for the biblical data on the love and justice of God, the nature of grace and faith, and our experiential reality, that is, our use of logical reasoning, moral intuitions and the common, accepted practice of just judgments and punishments.

God loves you! By simply trusting in him and believing the good news that God has provided salvation for you in Christ, you too can be saved!

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[1] F. F. Bruce, The Apostolic Defence of The Gospel: Christian Apologetic in the New Testament, (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1959), 9-10.

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961), 119-120.

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