Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Three Views of Salvation

I've been musing on a simple way to characterize the three main views of how a person is "saved," where by 'saved' I mean saved from eternal damnation, as opposed to some temporal malady.

First, let me talk briefly about necessary and sufficient conditions. A necessary condition for something (like an event) is a condition that is essential for that event to occur. Put another way, if the necessary condition for X does not occur, then it is impossible for X to occur. For instance, having gas in my car is a necessary condition for driving my car to Florida.

A sufficient condition is different. A sufficient condition for something is a condition that, if it occurs, guarantees that the thing will occur. Put another way, if a sufficient condition for X occurs, then it is impossible for X not to occur. For example, being in the state of Missouri is a sufficient condition for being in the United States. That is, if I am in Missouri, then that guarantees that I am in the United States.

Now we are in a position to delineate the three main views.
View #1: God's action is neither necessary nor sufficient for my salvation. (Perhaps the Pelagian view?)
View #2: God's action is both necessary and sufficient for my salvation. (A Calvinist view)
View #3: God's action is necessary, but not sufficient for my salvation. (The Catholic view?, also a type of Arminian view)

To clarify, the action I am referring to by 'God's action' is not just any action, but rather some action done directly to me at or near the moment of salvation. All three views would agree that some divine action is necessary for my salvation, such as God's sending Jesus to die on the cross.

The third view is closest to my own. The reason I would say that God's action is not sufficient is that there must also be an action (freely) performed by me, namely that of repenting or submitting or accepting God's gift of salvation -- call it what you will. This human action is a necessary condition for salvation. So my repentence and God's saving action are both necessary and are jointly sufficient for my salvation.

So a natural question might be, on view #3, does God sometimes perform his necessary action for a person's salvation while that person fails to perform theirs, thus preventing their salvation? I don't see any reason why this couldn't happen. In fact, I think it happens quite often. It is the old "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" scenario. The converse is also possible -- a person could "repent" or seek God without obtaining salvation because God does not perform the necessary salvific action.

Another question might be, couldn't God perform his necessary salvific action while also causing me to perform my necessary salvific action, thus guaranteeing my salvation? If so, then view #3 is in danger of collapsing into view #2. The answer depends on your view of free will. On the most common sense understanding of free will, God cannot cause me to freely perform my necessary salvific action. He could cause me to repent/submit/whatever, but this would not be a free action on my part. So if you think salvation must be freely chosen, then it follows that God cannot cause you to choose salvation. So, I do not think view #3 collapses into view #2. However, Calvinists would simply deny that salvation must be (or ever is) freely chosen, which is why they hold something like view #2.

I would love to eventually bring some new clarity to this debate, and perhaps this is a good first step.


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