Good morning! This is a post that came as a response to a group member asking about Calvinism & Arminianism and I realized that while we’ve talked about Calvinism a lot and Arminianism some, we haven’t really addressed soteriology extensively. This is not as extensive as it could be, but I hope that it is a helpful primer for you to dive deeper into studying these things.
What is Soteriology?
Soteriology is the study of how you are saved. During reformation month in 2020 and 2021, I addressed Calvinism/reformed soteriology, so I am not going to go too deep into that perspective; however, I am going to address many of the other soteriological perspectives and where they come from as briefly as I can!
Because I address Arminianism a bit in the TULIP series, this is going to be a little bit more brief than it could be. There is a bit of a difference between contemporary Arminianism, what Jacobus Arminius taught, and what the Remonstrance taught. Arminius was a former Calvinist and a bit of his views were closer to Calvinism than what the Remonstrance taught. During my reformation month posts last year, I talked about the history of the 3 Forms of Unity, specifically the Canons of Dort, which were written as a response to the 5 points of the Remonstrance.
The teachings of Arminianism are usually supported by verses like 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (that God wants all people to be saved), John 3:16 (for God so loved the world), 2 Peter 3:9 (God doesn’t want any to perish), and the many places in scripture that indicate people have a free choice in their decision making regarding their salvation or morality.
Arminianism is a very pervasive teaching throughout evangelicalism today for a few reasons. The first is that as humans, we can very clearly identify that we do make decisions and it is hard to mentally understand that those decisions were ordained by God. Truthfully, this is something I know to be true, but I cannot understand how it works. There’s a degree that we can’t fully understand how God works because of the limited capacity of humanity. But I know that what scripture says about God’s sovereignty is true, so I just accept my limitations to the best of my ability.
The second reason is because there’s often the thought that if God is sovereign even over our own decision making, that must make God the author of evil. I cover refuting that in the TULIP series above, but I do want to reiterate that no self respecting Calvinist believes that God is the instigator of evil. Our “free will” is on full display when we sin. It’s God’s goodness that brings us to repentance and faith.
The third reason is that we like the feeling of being in control to an extent. Even Arminians acknowledge that God has a level of sovereignty, but his sovereignty is so far downplayed that it’s almost as if God does what we want for us. Please don’t take this as me disrespecting or denigrating Arminianism because I definitely do not want to do that, but I’ll leave some examples from Arminian apologists below so you can see what I’m saying.
This was a view taught by a Spanish Jesuit priest named Luis de Molina. Molina argued that God knows all possible scenarios that could lead to your salvation and chose to make the one you became a Christian happen. It’s sort of a multiverse view within Christianity. The scriptures used to support this view were really an interpretation of verses like Matthew 11:23:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Here, “would have” indicates an additional potential outcome that God knew about, but it didn’t come to fruition. Ligonier has a more thorough overview of Molinism linked below, so I will just keep it here for space!
While Methodists are a subset of Arminians, historically Wesleyan Methodist soteriology includes the idea that it is possible for people to be completely sanctified while on earth and marked that sanctification as part of their justification (basically you can’t be saved unless you become completely saved by achieving sinless perfectionism). This was taught by John Wesley and is also called Wesleyanism. It is highly pietistic and legalistic because they focus so heavily on works based justification.
Lutheranism is probably one of the closest ideologically to Calvinism, but Lutherans differ in that they believe in unlimited atonement (that Jesus did in fact die for all of the sins of every individual person in the world), that you can lose your salvation, and that you can resist faith/regeneration.
Amyraldianism is a teaching made prominent by Moyses Amyraldus and an attempt to reconcile Lutheranism and Calvinism. It’s basically 4 point Calvinism with the “God looked down the corridors of time to see who would choose him” bent, but Amyraldianism does recognize that no one would choose God without God initiating it.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has a very very long way of explaining their soteriology. It is similar to Roman Catholicism functionally, but they have different nuanced reasons for why they think the way that they do. They believe that you are justified by faith alone, but that the faith is shown through works, heavily leaning on passages like in James 2:14 (faith without works is dead). Here’s a helpful quote I found from an EO resource responding to Calvinism:
But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becomes efficacious, and as in themselves meriting, through the Divine promises that each of the Faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it’s good or bad.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this one, though they obviously differ with us significantly in that the RCC teaches that we are saved by faith + works. When you do sin, you need to confess your sin and pay penance. If you do not sufficiently pay penance in this life, when you die, you will be sent to purgatory to continue to pay penance until your moral debt has been expunged. I’ve written extensively against various points of Catholic theology in the group, as well. You can learn more fully about Catholic soteriology by reading about the Council of Trent.
Of course, there’s definitely more positions out there than what I’ve outlined and I’d be happy to discuss more of it if you guys have questions!