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!
This is going to be my last book review for a little bit, so I wanted to leave it on a high note. I am hoping to go back to educational content for a while and I’m still mapping that out. This was actually my favorite book that I read in March. I just got overwhelmed trying to do too much, so I didn’t get the chance to review it until now. That said, I hope that this review blesses you and I hope you take the opportunity to get the book!
Background on Amy Gannett:
Amy Gannett may sound familiar to you as the creator and owner of Tiny Theologians, a ministry that makes theological educational material for toddlers and children. Amy is also a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is a writer. Her writings have been featured on Risen Motherhood, The Gospel Coalition, and Well Watered Women. Amy, her husband, and children live in Greenville, NC, where they work as church planters at Trinity Church. You can find Amy’s Bible studies at her website and I’ll also link to Tiny Theologians below!
Links: www.amygannett.com, www.tinytheologians.shop
Amy starts Fix Your Eyes (FYE) by pointing to the fact that (as RC Sproul has also famously done) everyone is a theologian. This sets up the rest of the book to show how proper theology should lead to doxology. As most of you would know by being part of this group, theology is the study of God (theos being the Greek word for “God” and ology being the Greek word for “the study of”) and doxology is an expression of worship (doxa is the Greek word for “glory” and logia is the Greek word for “written or oral expression”). So explaining this further, having a proper understanding of who God is prompts us to worship God more fully and faithfully. Amy says this on page 14 as:
When knowledge of God and worship of him work together as God designed, we will be Christians who know God and who love him; who learn about him and respond to what we’re learning in worship; who do the hard work of studying the scriptures that we might understand God as he revealed himself and fall on our knees in surrender and affection before the God of the Bible. When we make the study of God and the worship of him non-negotiables, we have the chance to become the kind of Christians who know and love God with our whole selves.
But in order to do this, we have to know who God is, so Amy turns and spends the next three chapters talking about who God is, Christology, and Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit, pneuma being the Greek word for “spirit”). When looking at who God is, we have to start with looking at his communicable attributes (the qualities of God that we also take a share in by being made in his image) and his incommunicable attributes (the qualities of God that he has and no one else has). Amy explains these attributes as, “In short, you could say the communicable attributes connect us to God, while the incommunicable attributes set him apart from us, drawing the line between creature and creator” on page 25. From there, Amy gives one of the most robust, yet simple explanations of who God is that I’ve ever read, despite the limitations of human reason to be able to explain it. A great example of this is found on page 28:
To say that God is infinite is to say that God is beyond our greatest thoughts of him, he is higher and longer and wider and deeper than we can conceive – and to ever speak in such measurable terms gives us away.
One of the downfalls we tend to do culturally is elevating some attributes of God over others depending on what is convenient at the given moment. Amy is able to avoid that by tying them all together through his sovereignty on page 34:
But God’s sovereignty, like all of his other attributes, is tied into one another. They are all perfectly who God is, which is why God’s authority in creation is what leads him to sacrifice of the cross, the power of the resurrection, and the rule in the new creation. God wields his sovereignty in ways that are congruent with all his other attributes. He rules, yes with goodness. He reigns, indeed, with mercy. He governs, yes, with justice. He’s an uncorrupted King with a kind hand, wisely directing all that goes on in the universe.
God is all of these things and so much more. And God holding these attributes shows us our own higher calling. As Amy says on page 36:
God’s holiness tells us something about where we get our human standards of morality and perfection, God sets that standard. But God’s goodness takes it a step further – God is not only the standard of moral purity, but he is benevolent in all that he does. From top to bottom, God is good. He is a fountain of generosity (James 1:5, John 3:16) and one in whom there is only light and not a spot of darkness (1 John 1:5), and he invites us, by the power of his Spirit, to live the same way.
While God is holy and just, his “mercy is his active compassion toward us” (page 40) and he shows that compassion by taking on the punishment for our sins. Through this, we look towards the incarnation. Jesus as fully God had all of God’s attributes perfectly, yet he lived among us and had a very human (yet sinless) experience through life. As written in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” While Amy doesn’t cite this verse, I think it fits nicely with what she’s written about Jesus and how the incarnation enables us to have a well formed theology of suffering on pages 83-87.
Something I especially appreciate about FYE is that Amy doesn’t downplay the importance of the Holy Spirit or treat pneumatology as a topic to gloss past until we get to the “real stuff.” She naturally starts her look at the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, pointing to the “Spirit of God hovering over the waters,” but she doesn’t stop there. Amy points to several parts of the Old Testament where you can clearly see the Holy Spirit being active in the lives of God’s people, as God is calling them (and us) to be people of the presence (a reference to Exodus 33:12-17), being marked by the presence of God’s Spirit.
By far, my favorite chapter was on soteriology (kind of a duh, for those that know me and have been reading my Guides the last 2 years). The thing that makes FYE unique in how it handles soteriology is that she centers the entirety of it around our union with Christ. On page 121, she makes the distinction that “salvation isn’t a gift that [Jesus] worked hard to earn only to hand it off to you and me as we place our faith in him; he is the gift.” Then she explains more in depth on page 122:
Like the center of a wagon wheel, the doctrine of union with Christ is what supports every other doctrine that encircles it. Justification is the result of our being united to the Justified One; adoption is the result of our being united to the Son of God; our sanctification is the result of being united to the Holy One. All of the gospel, the entire message of salvation, find their source and substance in this eternal doctrine of union with Christ.
This is only obtained by grace through faith. Though, Amy is intentional to note on page 127 that “what is essential is not the quality of our faith, but the reliability of the one in whom our faith is put.” As Jesus himself says in Matthew 17:20 that faith as little as a mustard seed could move mountains.
A natural implication of the doctrine of our union with Christ is that through our union with Christ, we are also brought to union with one another. On page 177, Amy explains it as:
God saves sinners and immediately includes them in the congregation of the saved. This is why historic theologians were right when they insisted that there is no salvation apart from the church. What they were not saying is that individuals in the church are the ones handing out salvation; what they did mean is that there is no way for someone to be saved without becoming a part of God’s people, the church. Put another way, there’s no way to be united to the Son without being united to everyone else who is united to him – meaning his people.
Among the historic theologians that held this view was Cyprian of Carthage, who said, “You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” The church is vitally important to our spiritual lives because God designed us to live communally amongst people who encourage us to pursue him. Many of the practices that are beneficial for Christian life are best experienced in the context of community.
The last chapter of FYE discusses eschatology and I honestly wish I could just copy and paste the whole chapter here for you guys because it is just so rich, but I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes. The first plays well with the theological implications of our union with Christ and is found on page 206:
This is the culmination of our union with Christ. Those who are in Christ in this world will be found in Christ in his holy city. This is why it’s called the “consummation” of all things: because the union we have with Christ in salvation now will take its fullest form as we savor our richest intimacy and inseparable oneness with him.
As we look to the consummation, we can enjoy our union with Christ and with each other through the ordinary joys of the Word, Sacraments, and corporate worship. As Amy notes on page 218:
If the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is what awaits us, then you could say that we are enjoying the rehearsal dinner of that wedding feast each time we set the table for our family and our community.
Conclusions & Rating:
Fix Your Eyes was exceptionally encouraging. Amy shows a healthy view of law and gospel while pointing the reader towards godliness. The way she describes God and points to his attributes truly prompts you to worship, adoration, and appreciation. This book is a great read for new believers and mature believers alike. I’d say the reading level is probably fit for readers 16 and older. You do not have to be a woman to appreciate this book at all. It would also be great for a small group study and there’s a free discussion guide for that on Amy’s website. All in all, I truly loved reading FYE and happily give it 5 stars out of 5.
Review is also posted on GoodReads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4604886064
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.