Christendom Confusion

Optimism Out of Control, Christendom ConfusionAs a new Christian, I learned that not all Christians agree.  Sadly we are divided over many things.  New Christians need to be nurtured just like newborn infants, but when there are family dysfunctions, newborns can suffer.  For example, I read an account of a church family which divided over the shade of green for the new carpet in the sanctuary.  Yikes!  The tragedy is that when families divide, the children suffer most.  Thankfully, God is our Father and not the church!  Though the church is a haven for believers young and old, God alone is our perfect Heavenly Father.  Nonetheless, it is tragic to think how self-centered, weak, and poor in judgment we Christians and our churches often are.

Christians have also divided over more significant matters.  The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century is an example.  In that case, there was a sharp disagreement about the gospel message itself.  Martin Luther believed one thing while Catholic orthodoxy believed another.  Moreover, the protesters could not even come to an agreement among themselves.  Further splintering continued. Some followed Martin Luther (Lutherans), some followed John Calvin (Presbyterians), and still others followed Michael Sattler (Anabaptists).  Also note that the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church had already divided centuries earlier.  Today the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anabaptists are not just three groups, but have each divided again, too many times to count.  This is just a short account of the "organized" church.  We ought to call ourselves the "disorganized" church!  Other Christians prefer to follow Christ apart from this confusion, but they are not without their own sin and divisions as well.

My son once said as a young boy, "It would be great if we could all live in one giant house!"  That was a special season of time for our family.  We lived in a rented apartment. It had a large screen door that opened onto a grassy field surrounded by other apartments.  Each neighbor had a screen door just like ours, and kids would pour out onto the field every evening and weekend to play kickball and other games.  We had fun, but at day's end everyone needed to go home.  My son thought it would be great if we could all go home to the same house so the fun would never end!

Sadly, because of the divisions, we Christians no longer live in the same house.  This is nothing new.  Divisions among Christians began in the first century as I Corinthians 1:10-17 (WEB) records Paul pleading,

10) Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11) For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12) Now I mean this, that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' 'I follow Apollos,' 'I follow Cephas,' and, 'I follow Christ.'

13) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14) I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15) so that no one should say that I had baptized you into my own name. 16) (I also baptized the household of Stephanas; besides them, I don’t know whether I baptized any other.) 17) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News—not in wisdom of words, so that the cross of Christ wouldn’t be made void.

If Christians began dividing in the 1st century and 2,000 years later the divisions have multiplied into the thousands, what hope is there?


There is hope because Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23 (WEB),

20)  Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who will believe in me through their word, 21)  that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. 22)  The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23)  I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me and loved them, even as you loved me.

So we press forward with confidence, knowing that the prayer of Christ has been heard.  Jesus' prayer is hot on our Heavenly Father's mind as he works his will in this world.  Will you and I keep step with Christ and the oneness for which he prayed?  Or will we be the cause of yet another division?  Do we need to be confronted with the prophet's words yet again in Malachi 2:10 (WEB), as he asked, "Don’t we all have one father? Hasn’t one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?"

So, looking past carpet color disputes, please join me in revisiting the gospel message.


Soteriology is the study of salvation and the destinies of mankind.  It is from the Greek root soteria, meaning salvation. Wikipedia defines soteriology as "the study of religious doctrines of salvation."  One can see why this is a particularly important subject.  For example, it is said, "All is well that ends well."  Religious doctrine may touch on various subjects, but the subject of how to confirm our positive end ought to hold a special place of significance.  Jesus asks us in Luke 9:25 (WEB), "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own self?"

The major religions are different primarily because they have different understandings of God and different salvation recipes.  The Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions each have different instructions for a positive end.  There are also differences within these major labels themselves.  For example, there are Protestant and Catholic Christians.  There are Reformed and Orthodox Jews.  There are also Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.  Beyond that there may even be cultural expectations as to what it means to be Christian, as well as doctrinal and practical expectations.  Catholic Christians in the United States see things differently than Catholic Christians in Argentina.  Also, the expectations from our contemporaries are not the same as Christians from yesteryear, nor even the same as the Bible itself.

New Christians are often surprised to learn that there are divisions over the gospel.  How can one determine if a particular church or individual is close enough to the Bible to be authentic?  There are too many variations of Christian salvation to highlight them all in this short book.  Furthermore, you certainly do not need one more book explaining why I think I am right and others are wrong.  Instead I plan to highlight the two most common views and then propose a model for evaluating and categorizing any understanding of Christian salvation that you may encounter.

In the end, the Bible itself strangely says that you do not need a teacher, but that the Holy Spirit is your teacher -- that is, if you are a Christian.  We read in I John 2:27 (WEB),

As for you, the anointing which you received from him remains in you, and you don’t need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, you will remain in him.

So ask God to give you understanding as you continue your study.  If you discover errors in my thinking, please talk to me.

The two most common views of Christian salvation found in various denominations that I want to highlight are Arminianism and Calvinism.

In a nutshell, Arminianism is the belief that Jesus died for ALL mankind, but only those individual people who provide the missing PART or condition of choosing faith with their free will are finally saved to eternal life.  Arminianism is named after Jacob Arminius, who supported this view.

Calvinism is the belief that Jesus died only for PART of mankind, but he provides ALL of salvation to guarantee eternal life for these chosen ones, and God also leads these chosen ones irresistibly to faith in Christ. Calvinism was named after a prominent historical proponent of this idea, John Calvin.  Calvinism, sometimes called Augustinism has its roots in the theology of Catholic Saint Augustine.

You may be well acquainted with these different views.  You may even be sick of hearing one more word about them!  However, consider one last thought. As I compared and contrasted these two views, a model for evaluating any salvation doctrine was born.  The model proposes two questions, each with only two answers for a combination of only four possibilities.

Is God the savior of ALL or PART of mankind?

Does God do ALL or PART of the saving?

? ?
? ?

If we use the words ALL or PART carefully, we can divide every view of Christian salvation into one of these four categories.  No one could ride on the fence unless their doctrine was internally contradictory or they simply did not take a position on the subject.  This exercise will be very useful to understand current Christian salvation doctrines, and also useful to explain my own view of salvation.

Please also note that Christian salvation can sometimes refer to salvation from sin and other times salvation to eternal life.  In this discussion, however, my four-part matrix is used specifically to categorize the different views of salvation to eternal life.


In this model Christ did PART of salvation for PART of mankind.

This model assumes that when Jesus died on the cross he only paid for the sins of PART of mankind.  Furthermore, suppose he only did PART of the work so that individuals must meet an additional condition to be saved.

For an extreme example, suppose that Mother Teresa is not within the PART of mankind that Jesus forgave.  Or suppose she misses the condition needed for salvation.  Then even she will not be saved from eternal damnation in the end, regardless of her great goodness.  By way of contrast, suppose Hitler is within the PART of mankind that Jesus chose to forgive.  And suppose he somehow meets the condition needed for salvation.  Then he will be saved from damnation to eternal life in the end, regardless of his great evil.

Thankfully, this view disagrees with I John 2:1-2 (WEB) which explains that Jesus did die for ALL mankind.

1) My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. 2) And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

This view also disagrees with Ephesians 2:8-9 (WEB), which explains that we are saved by grace apart from any work.

8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9) not of works, that no one would boast.

Therefore, the PART-for-PART model of salvation is rejected by nearly all followers of Christ.


In this model Christ did PART of salvation for ALL of mankind.

Some believe that when Jesus died on the cross he paid for the sins of ALL of mankind.  Furthermore, he only did PART of the work so that individuals must meet an additional condition to be saved.

For example, consider that Mother Teresa and Hitler are both within the PART of mankind to whom Jesus offered forgiveness, because in this model Jesus died for ALL mankind.  However, if Mother Teresa does not meet the particular condition required for salvation, because she has sinned even once, she cannot be saved from eternal damnation in the end.  However, if Hitler meets the particular condition required for salvation, typically suggested to be man's free will acceptance of Jesus, even though he sinned terribly in many other ways, then he will be saved from eternal damnation to eternal life in the end.  Of course, some might say that the condition is simply to be "good enough."  Yet how would you measure that with confidence?

Thankfully, this view agrees with I John 2:1-2.  However, it disagrees with Ephesians 2:8-9.  Classic Arminianism fits the description of the PART-for-ALL salvation model.

Another verse that has been used to suggest the Arminian view is Galatians 3:2 (WEB).  This verse could be understood to imply that our act or choice of faith invites the work of the Spirit. "I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith?"


In this model Christ did ALL of salvation for PART of mankind.

Based on this, when Jesus died on the cross he only paid for the sins of PART of mankind.  Yet he did ALL of the work so that the chosen individuals simply trust that Jesus has completely saved them.

For example if Mother Teresa is not within the part of mankind that Jesus forgave, then she will not be saved from eternal damnation in the end, regardless of any condition she tries to meet.  However, if Hitler is within the part of mankind that Jesus forgave, then he will be unconditionally saved from eternal damnation to eternal life in the end regardless of his great sins.

Thankfully, this view also disagrees with I John 2:1-2. It does agree with Ephesians 2:8-9, however.  Classic Calvinism fits the description of the ALL-for-PART salvation model.

A verse that suggests this view might be Romans 9:6 (WEB), which could be understood to imply that God has only chosen a subset of mankind.  "But it is not as though the word of God has come to nothing. For they are not all Israel that are of Israel."

One should also note that the definition of "faith" used by Calvinist Christians differs radically from the definition used by Arminian Christians.  For Calvinists, Jesus has paid the price for salvation and applied it to your account.  It is guaranteed.  We are simply invited to "trust" in his finished work.  It is like a million dollars already deposited into your bank account by your father.  Believing does not deposit the million dollars into your bank account, because it is already there!  Instead, believing simply changes your life and attitude toward your father.

For Arminians, Jesus has paid the price for salvation, but it is not yet deposited into your account.  We must meet the condition of trusting in his work through our free will.  It is like a million dollars offered, but not yet deposited, into your bank account.  In this case, belief is the condition needed to receive the million dollars so you can deposit it in your account yourself.  Otherwise the money is not even there!

This illustration may not be perfect, but it at least illustrates the difference between Arminian and Calvinistic "faith."

'Love Wins' by Rob Bell

My desire to write this book was born after I read Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, published in 2011.  His claim that all mankind is finally saved created a stir among Christians that prompted me to investigate his ideas for comparison with my own.  Since you are reading my thoughts, I would also encourage you to read his also, and then compare everything to the Bible.

Do read his book rather than base your conclusions on second hand opinions from me.  I do not intend to do a detailed review of his work, quoting his propositions and then defending agreement or disagreement.  Instead the purpose of this book is to share my own opinions about salvation.  I would rather get into trouble myself for being in the arena than merely critiquing Bell from the sideline!  However, here are a few quick thoughts about his book.

First, he has my salute.  He has shown an enthusiasm for salvation that prompted him to write a book, speak, and preach!  He believed something strongly enough to do something.  He also attempted to explain the riddle of salvation that has divided Christians for millennia.  Sadly, most Christians do not even share their faith.  Most do not believe anything strongly enough to try to persuade others.  Bell did something, at least.  Moreover, he recognized a weakness in Christian orthodoxies that has resulted in divisions with no sides squaring perfectly with Scripture, at least to his satisfaction, or mine, for that matter.  Our PART and ALL Salvation Evaluator has exposed that much about Arminianism and Calvinism.  So Bell did his own homework and proposed a solution.  For that he has my kudos.  Frankly, we might debate just how far Bell's errors actually fall from the errors found in Arminianism and Calvinism.  One thing is certain, salvation doctrines cannot be so different and all be right!  So at a minimum the Arminians, the Calvinists, Bell, or even all three need to exit stage left now that Bell has sounded.

That said, I do agree with those concerned that Bell's theology has fallen too far away from Christianity to be accepted as orthodox.  For example in Chapter 3, titled Hell, he concludes that Hell is not a specific place beyond earth for the punishment of unbelievers after judgment.  Instead he says it is the suffering endured in this life and the next for rejecting Christ.  Bell sees Hell only as the natural suffering for sinful choices, but not as the active punishment of God upon unbelievers.  He is not the only Christian who holds this view, wrong as it is.  Yet a careful study of Luke 16:19-31 and Revelation 20:11-15 makes it clear that Hell, called Hades in the Greek language, is a place distinct from Heaven and Earth, designed by God for the punishment of unbelievers after their death.

I should also note here that Hades is not the same place as the Lake of Fire, which is an important component of my own view to be explained later.  Unfortunately, the English word Hell is commonly understood to mean the place of eternal punishment.  Yet Hell is not consistently translated in most English Bibles, referring sometimes to Hades, other times to Gehenna, and rarely to the Lake of Fire.  Please note that if I use the word Hell in this book I am referring to Hades and not to the Lake of Fire.

In Chapter 4, titled "Does God Get What God Wants?" Bell concludes that since the book of Revelation says the gates of the New Jerusalem "never shut," people will be able to sin in eternity.  The open gate implies that people can choose to stay inside and be holy or leave God and sin.  However, since the gate remains open, they can always come back at any time throughout all eternity.  Whoa!  I am so looking forward to the day that God transforms my humble existence into sinless glory with all of God's people around his throne.  Bell's interpretation of Heaven does not sound very Heavenly to me, nor does it square with the Biblical picture of the glorification of the redeemed.  Bell has been vilified for suggesting a type of universal salvation, but his views ultimately are not even that hopeful!  He should not be vilified, but instead pitied.  How does Bell reason out this conclusion?  In a nutshell he argues that the heart of God's love is giving people the freedom to choose, even to the point of choosing evil in Heaven.  This is an unfortunate definition of love, and strangely also held by many Christians.

A Christian friend once insisted to me that we must have free will because God is a gentleman that would never force his grace upon us.  To be sure, God does not coerce us, but just as surely he breathed life, uninvited, into the spiritually dead!  Spiritually dead people cannot be coerced, but Jesus can choose to breathe life into anyone he chooses... by his grace.

However, I did greatly appreciate Bell's chapter title, "Does God Get What God Wants?"  While I do not agree with most of Bell's conclusions in the chapter, I am comforted that the title was headed in the right direction.  His chapter title should have led us instead to Romans 9:18-21 (WEB).  If there ever was a hammer-and-anvil verse in the Bible to transform rebellious men with the sovereignty of God, this is it.

18) So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires. 19) You will say then to me, 'Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?' 20) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' 21) Or hasn’t the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?

God does get what God wants.  However, Bell falls far short of seeing the glory that God will get as the savior of all mankind, removing our every blemish in heaven by his mighty hand of grace.

Perhaps God will lead Rob to reconsider.  Perhaps you will reconsider as well.

Three Rebuttals

After reading Bell's book, I then read three rebuttals to his salvation theology.  His ideas created enough stir for concerned Christians to quickly take up their pens against his heresy.  Fair enough.  Since the book gained fame among believers and unbelievers alike, his claims ought to be openly compared with the Bible.  Otherwise the light of the gospel could be hidden by confusion and could lead many astray.  So take a moment with me to briefly consider Bell's three counselors.  Again, I do not intend to give them a thorough review, but only touch on a few points.  I would recommend that you also read these books for yourself.

Larry Dixon wrote a work which he titled Farewell, Rob Bell: A Biblical Response to Love Wins.  On page 14 Dixon says that Bell's statements "imply that believing the gospel has no transactional effect upon the sinner, that belief is immaterial to the reality of being in the Father's love."  Dixon understands Bell to say that faith does not activate or help to deposit Jesus' payment for our sin into our account.  Bell seems to believe that Jesus' payment is applied by God before we believe.  Christians, then, are those people who believe in what God has already done for them.  Dixon sees this as a heretical error, because he believes that faith does play a "transactional" role in applying Jesus' work to each individual person's account.  Dixon and Bell clearly have different definitions of faith.  You may remember from our previous discussion that Arminian and Calvinist understandings of the gospel also define faith differently.  Considering this point alone, it would appear that Dixon falls into the Arminian category, while Bell falls into the Calvinist category.  However, as already explained, Bell is far from an orthodox Calvinist.  Also, on page 14 Dixon says, "...Bell disparages belief, arguing that the reality of forgiveness applies to all without their asking for it.  How unlike human forgiveness Bell's position is."  This is a very strange statement from Dixon.  I wonder if he would actually say it again.  The Bible explains that God's forgiveness is decidedly unlike human forgiveness.  We humans typically offer conditional forgiveness.  God, however, gives unconditional forgiveness and blessing.  That is the evangelical definition of grace.  Dixon is certain that Bell is a heretic, but what should we now think about Dixon?

Michael Wittmer wrote Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's Love Wins.  On page 12 Wittmer explains that "evangelicals hold that faith is an open hand, a passive receiving of God's precious gift to anyone who accepts it."  Wittmer and Bell also appear to have different definitions of faith.  Unfortunately, Wittmer did not more clearly distinguish the difference between faith that is trust in the finished work of Christ versus faith that is the condition to activate salvation.  Wittmer is apparently from the Calvinist camp, but he sounds Arminian at times.  His explanations suggest that we can add our own name to the Lamb's Book of Life by taking up the pen of faith, instead of using the eyeglasses of faith to see our name in the Book from before the foundation of the world.  Wittmer also expressed concern over Bell's "second chance" theology, which offers hope that unbelievers will repent even after their death.  On page 31 he says that "those who assert there is a chance for postmortem salvation inadvertently claim to know better than God what God should have included in his Word."  However, Wittmer should know that grace theology teaches us that our spiritual condition does not even allow for a first chance.  Hopefully he is not implying that salvation is a chance.  There is not one element of chance in the salvation of Jesus Christ, but instead God's determined love is set on each of his chosen ones.  Wittmer shares his specific objection to second-chance salvation on page 30: "[Bell] may not want people to use his book as an excuse not to follow Jesus now, but it is easy to see how many could logically draw this conclusion."   I hope to discuss the idea of salvation after death, and the thought that people might use this as an excuse to not follow Christ, later in this book.

Mark Galli wrote God Wins - Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins.  Galli's book is my personal favorite.  He writes on page 64 that "what the Bible plainly teaches is that we come to faith only by the gracious intervention of God."  Galli is clear that we are spiritually dead apart from grace and that only God's grace awakens us to faith.  He says on page 72,

[W]ithout the intervention of God, we have about as much hope as a corpse.  And that's the gospel.  Not that we have an innate free will, but that God in his freedom came to us to rescue us from spiritual slavery.  Through the work of Jesus on the cross, and through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, our wills are liberated.  Then and only then can we actually recognize Christ, his love, his forgiveness, his grace.  Then and only then can we finally respond in faith.

Well said.  Galli then illustrates how Christ brings us to faith with a picture of a drowning man who reaches for help.  That example is less well said.  His illustration could be improved by adding the miraculous component that the man was fully drowned, completely dead, and then revived to life and pulled from the water!  Galli also gives brief treatment to our key Scripture, saying,

Universalists quote many other passages with the word 'all' in them, but in context, most of those really mean 'all Israel', or 'all kinds of people' or 'both Jews and Gentiles' will be saved.  One example is found in Romans: 'God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that he could have mercy on everyone' (Romans 11:32).  Paul has been discussing the place of Jews and Gentiles in the scheme of salvation, so clearly the 'all' here means both Jews and Gentiles - not all within each group.

Galli's treatment of this key verse is too brief for the spotlight it deserves.  Curiously, I have never read one Christian work that focused on this verse in detail.  The grand conclusion of the book of Romans and the theology of grace certainly deserves at least a decent commentary on this amazing verse.  Perhaps there is a work out there already, but I have not found it.  So, Lord willing, I hope to exegete Romans 11:32 now.

It would appear that with my book I have the notable position of being Bell's fourth counselor.  I was not as quick with my pen as the first three due to my schedule and work load, so perhaps the stir has long died down.  Yet perhaps the intermediate time has been useful to you, me, and Bell for proper reflection.

Now I hope to help you by clarifying the definition of faith, the possibility of salvation "chances" during and after life, the meaning of Romans 11:32, and strategies for confronting stubborn unbelief.

Other Theologians

Before we charge ahead, let's review a longer list of notable individuals with opinions about Christian salvation.  Theologians of all stripes have taken up their pens to give reasonable explanations of the gospel.  Hopefully we all agree that the Bible is the source definition of the gospel. However, it is not wrong to write books that attempt to explain the meaning of the Bible.  I am doing it myself right now!  But, before going deeper into my thoughts, let me invite you to consider the valuable efforts of others.

We've just briefly looked at:

  • Love Wins by Rob Bell
  • Farewell, Rob Bell by Larry Dixon
  • Christ Alone by Michael E. Wittmer
  • God Wins by Mark Galli

Other books on my shelf about salvation include:

  • All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon
  • Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur
  • Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • Predestined for Hell? By John Rice
  • The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
  • The Doctrines of Grace by James Montgomery Boice
  • The Five Points of Calvinism by David N. Steele
  • The NICNT, The Epistle to the Romans by Douglas Moo
  • The Sovereignty of God by Arthur W. Pink

Since Christian Universalism is also part of our discussion, consider:

I have written a short review of many of these books in my article Book Reviews in the Appendix at the end of this book.

All of the above sources call themselves Christian and hopefully read the same Bible, yet they each have differences in understanding with one another.  Several of these differences are great enough that a theologian with one view might label the others heretics.  Read these authors for yourself and you will agree that they certainly cannot all be true.  The differences are large enough that our eternal fate would be radically impacted if one or the other proves to be true.  Now I am not endorsing any of these books in particular, but simply making you aware of the wide range of ideas that professing Christians have.  There may be as many different ideas as there are different people in the pews!

Despite the differences, if we strictly apply our PART and ALL Salvation Evaluator to each of the above theologians, we ought to be able to place each one neatly into one of the four categories previously introduced.  However, in some cases the writers do not write precisely or consistently enough for us to know for certain what they believe.  Thus, they may appear to sit on the fence between opinions.  This is quite common!  Of course one can be a true follower of Christ and still be uncertain about many things.  True Christians can still be excellent followers of Christ and yet have many unanswered questions, even concerning matters as weighty as salvation theology.  However, two men who did not ride the fence and proposed definite answers are C.S. Lewis and Dr. James Boice.

C.S. Lewis is well known, with a "coffee-table acceptance" in Christendom.  He says in Mere Christianity, page 52,

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. 

C.S. Lewis may be one of the most honest philosophers of all time.  He openly acknowledged that God submits to defeat in order to allow for the free will of man.  He says in The Problem of Pain, page 127, that "it is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat." He believed that God arrested his own sovereignty to permit men to have free will over their own fate and eternal destiny.

Though this view seems problematic, he nonetheless became the contemporary champion of Arminian-style salvation.  C.S. Lewis clearly understood that truth cannot be unreasonable, relative, or changeable.  Nor does truth sit on the fence between options.  So, after reflection, he chose to believe that Jesus did PART of salvation for ALL of mankind, and that the determining condition of each individual's salvation rests with their choice of faith by free will.  Lewis does protect the good news that Christ died for ALL mankind.  However, he does some Scripture-bending to lessen God's sovereignty and make room for man's free will.  That is his explanation of why some are saved from eternal Hell, while most are not.

On the other hand, Dr. James Boice, perhaps less well-known, says in The Doctrines of Grace, page 125,

If Jesus died for all the sins of all men, unbelief included, then all are saved, which the Bible denies.  If he died for all the sins of all men, unbelief excluded, then he did not die for the sins of anybody and all must be condemned.  There is no other position, save that he died for the sins of the elect people only.

Boice, like C.S. Lewis, understood that two opposing ideas cannot both be true at the same time.  However, in his case he chose to believe that Jesus did ALL of salvation for PART of mankind, and that the determining condition for each individual's salvation rests with the electing grace of God.  This view likewise has problems, as in 2 Peter 2:1 -- which explains that Jesus "bought" those who will be sentenced to Hades and also 1 John 2:2 which explains that Jesus' death atoned for the sins of the whole world, both believer and unbeliever.  Boice acknowledges these problematic passages, but like Lewis he also does some Scripture-bending to account for his understanding that most are condemned to eternal damnation.  Yet Boice does uphold that God's grace alone is to be praised for the salvation of his chosen people, apart from any condition supplied by man.

So how can two respected Christian theologians have such different understandings?  Are the mechanics of salvation intended to remain mysterious?

Streams of Thought

We should also review a list of the major organized movements with opinions about Christian salvation.  Just as individuals have expressed their views, groups of individuals with shared beliefs have also rallied around their beliefs.  The chart below is a basic categorization of the major streams of spiritual thought.  The analysis is a generalization and so may not be true for particular churches.

I Marvel that so many professing Christians and even cults say the words that we are saved 'by grace through faith' yet also have such radically different understandings of salvation.  The good news for Jesus' chosen people is that God's grace has forgiven even our misunderstandings.

Streams of Spiritual Thought Charted:

I. Atheism  -
II. Agnosticism  -
III. Religion  -
  A. Cults -
  B. Polytheism  -
  C. Monotheism  -
    1. Unknown God  -
    2. Known God
      a. God One with Universe
        i. Panentheism  -
        ii. Pantheism  -
          1. Buddhism  -
          2. Hinduism  -
      b. God Distinction from Universe
        i. Impersonal force  -
        ii. Personal God  -
          1. Deism, not involved  -
          2. Theism, involved  -
            a. Islam  -
            b. Judaism  -
            c. Jesus NOT God
              1. Unitarianism -
              2. Jehovah Witnesses  -'s_Witnesses
              3. Mormonism  -
            d. Jesus IS God  -  Salvation by Grace through Faith
              1. Apostolic  -
              2. Catholic  -
              3. Eastern Orthodox  -
              4. Protestant -
                a. Lutheran  -
                b. Presbyterian  -
                c. Anabaptist  -
                d. Anglican  -
                e. Methodist  -
                f. Charismatic  -
                g. Other -

Certain Knowledge

We also need to consider the certainty of salvation.  Most Christians agree that followers of Christ can have certain knowledge of their salvation.  Yet how could our understanding of salvation be so radically different from one another with each claiming that they are certain?  Someone is claiming to be certain, but just as certainly is confused or deceived!

The Bible confirms in I John 5:13 (WEB) that we can have certain knowledge of salvation.

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Let's consider our four categories of salvation, each in turn, to see if they reasonably allow for this certain knowledge of eternal life.


This view is rejected by nearly everyone calling themselves Christian, so we have not been giving it much attention.  Furthermore, it seems doubly impossible that certain knowledge of salvation can be known in this quadrant.  If Christ only did PART of salvation for PART of mankind, how could you be absolutely sure that you met the condition required for salvation?  You would have to rely on your own evaluation of your performance, yet on judgment day only God's evaluation will matter, not yours.  Then, even if you did make the grade since Christ only died for PART of mankind, perhaps you are not even in the winning subset chosen for salvation, even if you met your condition for salvation.  For example, the Jehovah Witnesses used to believe that only 144,000 were saved according to Revelation Chapter 7.  However, when their own adherents exceeded 144,000, they joined the rest of Christians interpreting that number as symbolic.  The point is that certain knowledge of salvation is doubly impossible with this model.


Arminian Christians claim that free will "faith" is the condition that secures their salvation.  Jesus did PART of salvation, but left the final PART to be performed by each individual person: the condition of faith.  God built the house, but the free will act of faith is the key that unlocks the door.  However, since faith is the final condition required to unlock salvation, then true security and certainty of salvation is ultimately dependent upon the so called free will act of "faith" instead of directly and fully on finished work of Christ.  Ultimately the adherents to this view must trust in their "trust" for certain knowledge of salvation.  Rather than humbly entering Heaven saying "Christ died for me," they will instead boast, "I trusted Christ!"  They can have no true security with this foolishness because they can never be absolutely sure that their act of "faith" is authentic and sufficient to guarantee salvation. They will agree that some are deceived with false faith and are not saved while others have true faith and are saved.  However, if salvation doctrine leaves any condition for salvation with man, then man ultimately cannot have certainty of salvation.  My Calvinist friends will acknowledge this point.


Calvinist Christians claim to have faith fully on and directly in Christ.  Their understanding of "faith" is radically different from the Arminian Christian.  For Arminians, "faith" is the condition satisfied by the free will choice of a subset of mankind, though salvation is available to all.  The question as to why some sinful people would choose faith while others do not is left unanswered by Arminians.  However, for Calvinists, "faith" is not a condition to win God's love, but instead an act of obedience commanded for all God's chosen people, enabled only by the Holy Spirit.  In their understanding, "faith" does not activate salvation, but instead is the fruit of being born again.  In the case of the Calvinist, salvation is only available for the chosen subset of mankind.  Only those people targeted by God's grace will ever come to faith.  Some Calvinists argue that possession of faith is proof that you are God's chosen.  But again with this understanding, faith itself becomes the object of confidence rather than Christ himself.  Either way knowledge of salvation for the Calvinist requires confidence that they are part of the chosen subset.  So, according to reason, they cannot have true security either.  Faith must be based on facts and the critical fact we have is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of ALL mankind.  Everything we objectively know according to the Bible is that the work of Christ is equally applied to every single human being that ever lived.  Christ has replaced Adam as the new federal head of humanity as explained in Romans Chapter 5.  Thus, faith that Christ saved only a portion of mankind is an impossibility and totally unbiblical.  Adherents of this view are in fact trusting in their imagination.  Again, fear of eternal damnation inspired their imagination to hope that God loves them and the minority, because they think that God hates and damns the majority.  How sad!  My Arminian friends will acknowledge this point.


So at this point in the discussion most Christians will attempt to find middle ground to stand upon between the Arminian and Calvinist views.  One man said to me that he is a four and one half point Calvinist.  Others will say that they are not Calvinist, but instead "Calvinistic."  I have even heard the term "Calminian" and "Arminisitic" as attempts to find the middle ground.  However, when I introduced my Four Square Salvation Evaluator, we agreed that our two questions needed to be answered absolutely with only one of two answers possible.  Did Christ do PART or ALL of salvation for those who are finally saved?  If even one condition is required of mankind, no matter how small, then Jesus only did PART.  Did Christ intend his salvation for PART or ALL of mankind?  The two answers to these two questions now drive us to consider the ALL for ALL quadrant in our Salvation Evaluator.

Only the view that Christ did ALL for ALL of mankind allows for the certainty of salvation that is promised in Scripture.  Only this view allows a believing person to say to their unbelieving neighbor with great confidence, "God loves you, me, and all mankind, but the only difference between you and me is that you do not believe it and are in grave danger of punishment for dishonoring Christ, God's only son who died for us!"

Nit Picky?

If you are new to the various viewpoints of Christian salvation you may be having a growing distaste for the minutia highlighted thus far.  You might feel that these distinctions are simply the result of people with too much time or who are too eager to argue.  Perhaps we would all be wiser to let God be God and let those who desire to follow Christ simply follow him.  This is an excellent thought.  The Psalmists also said in Psalm 131 (WEB),

1) Yahweh, my heart isn’t arrogant, nor my eyes lofty;
nor do I concern myself with great matters,
or things too wonderful for me.
2) Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with his mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3) Israel, hope in Yahweh,
from this time forward and forever more.

Yet, we also need to protect the gospel from false interpretations and explain the gospel to our own generation.  I would encourage you to allow your mind to be captivated by the gospel and the questions we have raised.  Search the Scriptures for answers to these questions.  Do this to make your own election sure and to grow in your love for God and your love for all God's people.

The gospel is God's message to you, me, and all mankind concerning our eternal destiny.  One cannot be too picky about getting that right.

If you are not new to this discussion you might likewise be sick of the centuries of theology and debate that has not provided a simple solution.  So rather than attempt to move Mount Everest to another location on the globe, you might feel that is it wiser to let the "secret things" rest with God.  Perhaps God does not intend us to understand some of these questions at this time.  Moses likewise said in Deuteronomy 29:29 (WEB), "The secret things belong to Yahweh our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

It may be that the answers to the questions I raised have not been revealed.  But if they were revealed, would you want to know them?

Turn with me to that question next.

A House Divided

Consider one more interjection before I defend the thesis of my book.  When I became a Christian, I was so overjoyed about being restored to fellowship with God.  I was also so excited to have the huge pack of guilt removed from my back.  I literally skipped.  However, it was not long before my joy was sobered with two painful realities.  One, I was still a sinner.  Two, other Christians were still sinners.  I was ready for heavenly fellowship, but instead my eyes were opened to the struggle of rugged discipleship.  Wizened believers sometimes rhyme,

To live above with the saints we love,
Ah, that is the purest glory;
To live below with the saints we know,
Ah, that is another story.

We have hard work to do.  We must confront destructive sin in the lives of our Christian brothers, for we are our brother's keeper.  However, we must also "take the log out of our own eye" and deal with our own sin first.  Our goal should be joyful, godly fellowship with all God's people.  Jesus prayed for it and so we should pursue it.

Yet great divisions remain, as I have already highlighted the division between Arminian and Calvinistic thought.  This division specifically highlights just how destructive sin can be -- even within Christendom.  One might hope that Christians could agree on something as basic as Salvation.  Yet we are reminded that we are ultimately saved by grace and not by our understanding of grace.  So it continues to be extremely sad when disagreements and misunderstandings result in division.

One historic example directly related to our theme is the division between the General and Particular Baptists.  I attended Baptist churches in the past and so I have some insight into this division.  (However, for the record and in keeping with Jesus' prayer for unity, I am not a Baptist, but a Christian.)  The division between General and Particular Baptists falls directly on the line between Arminians and Calvinists.  So a study of this historic division in the body of Christ may bring understanding to our discussion.

You can read more about Baptists here and here

General Baptists believe that Christ's atonement is available "generally" to all mankind, but only those people exercising the free will choice of faith are finally saved.  They are classic Arminians.  In contrast, Particular Baptists, sometimes called Regular Baptists, believe that Christ's atonement only applies to a "particular" subset of mankind, referred to as "the elect," who are born again to faith.  They are classic Calvinists.  Of course this is a simple analysis of the division for there are many other points of agreement, disagreement, and variations of thought.  Furthermore, there are way more than two camps of Baptists, but many splinter groups and sects historically related to these two larger categories.  Baptist Christians suffer from the same disunity found in every other category of Christian fellowship.

Why highlight this division?  This division is especially useful to show us how labels and interpretations subtly shift from generation to generation placing band aides over our painful outstanding questions.  Historically, the General Baptists did not thrive as well in America; the Particular Baptists did better, giving birth to the denominations we know now as the General Association of Regular Baptists, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, Continental Baptist Churches, Sovereign Grace Baptist Association of Churches, Sovereign Grace Baptists, and others.  The large well known Southern Baptist Convention remains split on the Arminian / Calvinist debate.

One interesting explanation of the Arminian / Calvinist puzzle has been hammered out in the furnace of Baptist theological debate.  Many Calvinist Baptists, because of their strong emphasis on proper Biblical exegesis, have acknowledged the Scriptures I highlighted earlier (Ephesians 2:8-9 and 1 John 2:1-2).  They agree that Salvation is ALL by grace.  They also agree that Christ's work has atoned for ALL mankind.  Yet they think that SOME people are sentenced to eternal damnation while others are saved.  So how can this be?

These "Calvinists" have proposed that Christ's atonement itself must be understood to be divided into two components.  The first level of Christ's atonement is "general," toward ALL mankind, but does not actually reconcile anyone fully to God.  We might legitimately question what "part" of the atonement does not atone -- if it does not atone, then what does it do?  Continuing, the second level of Christ's atonement is "particular" toward an elect subset of mankind, and does reconcile them fully to God.  They have concluded that this is the answer to why SOME within mankind are not saved, even though the Bible says the sins of ALL mankind are atoned.  This view could possibly be called the General + Particular view of the atonement.

Wait a minute!

This is starting to sound like the General and Particular Baptists all over again!  We are back where we started, except this time instead of a division between Christians, we have divided Christ himself!  We are well reminded that Jesus said that a "house divided cannot stand" and neither can a divided atonement.

So we see that the Arminian / Calvinist puzzle is no simple matter to explain. Instead, it causes a dizzying array of logic, interpretations, and verbal gymnastics even from thoughtful theologians and has left the body of Christ in a Full Nelson on the wrestling mat with Satan on top.

Christ Dismembered

There is confusion and division in the body of Christ.  Though Satan appears to be getting the upper hand, through grace God sees us "in Christ" as if all God's people have perfect understanding and unity -- even though we are far from it in any practical sense.  It is like God the Son is a giant safe or vault and we are hidden safely inside, protected from God the Father's holy wrath against our sin.  However, God still wants us to strive to think and behave with Christ-like unity.  We are hidden safely "in Christ," but God the Son also intends to live inside of us transforming us into Christ-like obedient sons of God with him.

Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23 (WEB),

20)  Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who will believe in me through their word, 21) that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. 22) The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23) I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me and loved them, even as you loved me.

I pray that the hope of God's love and salvation for all mankind could serve the Body of Christ and bring understanding and unity.