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:
- All in All by A. E. Knoch
- All You Want to Know About Hell by Steve Gregg
- Ancient History of Universalism by Hosea Ballou
- Christ Triumphant by Thomas Allin
- Destined for Salvation by Kalen Fristad
- God's Methods with Man by G. Campbell Morgan
- Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin
- In the End, God by John A. T. Robinson
- Terms for Eternity: Aionios and Aidios... by Ramelli and Konstan
- The Calvinist Universalist by Stephen Campana
- The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald (Robin Parry)
- The Gospel of God's Reconciliation of All in Christ by Ernst Stroeter
- The Greek Word Aion - Aionios... by John Wesley Hanson
- The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott
- The Modern History of Universalism by Thomas Whittemore
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?