If you really want to stump a Christian, ask one which doctrine of salvation is the correct doctrine, according to the Bible. And by that question, I am not asking what the Biblical steps to salvation are. I think all Protestant Christians would agree that the definition of salvation is basically, repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Rather, I am talking about which of the competing theological doctrines of salvation, like predestination, Arminianism and “eternal security” is the one true doctrine of salvation. In other words, how is salvation achieved? Is it through predestination? Or is it through the Arminian belief in a synergistic interplay between God’s calling and man’s choice to believe? Or, is salvation up to man alone and guaranteed forever, once chosen?
The fact that the Bible contains conflicting statements about the path to salvation is very telling. Salvation is the central theme of Christianity, yet the responsibility for and the eternal effect of the repentance and acceptance of Jesus has eluded even the greatest of all Christian theologians. And don’t look to the Bible for a clear explanation of one “true” doctrine of salvation. You will not find it. In fact, what you will find, if you really look, is a confusing and some would say, contradictory treatment of the subject. For instance, in Romans, chapter 9, Paul lays out a very compelling argument for predestination. In verse 17, Paul quotes God’s statement to Pharaoh regarding his role in dealing with Moses, ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Paul concludes in verse 18, stating, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”
And Paul reiterates his point about predestination in other epistles, as well. And the theological teaching about predestination, which is backed up by plenty of Biblical references, is that once a person is “elected” by God, he can never lose his salvation, because it is God and not man who perseveres in the faith. However, if that is true, then why are there so many warnings in the Old and New Testaments that seem to be directed towards keeping people from straying away from the faith. One very scary example of such warnings appears in Hebrews, Chapter 4, verses 4-6, where the writer of Hebrews specifically states that if one (obviously a believer) falls away from the faith, he or she can never return. There are other warnings that undermine the theory of predestination, like the one in 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 18-20, where Paul warns Timothy to “fight the good fight”, lest he lose his faith, like others have.
And the fact that there are excerpts from the Bible that seem to contradict the doctrine of predestination is why other doctrines of salvation have been adopted by other denominations. The Arminians, named after the founder of Arminiansm, Jacobus Arminius, believe that God alone does not “elect” those to be saved. Rather, God calls and it is up to man to respond or not. Another departure from predestination that exists in the doctrine of Arminianism, is the teaching that one can lose his or her salvation (backsliding), but can return to the faith by repenting again, although I have never heard a good explanation for the verses I quoted above in Hebrews. Those verses are outliers to the whole lot of the differing salvation doctrines.
Finally, there is the doctrine of “eternal security”, or “easy believerism, as critics call it, which is taught by many popular mega church preachers, like Charles Stanley. This doctrine is my favorite, because it reminds me of my old Catholic days of sinning all week and then going to confession on Saturdays to get a “clean slate”. Stanley and those who preach eternal security teach that once a person prays the “sinner’s prayer” – God I am a sinner, and I choose to turn from my sinfulness and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior – they are saved forever, no matter what happens in the future. As long as the prayer is genuine when it is prayed, they are golden forever. Needless to say, many of the more fundamentalist churches are offended by this doctrine, because they claim it gives a person a “license to sin”.
You might ask, “So what if the Bible is not clear on exactly which doctrine is true?” Well, if you look at each doctrine and its practical application, you can understand why it is important to know which one is true. For instance, if a person asks, how do I get “saved”? A person who believes in predestination cannot honestly say, “Well, all you do is repent and accept Jesus”, because that is not true. It is God who chooses who will and will not be saved, according to the doctrine of predestination. Now, it is true that those of the Arminian and eternal security persuasion can respond in that way. However, if a person asks an Arminian or an easy believer, “What happens if I turn away for a while (backslide)?”, well, then you have another split in theology. The Arminians will respond, “If you backslide, you must repent before you can be saved again”. And the easy believers will disagree and say, “No problem, you are still saved, no matter what you did. There is eternal consequence for backsliding in our faith.” And then there is that really confusing warning in Hebrews, chapter 4 that I mentioned, which no doctrine has an answer for.
I think the fact that the Bible contains conflicting statements about the path to salvation is very telling. For me, it was one of the reasons I began to question the Bible’s accuracy. And I think something as important as the doctrine of salvation should be clear if it is the truth. It should not lead to hundreds of different denominations and such contention and confusion. And if you force a Christian to choose one doctrine of salvation, no matter which one they choose, they automatically back themselves into a logical corner from which they cannot escape. That is because there are equally compelling passages that support other, contradictory doctrines. Try it, it is fun.