Reformation Soteriology: An Assessment

The following is a response to the following essay question regarding Reformation Soteriology as a class requirement for Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary:

After reading Enns’ section on “Reformation Soteriology,” critique and evaluate his assessment of Calvinism (Reformed) and Arminianism on the select topics of atonement and faith and works.[1]  Would your church denomination be in agreement with the Reformed or Arminian or some modified position?

While presenting an adequate assessment of Reformation Soteriology as a whole, Enns fails to draw a solid line between these differing views on atonement, faith, and works for the reader, and  he further muddies the water on certain aspects that separate them.  Furthermore, he fails to stress the crucial role these two views had on shaping Protestantism, and their effects on modern Christianity (i.e. the overwhelming number of different Protestant denominations in existence today).

An alternative method of assessing these two views would be to compare them synoptically. An interesting characteristic of these two views is that they both focus on five key points that succinctly define their theology. On the one hand, Calvinism is defined by the Five Points of Calvinism, or TULIP, and covers total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints[2].

On the other, Arminianism is defined by the Five Articles of Remonstrance, which covers election, atonement, human depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of falling from grace[3].  Since the latter is a type of response to the former, a synoptic comparison would foster a more clear understanding.

In assessing the Arminian view of atonement, Enns states that “Christ did not make the full payment for sin”, and bases this statement of the possible “inferior worth” of a substitute for a penalty[4].  In this case, the possibility of inferior worth does not necessarily denote it, which is a weak point of argument for Enns and inadvertently points to his inherent Calvinistic leanings.

In his assessment of the Arminian view of faith and works, Enns insinuates an Arminian belief in predestination when he states that “God elects to salvation those whom He knows will believe in Christ”[5].  This can be misleading to the reader, since Arminianism deals more with the aspect of human will in regards to salvation and not predestined election.

For the purpose of the next part of this discussion, I will refer to the denomination in which I grew up, since I am no longer affiliated with a specific denomination per se.  As a whole, the Pentecostal denominations adhere more to the Arminian view, and certain tenets of that theology was communicated to me during my formative years.  Regarding atonement, Pentecostals generally accept the Arminian view of Christ’s death as “analogous to Old Testament sacrificial offerings”, and served as a “substitute for a penalty”[6].

Regarding faith and works, Pentecostals generally accept the tenets of Arminianism, in that they believe that a believer can turn his/her back on Christ and ultimately lose their salvation. While they agree that faith is not a product of works, they do believe that a Christian does not surrender human will upon conversion.

_____________________________

[1] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), Chapter 30.

[2] Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 1972), 4.

[3] David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1963), 13.

[4] Enns, 479.

[5] Ibid., 480.

[6] Ibid., 478.

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