A theology of salvation and grace: a work in progress. (Long: over two posts)


Hey all, my name is Ben and I’m a 22 year Pentecostal from Australia. I’ve always been interested in theology, but over the last year or so my interest in theology of Grace, Salvation, and Predestination has been inflamed through dialogue with a close friend of mine who is both a genius and a hardcore supralapsarian Calvinist, one of the “God prefers that the damned remain in sin and are damned than that they repent and are saved” variety.

Personally, I find this theology repugnant, and so I’ve been reading up heavily on how various denominations approach these questions. I’ve been particularly impressed by the modern Catholic approach, which emphasises human freedom and responsibility, while at the same time recognizing the sovereign power of God. So I thought I’d pitch this stuff at you guys and see what you think.

Considering the various ways Christians have approached asking and answering questions of why and how are some saved and some damned, whilst wanting to preserve above all a robust account of God as wholly and only good, and that Love his the fundamental character of his nature, this is the sort of approach I’m developing:

First, Salvation is wholly a work of God in the sense that there is no element of Salvation that God is not the cause of. Certainly it is absolutely nescessary for a person to love God to be saved (salvation and eternal joy is being in a relationship of love with God, beholding him and being beheld by him; the nescessity of loving God for salvation is a matter of definition), and it is nonsense to say “I love God” without earnestly trying to obey his commandments, living as best we can by the light that is given us. Therefore, there is a sense in which good works are nescessary for salvation. But the desire to Love God, and by extension the desire to do good works, is a gift from God himself.

Secondly, Damnation is wholly a work of the sinner. Whilst the sinner is himself a created being, the fact that he is a sinner is solely his own work. God does not create, nor cause, nor desire him to sin; neither does God desire that, being a sinner, he remain in sin. Likewise, his eternal misery is a consequence of his own eternal refusal to enter into God’s love. There is one joy: that is God; those who reject God by definition reject joy, and by extension embrace misery.

Thirdly, what seperates the saved from the damned is this: those who are damned reject the love that God has for them, those who are saved do not. In light of the fall, all men are damned, in light of the Cross, all men might be saved. But just as Adam, in a state of perfect innocence, chose to reject the loving rule of God, so now each man and woman, each in a state of Cross-bought grace, might choose to reject the loving rule of God. I wonder if Jesus meant something like this when he said:

"I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. (Mark 3:28-30)

I think Jesus was addressing something deeper here than the fact that the Pharisees were claiming his miracles were black magic. Consider the work of the Holy Spirit: He whispers to our mind; He guides or path; He inspires us to worship and devotion; He meets us in our very heart of hearts. “Blaspheming” the Spirit, perhaps, is not primarily a matter of the mind or the mouth but a matter of the heart. In our innermost being, where the Spirit of God himself encounters us, it is there that we might reject him - and in doing so, by an act of our own will, not in ignorance or by accident but with full (though perhaps unconscious) knowledge, severing our heart’s connection with both the one who forgives and the one who leads us to repentance in the first place.


Why would God create in us the capacity to reject his Grace? Perhaps because his desire for us is Love: that he might love each one of us as a Father, and each one of us to adore him as a loving child; that he might embrace his church like a lover and by his beloved be embraced. And the fullness of Love, in all of our experience, is between persons who freely commit themselves to their love for one another. There is a time when a child cannot escape their parent’s love for them, but there is also a time when a loving parent, acting in love, must ‘let their child go’, as did the Father of the Prodigal in Jesus’ parable. Likewise, a lover may so desperately desire the embrace of the one he loves - but unless she consents to this embrace it is not an act of love at all. Perhaps it is similar with us and God, he gives us our hearts, allowing us if we choose to withhold them from him forever, that when we give them back to him it is a genuine sacrifice of Love.

Hmm, that part sounds a little too Pelagian. I must emphasise that the descision on our part to Love God is one hundred percent a response to his love for us. The Prodigal did not return to his Father’s house because he suddenly became a good or wise person. The Prodigal returned because he remembered his Father’s kindness. Likewise my love for God is not because I’m such a wonderful person that I love God, but because I have been overwhelmed by his gratutious love for me.

I know all of this is a bit vauge and messy, it’s just what’s coming together in my mind. Is this sort of theology acceptable within the boundraries set by Catholic teaching? Have I just paraphrased any Catholic theologians, or indeed any heretics? I really would appreciate anybody’s thoughts.


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