Dark Brightness

Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Soterology matters.

Bruce Charlton has written that metaphysics matter. He is correct. I’d argue that salvation (soteriology) matters as much or more. There are two parts to this.

The first part is that we are, by nature, fallen. We are unable to gain salvation by our own efforts. This is total and complete. We cannot come to salvation unless the Holy Spirit brings us to God, and this is the work of God alone: it is not our doing. This is the evangelism of Calvin.

The other part is that we are given a choice. We can have the facts given to us and reject them. Arminius considered the use of free will and conscience as important: each soul has to make a free choice to accept the claims of the gospel and submit to God. This drives evangelism, witnessing, preaching and indeed this blog, written by someone with a Calvinist theology[1].

In practice (and ignoring empty words), all non-religious people approve of totalitarianism.

Also totalitarianism isn’t bad for most religious people in most religions – which is why there have been many religious totalitarian societies that regard thought-control as a legitimate means to religious ends. (They were usually limited by their technology, and the degree of support; but the totalitarian aim of thought-control was explicit.)

Totalitarianism is only really ‘a bad thing’, an evil, for those Christians who view motivation as primary; who regard freedom or agency as central to salvation and theosis – such that only a truly free, creative, and divine decision of our truest and deepest selves is valued by God; and our actual behaviour is secondary, and indeed (since behaviour may be coerced) almost orthogonal to the divine purpose.

Any system of any kind (whether political, in the workplace, the church or the family), of any aim, that tries to control thought, or to prevent agency – any system which tries wholly to occupy the mind – is therefore evil to this kind of Christian.

This kind of Christian – the kind that regards agency as non-negotiable and central to the faith – would regard any and all types of totalitarianism as evil; no matter how kind, how non-violent, how materially successful; and no matter how happy was the resulting society.

The problem we have is that our models of salvation are precisely that. The Arminians believe that offering the universal means of grace — being catholic in the best sense — will lead people to making a choice for salvation, or (this is more the Methodist idea) that you will have an experience where you are ‘born again’ and you will date your faith from that time of conversation. The risk is that this leads to a watering down of the gospel: in being overly “seeker friendly”. This means that people are not confronted with the high holiness of God, and do not understand how desperate their state is without Christ. It leads to a weakening of fervor.

However, if the hard Calvinist position is taken, then people may think that there is nothing they can do. They are saved, their actions mean nothing, and there is no need to preach. or witness. This can lead to spiritual pride and faith can turn cold.

This was not the intention of Calvin. He considered that salvation was ensured because the work was complete already. That those God had chosen he would not let fall. This allowed him to have courage when he fell into error or into fault. It was a salve to the conscience of a pious man, and he knew that speculating too far would let him fall into error.

For our salvation is a deep and terrible thing: if we are saved, let us praise God, and preach it, and pray for our friends family and enemies. So that all who god selects will be drawn to him. it is a good thing to do the work of Christ, and one does not know how we influence others.

For to fall, unprotected, into the hand of the living God is to have your delusions stripped from you and your evil laid bare. This none of us can bear.

So I would add a comment to Bruce. He is correct that a totalitarian system is inimical to salvation: for you cannot regulate salvation, nor can you coerce God, by any formula. Those who think they can control angels, fallen or not, by this or that utterance or ritual have been with us from the beginning. Their old name is witches, and most of these people were male.

By all the effort within me, choose Christ, and rejoice that he will preserve you despite all this world does. This is our assurance: it is not us who keeps us in the church, but Christ. For it is only in his power that we will break down the gates of Hell.

  1. Yes, I agree with TULIP.