Salvation by Grace Through Faith, and Its Implications for Eternal Security
A judge of evangelical orthodoxy has been the Pauline maxim, “Salvation by grace through faith.” Arminians have consistently understood this as God’s gracious enabling and drawing of a person to faith, and if the person so responds, then God saves that person.
In contrast, Calvinists have consistently understood the maxim to mean that God irresistibly causes the person to have faith, resulting in salvation. Arminians assert that such irresistible grace denies that faith is a condition of salvation. In effect, the Pauline maxim of “Salvation by grace THROUGH faith” is changed to “Salvation by grace UNTO faith” (on this, see especially Picirilli’s argument in Grace, Faith, and Free Will).
A further consideration of the Pauline maxim helps delineate the various positions on continuance in salvation. It would seem logical that one continues in salvation the same way one began salvation, by grace through faith. The same kind of grace that operates in bringing us to faith is likewise operational in perseverance. Thus, if irresistible grace brought us to faith, then we will so persist in the faith by irresistible grace. But if grace was resistible in initial faith, then it is likely to be resistible in continuance in the faith.
Let’s put the maxim in parallel with the four views of continuance in salvation, including the traditional Southern Baptist (SBC) view:
|How does one become a Christian?||How does one continue in salvation?|
|Calvinism||Salvation by grace UNTO faith||Salvation by grace UNTO faith|
|SBC Once Saved Always Saved||Salvation by grace THROUGH faith||Salvation by grace UNTO faith|
|Arminian Baptist/Reformation Arminianism||Salvation by grace THROUGH faith||Salvation by grace THROUGH faith|
|Repeat Regeneration||Salvation by grace THROUGH faith||Salvation by not sinning|
The SBC Once Saved Always Saved position rejects irresistible grace when a person begins in salvation, but once a person is saved, asserts that grace irresistibly guarantees faith. Accordingly, it is fair to assert that this position can be summarized as “A person is saved by grace THROUGH faith, but continues in salvation by grace UNTO faith.
This illustrates that the SBC position really is systematically inconsistent. It is the inevitable result of Arminian Baptists and Calvinist Baptists in close geographic proximity in the formative era of the SBC. In clear Hegelian dialect, the thesis of Calvinism and the antithesis of Arminianism became the synthesis of popular theology in mainstream SBC churches. As Calvinist and Arminian theologians argued polar opposites in the academy, preachers and laity embraced the comfortable elements of Arminianism (unlimited atonement) while rejecting its uncomfortable element (the possibility of apostasy), or rather, they rejected the uncomfortable elements of Calvinism (limited atonement, unconditional election), while embracing its one comfortable element (eternal security). Such synthesis is an anomaly of historic theology, so that it can only be called traditional SBC theology, without belonging to any coherent theological system.
Final note: Membership in the Society of Evangelical Arminians does not require a stance on continuance in salvation. Most members affirm conditional continuance and the possibility of making shipwreck of one’s faith. Many members, however, affirm the traditional SBC view of eternal security reflected in the maxim, Once saved, always saved. This policy reflects Arminius’ own ambiguity on the issue, as well as that affirmed by the original Remonstrants.