The Logic of Rejecting The Idea of Salvation by Grace Alone

I will start out by stating a few things to diffuse possible objections.  One thing to keep in mind is that there is an infinite difference between a grace based salvation, and salvation by grace ALONE.  When we reject the idea of salvation by grace alone, we are not rejecting grace altogether.

I also wish to short-circuit accusations of creating a straw man argument that is easy to defeat.  There are a significant number of conservative / fundamental / Calvinist / Evangelical type Christians who explicitly proclaim a salvation that is by grace alone, and will question the Christianity of anyone who believes otherwise.

Further, I will state that my motivation here is to clear the way for reasonable discussion about salvation with fellow Christians.  Once we get beyond a claim of salvation by grace alone, it is then a matter of discussing what criteria there is for salvation, rather than whether there is any criteria whatsoever.

So with that, I would like to present my simple attempt at a logical argument against salvation by grace alone:

P1:  Salvation is not Universal (there will be some souls who are not saved).
P2:  Salvation is not entirely random.
C:  Salvation by Grace Alone must be rejected.

It is likely that someone will say that there is a better way to formulate the above, but I hope it will communicate the argument sufficiently.  If there is anyone who is not saved, and if this is not random, then there must be some criteria for salvation, which is not grace alone.  Or put another way, for those who claim salvation is by grace alone, they must either accept that salvation is universal, or that salvation is random.  I see no way out of this.  Let me know if you feel I am missing something here.

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29 Responses to “The Logic of Rejecting The Idea of Salvation by Grace Alone”


  1. 1 Clark Goble March 27, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    That would only be true for Calvinist. A free will Evangelical could say it’s by Grace alone and we have to choose to accept Jesus as a personal savior but that choice is not a work. I’m not saying one need buy this. (I certainly don’t) But it is coherent.

    In this view Salvation could be universal but isn’t because most people don’t choose.

  2. 2 JKC March 27, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    This seems to confuse the criteria of salvation with the mechanism of salvation. It would be logically coherent to say that there may be criteria that decide who receives grace and who does not, but still maintain that grace is the only mechanism for salvation.

    To put it in Mormon terms, you could say that salvation is a gift of god that is not earned by anything that we can do, but that is, nevertheless, a gift that is conditioned on repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. It is grace, not obedience, that saves us, even though receiving grace is conditioned on obedience, because without grace, obedience does not have the power to save. Without grace, obedience would be, to use Paul’s (or Moroni’s) phrase, “dead works.” Or to take King Benjamin’s take on it, obedience can never earn salvation because even if we were to be completely obedient, it would never be enough.

    So obedience is the criteria for salvation, but grace is the sole mechanism of salvation.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson March 27, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Clark,

    There is still a criteria there. To say this choice is not a work is something of a stretch, but it clearly means that salvation would be more than just grace alone. Unless God is making that choice for us.

    JKC,

    I think this sidesteps the whole debate. Criteria is clearly what is being debated. There is nobody on earth that I am aware of who seriously believes that mankind’s works alone is what brings salvation. This would be a straw man argument.

  4. 4 WPM March 27, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    God bless you for raising this issue.

    As with all Christian issues, terminology can get in the way of great discussions. One of the problems associated with salvation is that the word itself can mean different things to different people (and denominations).

    One of the key issues surrounding ‘salvation’ is the question: “Is salvation an event or a process?”

    I come from the belief that salvation is an event (similar to getting married). After that you attempt to the best of your ability to live up to the commitment you have made based on love and respect. While marriage is a process of growing together, getting married is an event which can be commemorated regularly, but need only occur once.

    While it is true that salvation will only be completed beyond the veil, we have gained our inheritance from Christ [see Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:4] from the moment we accept the free gift of salvation from Christ [Ephesians 2:8-9] (along with our repentence of sins, etc).

    When Christ died on the cross, he died for all sins (past, present, future) and for all people (no exceptions) [Romans 6:10, 1 Peter 3:18]. Christ created an inheritance of eternal life for every person who has ever lived. However in order to receive our inheritance, we must repent, be baptised, etc. This is not universalism, because not everyone will choose to accept their inheritance. Instead, many prefer to live their life according to their own rules and not God’s rules – and by rejecting God they will get exactly what they wish for in the next life – no God.

    Repenting and accepting salvation by grace (free gift from God) is God’s way, and certainly required humility and not self-righteousness.

    When we are saved, we are entirely saved – not partially. When God looks upon the heart of a Christian saved by grace, he sees a perfect person, because the Holy Spirit resides within the heart of that person [2 Corinthians 1:22]. No amount of covenant-keeping or commandment- keeping can make us more perfect in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.

    I would liken this to a man drowning in the sea. A lifeboat comes along and drags him out of the water (salvation). Yes, he will be truly saved from drowning when he reaches land, but once fished from the water he is entirely saved. As small as the lifeboat appears against the mighty ocean, it will not sink. I fear that many Mormons imagine that the drowning man is thrown a rope by the rescurers, and he is dragged through the water, not pulled into the boat. Being pulled through the sea and waves he hopes he is able to cling to the rope until he reaches land. I do not believe that this last analogy is Biblical.

    What God does expect of us however, is that the perfection God already sees in us, becomes progressinvely a reality in our life (sanctification) where we become progressively more like Christ [Galatians 5]. This is our daily work and our life work.

    So commandment keeping and covenanat keeping are good and honorable things which, along with pursuing a loving relationship with God and others [Mark 12:30-31], must be pursued with every fibre of our beings until we die, these things never make us more saved than we were when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Saviour.

  5. 5 Dave March 28, 2015 at 12:29 am

    It is an interesting thought. As I have thought of this issue, I have found it interesting that the reformers included two separate “solae”: Sola fide — by faith alone and Sola Gratia — by grace alone. I find it interesting that the reformers kept them as separate concepts, though it often seems to me that much of our dialog conflates the two ideas. As I have studied the issues, I would suggest that our theology lends itself quite well to a variation of “by grace alone” — King Benjamin, like the New Testament apostles, taught that “there is no other name given by which we must be saved”. Nephi and others speak of “relying wholly upon the merits of Christ” for salvation.
    Where I think we run afoul of our Protestant brothers is in the “by faith alone”. As I understand it, our theology calls for not only faith, but repentance and obedience in order to obtain salvation.
    Since I see these two principles conflated so often, I would ask if, in rejecting “by grace alone”, if you are truly arguing against “grace alone” or if you are really arguing against “by faith alone”.

  6. 6 JKC March 28, 2015 at 11:31 am

    I’m not so sure that your OP really did make it clear that it was criteria, not mechanism that was being debated. I think by using the phrase “grace alone” you are necessarily making it about mechanism, as well as criteria, or, at the very least, introducing ambiguity.

    On that point, I think Dave’s comment above is insightful. Sola gratia is really addressing the question of the mechanism of salvation, while sola fide is addressing the criteria for salvation. It sounds to me like what you are really arguing against is sola fide.

    I understand that it can be tempting to dismiss this distinction as semantic, but I disagree, if only for the reason that if Nephi and King Benjamin (among others in the Book of Mormon) are at such pains to emphasize grace alone as the mechanism for salvation, we ought to be careful to dismiss it as an irrelevant point.

    For another reason, I don’t think your syllogism really works as well if we are talking about sola fide rather than sola gratia. I suppose it depends on whether you view faith only as a gift of god or whether you view it as something that involves a choice, which gets at the same thing as Clark’s comment above out the answer being different for a strict Calvinist than for a free will evangelical.

    “There is nobody on earth that I am aware of who seriously believes that mankind’s works alone is what brings salvation.”

    Assuming that you are limiting “nobody on earth” to just those who adopt some version of Christianity, that’s probably mostly true. But that’s not what I was arguing against. There are plenty of Christian who believe that “mankind’s works” do in some way contribute to salvation, even if they are not “alone what brings salvation.” In other words, it’s not a choice between “works alone” and “grace alone” as the mechanism of salvation, it’s choice between “grace alone” and “grace plus works.” There are, I think, plenty of Christians on both sides of that question, so it isn’t an empty debate. (And for what it’s worth, I am firmly in the “grace alone” camp on this question, and I think the Book of Mormon is, too, which you probably could have inferred from my earlier comments.)

  7. 7 Eric Nielson March 28, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    WPM,

    I am glad for your comment. It should probably not surprise you that I am not in full agreement with you, even though you make some great points. I might add that from my perspective, in your analogy, the ‘saved’ individual could always jump off the lifeboat, thus rejecting the gift. So I do not buy a once saved always saved.

    • 8 WPM March 30, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      You and I agree 100% on that point Eric. Agency always allows us to reject our salvation (jump out of the boat again). Calvinism and Once-saved-always-saved are illogical principles at best and appear to be completely at odds with a just and loving God, even if we did not believe that Heavenly Father is not our ‘actual’ father. In my mind John 3:16 blows Calvinism away (whosoever is a word which hardly supports predestination).

  8. 10 Eric Nielson March 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Dave,

    I would say this somewhat depends on the definition of faith. But I do not wish this to be sidetracked. The idea is whether or not mankind must do something to qualify for salvation or not. It seems to me that either by faith alone or by grace alone imply that mankind may not be required to do anything to qualify for salvation.

    • 11 Dave March 29, 2015 at 12:26 am

      This sort of thing often comes down to definitions. I also appreciate your reply because I think it clarifies what you are trying to communicate with this. If one interprets by grace alone and by faith alone to mean something like the Calvinist doctrine of “predestination” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism#Predestination ), then I would agree with you that we soundly reject such teaching. I am not sure this is the only way to understand the concepts of by grace alone and by faith alone. I think JKC better explained how I understand these concepts and how they might be viewed.

      In the end, I think you are correct — Our theology and philosophy teach that something is required of each of us (faith and repentance and obedience are the three that I usually specify) in order to obtain salvation and exaltation. We probably don’t have any obligation to express these ideas in protestant terms if we don’t want to.

  9. 12 Eric Nielson March 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    JKC,

    How anyone could possibly read the Book of Mormon as teaching a grace alone qualification for salvation is beyond me. Whether it is King Benjamin, Nephi or anyone else. To forward that idea, one must isolate a couple of verses and ignore the book as a whole. There is so much clear teaching of obedience, repentance baptism, etc. that I cannot relate to such an exaggerated interpretation.

    But even if one does that, one must then accept that salvation is either universal or random. Regardless of who you attribute such a doctrine to.

  10. 13 jamiejourney March 29, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I recently received an email from a relative that was recently taught in church that:

    a) Mormons believe they are saved by works
    b) this means they believe Jesus’ death did nothing to save them
    c) this is why they don’t put crosses on their buildings, because they believe Jesus’ death is meaningless.

    Unbelievable that this is the kind of stuff going around about our church. It feels like some are deliberately missing the point on much of this stuff. Those who will twist words to deliberately mis-represent the church generally have a wall of cognitive dissonance up that is near impossible to get through. We can all scribble over the semantics of how to say it, but I think everyone knows there is personal responsibility involved.

    • 14 WPM March 31, 2015 at 12:13 am

      Deliberately missing the point is probably an accurate assumption. Professor Jonathon Haigt (NYU) wrote a book some time ago called (The Righteous MInd). His study indicates that when many people make a decision about politics or religion (both of these color how we view the world and our place in it), their intial decision is not based on research and logic, but instead is based on emotion. It’s what follows that is problematic. Once making their initial emotional stance, they then actively seek out information that will validate their stance, and dismiss out of hand any information or discussion that might conflict with their stance.

      Interesting Haigt came to recognise that he had done the same with his own political views. He had been unwilling to consider the arguments and positions of the opposing party and had been guilty of demonising them rather than seeking to understand them.

      Sadly, this is pretty much what will happen in Christianity as well. A non-Mormon Christian seeking to understand what the LDS Chruch believes, is hugely more likely to purchase an anti-Mormon book or seek and anti-Mormon website than to seek to understand Mormonism from a Mormon perspective. We must make sure we are not guilty of the same thing – making incorrect generalisations about the beliefs of others.

      Reading the beliefs of others generally tends to strengthen our own beliefs, as it makes us dig deeper into our own Churches beliefs. Learning how others view their faith makes us much more effective in sharing ours.

      In summary, never be surprised at how wrong others can be about what Mormons believe. The majority will never let the facts get in the way of their emotionally-originated position.

  11. 15 Eric Nielson March 29, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks Jaimie. Those accusations represent the other end of the spectrum, and in my opinion are a true straw man that has no basis in reality.

  12. 16 JKC March 30, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Eric, I think you are confusing mechanism with criteria again. I did not say that the Book of Mormon teaches that grace alone is the qualification for salvation, I said that it teaches that grace alone is the mechanism of salvation. I agree with you that the Book of Mormon plainly teaches that obedience, repentance, baptism, etc. are necessary for salvation. And it also plainly teaches that the only thing that actually saves us is the merits, mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah. These other things do not save us, but they are necessary for salvation.

    So as I read the Book of Mormon, the message is that grace alone is what saves, and that grace (in its fullness, anyway) is available only to those who will obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel. I do not see that as salvation that is either random or universal.

    I think we agree on what is required to be saved (faith, repentance, baptism, etc.) Our only disagreement is over whether the idea of salvation by grace alone is really necessarily inconsistent with that. I (and Dave, I think) see our doctrine of salvation as consistent with the idea that once we are qualified for salvation (whatever those qualifications are), it is by grace alone that we are saved. You, if I’m understanding you correctly, don’t see any difference between the idea that we are saved by grace alone and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.

    I suppose if we agree to define the idea of grace alone in such a way, then we agree that such a doctrine leads to salvation be either universal or arbitrary. But I would consider that way of looking at the idea of grace alone to be something of a straw man, not necessarily representative of the way all or most Christians understand the idea of salvation by grace alone.

  13. 17 Eric Nielson March 30, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    I feel that God being completely responsible for the mechanism/opportunity to be saved is so obvious that it does not need to be stated. Nobody I am aware of suggests anything otherwise. To use this as an explanation for being saved by grace alone ignores the historical debate and only confuses the issue unnecessarily.

    I have years of experience as a missionary in Georgia, and as a long time blogger with interactions with Mormon critics, to provide ample evidence that there are significant numbers of highly vocal Christians who explicitly claim that salvation is by grace alone (no qualification whatsoever). Whether or not these folks make up a majority of Christianity does not matter much. There are a significant number of them, and they are quite adamant.

    • 18 JKC March 31, 2015 at 11:12 am

      Maybe you’re right that the fact that God’s grace is the only thing that saves is so obvious as to not need stating. But Paul and the Book of Mormon prophets specifically emphasized that point, and I can’t think it is a mistake to follow their lead.

      I disagree that acknowledging the difference between faith alone and grace alone ignores the historical debate. It’s quite the opposite. The historical debate between the protestant reformers and the Catholic church on this point was primarily over salvation by faith alone–the idea that good works are only the evidence of grace at work in a person’s life, not a necessary condition of salvation. That’s the idea that you are criticizing. But the idea of salvation by grace alone was a separate discussion–the idea that it is neither good works nor faith that ultimately saves us, but God’s grace. And I find that doctrine right at home in the restored gospel. Listen, it’s your blog and you can redefine the doctrine of grace alone to be synonymous with the doctrine of faith alone if you want to, but you should be aware that they are different concepts, both in terms of the historical debate, and also as they are currently understood by many Christians.

      I also disagree that it confuses the issue to recognize the difference between the two. I don’t think it is really a difficult or confusing thing to understand that it is only grace that saves, not our faith or obedience, or anything else, and that grace in its fullness comes only to those who are wiling to exercise faith in Christ unto repentance, and obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

      Eric, I don’t question your years of experience as a missionary or blogger, and I have no doubt that you have interacted with people who may have used “grace alone” to describe their belief in something like predestination. But I don’t think it’s fair to use that experience to represent the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, not without at least acknowledging that historically, and currently, for many Christians, salvation by grace alone does not mean unconditional salvation with no human responsibility. It doesn’t seem fair to judge that doctrine by the way that some protestants in the pews misunderstand it, any more than it is fair to judge Mormon doctrine based on the teachings that got Randy Bott in trouble, for example.

      If the goal is to clear the way for reasonable discussion about salvation with fellow Christians, it might be worth considering that we can fully and enthusiastically affirm the doctrine that we are saved by grace alone, and clarify that properly understood, the doctrine of salvation by grace alone means that God alone saves us, we don’t save ourselves, but it does not mean that God hasn’t given us conditions that we must meet in order to receive grace. Many Christians will be more open to listening to someone who affirms salvation by grace alone, and clarifies that it does not preclude the need for faith and obedience as necessary to salvation, than to someone who rejects it out of hand.

      Just my two cents.

  14. 19 Eric Nielson March 31, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Well, alright. But there are many who would say that salvation by grace alone upon conditions of faith, repentance, obedience, ordinances, etc. is a clear contradiction.

  15. 21 Eric Nielson March 31, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    And further, I just did a google search experiment. I searched for ‘salvation by grace alone’ and ignoring the Fair Mormon link, 4 of the first 5 links expressed grace alone explanations that are just what what I have been arguing against here. There was a wikipedia link with a sola gatia article similar to what you have been pushing, but overall the top links are quite Calvinist in their nature. It is there frequent, loud obnoxious claims that I am arguing against.

    • 22 JKC April 1, 2015 at 9:27 am

      I was curious, so I did the same thing. I don’t know if the same links came up for me that came up for you, but I noted that in the links that I read, even the ones that pushed a Calvinist agenda usually use both “grace alone” and “faith alone,” and the “grace alone” discussion is usually more ambiguous, while the “faith alone” discussion is the one that really pushes the Calvinist agenda. Actually, the wikipedia article gives a fairly decent overview of the idea of grace alone. In the end, though, I don’t disagree with you that there are people out there who misunderstand the doctrine of grace alone to mean something more like salvation by faith alone, and that they tend to be louder than others.

  16. 23 Dave April 8, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    What does Pres. Uchtdorf’s Sunday morning GC talk contribute to this discussion? (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/the-gift-of-grace?lang=eng )

    • 24 WPM April 8, 2015 at 8:22 pm

      Dave, I can’t help but think that this talk will be quoted for decades to come. This is (in my mind at least) the best exposition of salvation by grace that has been presented by the Church for as long as I can remember. I am sure that members who were present must have felt like standing and clapping at what they were hearing – simply for its truth, it’s clarity and its timeliness. The Gospel is in good hands. Praise God!!!

  17. 25 Eric Nielson April 8, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    I will review the talk. When I heard it, it seemed like the same doctrine that has always been taught. A nice talk but nothing really new.

  18. 26 Eric Nielson April 8, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Okay, I quickly reviewed the text of the talk. One interesting thing about the talk is that there is very little talk of salvation. Grace can have many meanings as Uchtdorf points out. And I am sure he would say that faith, repentance and baptism etc are required for exaltation. There may be some who might quibble is a which comes first, chicken or the egg type of argument. But a lot of that is sort of semantics.

  19. 27 WPM April 8, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Eric, grace and salvation are like the wave and the water, they are different but work together. Without grace there can be no salvation, without salvation there is no reason for grace. Repentance and faith enable us to access grace. Baptism is an outward sign that internally, we have accepted Christ’s grace.

    Can we be saved without baptism, I would argue yes, as the water does not clean us of our sins, repentance does that. Can we become a member of Christ’s end-time restored church without baptism? No! Baptism is an outward sign for ourselves and others that we have accepted the truths taught by the Church, and agree to live by them.

    One of the key points Predident Uchtdorf made was that the good things we do is not to access grace, but as a response to grace.

    Perhaps what you are arguing that in order to access grace, we have to do something’s. Only new agers would disagree with that. In the same way as I might have to walk to the bank to withdraw a million dollar legacy left to me by a rich relative, I would not consider that I had to “do” anything to gain that money, only to access that money. We should not confuse doing something to gain salvation with doing something to acces the salvation Christ has already gained for us, and is waiting for every human to access.

  20. 28 Dave April 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I have just learned a new word — antinomianism. (I’ll let Wikipedia describe the details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinomianism ). How much of this discussion against “Grace alone” is really an argument against the concept of “antinomianism” — the belief that Christians are no longer subject to any kind of moral law?

  21. 29 Eric Nielson April 17, 2015 at 6:53 am

    For some it might be. But for me the argument is all about criteria for salvation. I believe this would come before antinomianism. If I understand right, these folks would say that the saved are free from the demands of moral law (even though they will naturally obey it). But their apparently unconditional salvation would have come first.


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