The apostle Peter told his flock “I have written both letters to stir up your sincere understanding with a reminder “(2 Petet.3:1). Reminders are helpful and even essential in many of life’s issues. In terms of Christian theology, many people do not know with certainty what they believe or why. Sometimes we hear the statement, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in something or someone.” Another quip is similar: “Theology isn’t important it’s how you live that matters.”
Scripture holds no such views and is much more direct. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). He declared that he was the truth (John 14:6). How has the truth that sets people free to come down to us through the centuries? Let’s take a look at two different ways the Christian faith has “filtered” the truth to both seekers and believers. The two paths both use an important word that begins with the prefix “Pre.”
The first path uses the word “predestination” to mean that everyone’s eternal destiny is determined by God and sealed. This path was systematized by John Calvin, the French Reformer and theologian. His view of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all matters of faith and practice were highly structured. To explain all of those things would take too much space but many people have heard of the TULIP acrostic that spells out what Calvin believed – Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints.
That some people are chosen by God means that some people are not chosen. Calvin believed that the chosen ones have their hearts softened by grace and thus they believe. How does God come up with which people are chosen and which are left in a condition of hardness of heart? It is “unfathomable and as merciful as it is just – of distinguishing between people equally lost” (The Synod of Dort, Article 6). God’s ways are inscrutable is Calvin’s answer.
The second path uses the term “prevenient grace.” This is a word used by Jacob Arminius, a Dutch Reformed theologian who disagreed with some aspects of Calvinism, and by John Wesley the father of Methodism. The word refers to the biblical concept that God’s grace is universal and God seeks to draw all people to himself. Peter concluded his second letter with the statement, “The Lord is not . . . wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The Bible’s “golden verse” says as much: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In contrast to the TULIP symbolism, Wesleyans affirm a theology that is summed up in the acrostic ACURA: All are sinful, Conditional election, Unlimited atonement, Resistible grace, and Assurance of salvation. Each tenet of TULIP is at least modified if not directly the opposite in ACURA.
This very brief overview of two main Protestant theological systems is somewhat mindful of the poem by Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in a wood… Frost said he chose the one less traveled and it made a great
difference for him. Each person should be persuaded in their heart regarding the two paths, not merely by tradition or by philosophy but by the over-all flow of Scripture, especially the life of
Jesus; as the Apostle Paul stated, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (2 Timothy 1:15).
Learn more about Dr. Wayne R. Sawyer