Soteriology is a technical word in Christian theology describing how men and women gain salvation in Jesus Christ. Christians agree that Jesus is the Savior, but disagree amongst themselves as to how exactly that salvation happens.
It’s important to remind ourselves that there is far more agreement than there is disagreement among Christians on the matter of salvation. Broadly, Christians among different denominations and traditions agree.
• Christians agree that Jesus is the Savior.
• Christians agree that salvation is by grace.
• Christians agree that faith is essential to salvation.
• Christians agree that human response is part of the big picture of salvation.
How all these aspects precisely define, order, connect, and prioritize has been the matter of much disagreement among Christians. Even if I could, my purpose in this article is not to solve those disagreements. Instead, I would simply like to put the focus back on the areas of agreement––those four points listed above, and perhaps more.
Understanding that Christians may agree in the big picture but disagree on the details should influence the way we think about them and our disagreements. It shouldn’t keep us from debating or disagreeing, as long as we do it in love. It should keep us from thinking of those with whom we disagree as heretics, or calling them heretics unless it truly applies. Remember that someone can be wrong without being a heretic.
I’m reminded of a famous conversation between the Calvinist Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and the Arminian John Wesley (1703-1791). They spoke about the things they could agree about, and the conversation is recorded in Handley Moule’s 1892 biography titled “Charles Simeon.”
Simeon: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian, and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore, I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Wesley: Yes, I do indeed.
Simeon: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Wesley: Yes, solely through Christ.
Simeon: But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
Wesley: No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Simeon: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
Simeon: What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
Wesley: Yes, altogether.
Simeon: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Wesley: Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Simeon: Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.
It’s perfectly fine, even helpful, for Christians to disagree about their differences in the details of how men and women are saved. For those disagreements to remain agreeable, remember not only our differences, but the much bigger areas where we agree; namely, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world (John 4:42).