Sunday, December 9, 2012

Salvation of the Fittest? Grace, God’s Glory, and Spiritual Darwinism

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Christians talk about grace a lot. Unfortunately, we do not all mean the same thing when we use the word. Most Christians agree that grace means “unmerited favor” but it seems a common statement of definition does not solve the problem. The difference comes down to what exactly “favor” refers to in a Christian context. What is it that we receive that we do not merit?

The fundamental teaching of Christianity is that we cannot save ourselves and any hope of salvation is necessarily dependent on the grace of God in Christ. The question is to what extent does this grace extend? Historically, evangelical Christians have understood the Bible to teach that salvation is completely of grace and that we do not contribute to it whatsoever. Others have argued instead that God’s grace is a helping grace that strengthens a believer to complete their journey of faith. Both agree that sinners cannot be saved apart from grace but one side thinks that God’s grace initiates faith and desire for God and the other side thinks God’s grace is a response to faith and a desire for God.

It is an important issue because either view has major implications for how we understand the Gospel. Is our justification before God solely the work of God (monergism) or is it a cooperative effort between God and sinners (synergism)? I believe the Bible teaches that justification is the work of God alone and that apart from a gracious work of God we do not even know we need to be saved let alone have a desire for it. As the old song says, “twas grace that taught my heart to fear”.

Most people who hold a concept of helping grace that has God and sinners cooperating to achieve salvation are careful to give the credit for salvation to God. The reasoning goes that without the grace of God, those who desire to be saved could not be therefore God alone should be glorified. Even so, one cannot have a cooperative view of salvation where God is completing a process that initiates within the sinner and attribute salvation fully to God. If God is responding to a desire or faith in the sinner then both elements (this desire and God’s response) are necessary. The result is that we end up with the kind of thing where you do the first 1% and God does the other 99%.

My reading of the Bible leads me to believe that God is not content to be given 99% of the glory for saving sinners. There are many biblical and theological arguments related to this issue but there is one very simple observation that I think highlights the difficulty of the view that God is responding to an impulse in the sinner. Ultimately, this view degenerates into a type of spiritual Darwinism.

Darwin argued that there are characteristics in some animals that make them better suited to feed and reproduce than others. As a result, those creatures best suited to their environment would survive and pass on their genes. Over time, the strong species would survive and the weak would become extinct. In Darwinism, the providential hand of God is removed from the process and the only forces that are left are the environment and the intrinsic characteristics of the individual creatures. If God is responding to an impulse of some sort in the sinner then He cannot also be the cause of that impulse. The cause must then be within the sinner himself, his environment, or some combination of the two.

Imagine the following scene: On Judgment Day, there will be two groups of people before the throne of God. One group will enter into heaven and the other will enter into eternal punishment. Suppose that the synergistic view is correct and we were to ask someone who was in the group waiting to enter into heaven how it is that they came to be in that group. They might respond that they will enter heaven because God, in His grace, has saved them. We might then logically ask why it is that they have been saved when many others have not. I imagine that they are likely to respond that they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and trusted in Him as their savior.

At this point, if we were to ask why it is that they believed and accepted this message while those in the other group did not, what would they say? They certainly will not want to say that they were more intelligent, more spiritual, or more sensitive than all those who were lost. Maybe they would point out that there were many believers in their lives that prayed for them, encouraged them, and shared the truth with them but then there will be many in the other line who had equal or better support in this regard. What within a sinner would give them an advantage in developing a desire or faith? None of the potential answers seem satisfying.

I know of no Christian that is comfortable saying that ultimately there is something within them that led to their salvation no matter how much they want to protect a human role in the process. If, however, God is not initiating the process and is instead responding then this seems to be an inevitable conclusion. In order to believe in a cooperative view of grace one must admit that there is something within particular sinners that gives them an advantage. Just as in biology if you remove the design of God from the equation you end up with creature/environment determinism. The grace of God is reduced to salvation of the fittest.

I cannot imagine anyone who on that day will not give all glory to God for what He has done for him or her. I cannot imagine anyone who will point to themselves as the reason. Rather I think we will join the heavenly chorus we see in the book of Revelation. Shouting, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” and “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (Rev. 7:10, 19:1).

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