“From the Calvinist perspective, the effect of the synergism in Luther’s, Wesley’s, and Molina’s approaches is seriously problematic precisely because it makes the decisive factor in a person’s salvation that person’s own decision. It seems to us that if salvation is realized through cooperation between God and the person saved, the absolute graciousness of salvation is compromised. Since the difference between those who are saved and those who are not lies within the action of the believer, it seems that these believers have cause for self-congratulation and that God’s glory in salvation has been compromised (Eph. 2:8-9)” (Dr. Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 238).
I have spent some time quoting Dr. Terrance Tiessen and his words in his massive work, “Who Can Be Saved?: ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” I would like to applaud Dr. Tiessen for a massive undertaking. It took a lot of energy to read this book...so I can only imagine the energy it took to write it.
I’m back today to assess another of Dr. Tiessen’s quotes regarding grace and salvation. He spends some time detailing “Luther’s, Wesley’s, and Molina’s approaches” to grace. He also details the typical Calvinist stance regarding grace. However, not even the typical Calvinist notion of discriminating grace appeals to him:
“Although I have found the Calvinist reading of Scripture very helpful and generally very plausible, I have not been completely satisfied with the classic Calvinist responses to this charge of injustice [those who are not given the ability to believe are condemned for not doing so]. The particular concept that I commend to your consideration now is the fruit of my attempt to deal with my dissatisfaction with the classical answer” (Dr. Terrance Tiessen,” “Who Can Be Saved?,” page 232).
To me, then, it seemed that if Calvinism’s thoughts on grace did not entirely satisfy, then Tiessen would hold to an Arminian view on grace. However, this is where Dr. Tiessen boldly declares that he cannot hold to a Molinist or Arminian view of grace (see original quote from page 238 above).
Why can’t Dr. Tiessen hold to the Molinist/Arminian views of grace? “It seems to us that if salvation is realized through cooperation between God and the person saved, the absolute graciousness of salvation is compromised.”
First and foremost, let me state that “the absolute graciousness of salvation” that Tiessen mentions is a philosophical statement that must be investigated by the Scriptures themselves. Such statements cannot stand alone and automatically be considered correct. I fear that many believers turn Calvinist because Calvinists come up with statements like this one above that make you think that being a Classic Arminian, for example, implies the denial of the graciousness of God in salvation (which is simply not true).
Should God allow man to choose to be saved, “it seems that these believers have cause for self-congratulation and that God’s glory in salvation has been compromised (Eph. 2:8-9).” Why is this? Why does God’s glory in salvation have to be compromised by the Lord’s granting salvation to every person? Oh...I know why: in the Calvinist scheme, for God to do such a thing would deny Ephesians 2:8-9 (as referenced by Tiessen in the quote just now).
When Calvinists do this, it seems that they have another great point. After all, who would wanna deny Ephesians 2:8-9? Or who would wanna compromise God’s glory in salvation? If there are two things Calvinists live for, they would be both Ephesians 2:8-9 (salvation by faith not works), and God’s glory. These are two great emphases of Calvinist theology.
Nevertheless, Tiessen has erred in his interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9. The text itself states that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8, NKJV). Grace and faith (comprising salvation) is a gift of God. Even the faith that man must exercise is a gift of God. If God did not enable man to believe, he would never believe on the name of Christ. This is what Classic Arminians mean by the word “response ability” (responsibility): that man has the “ability” (enabled by God) to “respond” to the gospel. Secondly, verse 9 tells us that salvation by grace through faith is “not of works.” In these two verses alone, we see that faith is of God and not of works. Faith and works here are opposed to one another, so Dr. Tiessen’s argument falls completely.
To show once again that faith and works are opposed, Romans 4 is a great text. Paul uses Abraham as an example of one who was not justified by works, but faith (Rom. 4:2-3, referencing Genesis 15:6). Consequently, Paul states that the faith vs. works issue explains why many of the Gentiles were saved, while the Jews (who had the promises and Christ) were not (Rom. 9:30-33).
Going back to Romans 4, Paul shows us that salvation through the law would have made faith null and void (v.14), of no effect. Rather, “it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham” (Rom. 4:16).
Dr. Tiessen said in his quote above from page 238 that, if man cooperates with God in salvation (by believing), then “the absolute graciousness” of God is compromised. But how can God’s graciousness be compromised in such a scenario if God grants salvation through faith “that it might be according to grace”? How can salvation through faith take away from grace when the whole reason God did it was to show His grace in the first place? Notice, secondly, that because of God’s grace, salvation was EXTENDED to the Gentiles (no longer belonging solely to the Jews). God, in granting salvation through faith, MAGNIFIED His glory even more by allowing many others to call upon His Name. How is salvation by grace through faith taking away from God’s glory? Does God not become both just (in judging sin through the sacrifice of Christ) and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26) in salvation? How then, does any of the process itself detract from or compromise God’s glory?
When Jesus was born, the heavenly host of angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14) What did these words mean? What does it mean to proclaim at Jesus’ birth that there is “glory to God in the highest”? God’s glory was magnified even in the Incarnation, as Christ became the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29). So again I ask, what about salvation by grace through faith takes away from God’s glory? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
We’ve seen in this post that Dr. Tiessen has some philosophical presuppositions that blur his understanding of the text. How one can read the contrast of “faith and works” and claim that “faith is equal to works” is beyond me. What it shows, however, is that “the Calvinist reading of Scripture” (as Tiessen calls it) is nothing more than a philosophical overlaying of Scripture. It is a new lens by which one approaches the text. However, while it provides new sight, it also blinds one to the truth of the Scriptures. And what’s so sad is that so many of the evangelical world’s greatest theologians fall for it...