Outline of System


by Loraine Boettner

There are really only three systems which claim to set forth a way of salvation through Christ. They are:

(1) Universalism,---which holds that Christ died for all men and that eventually all shall be saved, either in this life or through a future probation. This view perhaps makes the strongest appeal to our feelings, but is un-Scriptural, and has never been held by an organized Christian church.

(2) Arminianism,---which holds that Christ died equally and indiscriminately for every individual of mankind, for those who perish no less than for those who are saved: that election is not an eternal and unconditional act of God; that saving grace is offered to every man, which grace he may receive or reject just as he pleases; that man may successfully resist the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit if he chooses to do so; that saving grace is not necessarily permanent, but that those who are loved of God, ransomed by Christ, and born again of the Holy Spirit, may (let God wish and strive ever so much to the contrary) throw away all and perish eternally.

Arminianism in its radical and more fully developed forms is essentially a recrudescence of Pelagianism, a type of self-salvation. In fact, the ancestry of Arminianism can be traced back to Pelagianism as definitely as can that of Calvinism be traced back to Augustinianism. It might, perhaps, be more property called "Pelagianism," seeing that its principles were brought into existence nearly twelve hundred years before Arminius was born. Pelagianism denied human depravity, and the necessity of efficacious grace, and exalted the human will above the divine. "Its doctrines pleased the natural palate of man, hating, as all men do hate, the doctrine of universal depravity. To say that man could grow holy and spotless, that he could secure God's grace, and attain to salvation by an act of his own free will, was teaching that attracted, as it still does attract, thousands" (Warburton, Calvinism, p. 11).

Arminianism at its best is a somewhat vague and indefinite attempt at reconciliation, hovering midway between the sharply marked systems of Pelagius and Augustine, taking off the edges of each, and inclining now to the one, now to the other. Dr. A. A. Hodge refers to it as a "manifold and elastic system of compromise." Its leading idea is that divine grace and human will jointly accomplish the work of conversion and sanctification, and that man has the sovereign right of accepting or rejecting. It affirms that man is weak as a result of the fall, but denies that all ability has been lost. Man therefore merely needs divine grace to assist his personal efforts. Or, to put it another way, he is sick, but not dead; he indeed cannot help himself, but he can engage the help of a physician, and can either accept or reject the help when it is offered. He thus has power to co-operate with the grace of God in the matter of salvation. This view exalts man's freedom at the expense of God's sovereignty. It has some apparent, but no real, Scripture authority, and is plainly contradicted by other parts of Scripture.

History shows plainly that the tendency of Arminianism is to compromise and to drift gradually from an evangelical basis. Hence it is that to this day there has never been developed a logical and systematic body of Arminian theology. It has, in the Methodist Church for instance, a brief and informal creed in some twenty-five articles; but the contrast between that statement and the carefully wrought-out Westminster Confession is seen at a glance.

(3) The third system setting forth a way of salvation through Christ is Calvinism. Calvinism holds that as a result of the fall into sin all men in themselves are guilty, corrupted, hopelessly lost; that from this fallen mass God sovereignly elects some to salvation through Christ, while passing by others; that Christ is sent to redeem His people by a purely substitutionary atonement; that the Holy Spirit efficaciously applies this redemption to the elect; and that all of the elect are infallibly brought to salvation. This view alone is consistent with Scripture and with what we see in the world about us.

Calvinism holds that the fall left man totally unable to do anything meriting salvation, that he is wholly dependent on divine grace for the inception and development of spiritual life. The chief fault of Arminianism is its insufficient recognition of the part that God takes in redemption. It loves to admire the dignity and strength of man; Calvinism loses itself in adoration of the grace and omnipotence of God. Calvinism casts man first into the depths of humiliation and despair in order to lift him on the wings of grace to supernatural strength. The one flatters natural pride; the other is a gospel for penitent sinners. As that which exalts man in his own sight and tickles his fancies is more welcome to the natural heart than that which abases him, Arminianism Is likely to prove itself more popular. Yet Calvinism is nearer to the facts, however harsh and forbidding those facts may seem. "It is not always the most agreeable medicine which is the most healing. The experience of the apostle John Is one of frequent occurrence, that the little book which is sweet as honey in the mouth is bitter in the belly. Christ crucified was a stumbling-block to one class of people and foolishness to another, and yet He was, and is, the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation to all who believe." (Mcfetridge, Calvinism in History, p. 136)

Men constantly deceive themselves by postulating their own peculiar feelings and opinions as moral axioms. To some it is self-evidently true that a holy God cannot permit sin; hence they infer that there is no God. To others it is self-evident that a merciful God cannot permit a portion of His rational creatures to be forever the victims of sin and misery, and consequently they deny the doctrine of eternal punishment. Some assume that the innocent cannot justly be punished for the guilty, and are led to deny the vicarious and substitutionary suffering and death of Christ. And to others it is an axiom that the free acts of a free agent cannot be certain and under the control of God, so they deny the foreordination, or even the foreknowledge, of such acts.

We are not at liberty, however, to develop a system of our own liking. "The question which of these systems is true," says Dr. Charles Hodge, a zealous and uncompromising advocate of Calvinism, "is not to be decided by ascertaining which is the more agreeable to our feelings or the more plausible to our understanding, but which is consistent with the doctrines of the Bible and the facts of experience." "It is the duty of every theologian to subordinate his theories to the Bible, and teach not what seems to him to be true or reasonable, but simply what the Bible teaches," And again, "There would be no end of controversy, and no security for any truth whatever, if the strong personal convictions of individual minds be allowed to determine what is, or what is not true, what the Bible may, and what it may not be allowed to teach." (Systematic Theology, II, pp. 356, 559, 581.)

As in the case of the other doctrines which are common to the Christian system, there is no place in the Bible where these distinctive Calvinistic doctrines are set forth in a systematic and complete form. The Bible is not a work on Systematic Theology, but only the quarry out of which the stone for such a temple can be obtained. Instead of giving us a formal statement of a theological system it gives us a mass of raw materials which must be organized and systematized and worked up into their organic relations. Nowhere, for instance, do we find a formal statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the person of Christ, or of the inspiration of the Scriptures. It gives us an account of the origin and development of the Hebrew people and of the founding of Christianity, and the doctrinal facts are given with little regard to their logical relations. These facts need to be classified and arranged in a logical system and thus transformed into theology. This fact, that the material in the Bible is not arranged in a theological system, is in accordance with God's procedure in other realms. He has not given us a fully developed system of biology, or astronomy, or politics. We simply find the unorganized facts in nature and in experience and are left to develop them into a system as best we may. And since the doctrines are not thus presented in a systematic and formal way it is much easier for false interpretations to arise.


Special thanks to John Koerschgen for making this article available to Sola Scriptura!