Starting Salvation With Jesus, and Ending Salvation With Jesus: From the Patristics to Barth and Torrance

Posted on May 5, 2014May 5, 2014 by Bobby Grow

Donald Fairbairn, Patristics theologian par excellence, has written a rich and very accessible book entitled Life In The Trinity: An Introduction To Theology With The Help Of The Church Fathers. I would highly recommend this book to you, and even recommend it as a devotional type of book if you are interested in doing your devotions with the Trinity.

I have just recently finished reading through a section of the book that is discussing Christian salvation, and in particular, God’s action and human action in the realm of salvation. After sketching the common dilemma that has obtained in the Western branch of the Protestant church (i.e. Calvinism V Arminianism, e.g. emphasis on God’s choice or humanity’s choice in salvation – to be a bit reductionistic) in regard to salvation, Fairbairn offers an alternative that he has gleaned from his years spent with the Church Fathers. Here is what he has written:

To spell this idea out a bit more, I suggest that in our discussion of election/predestination, we should not place such priority on God’s choosing particular people that we imply he has nothing to do with those he will not ultimately save. Conversely, I suggest that we not place such priority on God’s universal desire to save that we imply that he deals exactly equally with everyone and all differences between people are due to their own responses to God (responses that God foreknows). Rather, I suggest that we place the priority on God’s eternal decision to honor his own relationship with his beloved Son and his Spirit by bringing people into that relationship. God’s eternal will was, first and foremost, a will to accomplish human redemption through the person and work of his Son and his Spirit. That eternal will included within its determination all that God ordained to happen, all that he knew would happen, all that both he and we would do. This means that when a person begins to trust in Christ or a believer prays for the salvation of others or someone proclaims the gospel, these people are privileged to share in what God has from all eternity determined that he would do. We are not merely the means by which he achieves his purpose, we are somehow privileged to be a part of the determination of that purpose, the establishment of the will of God in connection with his Son Jesus Christ. Such a way of looking at the relation between election and human action may help to ease the logjam the Western discussions of this issue have created for a millennium and a half. But even if it does not succeed in doing that, such a way of looking at the issue does place the emphasis where Scripture indicates it should lie–not on a seemingly arbitrary decree or on allegedly independent, free human action but instead on Christ the beloved Son of the Father, the one in whom we are chosen to participate.[1]

This will be too vague of an alternative for the scholastically Reformed mind among us, or even the evangelical mind. We want all of our theological “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed a certain way. But if a person is willing to live with some revelational dialectical tension, then what Fairbairn suggests from his reflection on the writings of the Fathers, will be resonant.


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