What We Believe

Chapter 4
What Must I Do To Be Saved?—Part 2

In the second membership vow you promise to "trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone." It is to the last word—alone—that your attention is directed in this chapter.

How clear—and simple—everything would be if everyone chose one, or the other, of the two basic viewpoints described in lesson one. The fact is, however, that people are not very consistent. Because of this there is a constant tendency toward synthesis. What is synthesis? It is the "putting together" of two differing things. In this instance, it is the attempt to mix autonomy with theonomy, but to do it in such a way as to make it appear that there can be peace between them. In actual fact, of course, this is a delusion. The two can never be harmonized.

Diagram 5: The Medieval Synthesis

The Medieval Synthesis

It was precisely this problem—synthesis—that made the Reformation necessary in the 16th century. We again represent this with a picture (diagram 5, above). In it we see how the old unified world-and-life view of the early church was gradually replaced by a dualism. On the one hand there was what was called the realm of nature, and on the other hand the realm of grace. It was a nature/grace dualism. This dualism was evident in many different ways during the Middle Ages. It is for this reason that Roman Catholic theology (which preserves this false synthesis of the Middle Ages) can be called the "and" religion: faith and works, the merits of Christ and the merits of the virgin Mary and the saints, Scripture and tradition, and so on. What was happening was this: in the realm of nature man thought he could operate in an autonomous way, while allowing a measure of theonomy in some higher "spiritual" realm. But, the fact is that such a synthesis is always destructive of the Christian faith. When we act "as if" man can—in some things—operate in an autonomous way, we really deny what is basic to the Biblical view. To get a better understanding of how this attempt at synthesis worked out in the realm of doctrine, we give a comparison of the doctrinal teaching concerning the way of salvation. In column 1 we have the view taught in the Bible. In column 3 we have the view expressive of man's attempt to be autonomous. In the center column we have the view which expresses the attempted synthesis of the Middle Ages (remaining today in Roman Catholic teaching). It will be readily seen that this synthesis denies God his proper glory just as truly (though not as obviously) as the more blatantly expressed autonomy. If—after God has done all he can do to save—man remains unsaved until he adds his own indispensable part, then man becomes—at least in part—his own savior (see diagram 6 below).

Biblical Christianity  



Total Depravity

  • Man is dead (Eph. 2:1)
  • He can do nothing to save himself

Partial Depravity

  • Man is sick
  • He can do something to save himself

No Depravity

  • Man is O.K.
  • He can do whatever is needed to save himself

Unconditional Election

  • No one merits any mercy
  • The Father chooses some unconditionally

Conditional Election

  • All men deserve some mercy
  • God chooses those who choose him (conditionally)

Man Chooses

  • Man is not fallen
  • Man determines his own destiny

Limited Atonement

  • Christ the Son gave his life as a ransom for many

Universal Atonement

  • Christ died for all men without exception

No Atonement

  • Christ merely provides an example

Irresistible Grace

  • The Holy Spirit regenerates the elect only

Resistible Grace

  • The Holy Spirit regenerates all who do their part

No (Special) Grace

  • The Holy Spirit is not needed

Perseverance of the Saints

  • God keeps his elect from falling (Phil. 1:6)
  • They strive, because God works in them (Phil. 2:12-13)

Possible Perseverance

  • God helps those who cooperate with him
  • God lets them fall if they cease to cooperate

No Perseverance

  • It is entirely up to man to continue imitating Jesus

The great Protestant Reformation was a powerful movement back to a "theonomy" view similar to diagram 1 (lesson 1). At that time—because of the Reforming influence of the Bible in society—it was generally accepted that the universe was created by God, and that he has given man the privilege of investigating it. It is no accident, therefore, that many of the early scientists who went to work discovering things, did so because they believed it made sense to do this. They had faith, in other words, that there is order and meaning in the universe because it was created, and is sustained, by God. They also believed that God created men in his own image so that they could learn to understand his creation. What we need to realize is this: the viewpoint set forth in diagram 2 (lesson 1) would never provide the basis to do this. We say this because—on the basis of autonomy—there is no assurance that there is any meaning "out there" in the universe, or that man can ever arrive at any real truth. So it was on the basis of a theonomic view that the great scientific discoveries began to come in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Man began to advance by great leaps and bounds, as it were, in his knowledge of, and control over, nature.

With the passing of time, however, something began to happen. It came about very gradually. But of one thing there is no doubt: there was a return to synthesis. Again, as in the medieval period, this was done by splitting life into two parts. Things such as scientific work were gradually shifted back to the old autonomous basis, while things such as personal religion and worship were (supposedly) kept on the Reformational basis. Here once again we represent this diagrammatically (diagram 7).

Diagram 7: The Modern Synthesis

When we stop and think about it, this attempted synthesis is an astonishing thing. Was it not already clear, from the Middle Ages, that theonomy and autonomy can never really be blended together successfully? Was it not equally clear that synthesis is always to the detriment of the Biblical view? This is so because autonomy always tends to become more and more dominant. It becomes the primary thing, controlling everyday life, while the word of God is pushed more and more into the background. As a matter of fact, when you really grasp what has happened, you will also see why the Christian view does not even receive a subordinate position, not really. No, it is actually eliminated because the Christian view does not stand any more when it is made subordinate to human autonomy at any point.

Let us try to see this from a practical illustration. Take the situation in our public schools. In these schools today practically everything is dealt with on the basis of what we label (above) as layer #2 of the synthesis. God is not mentioned in the school classroom because God is not considered important for daily life, or for scientific knowledge. There is no reference to the Bible because the Bible is not considered relevant to scientific investigation. Everything in the realm of science is looked at from the standpoint of man as autonomous. Man starts from himself—and uses only his own resources—as he seeks to work out his own answers. Religion, then, is treated as if it has nothing whatever to do with the world of science. Take the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for example. Now the truth is that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact—just as historical and scientific as any other fact—because Jesus actually rose from the dead physically. How can there be any true science, then, when this—the most important fact in history—is ignored? But it is ignored in our public school instruction. The result is that the Christian view—the only view that really is true—is treated as if it was (at best) only a matter of "spiritual concern", something that only has to do with the "inner life" of the individual.

Here, then, is what happens in synthesis. The false view of man as autonomous undermines the true Christian view in a devastating way. Man, beginning from himself—and in dependence only upon human sources and resources—works out his own explanation of reality. He decides that nothing can be true except what he determines for himself. And since he does not experience the things the Christian world-view teaches, he insists that they have no proper place in the "real world" of everyday life (layer A, in diagram 4). The ironic thing is that he even thinks he is being generous when he says "you Christians can enjoy your religious freedom in the personal and private realm of faith." But in truth he is not being generous at all. This is what we must see. What he is doing, in fact, demanding is that we deny the truth by accepting this false synthesis. What we need to do as Christians is to turn the tables, and put the biblical world-and-life view back in its rightful place. This means—first of all—that we must reject the synthesis now dominating our culture. We must reject it completely. In order to do this we must learn how to discern the things that differ. In the sections below we will deal with this further.


  1. If theonomy and autonomy are radically different, why is it that so many people do not realize it?
  2. What do we mean when we speak of "synthesis"?
  3. Why was a Protestant Reformation necessary?
  4. Give a few examples of the dualism in the medieval synthesis.
  5. Is it what God does—or is it what man does—which is decisive in man's salvation in the Roman Catholic view? Be ready to show this from the chart.
  6. Why does the autonomy view give no incentive for scientific effort?
  7. Is the synthesis of our present time the same as that of the Middle Ages? Explain.
  8. Does synthesis really allow true religion its proper place? Why?
  9. Give an example of the effect of synthesis on public school education.
  10. Give a practical example of what Christians can do today, to turn the tables against synthesis.


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