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Religion Library: Protestantism

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Ted Vial

The logical conclusion to this belief is articulated in the doctrine of "double predestination." Predestination means that God decides, from before the beginning of time as part of creation, the eternal destiny of every single person. An individual makes a decision for or against Christ according to the sovereignty of God. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin did hold that, after conversion, it was possible to perform good works out of love of neighbor and for the glory of God, rather than merely out of fear of hell, and these works (with the help of God's grace) could be seen as free. But they played no role in earning salvation. In terms of one's relationship with God, the power remains entirely in God's hands. For Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin the Holy Spirit was present in the word of God found in scripture, in the sacraments that are visible signs of the promises of the Gospel, and in the hearts of believers, bringing them to trust these promises.

Some Protestant denominations as a whole specifically deny this teaching of predestination. Methodists and other Wesleyans agree that sin is so devastating that the only hope for salvation is God's forgiveness. But they also believe that God's forgiveness is offered to all, not just to some who were chosen before time, and that God provides an initiating grace—"prevenient grace"—that gives each person the chance to respond freely to the offer. (Prevenient grace is God's grace given to all human beings before justification, making it possible for fallen human beings [which is everyone] to choose to accept God's offer of forgiveness.) God does not predestine anyone to either heaven or hell; rather, enabled by prevenient grace, human beings make the choice to accept or reject God's offer of forgiveness. Wesleyans also believe in a "second outpouring of the Spirit." God gives not only the prevenient grace to choose salvation, and justifying (forgiving) grace, but sanctifying grace, the ability with God's help to reject sin and live an increasingly holy life.

Most Protestants want to preserve a role for human will, either in salvation or in sanctification (the increasing holiness of life). Many Anabaptists, Baptists, and Pentecostals tend to agree that Calvin's doctrine of predestination is wrong, and also teach that those Christians who are elect will not remain sinners but will be transformed—not just regarded as holy, but actually become holy—in this life.

There is disagreement among Protestants over various roles of the Holy Spirit. Most Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, and Anabaptists believe that the Holy Spirit usually, if not exclusively, speaks in and through the Bible, and they either reject or are suspicious of claims of special Spirit-revelation apart from the Bible (e.g., prophecy or speaking in tongues). Pentecostals, on the other hand, expect such gifts of the Spirit. The Assemblies of God, for example, call such gifts "a normal experience" for Christians. A mark of salvation is the ability to heal and to speak in tongues.

Study Questions:
1.     What is the common narrative shared by Protestants with other Christian faiths?
2.     Why is it important to the Christian narrative that Jesus was born human?
3.     How does one obtain forgiveness within Christianity?
4.     Describe the Protestant understanding of the relationship between faith and works.
5.     How do Protestants understand the Holy Spirit?


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