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#592 Is Mere Christianity Sufficient for Salvation?

August 19, 2018

Question #1:

Hello, Dr Craig

Firstly, I'd like to say thank you for the work that you do. It has been a pleasure to watch your debates and read your articles over the short time I've known of your work, and it is certainly helping me grow in my (relatively new) walk with Christ. I was hoping that you might be able to provide an answer to one of the difficulties I've been having recently.

Having grown up in an atheist family, I've been struggling with understanding what is expected of me as a Christian when it comes to sharing what the Bible teaches (spreading the Gospel isn't really one of the things my family found important to prepare me for!) God has answered my prayers in that the heart of one of my close, unbelieving friends has been softened and she's been coming to me asking questions about God.

But I now find myself in a position where I'm worried I'm damning myself to Hell by what I say. I think frequently about warnings against false teachers, and Matthew 7: 21-23's 'depart from me' statement; whilst I hold up my hands and say I might only be having this issue because I've never really been taught scripture thoroughly, my question is: am I at risk of losing my salvation if I come to believe and thus argue a position that is untrue?

Specifically, I'm referring to what I think you call 'in-house' issues. I have no issue or worries about helping my friend discover God; its a case of prayer and presenting the same arguments that brought me to faith. But being the only Christian she knows, she'll inevitably start asking me about the 'in-house' things.

Now ordinarily when I've looked for answers to things like whether or not I should hold to x or y position in relation to something like the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, the answer I find is typically something like 'well it's not vital for your salvation, so as long as you remember we're all brothers and sisters in Christ its okay to have either belifef'.

But this doesn't seem to be a consistent view point to me. Surely, if x position is true, and one can find exegetical support for x position in the Bible, then x has to be true? Yet you're obviously aware, we still debate amongst ourselves as to whether or not Molinism or Calvinism or Arminianism is correct. I can see I'm starting to ramble, so I'll try to summarise.

What I'm asking, is when it comes to 'in-house' topics in Christianity (such as what is acceptable for leisure, or more important things like the nature of Hell or Salvation), is it true to say that we can hold any positon so long as we can justify it Biblically and we hold to the core, 'mere Christian' tenants? And if so, why? Because it seems logical to me that if one can read the Bible and come to accept (as an example) Calvinsim, and Calvinism is actually true, then God wouldn't accept anyone who comes to Molinism; since the two are mutually exclusive, it seems to me it's to whomever holds the incorrect positions on 'in-house' things like this that God is directing the warnings about false teachers and to whom He is saying He will one day tell 'I never knew you'. I apologise if this has gone on too long, or if I am simply making a fool of myself by misunderstanding something I've read in Scripture, but I eagerly await any answer should you decide to provide one, sir!

United Kingdom


Question #2:

Dear Dr. Craig,

You have observed in speeches that there are disagreements on points of doctrine between different Christian groups, and referred to them as “disagreements among brethren.” I appreciate this empathetic statement. Is it your position that: (A) If we believe in and accept Jesus as our Savior we will be saved, even if we get some of the facts wrong on His doctrine? OR (B) There some facts that we absolutely have to get right? If B, which points of doctrine do we have to get right, and which ones are okay if we get wrong? And how do we know which facts fall into which camp? I imagine it can’t be that we have to get every fact right, or none of us would have a chance. I hope for a world in which there is more unity among the devout—we have a lot in common—and more focus on protecting against the forces that seek to oppose Judeo-Christian values, so I am very interested in your take on this issue that can often form a stumbling block for well-meaning individuals.


United States

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Dr. craig’s response


Carl, I rejoice in your new-found faith in Christ and your sharing that faith with others! May God guide and bless you! I’m grateful for your heartfelt question and think Bryan’s similar question can help to answer yours.

First, Bryan, in answer to your basic question, I accept alternative (B) “There [are] some facts that we absolutely have to get right” in order to be saved. You’re right in rejecting the view that we have to get everything right because then “none of us would have a chance.” James says, “For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man” (James 3.2). Notice that James includes himself in this admission! Now since we imperfect, mistake-prone human beings do find salvation, it’s clear that we don’t have to get everything right in order to be saved.

That doesn’t imply that it’s “okay if we get [some doctrines] wrong.” We should try our best to avoid error and get things right. What (B) implies is that some errors are not heresies—errors that separate one from salvation.

So “which points of doctrine do we have to get right, and . . . how do we know which facts fall into which camp?”  Well, we turn to Scripture and see what it says about what we have to believe in order to be saved and what errors are so serious that they forfeit salvation. (A cautionary note: in what follows we are talking about people who have heard an accurate presentation of the Gospel. Old Testament believers obviously didn’t have to believe these things in order to be saved, and it’s an open question just what the unevangelized have to believe in order to be saved.)

Paul lists the major points in the Gospel message proclaimed by the apostles:

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 

that he was buried,

that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and

that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve (I Corinthians 15.3-5).

Notice that here the atoning death of Christ and his resurrection from the dead are central truths of the Gospel.

Paul feared for the salvation of Galatian Christians when they were tempted to reject the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death and return to Jewish practices: “Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 3.1; 5.4; cf. Hebrews 6. 4-6; 10.29-30).

Similarly, when Paul learned that certain Corinthians were denying Christ’s resurrection, he was blistering in his response: “Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (I Corinthians 15.34). Paul saw the denial of Christ’s resurrection as indicative of the lack of a saving knowledge of God.

Elsewhere Paul writes, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10.9). Here Paul states as sufficient conditions for salvation belief in Christ’s Lordship, which implies his deity (“Lord” = God), and belief in his resurrection. Paul says that “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12.3). Obviously, he’s not talking about the mere ability to vocalize those sounds but rather a sincere confession. By the same token, “No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be cursed!’” (I Corinthians 12.3). Someone who deliberately rejects Christ’s Lordship is not saved. Jesus himself said, “Every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God;  but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12.8).

So belief in Christ’s deity, atoning death, and resurrection would seem to be among the cardinal doctrines which any informed person must believe for salvation. Beyond these central truths, there just don’t seem to be many other doctrines which are, so to speak, “above the cutoff line.” That doesn’t mean that denial of other truths (say, the Second Coming of Christ) isn’t serious error. It just may not be damning. That’s why in our ministry I’ve sought to defend these central doctrines, the common core of “Mere Christianity.”

Now to come to your concerns, Carl, those who gave lip service to Jesus’ Lordship were not condemned because of doctrinal mistakes they had made.  Rather it was because “I never knew you” (Matthew 7.23).  They were unregenerate persons, unlike yourself. So, no, you are not “at risk of losing my salvation if I come to believe and thus argue a position that is untrue,” --unless you, like some Galatians and Corinthians, begin to deny cardinal truths of the Gospel. As James recognizes, we all make mistakes. That’s why he cautions about becoming teachers. It’s not O.K. to teach error, but it’s not damning either.

It is trivially true that, “if x position is true, . . . then x has to be true.” But it does not follow that “if one can find exegetical support for x position in the Bible, then x has to be true.” Why not? Because you may also find exegetical support in the Bible for position y, which is incompatible with x!  That is the case for most doctrinal disputes.  Passages in support of both positions can be adduced, and deciding where the truth lies may be difficult. The debate among Calvinists, Arminians, and Molinists is a great example.

I’d encourage you, Carl, in answering your friend’s questions, to share with her a variety of answers which Bible-believing Christians give. That’s the approach I take in my doctrine class Defenders. You can then take a personal position on an issue if you want to, but you don’t have to. In that way you can avoid error. I suspect that she’ll find your openness to different perspectives humble and refreshing.

So, “is it true to say that we can hold any position so long as we can justify it Biblically and we hold to the core, 'mere Christian' tenants?” If you mean, can you hold to any position on secondary doctrines (“in-house topics”) and still be saved, the answer is “Yes.”  “If so, why?” Because we are saved by our faith in Christ, not by the correctness of our theology!  So long as we are clinging to Christ for salvation and not trusting in ourselves, there are very few doctrinal beliefs that lie above the cut-off line separating saved from damned. If I’m wrong about Molinism, for example, God isn’t going to say to me, “Depart from me, you evildoer! I never knew you.”  He’s going to say, “Welcome home, my blundering, befuddled son!  Enter into the joy of your Master!”

- William Lane Craig