The Christian doctrine on salvation teaches that Jesus died for all sin; that is, his sacrifice was completely sufficient to pay the ransom for the sins of the entire world. However, salvation from damnation comes to an individual only when the person repents and accepts, by faith and belief, this provision of forgiveness. Otherwise, those who die in unbelief die in all their sin—they are unforgiven.
The Bible teaches that we are born sinners because of the “sin nature” that each of us inherited from Adam. This sin nature means that humans, as the progeny of Adam, are effectively hardwired to sin. Furthermore, we cannot overcome the sin nature within us without first being spiritually regenerated, which is availed exclusively by the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s Christian soteriology in a nutshell.
The problem is that the doctrine of Christian salvation lacks coherence and is internally contradictory. Yup. Christian theological teachings regarding salvation are incoherent and ultimately collapse under their own illogical weight.
According to the Christian worldview, Jesus’ work on the cross is called “substitutionary atonement” — meaning, his death paid the debt for all sin since we are incapable of doing it ourselves. The Bible explains that sin so corrupts our thought processes and decision-making ability that our sin nature renders us incapable of independently choosing God. Ergo, substitutionary atonement. And therein lies the rub…
Non-belief in Jesus is occasioned by our inherent sin nature. But if nonbelief in Jesus also disallows the person from receiving forgiveness from sin, then this has the ironic effect of God using the very affliction that He intends to heal you from (i.e., unbelief due to sin) as the basis for His refusal to avail you of the healing. If sin encumbers our ability to properly commune with and perceive God, and if Jesus’ death and resurrection was the once-and-for-all exclusive antidote sufficient to remedy all of mankind’s sins, then it makes no sense whatsoever to withhold this salvation from the unbeliever — especially since it is his sin nature (the thing in need of repair) that renders him an unbeliever to begin with. Indeed, this scenario is where the grace of salvation is most appropriately extended, as opposed to being counterproductively withheld. Otherwise, substitutionary atonement for sin is rendered a farce and amounts to an illusory notion of forgiveness that preconditions the recipient to first prevail over the very thing that prompted his need for salvation in the first place.
If Jesus came to save man from sin, but sin is an encumbrance to belief in Jesus, then it makes no sense to precondition salvation on whether the individual affirms belief in the New Testament Gospel. It’s literally putting the cart before the horse. Such a theological framework means either that Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for sin was incomplete and insufficient… or the Christian doctrine of salvation is incoherent, illusory, and internally contradictory. Condemning the unbeliever to death would be inconsistent and incompatible with the entire premise that undergirds Christian salvation. In fact, it would be unjust.
Consider these analogies to further elucidate the point.
In this analogy, a notorious criminal was duly convicted of a capital crime, but an innocent person volunteered to stand in the shoes of the condemned to be executed on the convict’s behalf. If the state then accepts and proceeds with the substitutionary execution of the innocent man, then it cannot also move forward with carrying out the execution of the initial condemned man for the underlying crime, or else we have dishonor and injustice. The state cannot rightfully collect twice on a paid debt or punishment that it accepted.
In another analogy, let’s say a guy named Adam defaulted on a loan that was worth $1 million. This loan was held by a Central Bank that holds all notes for all debts. As it happens, Adam lacked any personal capacity to ever repay that loan to the Central Bank. Adam eventually died. So his $1 million debt remained with his estate and was imputed to all his descendants. Not only did Adam’s descendants inherit his debt, but the fine print on the note stipulated that his descendants must also be personally penalized with their own individual debt of $1 million each just because they were Adam’s offspring. Adding to this misfortune, each descendant was cursed to be born bankrupt, poor, and unable to repay or otherwise work off their massive debt.
The combined amount of all the defaulted loans totals $10 trillion. But there is some mega wealthy guy worth $300 trillion who voluntarily arranges with the Central Bank to deposit the sum of his entire net worth at the Central Bank for the sole purpose of satisfying the outstanding balances for the defaulted debtors. This was done as an unsolicited free gift to them. The Central Bank accepts this nonrefundable payment on behalf of the defaulted debtors. So there is now more than enough funds appropriated to satisfy every single dime owed on every single outstanding balance from each defaulted loan. These accounts have been remedied at no cost to those in bankruptcy. The balance sheets are in the black, and there is even a massive surplus in the coffers. The Central Bank has been made whole.
The Central Bank is now precluded from then attempting to collect again from the debtors on the same loans a second time!! Why? The answer should be obvious — the outstanding debt was already paid in full to the Central Bank. The Central Bank cannot justifiably collect twice on the same debt. The whole point in conferring the gift was recognizing that the debtors were completely impotent to render anything toward satisfying their debt — thus, the FREE GIFT. It is wholly improper for the Central Bank to then demand from the debtors any form of earnest payment on top of the many trillions of dollars collected in substitutionary payments on their behalf. The debtors have been duly ransomed. To foreclose on the note anyway is a blatant form of “unjust enrichment” and amounts to a fundamental breach. But this scenario that I described is essentially what Christian soteriology teaches about the tenets of salvation – and it is fundamentally flawed.
One thought on “Why Christian Salvation Doctrine is Incoherent and Fundamentally Flawed”
Hello Doston Jones, thank you for this article. I have long been interested in analysing the Christian concept of salvation. The penal substitutionary atonement line that you describe has provided the main theory within the classic Protestant doctrine on the salvation of the soul, understood as eternal life in heaven after death, but as you point out it does not make sense.
However, the Gospels have a very different line, looking at salvation more as the material and spiritual flourishing of the world, and presenting heaven and hell as metaphors for improvement and worsening of the world. This metaphorical approach aligns with modern science, whereas the traditional literal concepts of heaven and hell do not make scientific sense.
When Christ says at John 3:17 that he did not come to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him, he is not talking about individual Christians going to heaven, but about salvation meaning the transformation of our planet to align with the values of God, as prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer ‘thy will be done on earth as in heaven.’ In the Last Judgement at Matthew 25, Jesus says it does not matter what you believe, it is what you do that determines if you are saved or damned. The meaning is we must choose whether our life will contribute to overall flourishing or corruption. It is still within the framework of salvation by faith though, since only a coherent faith in the grace of God can inform a sustained ethic of good works.
Christianity needs to get rid of its supernatural metaphysical superstitions about the afterlife and instead read the Gospels as symbolic language, metaphors for real world ethical concerns. The Christendom tradition was corruptly established by the Roman Empire to serve its political interests in social control, and makes no moral or scientific sense. A new transformative liberating Christian vision can guide our understanding of what it means to save the world through love, while the old dogmas go quietly obsolete.