The “zero-sum” Paradigm and the Catholic View of Salvation

The “zero-sum” Paradigm and the Catholic View of Salvation

When I was a Reformed Protestant, I viewed salvation as a “zero-sum” situation. This led to the question, “How much does God do and how much do I do in salvation?”

Clearly it can’t be God does 50% and I do 50%. Then there was the Arminian position that came down to God does 99.9% and I do 0.1%. The Calvinist position rejects all this and states God does 100% and I do 0% – entirely monergistic.

The Catholic position (which I argue is the Pauline position on this site and in the book) is that the “zero-sum” paradigm is misleading. If you start with a scale ranging from zero to one hundred percent, you never get to the truth.

The early Christological debates centered on this zero sum error: “Is Christ 50% divine and 50% human? – what about 100% divine and 0% human?” The Councils authoritatively declared that this is the wrong way of seeing things. Christ is 100% divine AND 100% human. The divine Logos *assumed* his human nature. There is no contradiction is saying that Christ is 100% God and 100% man because the model is one of “participation”.

Paul (following Christ) presents salvation with the paradigm of participation (“…that they may be in me and I in them…”). Human salvation is 100% the work of God. Our ability to believe, repent, do good works, persevere, etc. come from the grace of God. Nothing is “of ourselves”. Yet this position does NOT entail monergism. 2 Peter says that we “participate” in the divine nature. We are not completely passive. Scripture NEVER speaks like that.

Calvinism only has it half right. Think of the example of Christ and Peter walking on water. When Peter walked on water, was it 100% Christ giving him the power to do something supernatural and 0% Peter? No, Peter was fully active, but his activity (that of walking) participated in the power of Christ’s divine prerogatives. Peter couldn’t have boasted “I walked on water!” Moreover, when Peter’s activity ceased to participate in Christ’s power (Peter looked away), he failed to walk on water. He sank. Here we see that Christ was fully active and that Peter was fully active so long as Peter stayed above the water.

So the right answer is that salvation is 100% divine and 100% human – the divine grace being prior to human faith and works. That’s the Catholic position and I would challenge you to read the New Testament with this Catholic paradigm in mind. I think that you will find that it sheds light on passages, brings about a cohesive whole, and clarifies those “difficult passages” that Protestants avoid or dismiss (e.g. James 2, Hebrews 6).

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About the Author

Taylor was an Episcopal priest in Fort Worth, Texas before being received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth. Taylor was also formerly the Assistant Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., located three blocks north of the White House, where he lectured regularly. He was served under Archbishop John J. Myers and Msgr. William Stetson for the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II, the canonical structure by which Anglican clergy are received into the Catholic Church and then go on to pursue Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (M.A.R. Theology), Nashotah Theological House (Certificate in Anglican Studies), and University of Dallas (M.A. Philosophy). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Dallas where he studies the Natural Law theory of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae Ia Iaa qq. 94-108). Taylor and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their five children. He is the author of The Catholic Perspective on Paul (forthcoming). Visit his personal site at: www.taylormarshall.com Taylor is also the Editor of Christian and American at: www.christianandamerican.com.