Augustine and the Justification Debates: Did Calvin Step Too Far in the Right Direction?

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Theology (Th.M)


Systematic Theology

First Advisor

Bruce Fields


The following thesis examines Augustine's doctrine of justification in light of Reformed theology and the eventual rise of Free Grace sotieriology-the view that perseverance in the faith is not necessary for final salvation-and argues that the Reformed movement away from Augustine regarding the doctrine of justification has been the key contributor to the predominance of antinomianism in contemporary evangelicalism. To this end, the first half of the thesis will discuss Augustine's wider sotieriological paradigm, including his concepts of original sin, culpability, and merit. It will be demonstrated that for Augustine, justification is the singular act of God whereby he graciously, and apart from merit, transforms the inner man through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, initiating a process that eventually culminates in the total renewal of both the spiritual and natural man. Further, it is through the grace given in justification (as well as perseverance) that man is not only made capable of performing, but actually wills to performs, good deeds fit for meriting the reward of eternal life.

The second half of the thesis will attempt to briefly summarize Calvin's understanding of justification, as well as trace the roots of Free Grace sotieriology from Calvin to Charles Ryrie, a contemporary Free Grace theologian. Ultimately it will be argued that the unintended antinomianism of Free Grace sotieriology is grounded in, and born out of, the Reformed doctrine of justification. The main body of the thesis will close with a preliminary attempt to appropriate Augustine's doctrine of justification for contemporary evangelicalism, arguing that it provides a more systematic and biblically based sotieriology with which to combat Free Grace theology than does Reformed thought.

Could it be that the reformers, in counteracting the abuses of a semi-Pelagian Roman church, developed a sotieriological paradigm that went farther beyond Augustine than was necessary, ignoring crucial elements of his doctrine of culpability (and thus his doctrine of justification), leading eventually to today's current state of faltering evangelical piety? Perhaps Calvin stepped too far in the right direction.


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