Monday, July 2, 2012

The Davenport Hypothesis

I recently started writing a new book.  Don't get too excited yet, I am still in the pre-send-to-publishers-to-see-if-anyone-will-actually-publish-it-phase.  In other words, I am just starting.  The working title is Real Christianity and as the man who got me started writing (David Wesley) suggested, I am posting some ideas to get some feedback to help tweak my thoughts. A lot of your comments over the past several months have actually helped focused the purpose of the book and helped me get started.  You've been helping a lot so far! So this blog is the first of probably many pre-book thoughts that need feedback.

So this is the Davenport Hypothesis: There is a direct correlation between an individual's or church's soteriology (beliefs about how salvation is made available, who can be saved, and how one can be saved) and how they understand and utilize Scripture.

The diagram above illustrates this hypothesis.  In this image, you can see two parallel lines.  These lines represent correlating spectrums.  The top line is for theological traditions within Christianity (admitting that some may disagree with such a title for everyone on this line).  On one side of this continuum we have the tradition with the most select view of soteriology -- only 144,000 people will be saved.  On the opposite side we have the broadest view of salvation -- everyone will be saved.  I pointed out where traditional double predestination and Wesleyanism might be found on this spectrum.  This continuum is not meant to graph value, orthodoxy, or theological accuracy but simple the breadth of salvation.  The smallest amount of people saved on one side and the greatest on the other.  There is no intentionality in who is on left or who is on right; I could have just as easily put these on the other side. 

The second line represents the beliefs and utilization of Scripture.  On the far left we have the propositional view - the most detail-oriented perspective of the Bible.  The farther left you go, the higher the Bible is held in esteem.  On the far right the Bible holds the least authority and it's understood in the broadest sense as helpful teaching, perhaps summed up in the Golden Rule. 

The relationships between these two lines are fascinating (at least to me). It seems that the more exclusive or predetermined a particular tradition is, the more likely they are to view the Bible as propositional.  When I say propositional, I mean that the Bible is understood to be a book full of one-line universal truths.  This manifests itself often in "proof-texting," or creating an entire doctrine based on a single verse or passage.  Each word of each verse is specifically inspired by God and the Bible is the supreme authority on all of life (not just belief and practice, but science, history, etc.). 

The opposite relationship is also true.  The broader a tradition's understanding is of who can be saved, the more likely they will view the Bible through a broad lens and with less authority.  So universalists, who believe that everyone is saved through Jesus, believe that the Bible is a collection of wise teaching on how to live.  Some say that it can be summed up in the Golden Rule.

The Wesleyan tradition, which believes that salvation is for everybody but each person can choose to accept or reject salvation, falls in the middle.  So does the tradition's understanding of Scripture.  While Wesleyans are concerned about the details of Scripture and the universal truths it teaches, they consider each particular verse and passage in the context of all of Scripture.  Additional, Scripture has absolute authority in belief in practice, but not in history and/or science.

I believe this to be a causal relationship.  The perspective of Scripture is determined by the tradition's soteriology.

The left side of the spectrum: Focusing on God's sovereignty, those on this side believe that the work of Jesus on the cross was so salvific that it is impossible to resist this grace.  However, God has predetermined who would be saved and who would not be (because if this irresistible grace was for everyone, this side would be universalists).  Since those who will be saved is predetermined, the Bible becomes a measuring-stick of sorts to determine who is predetermined to be saved and who is predetermined to go to hell.  This is why each and every detail of the Scripture is so important.  To not follow one part of Scripture would be to not follow every part of God's word, which would make you not one of the predestined.  This is not to say that this side believes that they haven't sinned (it's quite the opposite in fact), but to say that in order to be Christian you must reflect and believe every detail of Scripture.

The right side of the spectrum: This side believes everyone is going to be saved.  Like the left side, it's predetermined, but just in a different sense.  Since everyone is saved by the work of Christ, then there is not much need for an authorititive book on faith, science, or history (not that these aren't valued).  The Bible becomes a collection of teachings for good living rather than an authoritative text on Truth and the Right way to believe and live. 

The middle of the spectrum:  This would be a via media, of sorts, between the two poles.  This part of the continuum believes that salvation is for everyone (like the universalists), but that God has predetermined that all those who believe and trust in the story of Jesus and the reality of salvation it offers will be saved (like the predeterminists).  Each person can choose to be saved or choose to reject it.  The center of this tradition, then, is the gospel story because every person has an opportunity to receive salvation.  This tradition's understanding of Scripture reflects this fact in that Scripture is a soteriological book (it's about salvation).  While on the one hand it's a measuring stick that must be defended and believed at every point, it is also a book of good teaching on how to live.  While it is God's inerrant word (like the left) it is also written by humans (like the right).  It is authoritative, but about theology and Christian living.  The Bible's purpose isn't to determine science and history.  This is not to say that this tradition believes that God made mistakes in Scripture on these issues, but that science and history are just not the point.

Ok, so I realize this is really rough still, but that's why I want to get it out there.  Help sand it down to what is helpful and True.

One last thing, the specific location of the words along the lines above aren't really particular points along the spectrum.  Both lines are continuums and any person can fall anywhere on or between the poles.  It may not be entirely true that Calvinism is in that exact location or that Wesleyanism is the exact middle.  I think the "general vicinity" of each group is correct, but don't cash in on the specific location.

Ready. Set. Critique.


  1. I'm trying to think of things to say, but I haven't thought of anything constructive yet. But the propositional truth you have on the right side reminds me of the chapter from "square peg" when the author discusses how fundamentalists understand and read the bible. But not all people who hold this view of scripture believe only 144,000 will be saved. There are a lot of groups over on the right side.

  2. You're right. I tried to make the 144,000 folks the most extreme version of this side of the spectrum. I would put more traditional Calvinists/Fundamentalists a little farther towards the middle.

  3. I find your hypothesis interesting, as it's the Jehovah's Witnesses who believe that only 144,000 will be saved - not the Calvinists.

    And, not everyone who believes in the full inerrancy of the Scriptures is a Calvinist.

    You mention that Wesleyans "consider each particular verse and passage in the context of all of Scripture" - actually, inerrantists are the ones who do this: they interpret the Bible with the Bible. As for Nazarenes/Wesleyans, in addition to Scripture, they also use reason, Church tradition, and experience to evaluate Scripture. And for the passages that do not relate to salvation, these three are given equal authority as Scripture.

  4. Thanks 2 Tim.
    Thanks for you clarification on the Jehovah's witnesses. I didn't research that exact point, but went off of my memory.

    Also, although I put Calvinists on the line, it was just an identity marker, I wasn't trying to suggest that everyone on that side of the spectrum is Calvinist. However, I'm not sure what other groups outside of the general Reformed tradition use such a propositional view

    As far as your comment on the Wesleyans, I would disagree with your suggestion that tradition, reason, and experience are given equal authority with Scripture. Wesleyans/Nazarenes don't splice Scripture in order to determine what passages have to do with salvation and what do not. Instead, they look at Scripture as the authority and use reason, tradition, and experience to determine what each passage says about salvation. The belief is that all of Scripture is theological in content, not just some of it. So the passages in Numbers, for example, that just list groups of people. Wesleyans would use tradition, reason, and experience to interpret this text to glean what theological or faith-history truths come from this text. There isn't two levels of Scripture in Wesleyanism.


What do you think?