Theories of salvation remain a contentious thing; particularly among us Protestants. We have such an array of theories that it becomes a task in and of itself to simply index them. But for our purposes, I want to focus on a particular thread as that is given to us in a Catholic and medieval development. I want to use this sketch and appeal to the past to help interrogate certain contemporary Protestant doctrines of salvation that we are currently living with. We will use David Steinmetz’s sketch of medieval nominalism in the soteriology of Luther’s mentor, Johann von Stuapitz. And from this sketch we will contrast one strand of nominalist soteriology with Staupitz’s own unique offering. What emerges from these sketches, I submit, is a helpful roadmap for better understanding the why and the what of contemporary theories of salvation such as we find in Calvinism, Arminianism, and what has been called Traditionalism (or ‘Provisionism’ a la Leighton Flowers—Flowers’ own position is really just a sub-set or nuanced version of classical Arminianism as that has been tweaked in an even more ‘semi-Augustinian’ or ‘semi-Pelagian’ direction than what we find in Arminianism or even Nominalism proper).
As is my normal blogging mode, let me offer a long quote and then we will use that quote as a material font for populating the sort of constructive critique I want to make of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Provisionism. I will juxtapose these other traditions with our Evangelical Calvinist soteriology, as that is grounded in a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ or the Patristic Homooousion. As we engage with Steinmetz’s sketch of Staupitz, what we will find is an interesting emphasis on what Calvin later came to identify as the Duplex Gratia (‘double grace’ of salvation) within a broader doctrine of unio cum Christo (‘union with Christ). This focus on union with Christ also, not uncoincidentally, plays a heavy role in Luther’s soteriology, along with TF Torrance’s and Barth’s after them. You will see, through Steinmetz’s work, how these themes begin to become contrasted and set into relief, one from the other. Steinmetz writes:
Staupitz’s stress on the initiative of God in predestination led him to redefine the doctrine of justification. The entire scholastic tradition, and not simply the nominalists, defined justifying grace as the grace that makes sinners pleasing to God. This definition seemed to Staupitz to mirror inadequately the nature of God’s act. It is not justification but predestination that makes sinners pleasing to God. The function of grace given in justification is to make God pleasing to sinners. Justification is simply the fruition in time of a sovereign decree of election made before time. When God chose the elect, God placed Jesus Christ under obligation to give justification to them through his work as mediator. The function of the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ is, therefore, not to make men and women dear to God, but rather to make God dear to them. The elect are the beneficiaries of a covenant initiated and fulfilled by God in Jesus Christ.
Compare Staupitz’s understanding of salvation, with its emphasis on predestination and a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ with Barth’s:
This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.
We can sense some parallels, and see some antecedents of emphasis between Barth and Steinmetz’s Staupitz. What it most significant to me is the emphasis placed on a doctrine of predestination. Because of Staupitz’s situadedness he would not have had the intensive Christological edge that Barth brings to these things. But Staupitz does have the sort of ‘from above’ unilateral focus on salvation that kicks against any form of quid pro quo covenantalism as we find that in various forms in classical Calvinism, Arminianism, and Provisionism. We see Staupitz move away from the dualistic potentia God of the nominalists proper, and towards an understanding of salvation that focuses solely on God’s Word of grace and hope. Luther couldn’t help but pick this emphasis up, and Barth following could not as well.
For Barth and Torrance (latterly), the logic of reformational thinking, whether that be thought back from someone like Staupitz, or more radically from Luther and Calvin, is a Logic of Grace; as TF Torrance calls it. This logic is not the starting point for the Augustinian forms of salvation that we find in classic Calvinism, Arminianism, or Provisionism. Instead we get a focus on ‘justification’ as the starting point for thinking salvation, which in itself thinks in terms of an abstractly elected human with the focus on the human’s responsibility to respond to God. This might sound like strange fire to some, particularly classical Calvinists. But if we read the Federal theologians of Calvinist heritage, what we find is a ‘two-winged’ conception of the Covenant where the unconditionally elect person is burdened with task of keeping their end of the covenant. Indeed, in the Federal scheme, this person has been predestined to keep on keeping on in the faith, but they are burdened with this need to persevere in the salvation they have been granted. This need to persevere is set within a juridical framework (i.e. Covenant of Works and the Divine Pactum), such that the focus becomes one wherein the elect is to a live a life that seeks to avoid the judgment and instead find justification and vindication at the second advent of Jesus Christ.
In contrast to this focus, once again, we find that Staupitz that is more aligned with Barth’s and Torrance’s theologies, or Luther’s and Calvin’s. Steinmetz writes again:
Staupitz, on the other hand, had very little to say about the work of Christ as judge. The work of hope was expanded for him from the past into the present. He did not think simply in terms of the first advent of Christ in the flesh (which for Biel was the basis of the work of hope) or the final advent of Christ in glory (which for Biel was the culmination of the work of justice). Rather, he laid heavy emphasis in his theology on the advent of Christ in grace. Grace is not an impersonal power or habit of love, though in his early thought he could speak of it in these terms. Grace should be defined instead as the personal presence of the risen Christ and justification as an intimate marriage between Christ and the Christian. Life in the present is live out of the boundless resources of the indwelling Christ, who provides at every moment all the Christian needs in order to persevere. Because in his union with Christ the Christian has access to all the unlimited resources of grace, Staupitz could not be anxious about the impending judgment of God. His certitude was grounded in the love of God, a reality that is not subject to change and fluctuation.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attempting to suggest that Staupitz was a proto-Barthian; but I am suggesting that in the history there were prominent threads and strands of soteriological bounty that stand in stark contradistinction to what later came to be known as a Protestant Reformed orthodoxy; or what Richard Muller calls Christian Aristotelianism. Staupitz fits within a Christological formed nominalist theology that we find quite present in the emphases of Luther&company. We might want to read this emphasis as Stauptiz against the Calvinists, just as we have Calvin against the Calvinists (Muller’s critique notwithstanding).
The Evangelical Calvinist thread is always the thread that emphasizes God’s Grace, his ‘Logic of Grace’ in Jesus Christ. We see this thread in medieval times, as much as we see it in the modern times of Barth and Torrance. It is a thread that the contemporary offerings don’t grasp, and thus they fail to offer a radically and Christologically formed understanding of salvation for the Church. The Arminians and Provisionists fall prey to the critique of a bottom-up juridical understanding of salvation just as much as the Calvinists do. Unlike Evangelical Calvinism, and like Calvinism proper, Arminians and Provisionists start their respective soteriologies in the person needing the saving, rather than in the God doing the saving. This is not to say that they reject the idea that salvation is of God, instead mine is a methodological observation. They think of the ‘elect’ or the ‘justified’ in abstraction from the choice of God to be for us rather than against us. In other words, they continue to emphasize the judgment of God on individual sinners, rather than the cosmic life of God in Christ for the world as the basis for their understanding of salvation. So, they have a vision of God, unlike Staupitz et al. that starts with a Judgment-God rather than Father-God who is eternal Love.
I have so much more to say, but this will have to suffice for now. There is a lot of assertion in this post about classical Calvinists and Arminians, but if you scour my blog you will find posts on Calvinism and Arminianism (the latter implicates so called Provisionism) that help take my assertions out of the realm of assertion, and into the realm of critical and substantial statement.
 David C. Steinmetz, Reformers In The Wings: From Geiler von Kaysersberg to Theodore Beza: Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 19.
 Barth, CD II/2:111.
 Steinmetz, Reformers In The Wings, 20.