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The Evolution of Armininism


Although biblical monergistic soteriology has gained wider acceptance in recent years, the church in general is still bound to a synergistic system in which salvation partly depends on the action of the sinner. We know this as Arminianism, but it really goes back much further than Arminius (1560–1609), to a monk named Pelagius (360–418) who denied original sin and taught that man is born in the same spiritual state as Adam—his will is free and he is able to follow Christ by choice. Augustine, agreeing with scripture, took exception and refuted him. But that was not the end of the story. Here is the short version:

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Throughout the fifth century and into the sixth, the heretical teachings of Pelagius continued to trouble the church. Despite the official condemnation of Pelagianism by church councils in Carthage (418) and Ephesus (431), and notwithstanding the theological work of Augustine, the dispute between adherents of monergistic and synergistic regeneration escalated. In the century between Augustine’s death (430) and the Synod of Orange (529), many doctrinal battles were waged over the nature of God’s grace in salvation. Amid these controversies, a mediating view emerged, one that attempted to steer away from what many perceived to be the extreme views of both Pelagius and Augustine. This view, as noted in the previous chapter, was Semi-Pelagianism.

This halfway position refused Pelagius’s man-centered doctrine that denied original sin and universal guilt. But Semi-Pelagianism also rejected Augustine’s God-centered stance on sovereign election and predestination. In short, Semi-Pelagianism insisted that the work of salvation is not exclusive to God. Rather, its adherents argued, man contributes to his salvation. In the view of the Semi-Pelagians, both divine grace and human free will are necessary in salvation.

. . .

Semi-Pelagianism was unwilling to accept the conclusions that Augustine’s theology demanded. As a result, this compromising stance mixed human ability with divine grace, producing a synergistic view of salvation. The Semi-Pelagians’ minds were more preoccupied with avoiding the inevitable consequences of Augustinianism than with preaching the full counsel of God. That bias drove them to avoid the exposition of such biblical truths as predestination. They produced a hybrid stance that misled many minds.

. . .

Although the Semi-Pelagians affirmed with Augustine that the whole human race fell in Adam and that sinners cannot believe in Christ without God’s grace, they resisted Augustine’s assertion of the total bondage of the human will. Instead, they maintained that Adam’s sin merely resulted in a moral sickness in the human race, not a spiritual death. They further insisted that although a sinner could not save himself, he retained the moral ability to believe in Christ. Consequently, they taught that man, though weakened by sin, still possesses a free will with moral ability. Conversion, they argued, is a joint venture in which God and man must cooperate.

At its core, Semi-Pelagianism contended that the human will can resist the effectual call of God. This being so, predestination is nothing more than passive foresight by God. The Semi-Pelagians believed that predestination involved God merely looking down the tunnel of time to see who would choose Him, then, in turn, He chose them. Election, they claimed, was God’s response to man’s initial step of faith. This same system of thought would arise again in opposition to the doctrines of grace during the Protestant Reformation in the form of Arminianism.

—Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 255–256.



Posted 2018·09·14 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Arminianism/Pelagianism · Augustine · Church History · Pelagius · Pillars of Grace · Steve Lawson

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