Comment of the Day

Brian does the unthinkable and defends Pelagius (against Augustine)!  Watch out, Brian, the NeoReformed stormtroopers went after Scot McKnight last week, and they’ll probably come after you here!

Pelagius brought up good points that are often ignored. First, he
argued that humanity has salvation through God’s “original grace.” This
prevenient grace is God’s free gift to humanity. Second, Pelagius
sugguested that humanity has a “grace of revelation” whereby God gives
us divine guidence to follow, if we so choose to follow it. Scripture
and Christ both point the way we are to follow. Third, he affirmed that
God gives the “grace of pardon” to those who freely change their lives
and attempt to live faithfully. So we have a morally neutral human
condition that is faced with the decision of choosing between faith and
sin, good and bad.

For Pelagius, our human condition isn’t defined by original sin, yet
he still understands that our lives are impacted by sin. He says, “By
force of habit, sin attains a power akin to that of nature – sin
becomes as it were ‘second nature’.” Therefore, he takes the reality of
sin seriously. But he also thinks that we have the power and
responsibility to overcome this “force of habit” through God’s grace
and guidence. And that is where Augustine departs from Pelagius.
Augustine relinquishes human responsibility.

Pelagius wanted Christians to live according to the Gospel instead
of according to the Roman Empire. His theology demanded change. It
questioned the status quo of the increasingly institutionalized Church
in Rome. It made those in power uneasy. It made the morally lax look responsible for changing their own lives. It made people realize they
were wasting the gift of life, which God gave humanity, by choosing
sinful behaviors. It made this charge to every Christian: “You must
avoid that broad path which is worn away by the thronging multitude on
their way to their death and continue to follow the rough track of that
narrow path to eternal life which few find.”

Pelagius’ theology was a realistic description of human responsibility and God’s graciousness. It wasn’t perversely optimistic

like the Social Gospel movement and it wasn’t perversely pessimistic
like Augustine. It was a “third way” between the two extremes. Pelagius
says it well in his own words: “I did indeed say that a man can be
without sin and keep the commandments of God, if he wishes, for this
ability has been given to him by God. However, I did not say that any
man can be found who has never sinned from his infancy up to his old
age, but that, having been converted from his sins, he can be without
sin by his own efforts and God’s grace, yet not even by this means is
he incapable of change for the future.”

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  • I have no other comment (yet) than the link I have posted.
    — Joel Kidwell

  • Kimberly Ervin Alexander

    I appreciate this re-assessment of one who has been maligned and condemned but who had obviously responded to a very gracious God!

  • AMG

    Brian who?

  • Your Name
  • Herb

    Arrrgh…that was me, by the way.

  • tim

    no way you can be without sin and keep the commandments, unless by “commandments” you mean in a very simple sense
    i have never murdered anyone
    however, i have not done what i could for the hungry, the sick, the lost boys, etc.
    and this failure amounts to murder
    Pelagius was wrong

  • tim

    be without sin?
    keep the commandments?
    i don’t think so
    take murder as an example
    sure, i’ve never murdered anyone, but…
    if i’ve not done everything in my power to feed the hungry, house the homeless, provide medicine for the sick, clothes for the naked
    sins of omission damage creation and others as much as sins of commission
    imho, pelagius was wrong

  • stormtrooper #274.52

    wow. I can’t express how strongly I disagree with Brian’s support for Pelagius’ teachings. I find such theology to be soul-crushing, gospel-destroying, and faith-squelching. In my eyes, it truly amount to no less than a “different Gospel” – just as Paul calls the legalistic tendencies of the Galatians.
    Here’s a punch list of disagreements:
    1. I find no biblical support for “prevenient grace” – does Pelagius make this point from the Bible or simply experience?
    2. The Bible presents our sin-problem as a nature problem, not just a habit problem. (Eph 2:3)
    3. It seems to create a doctrine of works – like American individual-self-improvement of the worst ilk. For those who do well at this project, it would seem to necessarily lead to pride; and for those who feel they continually fail, it would seem to lead to great despair.
    4. It diminishes the work and power of God, and particularly the efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross.
    5. Augustine never claimed to “relinquish human responsibility.” He saw his theology clearly as affirming the completeness of God’s grace for sinners while also affirming man’s responsibility. One famous phrase was “Give me what you command, and command what you will” indicating his perceived compatibility between these two ideas of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
    6. Augustine clearly confronted the institutionalization of the Church as well – he wrote the classic work, “The City of God.”
    7. Pelagius was denounced as a heretic by his contemporaries and every orthodox theologian since. Sure, some folks in history were rail-roaded unjustly by those in power, but others are dismissed for good reason.
    8. Augustine’s theology clearly “demanded change” in the believer – and his life surely showed this. Do any of the Reformation folks NOT speak about the necessity of obedience in a believer’s life???
    9. One may think that the freeness of God’s grace would produce licentiousness (which Paul clearly confronts as a possible objection in both Romans and Galatians) but this potential misapplication doesn’t invalidate the message. In fact, in my experience, being daily amazed by God’s free grace to such a sinner as I provides the strongest, purest love for God and love for others that I have ever experienced and ever seen displayed by others.
    It’s for good reason that defending Pelagius would be “unthinkable” to Tony. Humbly but truthfully I confess that Pelagius’ teaching makes me sick. It seems to utterly erode the beauty, freedom and abounding grace of the Gospel that excites my heart, builds up our church, and gives me a great hope in God. It was this same understanding of the Gospel that led Charles Wesley (an Arminian, but certainly no Pelagian) to compose these beautiful lines from “And Can It Be”:
    Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
    Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
    Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
    I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
    No condemnation now I dread;
    Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
    Alive in Him, my living Head,
    And clothed in righteousness divine,
    Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
    And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
    Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
    And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
    This clearly affirms man’s bondage to original sin, the necessary primacy of God’s grace, the resulting life-change and obedience of a redeemed person, a righteousness found in Christ’s atonement and the confidence secured in Christ’s sufficient work. One does NOT need to resort to Pelagianism to affirm man’s responsibility, the necessity for holiness, and the great value of human beings before God. All these have been affirmed by Augustine and other orthodox theologians throughout church history.

  • Benjamin

    boom shaka laka?
    i see nothing wrong with Mr. Trooper and find no falsehood in his statements.
    an encouraging statement
    well played sir

  • Tim B

    It’s not just the NeoReformed who would speak out against defending Pelagianism. There was after all the Second Council of Orange in 529. This council, while not affirming all of Augustine, did rule out Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism for the West.

  • Brian

    Tim B, exactly. And add to that the fact that some of the most outspoken critics of Pelagianism in all of its various forms have been classical Arminians.

  • ryan

    I wonder how hard it is to have a meaningful conversation when so much time and energy is spent building your enemy (neoreformed). Does this actually build the kingdom in anyway? Do these derogatory labels and labels foster fellowship? Or only create division and discord.
    I wonder is there any other group, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, gay, who you would malign or is your animosity reserved for your self constructed “bad guy.”
    I was one of those who had so much hope when “A New Kind Of Christian” dropped in what seems like decades ago. I thought the conversation was really going to be something different and focused on loving our enemies and being the Church. I am sad that it seems it is more just a return to liberalism with a ferocious desire to demonize conservatives. History truly is a merry go round.

  • Ryan “I thought the conversation was really going to be something different and focused on loving our enemies and being the Church. I am sad that it seems it is more just a return to liberalism with a ferocious desire to demonize conservatives. History truly is a merry go round.”
    Very interesting observation.