Thoughts about “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”

Thoughts about “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” June 4, 2012

Thoughts about “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of
God’s Plan of Salvation.”

Recently a group of non-Calvinist Southern Baptists wrote and signed “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” I certainly have no objection to a group of non-Calvinists pushing back against the tidal wave of Calvinism surging over contemporary evangelical and Baptist life in the U.S. (and other places).

Let me say first that among the authors and promoters of the statement are Southern Baptist theologians who have been adamantly denying that they are Arminians even though they are not Calvinists. I have thought, upon reading some of their writings (e.g., Whosoever Will), that they are Arminians who just don’t want to wear that label.

Now, however, I’m not so sure. Here is their statement about original sin and depravity:

“Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

Genesis 3:15-24; 6:5; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 6:5, 7:15-16;53:6; Jeremiah 17:5,9, 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:19-20; Romans 1:18-32; 3:9-18, 5:12, 6:23; 7:9; Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 6:9-10;15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:11-15” (italics added)

A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.  Classical Arminianism (as I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) strongly affirms the bondage of the will to sin before and apart from prevenient grace’s liberating work.

Now, perhaps this is the point of the statement’s mention of “the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.” But that, too, can be interpreted in a semi-Pelagian way. Semi-Pelagians such as Philip Limborch and (at least in some of his writings) Charles Finney affirmed the necessity of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s enlightening work through it for salvation. What made them semi-Pelagian was their denial or neglect of the divine initiative in salvation (except the gospel message).

The problem with this Southern Baptist statement is its neglect of emphasis on the necessity of the prevenience of supernatural grace for the exercise of a good will toward God (including acceptance of the gospel by faith). If the authors believe in that cardinal biblical truth, they need to spell it out more clearly. And they need to delete the sentence that denies the incapacitation of free will due to Adam’s sin.

Leaving the statement as it stands, without a clear affirmation of the bondage of the will to sin apart from supernatural grace, inevitably hands the Calvinists ammunition to use against non-Calvinist Baptists.

It doesn’t matter what “most Baptists” believe or what is the “traditional Southern Baptist understanding.” For a long time I’ve been stating that most American Christians, including most Baptists, are semi-Pelagian, not Arminian and not merely non-Calvinist.

Calvinists and Arminians stand together, with Scripture, against semi-Pelagianism. (Romans 3:11 and 1 Corinthians 4:7 to name just two passages.)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Steve Dal

    The problem is simple. At some point you must come down on one side or the other. Is it man that makes the decision or is it God that makes the decision for you?For me it must be man. The end.

    • rogereolson

      Classical Arminianism agrees. That is essential to it. But classical Arminianism agrees with Calvinism that a sinner is incapable of making the right decision without the influence of God’s prevenient grace. (Calvinists say it is irresistible while Arminians believe it is resistible.)

      • Steve Dal

        Yeh I can see that grace is necessary and as far as that goes I think it is resistable but again, at the very point of decision (and this presupposes that you are ‘saved’ at that point, this needs discussion also) is it God or man? And then we need talk about ‘once saved always saved’ and on it goes.

        • rogereolson

          Your question “is it God or man?” is unclear. Is WHAT God or man? Classical Arminianism says there is no point in salvation where the sinner-being-saved is autonomous. Arminius talked about it in terms of “instrumental cause” and “efficient cause.” God’s grace is always the efficient cause of any good that we do. Our free will, enabled and assisted by God’s grace, is the instrumental cause of conversion.

          • Steve Dal

            None of this resolves the issue for me. The WHAT is ‘right at the point of conversion who makes the decision? And the answer has to be the individual makes the decision. Calvinists will say that it is all God and none of us. It seems that Arminians say that God plays a part (prevenient grace) which then means the actual decision is ours. Thats really all I am saying at this point.

          • rogereolson

            In classical Arminianism the “actual decision” is the person’s enabled by God. Let’s play around with an analogy. Imagine a hospital ward of people who are in comas because they attempted suicide. (To my Calvinist interlocutors who will jump on this if I don’t say it–this is not an analogy to being “dead in trespasses and sins.” The analogy is coming.) A doctor has a medicine that will cure them. But also has a medicine that will give them consciousness just long enough for them to make their own decision whether to live or die. He awakens them from their comas and asks them if they want the medicine that will given them years more of life. Who would say that they then made an autonomous decision as if they could then boast about it or take credit for living? Everything about their living is due to the doctor; their decision to live is miniscule compared with the role of the doctor.

          • Steve Dal

            Its still the individuals decision no matter the hospital analogy.

          • rogereolson

            Sure. No debate there. But the issue is boasting. Calvinists accuse all synergists, even Arminian evangelical synergists, of making it possible for the saved person to boast of contributing to his or her salvation. My various illustrations (I provide some also in Against Calvinism) put the lie to that.

      • Steve Dal

        Oh and by the way…’incapable of making the right decision without the influence of God’s prevenient grace’. So the influence of God’s prevenient grace can lead you to make the WRONG decision? I mean you hear the Gospel and presumably (not sure) Gods grace is there (for everyone?) and you KNOW what decision you should (preseumably) make but no, you decide that you will make the other choice (for whatever reason). It reminds me of Pauls little thing in Romans…;those who do the right thing without the law are a law unto themselves.’ Seems to me you can make the RIGHT decision without (so called) prevenient grace. Where is prevenient grace in the scripture? All these ideas are fraught with problems. No I still think right at that point it is up to you…just as it is up to you to continue. When you make a choice then I think God’s grace kick in and away you go, not before.

        • John Inglis

          You misunderstand the types of causation, famously discussed by Aristotle. Moreover, prevenient grace does not force or determine a decision. It is work by God in which he draws enemy sinners to himself in spite of their hate for Him. Sinners can resist this drawing if they so choose until the end of their life. OTOH, sinners can by faith allow this grace to come to its proper culmination, an indwelling of the Spirit that joins us to Jesus and in so doing makes us also sons of God. Prevenient grace does not lead to a “wrong” decision, to argue or assume that it does or could is to misunderstand the argument.


    • Hey Steve, how about both? Scripture affirms Gods choosing and mans choice as real choices of real people.

  • JohnD

    Professor, I think you represent only one wing of Arminianism. Contra, e.g., is Pope:

    First, there are those who make original sin the absolute destruction of the image of God and of the capacity of good in man: of these much has been already said, and it will hereafter be shown, when we come to the Gospel of grace, how inconsistent this view is with the universal benefit of redemption. Secondly, there are those who interpret the primitive Fall to have been the loss of the Spirit as an essential element of human nature, given sacramentally back through the incarnation of Christ applied: these also must hereafter be referred to. Finally, in defence of our position generally, it may be said that the misery of the wretched man, bound to the body of death, is only aggravated by the fact that there is a better nature beneath the worse. This does not mitigate original sin as misery, impotence, and the source of condemnation; but it makes the exhibition of it consistent with the universality of redeeming grace. Pope, W. B. (1879). Vol. 2: A Compendium of Christian Theology.

    The So Baptist statement is thus not semi-Pelgaian.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see anything semi-Pelagian in that statement. I read Pope for my research for Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and I remember that he affirms the necessity of supernatural grace for the free decision to repent and believe. I don’t have my research notes ready to hand, but I will try to look them up later. I don’t like having to jump up and “look again” whenever someone challenges what I have written. So I’ll just say that in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities I demonstrate with numerous quotations from Arminius to contemporary Arminians that classical Arminianism affirms the necessity of supernatural assisting grace for any good that a person does including the first exercise of a good will toward God.

    • I want to add further clarification on the Semi-Pelagian charge. The SBC has been outstpoken in support of Total Depravity. See here:

      Dr. Olson, do you share the SBC view of Total Depravity as espoused in the linked article?

      • rogereolson

        I don’t have time to read every article people invite me to read and respond to. I think I’ll decline this time. I don’t really care what the SBC says. (Who speaks for the SBC, anyway?) I’ve never been Southern Baptist although many years ago my wife and I attended a SBC church for a year (Munich International Baptist Church in Munich, Germany). I didn’t join. They wouldn’t let me without re-baptizing me. I was baptized as a believer by immersion, but as it was not in a Baptist church Munich International Baptist Church wouldn’t extend membership to me without re-baptism. They told me to my face my baptism was “alien immersion.” They invited my wife to join because she was baptized in a Conservative Baptist Church. They’d never heard of it, but they said it sounded good to them! 🙂 They let me fill the pulpit and teach the men’s (!) Sunday School class, but they wouldn’t let me vote. I didn’t really care. Our fellowship with them for that year was beautiful.

  • J.E. Edwards

    Their statement about depravity is a more common way of explaining it among the non-Calvinistic believers (yet not Arminian) that I have encountered. I would definitely agree more with the classic Arminian understanding. That is one of the reasons why the preaching of John Wesley was so used of God. God used him to help people see how lost they truly were.

    • rogereolson

      What I have been trying to get my evangelical Calvinist friends (and “not friends”) to do is acknowledge that classical Arminianism is not semi-Pelagianism and stop attacking Arminianism when what we should all be criticizing is the rampant popular semi-Pelagianism of American folk religion. Will you join me in that?

      • J.E. Edwards

        Absolutely. Here’s why. The statement I responded to is how I was brought up. Simply because my understanding has shifted on depravity to the Calvinistic/Classic Arminian position doesn’t mean that I believe those people are lost if they don’t see it that way. Nor do I believe they think that their works save them. I say that because I would have argued with anyone who said I was lost if I didn’t understand it that way. I was (and still am)trusting Jesus as much as they do. So, yes, I do confront Calvinistic believers if they start down that road.
        On the other hand, this low view of depravity is probably the greatest hindrance to depth in Christian living. While they believe Jesus saves them, somehow subconsciously, they believe they have to do the rest or at least the major part of sanctification work. This is the bondage of hyper-fundamentalism which leads many young people to head toward Antinomianism and shallowness. This I speak, not from authority, but my own experience.

      • Tony

        I, for one, have been guilty of “lumping” all synergists into the same pelagian/semi-pelagian camp. This ‘traditional’ statement’s seeming denial of the necessity of God’s grace to free the will from sin’s bondage along with your explanation clearly draws the distinction between a classical Arminian and a pelagian.

        Thanks again.

      • gingoro

        Roger as a Calvinist I would agree that Arminians are not semi Pelagianism. Before I read your books I thought that Arminianism was semi-Pelagianism. Thanks Roger.

  • Richard Coords

    “Calvinists and Arminians stand together, with Scripture, against semi-Pelagianism. ”

    Isn’t that unity overstated, since R.C. Sproul published comments stating that Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism amounted to a “distinction without a difference”?

    Instead of saying that the SBC is predominantly made up of “Arminians” who just don’t want to wear that label, wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe them as “OSAS Arminians” who just don’t want to wear the label? The unqualified label could be add’l cause for them to balk.

    • rogereolson

      The problem is your appeal to Sproul as an authority on Arminianism. I assure you that he isn’t. He is a classic example of a Calvinist who refuses to change his mind. He requested a copy of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and I sent him a complementary copy. I asked him to respond to it, but I never heard back. The difference between Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism is clear. Arminianism affirms the divine initiative in salvation; semi-Pelagianism denies it. How can that be termed a “distinction without a difference?” That’s just rhetorical smoke.

      • gingoro

        Sproul seems mainly representative of the Calvinistic neo fundamentalists and the high Calvinists. Frankly I do not find Sproul’s writings helpful and I doubt our pastor does as well as I have never heard him mention Sproul from the pulpit, although he references to NT Wright fairly frequently.

      • Steve Dal

        Sorry…what exactly is the ‘divine intiative’? And where is this divine intiative in scripture?

        • rogereolson

          Everywhere. For example, 1 Cor. 4:7.

      • Richard Coords

        By the way, Sproul’s quote was taken from “What is Reformed Theology?”, pp.187-188. In Sproul’s mind, contrasting the *human* initiative of Pelagianism vs. the *divine* initiative affirmed by Arminians, is a distinction without a difference if neither camp holds to monergistic and unilateral regeneration. In Sproul’s mind, even if God takes the initiative (as per Arminianism), God is nonetheless unable to liberate a depraved person to the point where they can receive God’s hand of mercy, and that anything short of full regeneration, leaves all other camps in the same boat. That’s his logic. To him, it is *regeneration or bust*. To him, all of the talk about passive non-resistance makes no difference, as the depraved sinner cannot be liberated, even by almighty God Himself, unless such liberation includes full regeneration, in which God takes the decision out of man’s hands entirely, and places in God’s hands alone. So basically, according to Sproul, anything other than monergism is effectively the same.

        • rogereolson

          Insofar as what you say about Sproul is true, it just demonstrates that he is a black-and-white thinker who has trouble recognizing obvious differences. It just demonstrates (insofar as it is correct about him) that he lamely lumps all who disagree with him together when, in fact, there are many important differences among them.

          • Roger,

            I appreciate your effort to correct caricatures of Arminians. While I am neither Calvinist (in the popular sense today–I’m actually far more Barthian) nor Arminian, these debates consumed much of my thinking in years past. It’s good to see a sound mind with real scholarship that defends your position, especially against the tide of less scholarly calvinist accusations. I share your sentiments about Sproul in this regard, but he bothers me more for a different reason. His Christology is so thoroughly enslaved to cartesian philosophy that it twists an orthodox understanding of Chalcedon. His consistent practice of divvying Christ’s experiences to one nature or the other (even saying that “the Father turning his back on the Son” should be understood as the “divine nature of Christ turning its back on the human nature”) is the stark logic of Nestorianism.


          • rogereolson

            I am not aware of those aspects of Sproul’s teaching. Can you cite “chapter and verse” (so to speak–from Sproul’s writings)?

          • Roger,

            Regrettably, I cannot post the video where Sproul explains what is meant by the “Father turning his back on the Son.” It was a video of a Q&A session in a Philadelpia Conference on Reformed Theology. Here is the link that used to lead to the video before it was removed:


            If you can take my word at it, I can paraphrase (even perhaps quote) from memory. Sproul was asked what is meant when it is said that the Father turned his back on the Son. He responds saying that we must be clear that on the cross God did not die—not God the Father, not God the Son, not God the Spirit. Rather, the God-man (Jesus) died on the cross. Deity is immutable; deity is immortal. God cannot die. So when we begin to consider what may have occurred on the cross, it would be better to understand the divine nature of the Son turning its back on the human nature of the Son.

            In ‘The Character of God: Discovering the God Who Is’, Sproul writes,

            “Did God die on the cross? Really? Was there a moment in human history when the Lord God Omnipotent was deceased? . . . If God died, the world would perish with Him. Would it be better, perhaps, to say that part of God died on the cross—The Second Person of the Trinity, the divine Logos, was slain on the cross, but the world didn’t perish because the Father and the Spirit were still intact? No, this is improper also. If God is three in One and only one of the three Persons died, the unity and immutability of God’s essence would be destroyed. If the unity of His essence were destroyed, He would cease to be God. Why, then, do Christians speak of God’s dying on the cross? Jesus did die on the cross. Jesus was the God-man. If Jesus was God and Jesus died on the cross, it does seem logical to say God died on the cross. Again, we must distinguish the two natures of Jesus without separating them. Human natures can die, but divine natures cannot die. Death affected Jesus’ human nature. The perfect humanity of Christ was slain on the cross. That perfect humanity was in perfect union with the deity of Christ. That does not mean, however, that the deity died. The perfect union between the two natures continued even in death. The difference was that the Second Person of the Trinity was perfectly united with a human corpse rather than with a living man.”

            Clearly, Nestorius more explicitly divvied experiences and actions between persons, though his reasoning for doing so was to preserve the natures of both. Nestorius attempted to correct Cyril for saying that the Lord of glory was crucified or that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Actions and experiences befitting a certain nature must be understood as pertaining only to that person with that nature. (I would have to check again to see if Nestorius goes as far as to attribute things to natures. If I remember correctly, he does not because even Nestorius knew that natures themselves are not subjects of experiences or agents of actions—these are for persons. If Nestorius does interchange person and nature for experiences, then Sproul is not only following the Nestorian logic of dividing experiences and actions to their ‘proper parts’, but even using his language). Even if one does not entirely borrow Nestorius’ language, the logic that that made his theology heretical is the attempt to split the experiences and actions of Jesus so that some happen by or to one nature and not the other.

            As I was attempting to find the video somewhere else on the internet (it was initially connected to some group called the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals before they removed the video. Interestingly, Sproul is no longer listed on their council), I found similar words by Sproul. In the beginning of the article, Sproul repeats much of what I said above. He concludes,

            “Some say, ‘It was the second person of the Trinity Who died’. That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being.

            “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.”

            (From; taken from Truth of the Cross)

            I hope these help.

          • rogereolson

            Yes. I think Sproul is confused. I wouldn’t call it heresy, just confusion. He’s trying to protect God from imperfection. He’s taking the “logic of perfection” to an extreme by removing even the person of the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, from suffering. But if the person of the Son of God didn’t die, who did? I believe the traditional Chalcedonian answer would be that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, died on the cross because he took on a human nature. He died “in his humanity.” To say that the human nature died but the divine nature did not doesn’t answer the question “Who died?” In Chalcedonian Christology Jesus Christ was and is one “who” and two “whats”–one united person with two distinct but not separate natures–human and divine. I believe Sproul embraces a version of Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory of the atonement. But that requires (as does the version Sproul embraces called penal substitution) that a God-man die the death sinners deserve. What does it even mean to say that only his human nature died? And how would only his human nature dying satisfy God? Such a merely human death would not have infinite value (as Anselm’s argument requires). In my opinion, Sproul has not thought this through carefully enough. But what may be going on here is an example of the old Lutheran versus Reformed debate over Christology. According to Reformed orthodoxy (scholasticism) the finite cannot contain the infinite. That principle led Lutheran scholastics to accuse Reformed of Nestorianism. It meant the human nature of Jesus did not contain the Son of God. The result is (according to the Lutherans) that on the cross only the human nature suffered. But I agree with Lutheran theology which asks about the person of the Son of God–was he not experiencing the death of the human nature? If not, then what was the hypostatic union anyway? So I will not accuse Sproul of Nestorianism, just of taking Reformed Christology too far to a near-Nestorian separation of the two natures.

          • I actually wrote concerning those issues in an undergrad class on philosophical theology. I came to the same conclusion by comparing Cyril and Nestorius, then Luther and Zwingli, followed by Sproul and Moltmann (I know the last couple is not a very fair comparison). I don’t think we could call Sproul a full-on heretic, especially being outside of any magisterial context for the relevant protestant denominations. But, like you said, I do consider the logic of his argument to share Nestorius’ concerns and lead to a similar conclusion (it wasn’t the person who suffered, at least not the second person of the Trinity).

            The point of those comparisons was to demonstrate that scriptural foundationalism, compromised by its cartesian grounding, led thinkers to compromise their theology for the sake of their philosophical system. Sproul begins his book on God’s character with demonstrating the reliability of Scripture as an indubitable foundation, which requires one to admit certain things about God’s character as the source in order to maintain an indubitable foundation. As a result, his system cannot allow for the paradoxical assertions of orthodox faith (i.e., Cyril, Luther, etc.), but tend toward ‘near-Nestorianism’ in order to protect the foundation’s unquestionable character.

            It’s difficult to critique this without labeling it as full heresy, since the language of Sproul’s argument isn’t even careful to be entirely clear. However, we cannot excuse it as an acceptable way of thinking about christology, since the language is clear enough to identify serious issues (e.g., talking about natures as subjects and agents is nonsense according to metaphysics {hence, unclear}, but saying that it wasn’t the person who died denies everything Chalcedon affirms {hence, clear enough}). Whatever one may call it, it should convey the serious error in thinking. To be fair, I think you could call it semi-Nestorianism if we are going to call SBC (i.e., those who agree with the above statement) semi-pelagianism ;).

            For the record: I, too, agree with Luther on this issue (which, I argue, includes Cyril and Moltmann).

            Thanks for the quick responses, Roger. It’s been a pleasure.


  • Bob Kundrat

    Interesting. I’m a Calvinist but I do enjoy reading your work from the classic Arminian perspective. I do so, so that I won’t be guilty of mis-characterizing the Arminian position. What’s funny is when I was reading “the Statement” I became puzzled when I came across the same sentence in article 2 that you mention in this post. It’s isn’t surprising to me that the authors would get points of Calvinism wrong but it’s surprising that they would seem to get Arminianism wrong.

    In this post you point out that many in the SBC seem to be reluctant to claim the view of Arminianism out right while remaining anti-Calvinists. Do you have any insight into why this might be the case?

    • rogereolson

      One possible answer is the long history of controversy in the South between Baptists and Methodists and Churches of Christ. The latter two groups are traditionally Arminian AND deny the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer. Southern Baptists tend to identify “Arminianism” with that denial which is not quite right. I suppose the majority of people who call themselves “Arminian” do believe in the possibility of apostasy, but Arminius himself was not sure about it. I think the main points of disagreement are the U, the L and the I of TULIP–not the T and the P. Also, and related to that, I have found that Southern Baptists tend to eschew all labels except “Baptist” (and, I supposed, “Christian”). Many even say they are not Protestant!

      • Ed Franklin

        Dr Olson, first–thanks for this excellent article. I am a dyed in the wool calvinist (I guess of the MacArthur type) but have, I hope, learned the difference between Arminian and Pelagian. This particular comment of yours referring to the “Church of Christ” (the denomination, the Stone-Campbell types)….are they not openly semi-pelagian? My experience is limited and in my early days was discussing the Fall and its consequences with a friend who is a CofC minister and his responses stunned me. “You’re a Pelagian!” I told him…..His reply was “of course; didn’t you know that?” So, is he an anomaly, or is semi-pelagianism characteristic of their theology?

        • rogereolson

          We have discussed the Stone-Campbell movement (Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, etc.) here several times. Whatever anyone says about them draws immediate contradiction. The problem is, I take it, that there is no consensus statement to look to. They aren’t a confessional tradition. Some Church of Christ scholars tell me they are Arminian (even if they don’t use that label). Like you, however, I have met some (as I have met some Baptists) who seem to be semi-Pelagian if not outright Pelagian. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no official, unifying creed or confessional statement of the Restorationists.

          • You are correct on Church of Christ/Christian not having a standard belief on Arminianism and Pelagianism. I have had experience with solid evangelical ones and I’ve had experiences with some that teach a strong anti-gospel, works-based salvation. There is great variety.

  • Brady Hardin

    I’m blown away by the wisdom of this article. Thank you for posting it. I’m a Calvinist that can really appreciate what you have written.

  • Tony

    Dr. Olson,

    Thank you for the concise explanation of the problem with this document. There are many non-calvinists in the SBC who have viewed this with the same discerning eye that you have and are adamantly refusing to sign it for this reason.

    Where to from here?

    To change this document to affirm the bondage of the will to sin apart from grace from God (regardless of when/how this grace is given) would be ideal, but so many of the signatories of the document have been defending the very issue that makes the statement semi-pelagian.

    Based on your statement above regards the necessity of God’s grace to “free” the will from sin’s power:

    If the authors believe in that cardinal biblical truth, they need to spell it out more clearly

    Do you believe that this portion of the statement is heresy if it denies this “cardinal biblical truth”?

    It is my prayer that respected non-calvinists within the convention are privately conversing with the signers of this statement to gracefully show them the error it contains.

    • rogereolson

      I believe in making a distinction between “heresy” and “heretic.” A belief (or denial of one) can be heresy without the person being a heretic. The Catholic Church has it right. A person is only a heretic when the orthodox truth has been clearly understood and denied. It’s difficult to tell when a person has clearly understood. So I rarely call a person a heretic.

  • Mr. Olsen,

    Thank you for your intellectual honesty as well as your theological consistency. I am not an Arminian, and believe in the Doctrines of Grace, however, I can at least respect the consistency of the position you hold. Further, if my Baptist brothers want to hold an Arminian position I cannot understand them not doing enough research to understand the concept of prevenient grace which guards the biblical view of God’s sovereignty but permits the true freedom for which they so desire to argue. Should it be that the concept of prevenient grace was understood as a private work of the Spirit that is one step in an effectual call of a believer instead of the more universal activity that can leave the individual with a work the Spirit began in them but did not complete, I would have no issues with the doctrine at all. You recognized immediately what so many Baptist brothers need to realize! This statement has no theological teeth, but stands as a spiritual morass that could easily excuse the non-committed church member from any sort of real convicting walk with Christ. What these baptist actually seem to be arguing for is a 1-point Calvinism position, that offers some decision for Christ recorded at a church as a get out of hell free card. This is nothing more than the Roman Catholicism Luther, Calvin, and Wesley preached against.

    Perhaps you could clear up a point of misunderstanding that has confused me. I have understood any position that acknowledges prevenient grace as Wesleyian Arminianism over against full Arminiansm that would be tantamount to Pelagianism. For that reason I have always had a deep respect for Wesley as a biblical scholar who saw the need to steer clear of Pelagianism. This also means I have had a deep disdain for Arminiansm because I understood it as Pelagianism. Do I understand your contention rightly that Arminainsm is not Pelagian at all?

    • rogereolson

      Please read my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. There I quote extensively from Arminius and Wesley and dozens of classical Arminians. There is no significant doctrinal difference between Arminius and Wesley; Arminius also adamantly affirmed the necessity of supernatural prevenient grace. So have all true Arminians since Arminius and Wesley. Some “Remonstrants” such as Philip Limborch wandered off the Arminian path into semi-Pelagianism. Arminianism should not be blamed for that. Some Calvinists (e.g., Schleiermacher) have also wandered away from true Calvinism (e.g., into universalism).

  • W B McCarty

    Dr. Olson, I seldom agree with you. As a Southern Baptist who affirms the doctrines of grace, I wish I did not have to agree with you in this case. But, I do. Moreover, I appreciate that you have spoken to the issue, knowing that you will draw no little backlash for having done so. My Arminian brothers in the SBC, even those who disclaim that label, need to read what you have written and carefully review their theological position. I join you in hoping that they do so. If they cannot embrace Calvinism, they might at least embrace a more theologically sound variety of Arminianism.

    As long as I’m in an agreeable posture, please let me pose a question. I had come to the conclusion that the statement’s denial of any incapacitation of the will made it fully Pelagian. There simply doesn’t seem to be enough corruption of the human nature to ensure that the human will be unable to take the initial step toward salvation, in which case we’d have Pelagianism rather than Semi-Pelagianism. I wish that you would comment on your reason for seeing the statement as Semi-Pelagian.

    To be explicit to the point of redundancy, I’m not gloating over these, and other, problems with the statement. Quite the opposite, in fact. My hope is that God will use this flawed statement to lead many within the SBC to better theology. Thanks for your contribution toward that end.

    • W B McCarty

      Dr. Olson, thinking further about this issue, it may be best to let my question and the follow-up attempt at clarification die. I’m reading on various SBC blogs that my SB brothers reject your analysis, claiming that it fails to properly account for the affirmations as well as the denials. Given that I entirely agree with you in this matter, I don”t begin to understand where they’re coming from. But, until they understand your contribution, it seems unprofitable to consider a yet more serious charge. Thanks again for wading in. I hope that some will take your analysis seriously and clean up their statement. This is so not good. Blessings,

    • rogereolson

      You say you seldom agree with me. What about the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the deity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, premillennial return of Christ, etc., etc. Do we disagree about all those also? Are you perhaps guilty of over estimating and over stating our areas of disagreement? I hope so. This is a problem I see especially among Calvinists–making the “doctrines of grace” as Calvinism interprets them (TULIP) the be-all and end-all of being Christian. Surely not. To your query: Classical Pelagianism not only denies original sin but affirms the possibility of salvation by works apart from any special grace. I don’t see any hint of that in the statement. I see only the possibility of semi-Pelagianism. I seek further clarification and correction from the statement’s authors and signers if I’m incorrect.

      • W B McCarty

        Dr. Olson, when I state that I often disagree with you I obviously have in mind discussions on your blog, for which you’ve set the topic. As a compatibilist I’m both consistent and comfortable in pointing out that you’re entirely free to more often choose topics on which we might agree. In fact, I’d be very gratified if you were to do so.

        With respect to the question of Pelagianism, you are, of course, correct and I entirely agree. The statement does admit at least some degree of corruption that properly distinguishes the spiritual state of Adam’s descendants from Adams’s state before sin. Its position in the case of children dying in infancy seems to me a potential problem but, that being a border case, I put it aside for now.

        With respect to Semi-Pelagianism, Bavinck’s characterization of that system provides considerable additional evidence that the statement expresses a Semi-Pelagian perspective. I again agree with you that those who drafted and those who have signed the statement may or may not hold a Semi-Pelagian view. So, notwithstanding their signatures, I don’t yet impute that view to them.

      • gingoro

        Well stated Roger! Why do we so often forget about the vast areas upon which we agree!

  • W B McCarty

    Dr. Olson, I’ve wrongly grounded, in capacity to take the initial step toward salvation, that the statement is Pelagian, as I’m sure you will recognize. But I would still find interesting your reasons for choosing semi-Pelagian rather than Pelagian as the proper label. The statement on the one hand does deny Pelagian monergism but I can’t see that its description of human nature necessarily comports with that denial. It seems to me a potentially Pelagian model of human nature coupled with a denial of Pelagianism.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t accuse a person or statement of outright Pelagianism without a clear denial of original sin and affirmation of salvation by works apart from assisting grace.

  • Thank you, Dr. Olson, for your astute observation. As a believer in Sovereign Grace (I did research in Church History for 6 years and found people dying, for example, for predestination before John Calvin was every conceived much less converted.), I can see why God raised up Arminians: To help us keep the Semi-Pelagians honest.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for such a backhanded compliment. Of course people believed in unconditional election and irresistible grace before Calvin. John Wycliffe, to name one. However, I have found only one person in church history before Theodore Beza who clearly, unequivocally argued for limited atonement–Gottschalk. For that he was imprisoned for many years. It was considered an egregious heresy. (Of course, I don’t believe he should have been imprisoned. My only point is that belief in limited atonement is difficult to find before Beza and even in Calvin.)

      • gingoro

        Roger help me understand your position here. I see the elect as those who persevere to the end and that Christs life, death and resurrection are only effective for those who accept Christ and persevere. I’d also affirm that the life, death and resurrection are of infinite value and that the guilt of all could be covered if only they accept God’s offer through grace. This is how I define limited atonement. Do you believe that some who are forgiven and reconciled to God are never the less separated from God in the end? I rather doubt that is what you believe so maybe you have a different understanding of limited atonement than I do.
        Dave W

        • rogereolson

          To me “limited atonement” (something I do not believe in) means that Christ bore the sins of, took the punishment for, represented to God only some sinners and not all and that the identity of those for whom he died was predetermined by God.

          • gingoro

            To me “limited atonement” (something I do believe in) means that Christ bore the sins of, took the punishment for, represented to God all sinners But it only becomes effective/active upon conversion and that the identity of those for whom it becomes effective was predetermined by God before the earth was formed but not necessarily before the universe was created. So I accept TULI but see preservation as being the normal case which can be overridden by mankind turning our backs on God. There are too many warnings in scripture about not persevering plus well known cases like Charles Tempelton seem to make it obvious. I vaguely remember Tempelton, who had been an Billy Graham associate, on the TV mocking Christianity. I also reject divine determinism and made no secret of that fact when I joined a Calvinistic church.

          • rogereolson

            You view of the atonement sounds like Amyrauldianism–universal atonement within a basically Calvinist framework.

  • Well said, Roger. I have long proposed that a major problem with this approach is that it makes Christ’s death unnecessary for the inclusion in heaven of much of the human race. They need no salvation in Christ because they were never guilty of sin. Classic Arminianism is definitely better than this construct.

  • Tony Hicks

    Dr. Nicole,
    As a Calvinist I would differ with you on the Calvinism-Arminianism issue but I want to applaud you for exposing the flawed anthropology that stands behind this “traditional Baptist” soteriology document. You were willing to call it what it is and have struck a strong blow for orthodoxy.

    • rogereolson

      Who is “Dr. Nicole?”

  • Russ

    Hi Roger, you said
    “A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will. Classical Arminianism (as I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) strongly affirms the bondage of the will to sin before and apart from prevenient grace’s liberating work.”

    Could it be that what they are stating it that unregernate man cannot come on his own to God apart from Grace, but that men still have the ability to choose to do evil or not to do evil in their unregenerate state. I have dialogued with several Calvinists that say that men are so dead in sin that all they can do is sin. I’m thinking the word “incapacitation” is meant more along the lines of men being able to choose to do evil or not do evil, but any good they do is nothing more than a filthy rag in God eyes as far as salvation is concerned.


    • rogereolson

      If that’s what they mean they should be clearer. The statement needs a clear statement to the effect that (and this can be expressed in various ways) even the first movement of the will toward God is always enabled by God’s grace.

  • RJ

    I came to your blog by way of Pyromanics and Founders blogs related to the aforementioned SBC statement. I am just trying to learn and understand the counter-arguements as related to the statement. I do appreciate your interaction with those who have asked questions – no need for reply, just wanted to say “thanks”. I will be reading more of your blog and your book on Arminian Theology.

  • Hans Zaepfel

    A side question. Do semi-Pelagians consider that label pejorative or do they prefer to call themselves something else?

    • rogereolson

      I have never met anyone who labeled himself or herself “semi-Pelagian.” In my experience it is always a pejorative label. The label itself is modern–it’s precise coinage is debated. All scholars agree, however, that it names the heresy of John Cassian and other 5th and 6th century monks who, in reaction to both Augustine and Pelagius, taught that humans are fallen but capable of exercising a good will toward God without supernatural assisting grace.

      • Fr. John W. Morris

        I could not let the characterization of St. John Cassian as an heretic go by without comment. St. John Cassian rightly understood that salvation is a mystery that we can experience but cannot understand. St. John Cassian was a student of St. John Chrysostom and represents the mind of the Holy Fathers, which is the mind of the Church. The conflict between grace and free will is artificial because both are required. We cannot save ourselves but cannot be saved unless we cooperate with God’s deifying grace. The problem with Calvinism is that Calvin tried to understand with his mind the mysteries of God. He also failed to recognize that God has already taken the first step through the Incarnation. It is the Incarnation that saves us because in the Incarnation God assumed and healed sinful humanity. On the cross he took upon Himself the consequences of our sins and defeated death by His Glorious Resurrection. God not offers us the gift of salvation but to receive it, we must accept it and cooperate with God’s grace, or as St. Paul wrote we must work out our own salvation. Salvation is not a legalistic transaction, but is union with God whose divine grace transforms the believer to be by grace what God is by nature. You need to grow beyond the limits of the 16 century debates to go back to the Faith of the ancient undivided Church.

        Fr. John W. Morris

  • Kyle

    To add to a question above about why SBC people might be hesitant to embrace the Arminian label, I believe Dr. Olson hit the nail on the head mentioning the eternal security issue. Growing up as a baptist in SBC circles and continuing in circles heavily influenced by them, I can attest that eternal security is the most important doctrine to most SBC people. Most Baptist will be surprised outside their own circles that most Christian traditions do not embrace an eternal security position. Also, many of my friends who have grown up under influence of SBC and also embrace the popular Calvinism, think eternal security and perseverance of the saints is the same teaching. I have had conversations with my friends where people were clearly shaken to hear the contrary. Most Calvinist baptists that I know think of the perseverance of the saints as an affirmation of once-saved-always-saved as it pertains to initial conversion. I believe most of them don’t understand that in perseverance of the saints the knowledge of final salvation is not afforded by TULIP, the experience of conversion, or the sealing of the Spirit. They don’t understand that this knowledge, according to TULIP, is only in the secret counsel of God, which cannot be known by any person.

    I don’t personally have a final decision on this issue (it’s something I’m still mulling over), but it seems difficult for most people I know in this general category to consider anything that is different from once-saved-always-saved. That said, I oscillate between a Classical Arminian eternal/eternal security position and a Classical Arminian/abide in Christ position. I see both as possibly giving the assurance that Paul encourages his readers towards in taking comfort because of being under the new covenant in Christ. In my mind, TULIP doesn’t really speak to assurance of salvation at all. It does help people to see the largeness of God and faithfulness of God (although I think wrongly if properly understood). I think this is why SBC people have a hard time embracing either label along with the fact that I think there is a desire (admirable and good) to keep teachings about God’s sovereignty at a secondary level doctrine.

  • Mark

    Isn’t the belief among baptists in “once saved, always saved” based upon the unconditional election and irresistible grace part of Calvin’s TULIP? The only way I have heard some preachers get past the a person losing their salvation is by the statement that an individuals who apostatizes was “never saved in the first place.” Can a baptist believe in a mixture of Calvinistic and Wesleyan and not be neatly pigeon holed into one or the other camp? Spurgeon was a moderate Calvinist according to some. If he was moderate was an “x” point Calvinist? How can one be moderate about anything in this debate, and where are Lutherans in all this? Confessional Lutherans don’t like Calvinism.

    • rogereolson

      Confessional Lutherans (e.g., Missouri Synod) believe in T and U (of TULIP) but not L or P. The I depends on how it is interpreted. But the problem with confessional Lutheranism is that it revels in ambiguity and mystery and paradox (like the Bible, they say). Luther himself denied the existence of free will but affirmed the possibility of total apostasy. It didn’t bother him that these seem contradictory.

  • Dr. Olson,
    Al Mohler agrees with you that the phrase in question sounds semi-Pelagian.

    There is a tear in the space-time fabric. The end is near. 😉

    • rogereolson

      I’m sure Al is more shocked than I am. 🙂

  • Andy W.

    I find this quote by Ayn Rand about “free will” to be pretty devastating. I’m not sure how to respond to the logic if this? I’d love folks thoughts on this.
    “A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man’s sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man’s nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code. Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free” (Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, 1961, pp. 136-37).

    • rogereolson

      Well, Ayn Rand isn’t the first or only person to make this argument. Pelagius said pretty much the same in the fifth century.

      • John Inglis

        Jesus rescues us from our inability to turn to God and from our inability to always choose good over evil. God is merciful, and his mercy takes the wind out of Rand’s sails on the issue of fairness.

        God gives us the responsibility for the ultimate placing of our faith (should make Ayn happy); God draws us but does not force us.


  • MichaelS

    Thank you very much for this post. I look forward to reading your book on Arminian Theology. I do have one question, please. I have been following the comments on another website, and several people were discussing Original Guilt vs. Original Sin. I am not a theologian, but I try to read as much theology as possible. I am sorry to admit that I have never heard of Original Guilt. Does your book on Arminian Theology discuss this topic? If not, would you or someone kindly point me to a good resource?

    Sincere Regards.

    • rogereolson

      “Original guilt” would be (if it existed) inherited guilt–condemnation with which children are born simply by virtue of being Adam’s descendents. “Original sin” is a larger concept that may or may not include original guilt.

  • David

    I was a student at Southern Seminary and had a class under Bruce Ware titled “Models of Divine Providence.” In the class Dr. Ware was very clear that classical Arminianism was not Semi-Pelagian but in fact Augustinian in it’s view of original sin and depravity. Though I remain in the reformed camp I have had a much greater appreciation for classical Arminian thinking since the class. As a Southern Baptist I really wonder why so many in the SBC shirk back from the Arminian label. I think Arminianism with it’s view of sin, depravity, and prevenient grace is a much better position than what the writer’s of this document seem to be articulating.

    • rogereolson

      Well, I’m glad to know that my old friend Bruce has come around to a proper understanding of Arminianism! 🙂 He once asked me if I ever thought that maybe my Arminianism was evidence of latent humanism in me. I grew up Pentecostal and was taught my Arminianism there. Pentecostal humanism? That would be an odd animal!

  • jesse

    I have been thinking some about the idea of grace being resistible. Is it possible that grace is resistible but extremely difficult to resist? Do Arminians discuss much just how resistible grace actually is?

    • rogereolson

      Not that I have ever heard or read. Sounds like an opening into sheer speculation.

  • Kyle

    No, Mark, the “once-saved-always-saved” is not based on Calvinistic election theory. Eternal security is the baptist reading of Ephesians 1 (being sealed with the Spirit) along with other assurance verses over against verses that hint at possible apostasy or falling away. All verses about assurance are regarded as promises based on individual faith in Christ that make absolutely certain final salvation. All verses that have some reference to apostasy or falling away are regarded as either hypothetical or referring to those who never belonged. Yes, there are some Calvinist baptists, and, yes, historically some of these ideas are descendants of Calvinism. However, I, nor most other baptists I know of, ever read or talk very much about election early on. Only the widespread popularity of Piper, and eventually Al Moler, has gotten SBC people more toward Calvinism. Yes, there are times where people sway back and forth. However, people in SBC culture are much less influenced by Calvinism (or the 19th century TULIP understanding) than Calvinists would like to claim and actually more influenced by an eternal security version of salvation assurance.

  • A couple of points:

    Firstly, I’ve seen several people refer to this as a SBC document. I think it is very important to remember that the membership of the SBC did not vote on this, and it therefore cannot be an official SBC doctrinal statement. Also, this hasn’t been put forward by any SBC leadership. This is a group of SBC pastors, who released it in a blog on the SBC Today site. Most Southern Baptists (who actually read it) would not agree with it. I showed it to my father, an SBC NAMB Missionary, and he was very quick to say, “that would never pass.”

    Second, I think the reason that Southern Baptists tend to shy away from the Arminian title is because of the prevalence of “Arminian” groups in The South, like the Wesleyans, who believe that you can lose your salvation. This is something that is antithetical to Southern Baptist belief, more than likely because of the strong Calvinist roots of all Baptist traditions. Even though most Baptists have come way away from Calvinism, there has to still be a little bit hanging around in the “Baptist DNA”.

    • rogereolson

      Excuse me. “Strong Calvinist roots of all Baptist traditions?” You need to study your Baptist history more deeply. The first Baptists were not Calvinists; they were “General Baptists” which is another way of saying Arminian Baptists. See today’s post that includes quotes from The Orthodox Creed. Tell the Free Will Baptists and General Baptists (there are two or three denominations of each) about the “strong Calvinist roots of all Baptist traditions.” You’ll get a lecture about Baptist history from them!

      • Right, and the General Baptists all but died off. Most of the Baptist heritage that we have today comes from the Particular and Regular Baptists. I’m not saying that the majority of Baptists today are Calvinists, nor that they should be. I’m just acknowledging where we came from. Excuse me if that doesn’t fit into your view. That’s the truth. There has been a resurgence of full blown Arminian Baptist congregations and associations (Free Wills, etc.), however most Baptists today can trace their churches and their associations lineage back to Partiucular Baptists.

        Most Baptists today however, would sit squarely in the middle, leaning toward Arminism on some issues, and toward Calvinism on others.

        I hope you please don’t take this as dissing Arminianism. That’s not what it’s about. I’m just trying to truthfully trace where we came from, and offer that as an explanation for why most Southern Baptists shy away from the Arminian label.

        • rogereolson

          Are you talking about Southern Baptists when you write about Baptists’ roots? Because “up north” Free Will Baptist belief is alive and well and always has been. Are you not aware, for example, of the General Association of General Baptist Churches and the National Association of Free Will Baptists? The main Free Will Baptist denomination merged with the Northern Baptist Convention in 1916. That later became the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A. (ABCUSA) which includes many “free will” or “general” Baptists. Then there are numerous European-based Baptist groups. I grew up around Norwegian, Danish and Swedish Baptists few of whom were Calvinists. In Europe it is difficult to find Calvinist Baptists. Virtually all Baptists in the republics of the former Soviet Union (e.g., Ukraine) are Arminian.

    • Kyle

      You are right that some people seem to have said SBC statement, but I’m not sure anyone meant that it passed in the convention. I certainly didn’t say that. I only said “SBC people,” referring more to influential people in the broad scope of the SBC. I would actually agree that this document might be what the majority of SBC’ers think too, whether you would agree with that or not. It seems we all agree it’s not good that most people in SBC believe that if it is in fact the case. I hope many people in SBC can realize the strength of a Classical Arminian position in soteriology whether or not they embrace everything. Even the “once-saved-always-saved” beloved slogan can be kept in line with a Classical Arminian position that holds to Perseverance with synergistic understanding (i.e. God foreknew those having been convicted and drawn who would receive his grace who would also persevere through his grace). Or, people can hold onto the “eternal security” idea which is logically incompatible with both classical Calvinism and Arminianism yet not without biblical arguments of its own (you either can or cannot point at someone in the flesh who professes Christ and know the person is elect, 100% sure they are saved and in the Kingdom). My main point is just to agree that people don’t need to be scared of the Arminian label.

  • Robert

    Hello Roger,
    I had not yet responded because I wanted to wait for a clear response from one of the signers of the document first. I predicted for sure that the calvinist/determinst/fatalists would be up in arms about the statement and attempt to use it to discredit the signers as Semi-Pelagain/Pelagian (as that is one of their stock and intentional misrepresentations of others, an irresponsible and false charge they seem to revel in, also a common rhetorical ploy by determinists against any who would oppose their false theology, a perfect example of this mentality being R. C. Sproul). My prediction has been well confirmed if one peruses the internet.

    Here is a very good and clear statement (that I wanted everyone to see) by one of the signers responding to the criticism of Albert Mohler a well known theological determinst. You will note in this response that Hankins makes it very clear they are not Pelagians or Semi-Pelagians of any form:

    [[A Response to Dr. Al Mohler
    Regarding “A Statement of the Traditional Baptist
    Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

    By Dr. Eric Hankins, Pastor of the
    First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi
    I am appreciative of Dr. Mohler’s willingness to reply to our Statement, and I agree with much of it. He is a statesman whose influence on Southern Baptist life is inestimable, and he is owed a debt of gratitude for his tireless work for the cause of the kingdom. His involvement in this debate is crucial to a God-honoring conclusion. I am thrilled over Dr. Mohler’s affirmation of the necessity of this discussion and his agreement that “it’s time to talk.” The most ubiquitous criticism of the Statement over the last several days has been that it is unnecessarily divisive and that our concerns about Calvinism are contrived. We are thankful that Dr. Mohler acknowledges that it is good, right, and healthy to have a robust discussion of these important and very real issues. Along with him, we wholeheartedly affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message forms the sufficient boundary for our collective theological interests and should continue to be our principle guiding document.
    Although most of what Dr. Mohler has stated is quite helpful, I am afraid that much of it will be ignored because of two very unfortunate charges he levels concerning the Statement. These charges, especially in light of the more vitriolic responses to the Statement in the blogosphere, are likely to fuel the rancor that will foreclose upon the very discussion Dr. Mohler feels is so important have. The two serious charges to which we strenuously object are (1) that the Statement appears to be heretical and (2) that the Southern Baptist leaders (former presidents, seminary presidents, state executives, seminary professors, evangelists, and pastors) who signed the statement were not sharp enough to recognize the heresy. To these charges, I offer the following reply:

    First, we will never concede the charge of Semi-Pelagianism; it is patently false. Semi-Pelagianism is the view that man initiates his own salvation and that grace attends subsequently. Even a cursory reading of the Statement reveals that such an understanding of salvation could not be further from our intention. The language of the affirmation in Article Two is drawn almost verbatim from the BF&M. Most of the criticism has been directed at the “denial,” which is often divorced from its connection to the affirmation and criticized without respect to the rest of the Statement. Here is what we mean and what we will be glad to debate: We are all ruined by Adam’s sin. We are born with a sin nature. We all persistently, perniciously, and at every opportunity want to be Lord of our own lives. We cannot save ourselves. The power of the Gospel through the initiative and drawing of the Holy Spirit is our only hope, and it alone is sufficient to pierce our spiritual darkness and rescue us. But our real response to the Gospel of Christ in the power of the Spirit matters to God.

    Now, there is no doubt that we are calling into question the Calvinist-Arminian grid that sets the parameters and defines all the terms of the debate. It matters little to us that such discussions are centuries old. These abstrusely medieval, exhaustingly philosophical, and theologically troubling categories have never been comfortable for most Southern Baptists, and we have never felt bound by them. We don’t refer to them when we preach and teach, and we have been moving away from them confessionally for well over a century. Baptists weren’t afraid to walk away from Augustine and Calvin on issues of infant baptism and ecclesiology, and we have not been afraid to walk away from their soteriology, which demands that most people will not be granted the capacity to respond to the Gospel. We are calling the Augustinian-Calvinist synthesis into question not because we are spiritually immature, biblically illiterate, doctrinally cowardly, or erroneously humanistic. We are calling it into question because it is a post-biblical lens that too often distorts crucial biblical texts.
    Do the authors and signers of the Statement think that people can save themselves? No! Do they think people can do anything to merit their salvation? No! Do they think anyone can trust Christ apart from the initiative of God and the drawing of the Holy Spirit? No! But they also don’t think that most people are predestined to an eternity in hell no matter what. And they do think that every person has the opportunity to respond to the Gospel under the leadership of the Spirit who is willing to move upon the heart of anyone. In this debate, the charge of Semi-Pelagianism is little more than a “bogeyman.” It’s a label that intimidates and confuses, and we emphatically reject it.
    Second, while Dr. Mohler admits that Calvinists often appear “elitist,” is not a bit of elitism on display in his negative assessment of the theological acumen of the signers of the document? Before expressing his love for the group, which is commendable, Dr. Mohler makes the following statement: “I do not believe that those most problematic statements truly reflect the beliefs of many who signed this document.” Surely, Dr. Mohler understands that this can only offend the signers of the Statement. He implies that they signed a doctrinal statement containing assertions which they did not fully appreciate. Seminary presidents and professors, renowned evangelists and preachers of the Gospel can’t recognize Semi-Pelagianism? Some of the most effective soul-winners in our history inadvertently agreed that people can procure their own salvation by their own initiation and their own effort? Were several of the individuals who helped revise the BF&M not able to see that they now stand in clear violation of it? How does Dr. Mohler think that “doctrinally careful and theologically discerning” people came to sign this theologically deficient document? “Doctrinally careful and theologically discerning” people, by definition, are not easily duped or reckless with endorsements.

    If Dr. Mohler intends for his words to engender an irenic but honest debate of these issues, opening with a charge of apparent heresy and chiding its signers for being too ignorant to know it is a strange way to begin. It is important for him to understand that, though he would certainly reject this characterization, he is often considered a principal force behind the very tribalism he is seeking to disavow. Charging us with being heterodox and obtuse doesn’t help. We will hope for his better instincts to prevail as our conversation continues.

    I conclude by returning to the question at the center of this entire discussion. Dr. Mohler states that he “rejoices in its statement that ‘the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation.’” I would like to know how such an affirmation comports with his self-avowed Calvinism. It is likely that he means salvation is for any person who has been pre-temporally chosen out of the mass of humanity, the rest of whom will be passed over for salvation, never to be granted the ability to respond to the Gospel, no matter what. This is not what we mean. We mean that every person who hears the Gospel has the opportunity to respond in repentance and faith, and we will continue to insist that this is what most Southern Baptists believe.]]

    This statement and subsequent discussion may be found here:

    I believe that it is great they came up with this statement and that further discussion and challenge of what most of us consider to be a false and unbiblical theology (i.e. calvinism, especially the form which claims that God predestines every event without exception, that free will as ordinarily understood does not exist, that God “reprobates” human persons fully intending to damn people who never had a chance to be saved whom God himself intended to damn and punish eternally for committing the very sins and manifesting the very unbelief that God predestined they would have) will result from it.

    • rogereolson

      Semi-Pelagianism may be very far from the writers’ and signers’ intentions, but the statement is clearly semi-Pelagian in wording and needs amendment.

  • gingoro

    Never heard of Cameron and Amyraut but will read about their thought. My position is the only way that I can make sense of what I see in scripture and as I read various positions.
    Dave W

  • rey

    “Leaving the statement as it stands, without a clear affirmation of the bondage of the will to sin apart from supernatural grace, inevitably hands the Calvinists ammunition to use against non-Calvinist Baptists.”

    No, it ultimately allows the Baptists to dismiss the Calvinists out of hand instead of having to argue with them. With the positions so far apart, the Baptists no longer have to worry about full-blown Calvinism arising from their semi-Calvinist position, because they’ve assumed a position that is not semi-Calvinist. Amen.

    • rogereolson

      You missed my point entirely. I won’t repeat it, though.

  • Don

    As a confessional Calvinist, I appreciate your comments. I disagree with you on a number of issues regarding your soteriology, but I also understand that you are concerned about the plague of semi-pelagianism and easy-believism in American ‘Christianity.’ I wish that both Arminians and Calvinists would seek to try to understand the theological positions of one another, because, after reading and listening to some Arminians, I find that my position is misunderstood and misrepresented. Sadly, I also find that Calvinists do the same to their Arminian brothers. Grace and peace to you..

  • The statement “While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel” seems to rule out Semi-Pelagianism.

    However, by placing this sentence “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned” in the second paragraph, the writers have clouded the water.

    If they wanted to avoid charges of Semi-Pelagianism, they should have placed the sentence about the state of human free will in the first paragraph, which deals with the effects of the fall, and not in the second paragraph, which deals with salvation.

  • Fr. John W. Morris

    I must respond to the following “What made them semi-Pelagian was their denial or neglect of the divine initiative in salvation (except the gospel message).” What did Jesus Christ do? Was not the Incarnation and His life giving death and glorious resurrection the divine initiative in salvation. You are right we cannot save ourselves, but God became man through the Incarnation. By the Incarnation God took the initiative for our salvation. Because God took the initiative we can use our free will to respond to God’s offer of the gift of salvation. You make the mistake of trying to understand the mystery of salvation through human reason. Read the 13 Conference of St. John Cassian he provides a good balanced approach to the issue of grace and free will.

    Fr. John W. Morris

    • rogereolson

      You are unnecessarily complicated the issue. “Divine initiative in salvation” is a technical term (in the history of Western theology, anyway) that every scholar knows refers to prevenient grace that overcomes the inability of the fallen will of the human being so that he or she can respond positively to the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. If you want to use “divine initiative” in a non-technical, very broad sense, then it can refer to creation itself or the eternal decision in the mind of God to create and redeem. Please. We are talking about the state of the human being apart from special grace and the need for special grace to heal the deadly wound of sin to the will so that a person can hear and believe the gospel unto repentance and faith. Now, with that understanding (which I suspect you already knew), feel free to state your position and that of your Church and we’ll go from there. If you’re Catholic, you surely know about the Second Synod of Orange of 529 and what it declared about this matter.

  • Jephunneh Palit-ang

    Thanks Brother Olson for your helpful insights and your articles are helpful though others question it. You can’t convinced everybody. I have tried to listen to Calvinists arguments (honestly) and read books authored by them to understand what grace really is. They, of course, defined grace according to them like saying “according to Augustine” and according to Luther” and according to the Institutes”, etc. I tried even reading the Institutes with a view to understand the gospel but it really complicated me. My mind got mixed up that I needed to understand the Reformers because they had enlightened minds. What I did, I need a simple one and went back to 1 Corinthians 15 and get back to the Bible. That may be too simplistic but thanks to the Lord for His guidance. God bless you brother Olson.

  • Seth

    This is the first time in recent history that Calvinists and Arminians are on the same page. I agree! These are no Arminians, they are clearly the progeny of Charles Finny I.e. Semi-Pelagians!

    • rogereolson

      I’m not so sure of that. I just wish they would clarify the matter (viz., the effect of original sin on the will apart from grace).

  • Francesco C.

    What about me?

    I am a former “true” arminian that moved slowly towards semipelagianism because of some exegetical observations and philosophical troubles with pure arminianism.

    Here my situation:
    1) I do believe in “total insufficiency” of human will, measured by God’s moral standards, but I don’t believe in “total depravity” in Reformed’s way. Man is still able to have some good wishes and even actions, but he is “without strength” (Rom 5:6) against devil’s intentions and flesh’s desires. I don’t think Romans 3 is in a direct contradiction to what I wrote now, because Paul’s emphasis in that chapter is about sin’s universality (I agree about that), not “totality”.
    I really can’t accept heartly Piper’s and Washer’s preaching that “whatever you did before your regeneration, was sin. Only and always, sin”. Matthew 5:46; John 1:47 or Acts 10:2, 35 finger to the opposite direction, in my opinion. Even Jeremiah 17:9 makes my case, because its context (v.10) assumes that the result of the test on human heart could be positive.
    In this sense, I feel myself nearer to semipelagianism.

    2)I do believe that man can’t go nearer to Christ except for prevenient grace. We need that the Holy Spirit for first acts in our hearts to start repenting. In this sense, I am absolutely a pure Arminian.

    3) I don’t agree with arminians about the major role of freed will AFTER the action of prevenient grace. I don’t see a biblical emphasis on freed will in the moment of accepting or rejecting the Gospel (Rom. 9 and John 1.13), but I see a gradual self-determination BEFORE the arrival of the Word, because this is what I read in Romans 1:18-21, Acts 10, John 6:45, 12:32, and specially Luke 8:15 (the heart was already good and honest, in some way). The main condition of human heart that makes it ready to receive the Gospel is humbleness (1 Peter 5:5) that, after prevenient grace’ action, deterministically accepts always the Gospel and believes.

    4) I tend towards absolute exclusivism in soteriology: all the “good and honest hearts” that didn’t “suppress the truth by their unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) are predestined by God to be saved, receiving the good news (note: I know that absolute exclusivism is not generally associated to semipelagianism but to Reformed doctrines).

    5) Finally, I could agree with the whole statement of faith of “” except for these two sentences:
    “In and of themselves and apart from the grace of God human beings can neither think, will, nor do anything good.”
    “all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God.”

    Here my questions:
    1) What is the problem with me?? 🙂 Why am I the only person I know in the world or history that thinks so?
    2) Do you see any spiritual risk in my point of view?
    3) What am I underestimating, among biblical concepts?
    4) What am I? a “modified” Arminian? Or a moderate semipelagian?
    5) Which are the main historical debates between arminians and semipelagians?
    6) Which are the most important evangelical semipelagian scholars today?
    Could you write some posts about semipelagianism and its relationship/dialogue with arminianism?

    When I was a “pure” arminian, I thought semipelagianism was an “half truth”, just like calvinism.

    Maybe, if you and Sproul agree that most part of evangelicals today are semipelagians, it is really necessary that an arminian scholar explains his position about semipelagianism (calvinism opinion would be so obvious and useless about this…).

    Thank you for the patience,

    • rogereolson

      The litmus test is this: Do you believe the initiative in salvation (speaking here of the individual’s salvation) is God’s or the human person’s? Can a sinner exercise a good will toward God apart from special assisting grace? If the answer to the first question is “God’s” and to the second is “no,” then I will count you an Arminian, not a semi-Pelagian.

      • Francesco C.

        According to me, the first answer is absolutly a “YES”; about the second one, I would need to define better the question.

        I mean for example: do you think that in the following verse, is “special assisting grace” acting for the persuasion of an individual man?

        “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ” (Rom. 1:20)

        • rogereolson

          No, Romans 1:20 is not about special assisting grace. That becomes necessary due to the fall and inherited depravity.

          • Francesco C.

            Ok, but you think that Rom.1:20 is about the whole humanity?

            Because I think that some persons have a different attitude than that described in Rom. 1:20, and this is why God is merciful and goes and seeks and saves them, while He “abandons” all the others to themselves, and so to judgement (Rom. 1:24 and 26).

            Is this semipelagianism?

          • rogereolson

            Where did those “some persons'” different attitude come from? Themselves? Scripture clearly says no one seeks after God; it leaves no room for exceptions.

          • Francesco C.

            “Glorify Him” or “showing gratitude” (v.21), at least for a while, is not exactly “to seek after God”.

            So, in my opinion, this different attitude, maybe before being corrupted utterly by sin (they are still “without strength” against devil, flesh, etc.) comes from themselves (like in semipelagianism). But it is useless by itself, if God had not decided to foreknow them: any desire and ability to really seek after God comes from the special prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit (like in arminianism), that acts in a determinist way in those that are predestined (like in calvinism) because of that short, good attitude at the beginning.

            This is my main philosophical reason against arminian solution: in arminianism, the freed will that takes a definitive choice AFTER special prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit, is not linked in any way to human will BEFORE prevenient grace… it is something like a free will created in that moment, just at the scope of believing or not in Christ… if I start thinking about that, it seems to me quite weird… and also very different from usual experiences and testimonies.

          • rogereolson

            Not at all. Before I was given my first pair of glasses I was almost blind. (My myopia developed very suddenly.) With glasses I now can choose to see. It’s the same me–with and without glasses.

          • Francesco C.

            I like your analogy:
            1) before glasses: you WANT to see, but you are NOT ABLE
            2) after glasses: you still WANT to see, and now you are ABLE.

            At the same way, I think that the elects WANT to seek after God, but are NOT able until prevenient grace changes their hearts and minds.

            “…I _have_ the desire to do what is right, but not the _ability_ to carry it out” (Romans 7)

            “to those who by patience in well-doing _seek_ for _glory_ and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”. (Romans 2:7) Which way? ONE WAY: they will know Jesus Christ, and be born again.

          • Francesco C.

            You didn’t tell me about my last comment if, at the end, you find it heretical, eterodox, semipelagian or simply weird 😉

          • rogereolson

            Sorry, I’m not always able to respond to every comment/question. I do as I can; I must have run out of time.

  • John A.

    Acts 17:25-28
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[a] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring
    (seems to say man is made to search for God)
    John 20:29
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas,[a] because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
    (seems to say that people who come to faith on thier own are blessed)
    Hebrews 11:6
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
    (God rewards those who seek him)
    Romans 3:8-12
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
    10 As it is written:
    “There is none righteous, no, not one;
    11 There is none who understands;
    There is none who seeks after God.
    12 They have all turned aside;
    They have together become unprofitable;
    There is none who does good, no, not one.”
    (Must be talking about sin and righteously seeking God; because man is not totally depraved just not righteous(because of non-imputed sin) in accordance with other scriptures.

    • Roger Olson

      Um, how about the verses, Old and New Testament, that say no one seeks after God?

      • John A.

        I see those verses as talking about man’s righteousness. To my understanding man cannot correctly, righteously, seek after God.

        Justin Martyr says in his Dialogue with Trypho “Seek ye God; and when you find Him, call on Him, so long as He may be nigh you. Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will obtain mercy, because He will abundantly pardon your sins”

        later on he also says “For if the Son of God evidently states that He can be saved, [neither] because He is a son, nor because He is strong or wise, but that without God He cannot be saved, even though He be sinless,”

        So to me it seems to say we are not righteous because of non imputed sin. Granted I do not see how God could send someone to hell for Non-imputed sin(the Finney in me LoL).

        I am still trying to wrap my head around this. Any suggestions on theologians for me to read to help clear this up?

        • Roger Olson

          I’m not sure we’re disagreeing. I agree that everyone seeks after something beyond themselves–a “greater power” or “the infinite” or whatever they might call it. They might even call it “god.” But, as Calvin correctly said, the mind of man (apart from grace) is a factory of idols. Prevenient grace directs the heart and mind of a person towards the true God.

          • John A.

            I guess I do not understand Prevenient Grace that well. I just looked it up and read Arminius “Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace…. This grace [prœvenit] goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co operates lest we will in vain”

            I agree with that, I just never had heard it put this way. My SBC pastor dose not like to talk about Arminius or Calvin because the subject causes division.

          • Roger Olson

            I understand your pastor’s qualms, but he is either an Arminian or a Calvinist–in the broadest senses of those terms. And his beliefs about these matters must filter into his preaching, even if unannounced as such.

      • John A.

        I think those must refer to how no one is righteous. We are all non-imputed sinners but not all of us are imputed sinners. I am still wrapping my mind around the subject….

  • Gary

    Baptism versus praying the Sinner’s Prayer: Which requires more Work?
    Lutheran Plan of Salvation: Show up or be brought to the Baptismal font and God will save you by the power of his Word.

    Baptist/evangelical Plan of Salvation: Make a free will decision that you want to be saved; then pray the Sinner’s Prayer to give Christ permission to come into your heart, thereby “closing the deal” to finalize your salvation.

    Which believer did the most “work” to be saved?

    • Roger Olson

      As I have asked every Church of Christ person who has come here to argue with me before: What do you believe happens to a person who prays the sinners prayer (as you put it) and dies before getting baptized? Answer, please.

      • Gary

        The Church of Christ will tell you that the person who believes but is killed or dies before being baptized will NOT go to heaven. This is a false reading of Scripture. This false teaching is why one CANNOT open up the Bible, pull out a verse or two that agrees with your denominational perspective, and build a doctrine on it. You must compare your understanding of the plain, simple interpretation of the Bible with that of the Christians in the Early Church.

        The Church Catholic has believed for 2,000 years from the Apostles to today, that sinners are saved by the power of the Word. An adult or older child who hears or reads the Word and believes by faith in Christ, IS saved, is a Christian, even if he dies before he is able to be baptized.

        The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church still believe this today. God does save in Baptism, but baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation; meaning, God is not limited to saving sinners in Holy Baptism.

        The (orthodox) Lutheran Church has always taught that it is the power of God’s Word, spoken or written, that saves (“faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”), not anything magical in the waters of Baptism. God can save without Baptism. He saved all the saints in the OT without Baptism. He saved the thief on the cross without Baptism. And he has saved countless thousands of Christian martyrs were died before having the ability to be baptized. But God, in multiple passages of Scripture says that he also uses his Word to save sinners and forgive sins in Baptism.

        We Lutherans will baptize any sinner who asks us for Baptism, and we baptize our infants, in the belief that it is God who decides salvation, not man. Does God save by the power of his Word in Baptism? Yes. Will every person who has baptismal water applied to them be saved? Probably not. God decides salvation, not the sinner, not the parents of infants, not the Church.
        So we trust in God’s promises of salvation by the power of his Word. We concentrate on doing our job to baptize “all nations”, and leave in God’s hands who will actually enter the Kingdom of God in heaven. Christ, Peter, and Paul never gave a “Salvation Beliefs Quiz” prior to baptizing. The Word was preached and all those willingly coming to the water were baptized.

        Yes, God saves in Baptism, but he is not limited to saving in Baptism. Baptism is not the means of salvation. The only means of Salvation is the Word of God/God’s declaration of righteousness.

        Magical baptismal water does not save you, good works cannot save you, and making a free will decision to accept Christ is impossible according to Scripture, so it too cannot help to save you.

        God makes the decision for sinners, not the other way around.

        • Roger Olson

          I apologize; I thought you were promoting Church of Christ theology (or a version of it) about baptism. I’ve read many, many Lutheran theologians and I’ve known many in my lifetime. Not all would agree with you about much of what you write as “the orthodox Lutheran” position about salvation.You seem to have an axe to grind here. That’s not what this blog is for. So either fit into the discussion or go away. This blog is not a place for everyone to come and use it to promote their own theology in contrast to others.