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Posts Tagged ‘Semi-Pelagianism

The “Many” and the “All” of Romans 5

Dr. Jack Cottrell holds that the doctrine of original sin as taught since Augustine is not biblical.  He holds that people are born in a state of grace and are not guilty of Adam’s sin and thus are not born sinful.  He holds that all sinners will be judged by God but they will be judged for their own sins and not for the sin of Adam.  Even John Wesley acknowledged that none will be found guilty of Adam’s transgression but their own.

Romans 5 is a debated passage over the doctrine of original sin.  I would say that most orthodox scholars hold that Romans 5 teaches the doctrine of original sin or inherited sinfulness.  While Arminians are not as quick to say that all people inherit Adam’s sin, Arminianism does hold that all people inherit Adam’s sinfulness.  Thus Arminianism has held that people are born dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) because of Adam’s sin but people are not born guilty of Adam’s sin but merely the results of Adam’s sin.  Calvinists hold that people are born both depraved and inherit Adam’s sin and thus babies are guilty of sin at the moment of conception (they also explain the necessity of the virgin birth as such).

Dr. Cottrell’s analysis of Romans 5 is fascinating.  It is very extensive and would take many posts on this blog for me to work through it.  However, I just want to focus in on one issue here and that is the issue of Paul’s use of “many” and “all” in Romans 5.  For example, in Romans 5:12 we read:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

None deny that “all” here means all.  In Romans 5:15 Paul uses the phrase “many died through one man’s trespass” and none doubt that “many” here means all.  The problem is the end of Romans 5:15.  Let me quote the entire verse:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Now if the many at the beginning means all (v. 12) then why does the many at the end of verse 15 mean anything less than all?

The Calvinist answer is that if we make the “many” here become all (as in all) then we must hold to universalism or at best we must deny limited atonement (which cannot be done).  The all in Calvinism is “all” but the “many” in their view is only the elect.  Thus Adam’s sin brings condemnation to “all” but Jesus’ work brings salvation only to the elect or the “many.”

The Arminian answer is that Christ’s sacrifice was provided for all sinners (John 3:16) but only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved.  The only way to escape judgment for your sins is to place your faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Thus the “all” of Adam’s transgression comes to all and the work of Christ has been given for all.  The “many” and the “all” are used interchangeably by Paul the Apostle here in Romans 5.

Dr. Cottrell believes that the only universalism that one can derive from Romans 5:12-21 is that Christ’s saving work on the cross cancels out the work of Adam.  Thus he holds that people are not born in a state of depravity or born sinful but rather that Paul’s point is that Romans 5 is teaching that Jesus cancels out the fall of Adam.  While death is still here with us from Adam, this too, writes Cottrell, will soon be vanquished by the power of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:13-14).

He goes on to write that we now can view sin in four stages.

  1. Original Sin.  The only thing we receive from Adam’s sin now is death.  We are born in a flesh that will die.  The sin of Adam has been canceled out by the work of Christ.
  2. Original Grace.  All infants and young children are here as well as those who mentally never develop (handicapped).  While here people are in a state of salvation through the universal work of Christ until they reach an age of accountability that only God knows.
  3. Personal Sin.  This is the state people are in after reaching the age of accountability and lose the original grace into which they were born.  Those in this stage are lost because they sinned against a holy God and violated His just laws in the same way that Adam and Eve did.  Those who die here are condemned for their own sins.
  4. Personal Grace.  This is a term only for believers.  Those in Christ Jesus through faith are in a state of personal grace and are redeemed from both sin and death (John 5:24-25; 11:25-26).  Both sin and death have no power over the believer (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  However, this applies only to those who believe and is not based merely on past belief.  This is present active relationship with Christ (1 Peter 1:5).

Let me add here in closing that Dr. Cottrell would not label his view as Pelagian.  He would actually label it “pre-Augustinian.”  He holds that his view was held by most of the early Church Fathers before Augustine and his debates with Pelagius.  It was only after Pelagius that the Roman Catholic Church adopted the original sin view and the Western Church began to teach that people are born universally condemned for Adam’s sin.  The problem with the original sin view is that many believe that they can’t turn from their sins (since they are born sinful and this is the best they can hope to do) and thus they continue in their sins despite the preaching of the gospel to them.  Many Christians likewise hold that even if saved by the work of Christ from sin, they still must live a life of sin.  I heard a radio preacher just yesterday describing himself as a “miserable sinner” and he went on to say that this was the best he could do and hope for in this life.

I rejoice that the atonement of Christ is a great work from God!  While I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from those who hold to Cottrell’s view about why children sin, I do agree that the work of Christ is for all.  Christ shed His blood so that all can be saved.  I also agree that each person will be judged for their sins and not the sin of Adam.

Wesley preached:

Satan has stamped his own image on our heart in self-will also. “I will,” said he, before he was cast out of heaven, “I will sit upon the sides of the north;” I will do my own will and pleasure, independently on that of my Creator. The same does every man born into the world say, and that in a thousand instances; nay, and avow it too, without ever blushing upon the account, without either fear or shame. Ask the man, “Why did you do this?” He answers, “Because I had a mind to it.” What is this but, “Because it was my will;” that is, in effect, because the devil and I agreed; because Satan and I govern our actions by one and the same principle. The will of God, mean time, is not in his thoughts, is not considered in the least degree.

We sin because we want to sin!  We sin because we are children of the devil (John 8:44).  Jesus called people “evil” (Luke 11:13) and He said that out of the heart comes evil (Matthew 15:19).  However, Jesus did say that some people are good and others evil (Matthew 12:35).

In reality, we need Christ.  That is the bottom line.  All sinners need Christ.  All saints need Christ.  We need to exalt the Lord Jesus to every nation and to every sinner.  Jesus is our only hope!

Is Arminianism the Dominant Theology in the Western Church?

Curiously, I was browsing a few Calvinist blogs and found it funny that they stated that Arminianism is the dominant form of theology in the Western Church.  They believe that Calvinism is facing a battle against the dominance of Arminianism in the church.  It is they who are on the defense and not Arminians.  Arminians, according to the blogs, dominant in the seminaries, in most denominations, in the seeker church movement, and in bookstores.

Really?  Does reformation Arminianism really dominant?  I would argue that it is neither Arminianism nor Calvinism that is the dominant theology in the Western evangelical church but it is semi-Pelagianism.  I would go further and say that most people are semi-Pelagian and don’t even know that they are.  This is especially true of seeker churches where theology places such a little roll in their emphasis.  The seeker church has only one thing really in mind: how to attract sinners (seekers; unchurched) to their church.  Their doctrinal introduction to Jesus is not through exegesis but through their show they call church services.  This Jesus is presented as a loving and good Jesus who only wants the best for His wayward children.  He is ever-loving and waiting and longing for them to return to Him and become one with Him and they can have this awesome relationship together.  He’ll just meet them halfway if they will simply believe in Him.  This is the message of most churches that I know in my area and that is neither Arminianism nor Calvinism but is semi-Pelagainism.

Many of the churches that I know that are truly reformation Arminian in their theology often do not ascribe to Arminianism.  In fact, they often just say that they are non-Calvinists.  This is true of many Pentecostal and Baptist churches that I know.  While essentially teaching Arminianism, they prefer not to be labeled as Arminians.  Some, out of fear of Calvinists, and some out of ignorance of Arminianism.  Most churches I know who teach Calvinism usually identify themselves as Calvinists.

In terms of theology.  I would argue that most evangelical works I see today (which, sadly, is not much) at bookstores are Calvinistic.  John Piper.  John MacArthur.  Wayne Grudem.  Matt Chandler.  Mark Driscoll.  David Platt.  Albert Mohler.  All these guys are Calvinists and all have produced best-selling books.  The only Arminian I can think of (who clearly identifies himself as an Arminian) would be Roger Olsen.

In terms of denominations and seminaries, again I would argue that semi-Pelagainism dominates.

Obviously I am just one person and so I have a small window that I am judging from so I can only speak from that perspective.  However, I see neither Arminianism nor Calvinism as dominating at this point.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/20/2014 at 5:54 PM

Arminianism is not Pelagianism

I was listening to a Calvinist teacher lecture on heresies today and he was teaching on Pelagianism.  I knew from my past hearings of this man that he would seek to show his hearers that Arminianism is nothing more than Pelagianism or at least semi-Pelagian.  He did.  Not five minutes into his lecture he stated that the errors of Pelagius are still with is in the Arminians.  How so?  He said that Arminians are Pelagians for the following reasons:

1.  They teach that mankind has complete free will.

2.  They teach that man helps God with their salvation.

3.  They teach that after salvation one must do something to remain saved such as good works, obedience to the Law, etc.

4.  They teach that Jesus didn’t really save anyone when He died on the cross.  Man has to help God save us.  We work together to be saved.

This attack is not new to Arminians.  I have been told numerous times through e-mails or on Twitter or even in person that I am a heretic, that I teach works-salvation, and that I know nothing of the grace of God.  One “former” Arminian told me that he abandoned Arminianism after he really begin to read the Bible (to imply that I don’t).  Charles Spurgeon said about Arminians:

Arminianism, which is only Pelagianism under another name, had, to a large extent, eaten out the life of the Church of England.

While some Calvinists do realize that Arminians are not Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian, they still insist that Arminians believe that we help God to earn our salvation.  Calvinists like to pride themselves that their salvation is all of God and nothing of them and that even their belief is from God whereas poor Arminians believe that when they stand before God on the day of judgement they will be able to tell God that they saved themselves through their own free will.  Is this really the case?

First of all, I have been an Arminian disciple of Jesus for over 20 years.  I have met thousands of Arminians and have never once heard a testimony of someone claiming that they saved themselves or even that they helped God by believing.  I don’t deny that Arminianism holds to synergism, the idea that we submit to Christ for salvation through faith.  What I do deny is that that is works-righteousness.  Not one Arminian theologian nor one Arminian disciple would ever claim such a thing.  Clearly the New Testament teaches that we are saved by God’s grace through faith (Romans 3:22-27; 4:5; 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Jesus’ blood alone cleanses a sinner from sin (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14, 22, 27-28; 1 John 1:7).  Arminianism rejects any notion of earning our salvation through any good works or even the act of believing.  Jesus saves (Romans 6:23).

Secondly, Arminius, in his Works, made sure to let people know that he was not close to being a Pelagian.  How so?  Arminius embraced total depravity.  Pelagius did not.  Arminius embraced that the will of mankind is bound by sin and apart from the grace of God, none could be saved.  Pelagius did not.  Arminius taught that salvation is through Christ and Christ alone and not by any works of mankind.  Pelagius did not.  Arminius taught that the only way to overcome sin is through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pelagius taught that mankind could overcome sin through the freedom of the will.  Arminius taught that salvation was all of grace.  Pelagius, while giving some acknowledgement to grace, denied that salvation was completely all of grace.

Lastly, the problem is that the Reformed view of irresistible grace has become, for the Calvinist, the only liable means to salvation.  While the vast majority of Christians and theologians throughout Church history have denied this, the “young, restless, and reformed” crowd is championing John Piper and R.C. Sproul’s view that teaches irresistible grace.  There is an alternative but anyone who mentions this is viewed as a Pelagian from the outset.

The fact is that the writings of Arminius are full of examples to show that he was not a Pelagian in his beliefs about salvation.  I don’t deny that certain people from Church history such as Charles Finney (who was not an Arminian) was in fact semi-Pelagian.  I know of some in the Restoration movement who gladly take the title “semi-Pelagian” though they prefer to be called “pre-Augustinian” in their views.  For Arminianism, if we are to adhere to Arminius, we must reject Pelagianism in all its forms.  Arminius accepted many of the Calvinist teachings regarding the fall, the utter depravity of humanity, and the necessity of grace for salvation while at the same time denying unconditional election and irresistible grace.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/25/2012 at 2:48 PM

Some Thoughts on Charles Finney’s Influence Upon The Modern Church

Having just finished up a series of posts from the works of Charles Finney upon original sin, allow me to make some brief observations.  I am reading a book on the theology of Finney in comparison to the Calvinists of his day and will have more to say about Finney later.  For now, allow me to make these brief observations about Finney’s influence upon the modern church.

First, it can not be underestimated the influence that Charles Finney has had upon the modern Church.  Both Arminians and Calvinists must acknowledge this.  I believe that his influence has not been for the better.  I oppose, as do nearly all Calvinists, the usage of the anxious seat or the sinner’s prayer as a means to salvation.  I find nothing in Scripture to suggest that a person come forward and say a prayer to receive salvation.  Not once in the Bible do we find the Lord Jesus nor the Apostles doing any thing close to the modern altar call.  While Finney did not create the anxious seat, mourners bench, or the sinner’s prayer, he definitely influenced others in using the methods.  Finney clearly believed that a person can will themselves to salvation at any time so long as the arguments were set forth correctly for the person to understand and he clearly believed that repentance was a matter of the will and not the work of the Spirit entirely.  This led him to start calling for a public response to the gospel that demanded that a person will their way to salvation through tears, prayer, mourning, etc.  Finney’s practice is now fully practiced in most semi-Pelagian American churches that find their roots in Finney, Torrey, Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.  I once challenged a pastor over this and he responded that “it works” and that was enough for him.  This pragmatic approach to evangelism has hurt the church.

Secondly, Finney’s usage of the anxious seat led to thousands of false converts.  New England today remains the “burned over” district of the United States.  Few have seen evangelistic success in New England mainly because of the usage of the sinner’s prayer.  People were incorrectly taught that you need only pray this prayer and you are a Christian which led to countless false converts who were not following Jesus as Lord (Matthew 7:21-23).  This also led to Finney developing his perfection teachings later on at Oberlin College.  Finney begin to see the fruits of the sinner’s prayer and he begin to say that what people needed was not just to pray for salvation but also to pray for entire sanctification to God.  Christian perfection as a second work of grace was needed to help these sinning saints get rid of sin.  I have read Finney’s book on perfection and they are full of works sanctification such as we need to be praying more, stop sinning in our own power more, lay all on the altar, etc. and while they are sometimes good at exhorting toward holiness, the books fail to point to Jesus as our Advocate when we sin nor to the power of His blood to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7; 2:1-2).  The power to overcome sin lies in the power of God in the gospel and not in our power.  Holiness flows not from will power but from God’s power (Romans 8:1-4).  The Holy Spirit is the One who helps me to be holy (Acts 15:9-11; cf. John 16:8-11).

Thirdly, I fear that evangelism has largely followed Finney in regard to seeking to convert people to Christ merely by correct arguments and little trust in the power of God in the gospel.  Romans 1:16-17 is clear that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  It is God who saves and He saves alone.  Correct arguments and the right atmosphere are not the power to salvation. The gospel is the power of God to salvation.  The gospel brings repentance.  The gospel produces results.  The duty of the Church is to preach the gospel (Acts 1:8).  The Lord is the one who adds to His Church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47).  The Lord uses the gospel preached to save the lost and not our fleshly arguments (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  I fear that too often modern evangelism is all about “get them to pray the prayer” instead of preaching Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).  Again, nothing in Scripture suggests that salvation comes through a sinner’s prayer but through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:8-9).  The proper response to the gospel is baptism (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38, 41).

I will have more to say about Charles Finney and his theological views later.  For now, I do believe that Finney loved God, loved people, and I believe that he desired to see souls saved but I do fear that his methods have produced fruit that is not good and sadly, the Church has suffered because of them.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/06/2012 at 5:08 PM

Posted in Charles Finney

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Jack Cottrell’s Doctrine of Partial Depravity

In his systematic theology text, The Faith Once For All, by Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cottrell builds a case for what he terms “partial depravity” to separate his view from the Calvinistic (or in his terms, Augustinian) view.  The Arminian view of man’s depravity is similar in that Arminius taught the total depravity of humanity.  Arminius stated concerning the effects of the Fall of Man in Genesis 3:1-8:

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.

It is clear from other statements from Arminius that he believed in the total depravity of man and that apart from the grace of God, none could be saved.

The Restoration Movement (of which Dr. Cottrell is apart of) rejects the doctrine of total depravity.  Alexander Campbell taught that sin is a personal issue and thus we are sinners because we choose to violate the Law of God and rebel.  We are not sinners because of Adam but because we choose to sin.  When we choose to sin, we fall into the condemnation of sin and the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).

Dr. Cottrell then first notes in his book that we are sinners because we sin and not that we sin because we are born sinners.  He deals with the texts that teach the sinfulness of all people (including babies) and then turns to the issue at hand.  Cottrell states that the system of Calvinism rises and falls based on the first point, total depravity.  If in fact the doctrine is true then it logically follows that the rest of Calvinism could be true.  If the doctrine can be shown to be false, Calvinism would fall.

Cottrell deals with the issue of inability.  He notes that Calvinist point to Matthew 7:18 but he turn points to Matthew 12:33 to point out that the decision to be either good or bad lies within the control of the person.  He notes that Romans 8:7-8 is not dealing with the gospel but with the law.  Man cannot please God under the law but he can choose to be saved.  Cottrell notes that nothing in the context of Romans 8:7-8 is dealing with the gospel of Jesus Christ but with the law.  He points to passages such as Matthew 23:37; John 3:16; Romans 1:17; Revelation 22:17 that point people to believe the gospel.

Does not John 6:44 teach that the Father draws people to the Savior?  Cottrell says yes but then he states that the drawing is not irresistible but resistible and universal as he points to universal passages such as Romans 1:16; 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 4:12.  He appeals to John 12:32 as words from Jesus that His desire is to draw all to Himself.  The Word of God, writes Cottrell, is powerful enough to draw sinners to the Lord (John 20:31).

In relation to faith being a gift given to the elect, Cottrell points out that passages such as Acts 5:32 or Acts 11:18 are both referring to groups and not individuals.  He states the same about Philippians 1:29 and 2 Timothy 2:25 though he points out that 2 Timothy 2:25 is not about initial conversion to Christ.  He deals, as this point, with Ephesians 2:8-9 and correctly notes that the Greek clarifies what the “that” of Ephesians 2:8-9 is and that is salvation through grace.

Cottrell then turns to Colossians 2:12 as an appeal that faith precedes regeneration.  He notes that faith is the means by which we are raised with Christ through faith.  He notes from Ephesians 1:13-14 that the sealing of the Spirit occurs only after faith as hearing and believing are aorist participles and suggest that these acts precede the action of the main verb, the sealing of the Spirit (Acts 5:32; 15:7-9; 16:30; 1 Peter 1:22).

Cottrell closes by pointing out that any doctrine must be examined by the Scriptures and we should not come to the Bible with a priori conception of what a sinner can and cannot do so as to fit within our theological systems.  It is easier to simply read the Bible and allow it to say what it says and allow it to mean what it means.  I think all of us would agree.

In some ways, I find Dr. Cottrell’s arguments solid.  I would encourage you to read his systematic theology text.  Cottrell exegetes his passages and does wrestle with deep theological issues and traditions.  You might not agree with Cottrell but at least he does wrestle with the Scriptures and he holds the Bible as the final authority above the works of Calvin, Arminius, or Campbell.  So do I.  On a minor note, Dr. Cottrell says that while his view is attacked as “semi-Pelagian” he prefers to call it “pre-Augustinian”.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/21/2011 at 10:00 AM

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