Combating Semi-Pelagianism

Some thoughts from Arminian theologian Roger Olsen about what other non-Calvinists should (and shouldn’t) believe:

[M]ost American Christians, including most Baptists, are semi-Pelagian, not Arminian and not merely non-Calvinist.

A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.  Classical Arminianism strongly affirms the bondage of the will to sin before and apart from prevenient grace’s liberating work.

[C]lassical Arminianism agrees with Calvinism that a sinner is incapable of making the right decision without the influence of God’s prevenient grace.

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.

[C]lassical 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.

[W]hat we should all be criticizing is the rampant popular semi-Pelagianism of American folk religion.

taken from Roger Olson’s blog and comments at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/06/thoughts-about-“a-statement-of-the-traditional-southern-baptist-understanding-of-gods-plan-of-salvation-“

 

Labels

Some people like to categorize things; some people hate to be labeled. It strikes me that labels are useful for categorizing similar practices and/or ideas and contrasting them with different practices and/or ideas. However, when it comes to critiquing practices and/or ideas, labels may cease to be useful and actually become a hinderance.

For example, there is no harm in stating that belief in the total depravity of man, God’s sovereign election, His irresistible grace, and His keeping of His elect are common to Calvinism. By way of contrast, the belief that the gift of salvation can be received by anyone who will accept it, and can also be forsaken are common to Arminianism. To say that these beliefs are common, is accurate, but does not imply that all Calvinists believe the same way.

Now suppose an individual who believes that man is incapable of choosing, or even accepting, God without God reaching down and changing his heart, is confronted by another person who believes that God offers salvation to all and it is up to each individual to accept or reject God’s gift. The latter may say, “What you believe is wrong. That is what Calvinism teaches, and Calvinism is false.” The first individual may protest, “I am not a Calvinist.” Or, he may say, “I describe myself as a Calvinist, but what you say Calvinism teaches is not what I believe.”

The second individual should not address whether Calvinism is true or false. He would do better to address whether the particular belief in question is true or false.

The same comparision can be displayed for the set of beliefs that are common to postmodernism. It may be true that postmodernism in general is inclined to question the validity of conclusions and assumptions that were previously widely accepted. It may be true that postmoderns are generally loathe to take a hard stance on many issues. However, start explaining to someone who is attracted to postmodernism that postmodernism is dangerous and rejects the truth, and they will quickly object that you don’t understand postmodernism. Therefore, it is better to reach acceptance on what they believe, then challenge whether that particular belief is true.

Calvinism

(Also see “Once Saved Always Saved”)

God’s sovereignty does not violate man’s free will. Please understand this…it is very important. God does not force anyone to love Him or choose Him. Please do not let this all-or-nothing thinking be a stumbling block to the biblical principle of man’s total depravity or God’s sovereignty.

I’ve heard lots of objections to God’s sovereignty, usually with the assumption that it overrides man’s ability to choose. I’ve also heard God’s sovereignty explained away such that it’s really man’s choice and God just knows what will happen so He plans accordingly. I don’t recall ever hearing a good explanation of what Romans 9, Matthew 20, and the numerous other passages dealing with God’s sovereignty are really saying if you reject the notion that the choice originates with God, independent of man.

Another thing I’d like to reiterate, as a few people have already mentioned, is that God is the standard of righteousness, justice, and love. God doesn’t just decide what Right is, and then abide with His “rules.” Whatever God does–that, by definition, is Right. If God declared that green was holy and pink was evil, it wouldn’t matter that I think it’s arbitrary and stupid. I would still be sinning if I decided to wear pink anyway. If God decided to eliminate a race of people, it wouldn’t matter if it seemed heartless to us. The fact that God did it, and that alone, makes it Right.

Now, that doesn’t mean that God is inconsistent and contradictory. He has revealed His character to us, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know from the Bible that He is loving; He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He is very patient, pursuing His beloved even after we reject Him time and time again. Our understanding of salvation needs to be consistent with this.

Our understanding of salvation also needs to be consistent with the biblical principles that have been presented, indicating that man is depraved and does not seek God on his own.

Originally posted 7/15/2005 on bibleforums.org

Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance of the Saints is very much dependant on God’s Unconditional Election and Irresistable Grace. With regards to Calvinism vs. Arminianism, I’m not very interested in proving which of the two opposing views are correct. I believe the Bible gives indications of both, and I am more interested in reconciling the seeming contradictory concepts than picking one versus the other.

However, here are some of the common verses that indicate a Perseverance of the Saints:

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"Once Saved Always Saved"

Eternal Security of the believer, or “once saved, always saved” (OSAS) is a hotly debated topic among some Christians. Is it possible to lose your salvation? One of the tenets of Calvinism is “Perseverance of the saints:” the belief that a true Christian will never completely turn their back on God. This goes hand-in-hand with the debate about predestination vs. free-will. If we chose God, it would make sense that we could change our minds. If God chose us, then He is not likely to let us go.

Originally posted 9/22/04 at bibleforums.org:

Q: Is it necessary to be “right” on the OSAS issue in order to be saved? In other words, can you truly be saved if your understanding of salvation is wrong?

This is not an attempt to determine which side is right, but to put the debate in perspective, and determine how significant of an issue it is.

A: I do not believe it’s necessary to fully understand how salvation works in order to be saved. If I’m drowning and someone offers to pull me out of the water, it’s not that important to me to understand how the rope is constructed and what kind of footing they have; I’m just going to grab onto the rope and let them pull me in. I think staunch OSAS believers and people who are strongly opposed to OSAS can both be saved.

I believe in OSAS. I believe the majority of Biblical evidence supports this doctrine. I think it’s worth exploring the issue because it reveals something about God’s character and how He operates. However, in some sense, I think the whole debate misses the point. The point is not WHEN you got saved, be it the first time you accepted Jesus as Savior or the most recent time you asked for forgiveness; the important thing is that you are following Jesus. Our goal shouldn’t be to cross the starting line; our goal is to cross the finish line, and that requires making steady progress towards the finish line by following Jesus. Some people can’t nail their salvation down to a specific point in time; it may have been a long process that got them started running the race. At some point in time, they “crossed the starting line” and God knows when that was, but it’s not really that important to us. The important thing to us is that we continue to run the race.

Originally posted 12/12/2004 on bibleforums.org:

I believe that once we respond to God’s call, our Good Shepherd keeps us in His flock. I see value in debating eternal security as a study of God’s character, but very little value in the debate over how it affects us. As far as we are concerned, the question of whether we were “really saved in the first place” or need to “get saved again” is not worth discussing. The only question that matters is “are you following Jesus?” If not, you need to start following Him. Whether you turn and walk His way for the 1st time or 50th time is insignificant.