Most American Christians are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian (not Calvinist or Arminian)



Roger Olson wrote that most American Christians are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian (not Calvinist or Arminian).

Arminianism questions Calvinism (it's not it's opposite), but most of us are Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian.

Roger Olson:
In my opinion the VAST majority of American evangelical Christians are neither Arminian nor Calvinist; they are either Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. How do you like that answer? It's one thing Calvinists and I agree about!
Arminianism is not Pelagianism, not man-centered.  If you are a hard-core Calvinist, you might be tempted to misrepresent Arminian theology, that way.  But the truth is that it is only a, "wait a minute!", correction of Calvinism.

Here is the common misrepresentation, given in an example, by Roger:

...I’ve explained here many, many times before what launched me on this crusade to rescue and reclaim true, historical, classical Arminianism from the frequent misrepresentations of it by people who have every reason to know better (because they are theologically educated). I have told numerous stories of misrepresentations made in my presence (e.g., “Arminianism is just Pelagianism!”) and in writing (e.g., “Arminianism is man-centered theology”). I don’t need to go over these now. I’ll just offer one more example my eyes just now fell on.
I’ve been reading a relatively old book about the history of Christian ethics—a project I am working on for myself. In the chapter on John Wesley (Chapter 12) Waldo Beach and/or H. Richard Niebuhr (both editors of the book entitled Christian Ethics: Sources of the Living Tradition) says/say “There is much of the Puritan in Wesley: He said of himself he was ‘within a hair’s breadth of Calvinism.’ But his stress on human free will, over against the Calvinistic theory of divine decree, and on the possibility of perfection in this life, puts him at considerable remove from the Puritanism of his day and in a somewhat median position between Calvinism and Arminianism, the view which, shortly speaking, lays responsibility for human salvation as much upon man as upon God.” (italics added for emphasis)
Now, if this were just a one-time or even rare misrepresentation of Arminianism, it would be different. Instead, it speaks very concisely the main misrepresentation of Arminianism that became and still is dominant among Protestant Christians—especially (but not solely) outside the Wesleyan and a few other traditions. In other words, Lutherans and Reformed Protestants very frequently utter (or print) this misrepresentation in these or other words....
... True, historical, classical, evangelical Arminianism does not lay responsibility for human salvation as much upon man as upon God. And anyone who does that cannot claim to be truly Arminian. I have proven this much in Arminian Theology and still call on Calvinist teachers to at least read it and consider the proof I give there with numerous quotations from Arminius himself and from faithful Arminian theologians since him.

I looked it up.  My rough notes:
  • Pelagianism, the first and most radical of these synergistic theologies, was expounded by a fourth-century British monk named Pelagius.
  • Pelagius taught that:
  1. Man's nature was not affected by Adam's fall, 
  2. But that all men are still free to choose good or evil, to obey God or disobey him. 
  3. Men are not guilty by nature, but only become guilty when they choose to do that which is evil; 
  4. And Adam's failure did not corrupt his offspring, it just gave them a bad example, which they could choose to follow or not to follow. 
  • Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, was Pelagius' great adversary, and he taught that man is bound in sin according to the scriptures, and that God's commands do not imply man's moral ability to obey them. Pelagianism was officially condemned by the Church in AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus.  
This is wrong:
  1. We are affected by Adam's fall.
  2. True, but we are hopeless to redeem ourselves fully.
  3. See #1
  4. See #1


  • “Semi-Pelagianism” is a Reformation-era term that came to designate a softer sort of Pelagianism that arose after the Council of Ephesus, in the sixth century.
  • According to Semi-Pelagianism, 
  1. Man is not free to choose good or evil, 
  2. But he is at least free to make the first move to God, to turn to him in faith, 
  3. And so be given the power to choose good by God's grace. 
  4. Man is not free to do good in his fallen nature, but he is at least able to believe and come to God in his own native strength. 
  • This softer variety of Pelagianism was officially condemned by the Church in 529, at the Council of Orange; however, the Reformers rightly recognized that the Roman church of the sixteenth century had become thoroughly Semi-Pelagian again.
Wrong again:
  1. We are free, but corrupted.
  2. God's grace opens the door to turning to God for everyone.
  3. We can only do true authentic good, by God's grace.
  4. God gives grace to the one who humbles themselves. Grace empowers.

  • “Arminianism” refers to the teachings of Jacobus Arminius, and the five points of the Remonstrance which he headed.
  • According to Arminius, 
  1. Man is not so depraved that he cannot naturally seek God;
  2. God's election of men is based on his foreseeing the faith they would come to in time;
  3. The atonement of Christ was intended for every person on earth, but whether it will actually be applied to anyone in particular rests upon his free decision to believe or not to believe; 
  4. God's grace is sufficient to enable men to believe if they so choose, but does not necessitate faith; 
  5. And after a person has come to a genuine saving faith in Christ, he is still free to turn aside and fall away from grace, and so be eternally lost.
  • The Synod of Dort, in 1618-1619, officially condemned Arminianism, and upheld the so-called five points of Calvinism; however, there are many Protestant churches and denominations today that hold to an Arminian theology. 
  • Arminianism differs from Semi-Pelagianism in the former's teaching on prevenient grace: 
  1. Against Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism usually teaches that man does not have the natural ability to believe; however, God extends his prevenient grace to all men without exception, giving them all the moral ability to choose to believe or not to believe. 
  2. Whether or not any person is actually saved depends entirely on whether a person chooses to improve upon this prevenient grace, and believe in God.
-Prevenient grace refers to the grace of God in a person's life that precedes conversion (or salvation).The word "prevenient," considered an archaic term today, was common in the King James english and simply means to "go before" or "precede." (Theopedia)


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