The New Christians

The New Christians


Comment of the Weekend

posted by Tony Jones

stormtrooper #274.52 objects to Brian’s apologia for Pelagius:

wow. I can’t express how strongly I disagree with Brian’s support
for Pelagius’ teachings. I find such theology to be soul-crushing,
gospel-destroying, and faith-squelching. In my eyes, it truly amount to
no less than a “different Gospel” – just as Paul calls the legalistic
tendencies of the Galatians.

Here’s a punch list of disagreements:

  1. I find no biblical support for “prevenient grace” – does Pelagius make this point from the Bible or simply experience?
  2. The Bible presents our sin-problem as a nature problem, not just a habit problem. (Eph 2:3)
  3. It seems to create a doctrine of works – like American
    individual-self-improvement of the worst ilk. For those who do well at
    this project, it would seem to necessarily lead to pride; and for those
    who feel they continually fail, it would seem to lead to great despair.
  4. It diminishes the work and power of God, and particularly the efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross.
  5. Augustine never claimed to “relinquish human responsibility.” He saw
    his theology clearly as affirming the completeness of God’s grace for
    sinners while also affirming man’s responsibility. One famous phrase
    was “Give me what you command, and command what you will” indicating
    his perceived compatibility between these two ideas of God’s
    sovereignty and human responsibility.
  6. Augustine clearly confronted the institutionalization of the Church as well – he wrote the classic work, “The City of God.”
  7. Pelagius was denounced as a heretic by his contemporaries and every
    orthodox theologian since. Sure, some folks in history were rail-roaded
    unjustly by those in power, but others are dismissed for good reason.
  8. Augustine’s theology clearly “demanded change” in the believer – and
    his life surely showed this. Do any of the Reformation folks NOT speak
    about the necessity of obedience in a believer’s life???
  9. One may think that the freeness of God’s grace would produce
    licentiousness (which Paul clearly confronts as a possible objection in
    both Romans and Galatians) but this potential misapplication doesn’t
    invalidate the message. In fact, in my experience, being daily amazed
    by God’s free grace to such a sinner as I provides the strongest,
    purest love for God and love for others that I have ever experienced
    and ever seen displayed by others.

It’s for good reason that defending Pelagius would be “unthinkable”
to Tony. Humbly but truthfully I confess that Pelagius’ teaching makes
me sick. It seems to utterly erode the beauty, freedom and abounding
grace of the Gospel that excites my heart, builds up our church, and
gives me a great hope in God. It was this same understanding of the
Gospel that led Charles Wesley (an Arminian, but certainly no Pelagian)
to compose these beautiful lines from “And Can It Be”:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray–
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

This clearly affirms man’s bondage to original sin, the necessary
primacy of God’s grace, the resulting life-change and obedience of a
redeemed person, a righteousness found in Christ’s atonement and the
confidence secured in Christ’s sufficient work. One does NOT need to
resort to Pelagianism to affirm man’s responsibility, the necessity for
holiness, and the great value of human beings before God. All these
have been affirmed by Augustine and other orthodox theologians
throughout church history.



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Brian

posted March 2, 2009 at 1:15 pm


(1) “Prevenient grace” is a Wesleyan idea. I just used it to describe a part of Pelagius’ idea of “original grace.” As two Scriptural examples of prevenient grace Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” and 1 John 4:19 says, “We love him, because he first loved us.”
(2) Is sin a matter of nature, nurture, habit, or what? There seems to be much diversity.
(3) Pelagius presents us with a doctrine of grace that evokes a reaction of gratitude. Again, to quote I John 4:19, “We love him,because he first loved us.” Our hears are “strangely warmed” by God’s grace, to quote Wesley. God’s action prompts our reaction. Grace reminds us of our good nature and helps us to re-emerge as a sacred being made in God’s image. It leads to hope for me.
(4) Pelagius ephesizes the work and power of God. God didn’t make junk. God made a “very good” earth. God made sacred people made in the Divine image. God offers “original grace” to those people. God helps us turn from our habit of sin and return to our good nature that God created. Praise be to God!
(5) Augustine has a pessimistic, negative view of humanity and their agency. He has a low theological anthropology. That is very different than the high theological anthropology of the Social Gospel movement. And both of these extremes are different than Pelagius’ “middle-ground” theological anthropology. For Pelagius, God and humanity both have angency.
(6) Augustine’s treatise “The City of God” was written to suggest that even if the earthly rule of Rome went under, the heavenly city of God would continue triumphantly. In fact, this treatise is another example of Augustine relinquishing human responsibility. It’s about spirituality over politics. It’s about mystical over the ethical. It’s about “pie in the sky” in heaven over the “Kin-dom of God” on earth. It’s about Heaven over Earth.
(7) Jesus and Pelagius were both denounced as heretics by those in power. People in power don’t like new ideas. Let’s not forget that Jesus was killed by those in power (the Roman Empire). Therefore, Christians should be cautious about statement made by those in power. Those in power use their power to define the boundaries that keep them in power. The powerful get to name and claim the things they are considered knowledge, truth, and orthodoxy. Power is knowlege, knowledge is not power. Power is truth, truth is not power. Power is orthodoxy, orthodoxy is not power. So, perhaps for Christians, orthodoxy should be considered heresy.
(8) Augustine and Pelagius both talked about living moral lives, but they did it in different ways. Augustine encouraged humanity to feel guilty – especially for sexual desire. Pelagius encouraged humanity to feel empowered – especially for our sacred image. It’s much more complicated that this, of course, but this gets the conversation going.
(9) God’s grace is something we can all claim and celebrate – even Augustine and Pelagius!
It’s for good reason that defending Pelagius would be “unthinkable” to Tony. Humbly but truthfully I confess that Pelagius’ teachings help me appreciate the grace an power of God. It seems to highlight the beauty, freedom and abounding grace of the Gospel that excites my heart, builds up Christ’s church, and gives humanity a great hope in God. It was the prevenient grace in the Gospel that led Charles Wesley (an Arminian) to compose these beautiful lines from “And Can It Be”:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray–
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
This clearly affirms the reality of human sin, the necessary primacy of God’s grace, the resulting sanctification of a justified person, a righteousness found in Christ’s reconsiling work, and the confidence secured in Christ’s sufficient work. One does NOT need to resort to Augustinianism to affirm God’s grace, humanity’s responsibility, the necessity for holiness, and the great value of human beings before God. All these have been affirmed by Pelagius and other faithful theologians throughout church history.
Perhaps Pelagius and Augustine were not so different. Perhaps they were.



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Brian

posted March 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm


Wow. I can see that we disagree about Pelagius and Augustine. I can’t express how strongly I disagree with your disdain for Pelagius’ teachings. I find his theology to be soul-reviving, gospel-illuminating, and faith-empowering.
Here’s a punch list of disagreements:
(1) “Prevenient grace” is a Wesleyan idea. I just used it to help describe Pelagius’ idea of “original grace.” As two Scriptural examples of original/prevenient grace Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” and 1 John 4:19 says, “We love him, because he first loved us.”
(2) Is sin a matter of nature, nurture, habit, or what? There seems to be much diversity in Scriptures, theologians, and denominations. Both of our perspectives can be affirmed by citing various quotes. The diversity perspectives remains.
(3) Pelagius presents us with a doctrine of grace that evokes a reaction of gratitude. Grace and gratitude. Again, to quote I John 4:19, “We love him, because he first loved us.” Our hearts are “strangely warmed” (Wesley), which makes us change our lives. God’s action prompts our reaction. Grace reminds us of our good nature and helps us to re-emerge as a sacred being made in God’s image. It leads to the hope and holiness that God desires for me.
(4) Pelagius ephesizes the work and power of God. He suggests that God didn’t make junk. God is powerful enough to make good stuff. God made a “very good” earth. God also made sacred people made in the Divine image. God offers “original grace” to those people. God helps humanity turn from our habit of sin and return to our good nature that God created. Praise be to God!
(5) Augustine has a pessimistic view of humanity and their agency. He has a low theological anthropology. That is very different than the high theological anthropology of the Social Gospel movement. And both of these extremes are different than Pelagius’ “middle-ground” theological anthropology. For Pelagius, God and humanity both have angency. This is similar to Process Theology and Open Theism.
(6) Augustine’s treatise “The City of God” was written to suggest that even if the earthly rule of Rome went under, the heavenly city of God would continue triumphantly. In fact, this treatise is another example of Augustine relinquishing human responsibility. It’s about spirituality over politics. It’s about the mystical over the ethical. It’s about “pie in the sky” in heaven over the “Kin-dom of God” on earth. Ultimately, it’s about Heaven over Earth.
(7) Jesus and Pelagius were both denounced as heretics by those in power. People in power don’t like new ideas. Let’s not forget that Jesus was killed by those in power (the Roman Empire). Therefore, Christians should be cautious about statements made by those in power. Those in power use their power to define the boundaries that keep them in power. The powerful get to name and claim the things that are considered “knowledge,” “truth,” and “orthodoxy.” It’s power dynamics. Power is knowlege; knowledge is not power. Power is truth; truth is not power. Power is orthodoxy; orthodoxy is not power. So, perhaps for Christians, orthodoxy should be considered heresy.
(8) Augustine and Pelagius both talked about living moral lives, but they did it in different ways. Augustine encouraged humanity to feel guilty – especially for sexual desire. Pelagius encouraged humanity to feel empowered – especially for our sacred image. It’s much more complicated that this, of course, but this gets the conversation going.
(9) God’s grace is something we can all claim and celebrate – even Augustine and Pelagius!
It’s for good reason that Jesus doesn’t mention or support original sin. Humbly yet honestly I confess that Pelagius’ teachings help me appreciate the grace an power of God in my life. It seems to highlight the beauty, freedom, and abounding grace of the Gospel that excites my heart, builds up Christ’s church, and gives humanity a great hope in God. It was the prevenient grace in the Gospel that led Charles Wesley (an Arminian) to compose these beautiful lines from “And Can It Be”:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray–
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
This clearly affirms the reality of human sin, the necessary primacy of God’s grace, the resulting sanctification of a justified person, a righteousness found in Christ’s reconsiling work, and the confidence secured in Christ’s sufficient work. One does NOT need to resort to Augustinianism to affirm God’s grace, humanity’s responsibility, the necessity for holiness, and the great value of human beings before God. All these have been affirmed by Pelagius and other faithful theologians throughout church history.
Perhaps Pelagius and Augustine were not so different. Perhaps they were. By I think the time has come to re-examine the theology of Pelagius. Augustine has already had his time.



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PatrickO

posted March 2, 2009 at 3:56 pm


I don’t think that Pelagius was condemned by every orthodox Christian. Indeed, I might be wrong, but I don’t think he was considered a heretic by those we would now call big ‘O’ orthodox, those in the Christian East (who almost everyone ignores).
A lot of what Pelagius seems to have done was try to take the emphases developing in the Christian east and put them in the terminology of the Christian West, something that wasn’t entirely successful, and led to confusion.
Also, a lot of Pelagius comes from the denouncements by his enemies. Imagine if our present blog host or others were studied in future times and only those who loudly denounced them were studied as to what they thought. It’s not exactly a great way of deciding on someone.
Indeed, rather than being condemned at the root a lot of the starting places of Pelagius were significantly influential in his era. The desert father and early monastics echo a lot of this. John Cassian, now relatively unknown, was one of the most influential leaders of his era and beyond, penned what many scholars see as a direct refutation of Augustine’s views.
Unfortunately, the strands of Christian thought got narrowed as Augustine was picked up by Aquinas and Calvin (and other reformers) adopted the standard theological influences of the Catholic church.
Wesley, however, seems to have been greatly influenced by Eastern fathers, especially Makarios.
All this to say, the topic as a whole is not as cut and dry as some might like it to be, with one clear heresy refuted by an unopposed hero of the faith. Pelagius was used, as many of the early writers were, as the representative of an extreme, and out of bounds, form of
thinking that indeed did have quite orthodox expressions.



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