A Baptist Blunder: ‘We’re Not Semi-Pelagian! But Man Can Choose God with a Little Help.’

John Calvin

John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The confusing conversation continues over the recent SBC statement positing a “traditional” view of salvation.  Just do a quick search on “SBC traditional statement” and you’ll see a lot of hubbub.  Even my blog was read a few times on the issue.

One of the big problems with the so-called “traditional” statement is that it occasionally steps over into Semi-Pelagianism.  Some Baptist leaders are notorious for avoiding labels (except “Baptist,” of course).  When a conversation comes up about predestination, some will claim Calvinism in the SBC, but the rest often say that they just believe the Bible (an ignorant and arrogant statement, by the way).  The truth is, a better label for many in the SBC is Arminian.  Now before you get offended, thinking that this is an insult to Baptists–trust me, it is a compliment.   You see, an Arminian understands that the human heart is very, very evil and incapable of embracing the Gospel without the Holy Spirit‘s direct influence upon the human heart.  The Arminian believes that God positively influences and enlightens the darkened human heart so that it can really see the Gospel for what it is.  God helps the heart so it can make a decision it was unable to make before.  Now that the heart is enlightened, it is able to accept the Gospel, but the human heart may still choose to deny it.  Thus, God enlightens the heart and human ‘freewill’ is intact.  If the Gospel is rejected, the unregenerate heart falls back into darkness and again is incapable of trusting the Gospel.

The Calvinist has a different take on this, but agrees that (1) man’s heart is desperately evil and incapable of embracing the Gospel; and (2) the Holy Spirit must engage/influence the human heart so that the man can accept the Gospel.

English: Jacobus Arminius

English: Jacobus Arminius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So when a Calvinist calls a Baptist an Arminian, he’s complimenting him, because the only other alternative is Semi-Pelagianism or worse, Pelagianism.  [Well, there’s Molinism too, but I consider that a variation of Arminianism]

The Semi-Pelagian believes that the heart is not incapable of embracing the Gospel, but it is very, very weak.  It needs divine encouragement.  So in this case, the Holy Spirit stands outside the door of the heart and knocks.  You’re eating your evening meal and are agitated, but you get up and answer the door anyway.  When you do, the Spirit introduces himself and gives you his best sales pitch to convince you to accept the free gift he offers.   That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  As the saying goes, “God is a gentleman, and will never make you do something against your will.”  And who would turn down a free gift, right?  Well, the big problem with that is mountain of scriptural evidence that man is hostile to God (Rom. 8.7; Col. 1.21), his black heart is overflowing with evil (Matt. 15.19; Mk. 7.21-23), he has abandoned God altogether (Rom. 3.9-19) and he is incapable of choosing the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2.1-3).  We will always reject God, unless God does some work within the heart.  God isn’t selling anything at the doorway of your soul, he invades the heart on a rescue mission.   The Calvinist and Arminian both agree on this–that our sinful hearts demand that God take such action.  But the Semi-Pelagian really doesn’t think that God has to be that forceful, or that our hearts are really that bad.  We’re just weak.  That’s all.

It’s that kind of language we find in the SBC statement on “Traditional” salvation, and that’s why many aren’t just disagreeing with it, they’re rebuking it.   Consider Article 2:

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.

There are a few things that bother folks about this statement.  One is the brazen denial that man’s free will  (that is, the will to accept the Gospel) is incapacitated.  Calvinists and Arminians believe the will is truly bound and incapable of responding to the Gospel.  God must directly engage the heart , making it able to respond.  Only then is there hope.

But that’s what the rest of the article says, right?  ‘A sinner cannot respond without God’s help!’  No, it does not say that. It actually says this: “…no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort…” Man can’t do it on his own, he’s too spiritually weak!  He needs the Holy Spirit to stand at the door to encourage and convince him of why he needs the Gospel.  The Spirit will “draw” one to himself through divine persuasion.   Further, “…we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.”

At the very least, Pelagian ideas are given a green light.  How much influence does the Spirit have on the person?  Is he just trying to sell the gospel to the human heart, or does he transform the human heart so that it can respond to the Gospel?  The Arminian and Calvinist both say that your own free will response to the gospel will always be a rejection unless God  resituates and repositions the heart, directly affecting it.  The Semi-Pelagian denys that this is the case.

So which does the SBC statement affirm?  To me and others, it tends to so zealously affirm freewill that it denies that scriptures which make the reality of a completely darkened human heart a non-sequitur.  It seems to say ‘The heart is not that evil and hostile to God!’  Both the Calvinist and Arminian find such an idea repulsive.

The rest of the statement seems squarely Arminian.  I suggest signers accept this compliment and honestly deal with the Semi-Pelagian language in the document.

Categories: Calvinism, SBC, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “A Baptist Blunder: ‘We’re Not Semi-Pelagian! But Man Can Choose God with a Little Help.’

  1. Jim Aldridge

    Excellent post! This is probably the best treatment I have read of the questionable wording of the “SBC Traditional View” statement so far. Unfortunately, I would argue that the average Baptist in the pew tends towards a semi-Pelagian view because the description of the Holy Spirit’s role in drawing the unbeliever is no more carefully stated from the pulpit than it was in this statement.

    • I think you’ve put your finger on something really important. The goal for many Sunday morning sermons in American Baptist churches is practical application. They try to keep things as easy as possible so that everyone can understand it. They don’t want to delve too deep. It’s not good for the numbers. Maybe that explains the sermonesque language in the statement.

  2. reyjacobs

    Its time for Prots to get over this slavery to the councils of pedophile Catholic priests. No council ever had any authority over the church universal except the Jerusalem Council because it had the APOSTLES THEMSELVES to preside over it. The councils of the pedophiles do not have that. Quit condemning things just because the Catholics did. Its stupid!

    • I’m not sure how that’s pertinent to this post, and I certainly don’t have the kind of disdain you have for the Roman Catholic Church, though I disagree with some of their conclusions. But thanks for the comment anyway!

      • reyjacobs

        I’m saying the only reason “semi-Pelagianism” is condemned is because Prots are still in slavery to the Catholic councils, i.e the council of AD 529 which condemned it.

      • No. Semi-Pelagianism was condemned because of its lack of scriptural support. Even the writers and signers of the SBC statement we’re discussing take the semi-Pelagianism accusation very seriously. And that has nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

  3. descriptivegrace

    Pelagius didn’t really teach that grace is not necessary. He taught that infants are not damned by original sin to the point of having to be baptized or going to hell when they die. In other words, he was a BAPTIST. He was strawmanned as being against grace, but that’s only because in the mind of the ROMAN CATHOLICS like Augustine “grace” meant “infant baptism!” Let’s not be stupid and believe the non-sense the Calvinists spout. Pelagius was condemned by Roman Catholics for being a Baptist and that’s all there is to it.

    • Pelagius was a catholic monk who spent a lot of time in Rome. He was not a baptist. Furthermore, the SBC faith and message statement is by no means Pelagian. Pelagius didn’t reject all grace, he rejected prevenient grace, Original Sin, and the necessity of the crucifixion to redeem everyone from sin. These are sort of a big deal to Christianity. I recommend you recheck your sources.

  4. descriptivegrace

    “(1) Pelagius was certainly no Baptist. He too affirmed infant baptism….”

    How do people get themselves this screwed up in the head? In which of Pelagius’ surviving writings does he affirm infant baptism? It is a claim by Augustine after Pelagius’ death, after Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by a council called together after his death, that Pelagius said infant baptism was all well and good just that it was for something other than remission of sins. But this is a lie. This is the standard Roman Catholic tactic used by a host of ‘fathers’ going back at least as far as Tertullian, if not further, where they claim their opponent who didn’t agree with them at all as a witness in favor of their view by lying and pretending he half-way believed it. Take a staunch opponent of infant baptism like Pelagius, say he believed infant baptism half-way, convince all the half-wits who don’t require actual evidence, and viola, infant baptism is saved!

    “(2) It is anachronistic to say that Augustine was a Roman Catholic. He was catholic in the broad sense” No. Romans Catholicism was established when one of the various catholic sects (catholic in the broad sense) merged with Rome, kissed Constantine’s ring, and used the secular sword to kill off the other catholic sects (catholic in the broad sense). The problem is you lack historical sense.

  5. Where are these quotes coming from? No one in this post or in these comments has said them! It’s as if you’re arguing against a ghost…or you’re making it up…or you’re having some kind of argument with yourself. Since you can not even get the quotes on this page right, it is not surprising that you’re getting the history wrong. So far, you have suggested that we are stupid, screwed up, and lack historical sense. What sweet things to say!
    I’m sure you only respond this way out of the purest Christian love.
    But I’m a little confused.
    -Your first comment mentions “ROMAN CATHOLICS like Augustine,” and then your second comment strongly denies that he is a Roman Catholic. Forget historical sense for a minute and try not to contradict yourself so blatantly in two posts.
    -You also say that Pelagius was a Baptist! There is no shred of evidence for that! He was a monk. One of those “baptist” monks? If he were Baptist, his excommunication from the catholic church (however you interpret it) would be completely meaningless.
    I’m afraid you are more concerned about constructing a conspiracy theory than uncovering history.
    But thanks for playing!

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