07 November 2006

Arminianism: Semi-Pelagianism?

Calvinists in the Hands of an Angry Arminian: A Brief Response to Roger Olson
Part 3 of 3
by Gary L. W. Johnson
Pastor, The Church Of The Redeemer in Mesa, AZ

Part 1
Part 2

ne of the major charges that Calvinists down through the ages have made against Arminians is that they are in fact semi-Pelagians.

Olson labors mightily throughout this book to slay that beast. Time and time again he stops what he is doing and returns to stab it once more. Toward the end of the book, we can overhear our weary combatant say under his breath, "It is still alive! I've done everything I could to kill this thing and it is still alive!" (Some of you will recognize here my indebtedness to Warfield and his review of George Stevens', The Christian Doctrine of Salvation in vol. X of his works: Critical Reviews pp. 127-136.)

Olson complains,
Why do so many Calvinists insist on identifying Arminianism as Pelagian or semi-Pelagian? This puzzles Arminians because of the great lengths they have gone to distance their theology from those heresies. Perhaps critics believe that Arminianism leads to Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism as its good and necessary consequence. But if that is the case, it should be stated clearly. Fairness and honesty demand that critics of Arminianism at least admit that classical Arminians, including Arminius himself, do not teach what Pelagius taught or what the semi-Pelagians (e.g., John Cassian) taught. (81)
Olson has on more than one occasion in this book acknowledged that Erasmus held a similar theological outlook to that later espoused by Arminius (22), admitting that Arminians were "influenced by Catholic reformer Erasmus" (63), and specifically contrasting Erasmus with Luther over the issues surrounding their debate over free-will (94).

Luther considered Erasmus a semi-Pelagian. Here is the rub: no less a figure than Karl Barth draws the same firm conclusion:
There can be no doubt that the Remonstrants were, in fact, the last exponents of an understanding of the Reformation which Erasmus had once represented against Luther and later Castellio against Calvin; an understanding which can and should be interpreted in the light of the persistence of mediaeval semi-Pelagianism no less than in that of the Renaissance. And as the last exponents of that understanding, they were also the first exponents of a modern Christianity which is characterized by the very same ambiguity. (Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God 2 [T&T Clark: 1957], p.67).
Olson actually tries to link Barth with Arminianism (46), to which I think Barth would have responded as he did in his conflict with Emil Brunner with a very loud, "NEIN!" Whatever else one may think of him as the architect of Neo-orthodoxy, Barth has to be considered a theological giant; and as his Church Dogmatics demonstrate, he had a comprehensive grasp of the whole field of historical theology. (I should point out that my professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, S. Lewis Johnson, studied under Barth in Basel and even though he did not agree with Barth on a number of theological points, he held Barth in high esteem, saying that Barth's real genius was as a church historian.)

But we should not merely accept Barth's assessment. A close examination of Olson's own defense of Arminianism from the charge of sem-Pelagianism is needed.

Olson begins early in the book by listing all the areas in which classical Arminianism lines up with Protestant Orthodoxy, insisting most emphatically that when it comes to the doctrine of total depravity, Arminians stand shoulder to shoulder with the Calvinists (33). Indeed, as Olson documents, this is affirmed as such by all the leading classical Arminians that he cites. As a result of the Fall, all of humanity was plunged into sin and as a result 'are totally depraved.'

However, in Arminian theology this important doctrine gets eclipsed. How so? According to Olson a better way of saying this would be "were totally depraved," with the operative word being "were." Olson begins by first underscoring the importance of a distinctively Arminian understanding of prevenient grace. "The emphasis on the prevenience and preeminence of grace forms common ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. It is what makes Arminian synergism "evangelical" (36).

When Arminians like Olson speak of prevenient grace they are affirming "a universal healing of total depravity by the grace of God through the atoning work of Christ . . . it also mitigated the corruption of inherited depravity"(151). In other words, as Olson goes on to say, "People everywhere have some ability to hear and respond to the gospel freely" (154). In other words, total depravity is not a descriptive category that is true of anyone.

In fact, Olson candidly admits that as a result of prevenient grace "no person is left by God entirely in that state of nature without some measure of grace to rise above it if he or she cooperate with grace by not resisting it"(155). Here is where Calvinism stands in stark contrast with Arminianism. This is why Warfield declared that, "irresistible grace, or effectual calling is the hinge of the Calvinistic soteriology" (Works V: Calvin and Calvinism, 359). In the Arminian scheme, grace is resistible and the human will completely autonomous. Olson likes to speak of the freed will. By prevenient grace the will has been liberated from bondage so that it may freely chose to cooperate with God's grace (156).

This concept of prevenient grace enables the Arminian to affirm total depravity as a biblical truth while at the same time rendering it a useless category. Olson writes, "The person who receives the full intensity of prevenient grace (i.e., through the proclamation of the Word and the corresponding internal calling of God) is no longer dead in trespasses and sins. However, such a person is not yet fully regenerated. The bridge between partial regeneration by prevenient grace and full regeneration by the Holy Spirit is conversion, which includes repentance and faith"(36).

Note what Olson is saying here. What the Apostle Paul is affirming of people who had been dead in trespasses and sins but have been made alive with Christ, i.e. regeneration (Eph. 2: 1-8), Olson declares to be true of people who are in a partial or semi-regenerate state. According to Arminius this constitutes " an intermediate stage between being unregenerate and regenerate" (164). This is stunning. Do these people who are semi-regenerate lapse back into being dead in their trespasses and sins if they do not cooperate with prevenient grace, or do they remain in a state of partial regeneration all their lives as a result of prevenient grace? This is a can of worms.

But wait, says the Calvinist, are you saying that all that God's grace does is put us all in a position to allow the Holy Spirit to make us "more alive" and do His "complete" work of regeneration? If so, then the ultimate factor is my own "free-will"? Olson uses language that says, in effect, "That's right"

"Arminianism hold that salvation is all of grace-every movement of the soul toward God is initiated by divine grace-but Arminians recognize also that the cooperation of the human will is necessary because in the last stage the free agent decides whether the grace proffered is accepted or rejected"(36, my emphasis).

Olson's protestations notwithstanding (and methinks he doth protest too much, anyway), as the saying goes, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

Barth was right. This is semi-Pelagianism, and the inevitable result of all types of synergism.

Final thoughts. Contrary to what some may take away from my assessment of Olson's book, I consider it a valuable book in some regards and one that should be read. Olson has done a great service to Arminians everywhere by once again introducing them to some of the most significant Arminian theologians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. I have in my own library Miley, Pope, Wiley and Watson. (I remember with delight stumbling upon the two-volume leatherbound Theological Institutes of Richard Watson in a second-hand book store. I had been trying to secure Watson after reading the high opinion of him that Robert Lewis Dabney, the famed 19th century Calvinist, expressed in his Systematic Theology.)

I for one sincerely hope that today's Evangelical Arminians will take heed to these noble Arminian theologians, and not listen to the siren call of the Open theists who are resurrecting the same sort of rationalism evident in the latter Remonstrants, which ended up serving as a bridge to Socinianism. It is on this score that I found Olson most disappointing. As one who is familiar with the history of Arminianism, he ought to have recognized this.

Also, I whole-heartedly concur with Olson's excellent discussion in "Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible."

Olson is right. Calminianism is not possible.

Gary L. W. Johnson


FX Turk said...

The article was, of course, worth the wait, but the Jackalope at the end -- that's editorial cartooning at its finest. Worthy of Purgatorio.

Phil Johnson said...

Credit for the graphics(or "blame," dependng on your point of view) goes to Dan Phillips, who also did most of the formatting on this post.

Neil said...

Sounds like I have another book I need to read.

drew@jonah said...

Excellent read. This really did a good job of showing the issues as well as their key disagreements. So the general opinion would be that there is no such thing as "compatiblism?"

DJP said...

Thanks, Phil -- or not, depending on your point of view.


Jerry Wragg said...

Great work! Thank you...

Phil Johnson said...

Jonah: "So the general opinion would be that there is no such thing as 'compatiblism?'"

The point being made in the post is that you can't synthesize Calvinism and Arminianism into a third-option hybrid or find a middle way between the two, because ultimately Calvinism and Arminianism differ over a single question whose answer is necessarily either yes or no. There's no third option.

Compatibilism is the belief that free will (or a kind of "free will" in the sense of uncoerced choices) is perfectly compatible with determinism. You can be a Calvinist and a compatibilist. In fact, compatibilism itself 1) affirms determinism and 2) opposes the libertarian notion of free will many Arminians insist on. It's not a "middle way" between Calvinism and Arminianism. A true compatibilist would hold an essentially Calvinistic viewpoint on the question of predestination. Jonathan Edwards' view of the will is an example of compatibilism.

drew@jonah said...

Thanks Phil, just getting into the topic myself.

David A. Carlson said...

Phil, I am somewhat confused. I am not being a troll (this time)

You said

"The point being made in the post is that you can't synthesize Calvinism and Arminianism into a third-option hybrid or find a middle way between the two, because ultimately Calvinism and Arminianism differ over a single question whose answer is necessarily either yes or no. There's no third option."

Could you clearly state what is that single question?


Could you provide a link to something that summarizes J. Edwards postion?

It seems to me that you can acknowledge the mystery that God is both completly soverign and allows us free will - both postions exist in scripture

Somehow this works - God calls, we believe. How it works I leave to God.

Mark B. Hanson said...

Maybe we should characterize Olson's Arminian view as "Almost Total Depravity" (ATD - although this could be confused with "Attendant Theology Disorder"). My previous Wesleyan pastor would say that the unregenerate are totally depraved except for their will, which is free toward God.

But it is a useful insight that the average Arminian believes that all people everywhere are ready to accept the gospel - that every dead heart has already been made partially alive. I spent 25 years in an Arminian denomination without figuring that out - I thought that prevenient grace came to people at sometime in their lives, after which they were free to accept or reject.

Mark B. Hanson said...

By the way, Olson's view is significantly different from the "classical semi-Pelagian" view common in the Roman Catholic church, that postulates that the will is unfallen toward God, rather than totally depraved, then partially regenerated.

Different in content, that is, not results.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

The best introduction to Arminius I read in graduate school was:

Arminius; a study in the Dutch Reformation, Carl Bangs Carl Bangs. Nashville, Abingdon Press [1971]

Arminius was of course not an Arminian. I assume that Olson is both defining and defending a form of arminianism that is closer to Arminius than the real street level "evangelical" arminianism found in revivalism as M.Horton uses that term.

Years ago I lent out my copy of Carl Bangs to a "reformed baptist" preacher who was so enthralled with it that I let him keep it.

Defending "evangelical" arminianism by looking to Arminius is like beating up on Calvin for what Bezae taught.

Seth McBee said...

As far as Jonathan Edwards he has a great resource titled "Freedom of the Will" that clearly defines his thoughts on the issue. I don't know if you could get it on the web but you can at least order the book.

Just to clear up the matter, Edwards was a devout Calvinist and fought for Calvinism most of his life. Even going so far as to make sure that those opposing Calvinist doctrines couldn't become preachers in his surrounding areas. If you just want to read more on Edwards his autobiography called "a life" by George Marsden is amazing.

Phil Johnson said...

David: "Could you clearly state what is that single question?"

It could be framed many ways. Here's one: "Is my faith a gift of God's grace to me, rather than the cause of that grace?"

David: "Could you provide a link to something that summarizes J. Edwards postion?"

You'd benefit greatly if you read the whole work. It's not quick 'n' easy, but it is meticulous and clear. Here's a passable summary.

James Scott Bell said...

As an Arminian who loves reading TeamPyro, and usually can utter a hearty "Amen" to what is posted, I didn't come to this series with my usual anticipatory enthusiasm. It was fine, though, and a strong review of a theological tome is certainly acceptable. I plan to get the book and give it a read myself (though Picirilli's "Grace, Faith, Free Will" and Cottrell's "The Faith Once For All" may prove to be the more helpful).

This "in house" debate has been going on for centuries, and I hope that the spirit of Wesley and Whitfield will permeate such discussions. Not just here, but everywhere in the church. We have much larger issues to attend to, as recent events have shown.

After 20 years of studying this stuff, I realize there is no "knock out" blow for either side. So instead of wearing ourselves out with useless punches (like always trying to associate Arminians with Pelagianism) we can be a tag team against real heresies infecting the church, and both shout Sola Scriptura with equal fervor.

Oh yes, I will join you in beating the stuffings out of Open Theism anytime.

David A. Carlson said...

Thanks Phil

after reading the short synopsis, I am with J.Edwards ( I think)

yes2truth aka Charles Crosby said...

From Wikepedia on Arminianism and please correct me if they are wrong as I know nothing about 'isms' nor in reality do I want to know, but you might enjoy enlightening me as you are all so big on 'isms':

1) Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation Salvation is possible by grace alone.

Correct in part, salvation is only possible if The Father calls us to His Son first. John 6:44 "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day."

2) Works of human effort can not cause or contribute to salvation God's election is conditional on faith in Jesus.

Correct, but woolly, i.e. not our faith, only The Lord's faith saves us.

3) Jesus' atonement was potentially for all people God allows his grace to be resisted by those unwilling to believe.

Incorrect, Jesus' atonement is and will be for all mankind without any doubts. Furthermore, God doesn't 'allow' anything of the sort, man has no say in the matter. He blinded Adam & Eve to the Truth via The Devil and man is still blind and will remain blind until The Father removes the scales from his eyes. Everything and all things are for God's Glory and nothing else.

4) Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith.

Incorrect, salvation cannot be lost, for all men will come to a knowledge of the Truth and every knee will bend for Jesus Christ. What can be lost is a place in the first resurrection, a far, far superior resurrection to the second resurrection.


yes2truth aka Charles Crosby said...

Again from Wikipedia:

Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which, being created from God, was divine), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid.

I'm not even going to comment on this one, I'll let the Lord answer.

Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

Romans 8:7 "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."


donsands said...

"such a person is not yet fully regenerated"

Partially quickened?

So after one is partially made a live, he can ponder, and return to being dead, or go on to being fully quickened by God. Interesting.

And the determining cause of full regeneration is repentance and faith by the now half-alive sinner, where God waits for the decision, and of course He is hoping that He will be able to perform the full quickening.

I suppose it wouldn't be quite fair if the Lord did not do it this way. Just thinking out loud.

Thanks for the series. Good stuff to hear.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

"As far as Jonathan Edwards he has a great resource titled "Freedom of the Will" that clearly defines his thoughts on the issue."

Rather difficult reading however, not for people with a fifteen second attention span. The Yale Edition is much better than reading a cheap paper back. Get if from a library, it costs a small fortune.

If memory serves about the first quarter of the "essay" is spent defining terminology before launching into the argument. Once you are into the argument you need to keep reading and not put it down for long otherwise you will lose the thread and need to go back and start over again. The first time I read Freedom of the WIll it took me several days to get through it while attending classes and doing other school work.

It is well worth the effort but it isn't like reading J.I. Packer.

Josh said...

C. Stirling Bartholomew,

Why is the Yale edition of Freedom of the Will so much better? I know it is more accurate, but is it really that much better?

Pastor Rod said...


Based on your comment to David, I think you need to reread Olson's book. Arminians do not think that their faith is the cause of God's grace.



Phil Johnson said...

Pastor Rod: "Arminians do not think that their faith is the cause of God's grace."

Yeah, I take your point. A true Wesleyan would say that prevenient grace is necessary to make it possible for a fallen sinner to believe, and the sinner's choice to believe then unleashes saving grace in that individual's life. So perhaps a better and simpler way to frame it as a yes-or-no question would be this:

"Is faith an effect rather than a cause of God's saving work in the redeemed sinner's life?"

Mark said...

What I find interesting is that the non-Calvinists/Arminians kick and scream against irresistable grace while they have their own.

That is, prevenient grace is irresistable.

Just think about it...

Pastor Rod said...


How about this?

"Is salvation a gift that is forced on some and withheld from others, or is it a gift that is offered to all along with the divinely-provided option to accept it or reject it?"


wordsmith said...

Pastor Rod:

"Is salvation a gift that is forced on some and withheld from others, or is it a gift that is offered to all along with the divinely-provided option to accept it or reject it?"

Nice mischaracterization of irresistible grace there. I hope you didn't really mean to bear false witness.

FX Turk said...

Pastor Rod:

I'm going to see your bet, my friend. Salvation is a gift in exactly the same way a defribulator is a gift to a person with a heart attack. If you can characterize what happens to a person in pulminary arrest when the paddles are applied as "being forced back to life", then you win -- your argument is insurmountable.

But if, in fact, what is happening is that the ultimate act is one which the victim cannot do for himself and more to the point he can only receive it as an act of mercy, then the defrib is not an act of force or aggression. How much more, then, is the act of salvation from sin?

Phil Johnson said...

Rod: "How about this?"



Pastor Rod said...

Phil & Frank,

Of course, I would never expect either of you to agree to that characterization. But you both should have enough intellectual flexibity to see that this is exactly how an Arminian reads the same Scripture that blooms TULIPs for you.


C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Why the Yale editions of Edwards?

Well for some of us reading is an aesthetic experience. If I am going to take the time to read J.Edwards or Ezra Pound it seems worth while to find a copy with large clean type on good paper in a solid binding. Libraries are free where I live so there is no cost issue. This goes for Calvin as well. Assuming you want to read the institutes in english the Library of Christian Classics edition is very good. The cheap paper back editions are not what you want.

off topic post script

Driscoll fans you do not want to miss his latest sermon Where is Jesus today? .

I may comment about it on my blog if I get inspired. Not much of a blogger really.

Reg W Schofield said...

Great articles. Johnson was fair but showed what I think it a clear weakness in all arminianism , it is more man centered than God centered.Plus the gymnastics they have to do with many of the text of scripture is like watching an acrobat doing tricks he cannot do.Plus no matter how much Olson protest, the arminians I engage when pressed reveal their semi-pelagian roots.
I have found the doctrines of grace as so liberating and empowering for evangelism and consistent with scripture that I find I can get a bit annoyed with those who don't see it , but I'm getting better thanks to God's grace. Love this blog . Keep it up .RWS

Echindod said...

Pastor Rod,

With the great hermenutical theory you espouse in http://pastorrod.blogspot.com/2006/03/should-we-take-bible-literally.html, no wonder the bible doesn't bloom tulips for you.

Pastor Rod said...


Maybe you can loan me your secret decoder ring that always produces the infallible, perfect interpretation. Wait, you should give it to Dan first. He needs it for Leviticus 12:5.

I can't imagine why anyone would think that Calvinists are arrogant. Everyone knows that Arminians are stupid, don't know how to read their Bibles, and build their theology on human ideas instead of Scripture.

Oh, well.

Greg Welty said...

I have one small problem with this third portion of the review. Gary Johnson says that according to Olson, "*total depravity* is *not* a descriptive category that is true of anyone." If this were true, I think he'd have a great point. But he goes on to cite Olson thusly:

"The person who receives the full intensity of prevenient grace (i.e., through the proclamation of the Word and the corresponding internal calling of God) is no longer dead in trespasses and sins.

In other words, on the Arminian view prevenient grace goes forth "through the proclamation of the Word and the corresponding internal calling of God." Presumably, not everyone hears the proclamation of the Word. Ergo, total depravity would truly describe *them*, even if it wouldn't describe those who actually hear the gospel preached.

What am I missing here? Surely this *is* different from semi-Pelagianism, isn't it? The semi-Pelagians affirmed "that the unaided will performed the initial act of faith". No Arminian believes this, for the initial act of faith only occurs in the context of the aid which prevenient grace provides.

James Scott Bell said...

Thank you, Greg.

DJP said...

Gary doesn't have easy access to comments, but asked me to point this out:

Prior to Johnson's remarks about total depravity not being a descriptive category of anyone in this Arminian scheme, he quoted from Olson who said that as a result of prevenient grace there is "a universal healing" (note this) of total depravity as well the effects of hereditary corruption being "mitigated" (note this as well). The remark of Olson that he later quoted (and that Greg cites) does not off-set this. So how, in light of Olson's words, is Johnson's point not valid?

Unknown said...

One other nit I have with Johnson's last post is this: " In the Arminian scheme, grace is resistible and the human will completely autonomous."

If we are keen to allow our opponents (in this case, Arminians) to look over our shoulders at our critique and agree that our assessment is not a mischaracterization in any way, then we must be steadfast here: No classical Arminian would agree with the above quote.

First, it's not that saving grace is resistible, as if it's even being imposed from the outside; rather, it is "rejectable," because it is on offer, freely to all.

Secondly, in no way can the Arminian's conception of the will be categorized as "autonomous," for the simple fact that they belabor the point time and again that "salvation is all of grace" -- from prevenient grace (which we call "common," and which, we argue, does not effect the will in the manner Arminians argue) all the way through to persevering grace.

Incidentally, there is a third option, and Calvin was it (contra Muller and in line with Kendall).

DJP said...

Bill Clinton called tax hikes "contributions." Did that make them not tax hikes?

The Arminian construct of a defeatable God and autonomous man is its shattering point. You expect them to admit it, and still be Arminians?

How many Charismatics bluntly say, "Yep, I have a leaky Canon, and deny the sufficiency of Scripture"? How many Open Theists say, "I'm really threatened by the Godhood of God, and think I've found a way around it"? How many egalitarians say "People won't like me if I affirm what Scripture says about women, and I can't stand that"?

That a group won't "cop to" a fatal criticism or characterization does not invalidate the criticism.

Greg Welty said...

Hi djp,

Yes, I was aware of those passages when I wrote. However, at the time, the reference of "universal" in that particular Olsen snippet was unclear. Was it referring to all of humanity as individuals, or to all of an individual person? If the latter, then my point stands.

However, I've done some digging around in Olson's book, and it does indeed seem as if Olson endorses the universality of prevenient grace, where "universal" is speaking about all humans whatsoever, whether or not they have heard the gospel. So that clears up my initial question. I spoke too soon on that narrow point.

However, it definitely opens up a larger problem. Quite simply, I don't think Gary Johnson properly represents Olson's argument at this point. To be sure, Olson does endorse a doctrine of universal prevenient grace. Here's a quote from Olson that would make Johnson's point better than the quotes he actually gave in the review:

"This common (not universal) Arminian doctrine of universal prevenient grace means that because of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit no human being is actually in a state of absolute darkness and depravity. Because of original sin, helplessness to do good is the natural state of humanity, but because of the work of Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit universally no human being actually exists in that natural state" (154).

OK, then, that's pretty clear. But Olson has an answer to Johnson's point as to whether this amounts to a denial of total depravity. In all fairness, Johnson should have least acknowledged that Olson had at hand a reply such as the following:

"In their book Why I Am Not an Arminian Robert Peterson and Michael Williams go after this Arminian doctrine and treat it as tantamount to a denial of original sin and total depravity. They charge that in spite of apparent agreement between Arminianism and Calvinism on the subject of original sin, the difference is still vast and great. That is because, so they argue (basing much of their argument on the words of one contemporary Wesleyan scholar), in Arminian theology nobody is actually depraved! Depravity and bondage of the will is only hypothetical and not actual [This is, of course, Gary Johnson's charge as well. --GW] This seems a bit disingenuous, however, because they know very well that Arminians do affirm total depravity as the natural state of human beings. What would they think of a person who said of a man who is legally blind but with special glasses can see a little bit that he is only "hypothetically blind"? Or what would they think of a person who said of a woman who is deaf but with special hearing aids can hear a little that she is only "hypothetically deaf"? What would they think of a Roman Catholic who accused all Protestants of believing in a mere hypothetical unrighteousness of regenerate and justified believers because of the Reformation doctrine of imputed righteousness? The doctrine of simul justus et peccator lies at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. It says that Christians are always at best simultaneously sinners and righteous because their righteousness is Christ's imputed to their account. To Catholic eyes this appears a subterfuge, but to Protestant eyes it is the very heart of the gospel! Surely these two Reformed authors would reject any claim that they believe in a purely hypothetical unrighteousness of believers. In classical Protestant theology neither sinfulness nor righteousness is a fiction.

So it is for Arminians. The moral ability to respond to the gospel freely -- by the graciously freed will -- is a free gift of God through Christ to all people in some measure. It does not mean that anyone can now seek and find God using natural ability alone! It is a supernatural endowment that can be and usually is rejected or neglected." (154-155).

It seems to me that the above argument strikes at the heart of the main point of the third installment of the Johnson review of Olson. I'm not saying it's a knock-down argument. I'm saying that it's very plausible, and that a fair review would have at least acknowledged that it was there. How would you like it if someone reviewed a book you wrote, and somehow neglected to mention that contained in your book was a direct rebuttal to one of the main criticisms in the review?

In any event, the doctrine of universal prevenient grace certainly puts the Arminian in a different camp from the semi-Pelagian, who has no such doctrine, because he has no doctrine of total depravity to which the prevenient grace would be directed. Johnson claims that Olson has failed to defend Arminianism from the charge "that they are in fact semi-Pelagians." Well, maybe, but it would help if Olson's argument on this was engaged, not just hypothetically but actually ;-)

DJP said...

For my part, I'm glad Gary didn't waste the space. That doesn't advance the discussion at all, or change one thing. Still sorta-dead, sorta-not, with a lot of subject-changing. Reminds one of the Monty Python sketch: "I'm getting beter!" It is a fatal flaw.

Maybe it's worth pointing out yet again: the mere fact that someone talks again after he's been refuted, or denies that he's been refuted, doesn't mean he is "answering." He's just talking. If the refutation was fatal, it was fatal.

Greg Welty said...


So, on your understanding, Christian believers are "Still sorta-righteous, sorta-unrighteous, with a lot of subject-changing." The great Reformation doctrine of *simul justus et peccator* should be ridiculed as a claim that we're all zombies.

Just trying to get some clarity here ;-)

Perhaps now you'll actually address the point? Are you really comfortable with the line of reasoning you're endorsing?

Pastor Rod said...

Dan: The Arminian construct of a defeatable God and autonomous man is its shattering point. You expect them to admit it, and still be Arminians?

Put the sword down and get ahold of yourself.

You should be smart enough to know that Arminians do not believe in a "defeatable God" or in "autonomous man." Just because you think that is the logical conclusion of their their theology does not mean that it is what they believe.

Nor does this mean that it is the truth.


Yes, you can line up experts who take your view. But guess what? You can also line up godly people who do not take your view.

It is discourteous to keep insisting that other people don't believe what they say they believe.

It is also arrogant and not Christlike.

I think your theology has its own fatal flaws. But I don't keep calling you an idiot who doesn't know how to read the Bible or even understand what he thinks he believes.

There is a huge difference between the confidence that one's views are correct and the arrogance that one couldn't possibly be mistaken.

I'm sure you'll think of some snappy, insulting reply that will allow you to completely ignore the substance of my comment.

But who knows? God is sovereign. Maybe he will change your will and make you want "to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men."


DJP said...

Rod, as usual, once I ignore the harumphing, bristling, chest-beating and posturing, there's nothing left to respond to.

Greg, this may be a big deal to you, but I just don't see it. Find a post about justification and debate that, if you like. Meanwhile, the Scriptures depict man as dead in trespasses and sins, until and unless God makes him alive (Ephesians 2:1f.). He's not both/and; he's either or. You don't get to be a little dead, until you decide how dead or alive you want to be.

This isn't breaking news.

DJP said...

PS to Greg: that's all and only my response to what you and Gary have put in evidence. If Gary himself wants to respond to you further, I think that'd be great -- whether directly or otherwise.

Pastor Rod said...

Thought so.

James Scott Bell said...

Ack! I keep thinking about that song from Oklahoma, the one about how the Arminians and the Calvinists should be friends.

Because territory folks should stick together.

Greg Welty said...

Hi djp,

My point is fairly simple, really. You've endorsed a line of reasoning against the Arminian point of view which, if sound, would constitute a sound critique of Reformation doctrine. On your view, if the Arminian says that (a) all men are totally depraved by nature, but that (b) all men receive prevenient grace by the gracious gift of God through the cross, then the Arminian isn't "really" committed to (a). Their doctrine of total depravity is hypothetical, and doesn't "really" apply to anyone. As Johnson puts it, universal prevenient grace ensures that "total depravity is *not* a descriptive category that is true of anyone."

But this is just a bogus argument. The counterexamples from everyday life which Olson offers show that it's a bogus argument. And if that weren't enough, if the argument *were* sound, then it would prove too much. It would prove that if the Calvinist says that (a) all Christians are unrighteous because of their sins, but that (b) all Christians receive the imputed righteousness of Christ, then the Calvinist isn't "really" committed to (a). Their doctrine of our sins making us unrighteous is hypothetical, and doesn't "really" apply to any Christian in particular. In short, the line of reasoning you've endorsed would refute *simul justus et peccator*.

Surely this is a sign that something has gone wrong. And what's gone wrong, I submit, is that it's just a bad argument.

On the basis of this bad argument, Johnson concludes -- contra Olson -- that Arminianism just is semi-Pelagianism. They don't "really" have a doctrine of total depravity, in which the depravity is actual and not merely hypothetical.

Now, why is this all significant? Because, as a Calvinist, I'm sincerely interested in making the best possible case for Calvinism. And that case is significantly hindered if it proceeds according to obvious double standards. If the Arminian were to give a bogus argument to the effect that "Calvinism just is hyper-Calvinism. All you guys are the same. Just admit it. The fact that you don't agree here doesn't mean you haven't been refuted. You *say* you're different, but the 'differences' are hypothetical only. Here, let me give you an obviously bogus argument for this..." Calvinists would (rightly) howl in protest at this extraordinary sloppy treatment of theological terms, the reference of which is ascertained historically. It just isn't true that genuine Calvinism is hyper-Calvinism.

And yet, when the shoe is on the other foot, why is it that some Calvinists feel free to smash together distinct historical categories? "Arminians just are semi-Pelagians. Here, let me give you a bogus argument for this..."

That's why this matters. Arminians who actually know their doctrine will just shake their heads in dismay when we claim that they don't "really" believe in total depravity. They'll hardly have a reason to consider anything else we have to say, when we get it so wrong here. Just like it's hard for *us* to take anyone seriously when they equate genuine Calvinists with hyper-Calvinists.

Part of the issue here, in addition, is that I believe the *real* problem that faces the contemporary church isn't Arminianism but rank semi-Pelagianism. Most of the pulpits that are popularly called "Arminian" nowadays are actually much worse than this. They don't have a doctrine of total depravity or prevenient grace (much less converting grace) at all. It's just the naked will of man being confronted by the persuasive power of the preacher, and God is totally absent before and during conversion. That problem (pervasive in our day) gets obscured if we can't even talk about it accurately.

Ron Ballew said...

I am new to this site. Are calvinists always this obnoxious? Or just fundamentalists?

I have shown some of my friends this thread and they were amazed.(not in a positive way) djp, are you always such a loving jolly guy?

Ron Ballew said...


like your attitude.

donsands said...


"are calvinist always this obnoxious?"

No more than arminians are.

Paul E said...

Thank you for presenting argumentation for the historic and logical distinctions between Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. I appreciate your cool headedness and gracious demeanor.

James Scott Bell said...

"I have already most abundantly stated the great distance at which I stand from such a sentiment; in addition to which I now declare, that I account this sentiment of Pelagius to be heretical, and diametrically opposed to these words of Christ, "Without me ye can do nothing:" (John 15:5.) It is likewise very destructive, and inflicts a most grievous wound on the glory of Christ." -- James Arminius, Vol. 1: The Works of Reverend James Arminius

Greg Welty said...


Indeed, Arminius is clearer than even that. This is from Disputation 11 in volume 1, "On the Free Will of Man and Its Powers":

"In this state [i.e., "Under the Dominion of Sin"], the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, "Without me ye can do nothing." St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: "Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing." That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

The mind of man, in this state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God..."

It almost sounds like he's a theologian in the Reformed tradition. Which, of course, he was. Notice that the above is light years from what is being proclaimed in allegedly "Arminian" pulpits today.

Rhology said...

Ron B,

The TeamPyro guys are usually right-on-the-money. I too am disappointed w/ a few of the responses from DJP here.