Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Practical Pelagianism: Peeling The Evangelicalism Mindset

As I said in my previous post, truth matters and ideas have consequences. Many, if not most evangelicals today would outright deny any hint of Pelagian theology. But that denial is far too often contradicted by their behavior to be taken seriously. And behavior is the true measure of one's doctrine, one's convictions, one's deeply held beliefs. I once debated a pentecostal pastor on the claim that miracles occur today in the same way they did in New Testament times. In that debate, I focused, not on exegesis, but on what the pastor actually did. I refused to discuss Scripture with the man. Rather, I insisted that we drive down to the local hospital and that he prove to me that miracles are being worked by God in the very same fashion they were by the apostles. I challenged the pastor to raise one person from the dead or genuinely heal one person in the hospital and I would fall to my knees, repent, and beg his forgiveness. The pastor was about as angry as a wet cat. You see, he didn't even believe what he was saying. He knew no such miracle would happen in reality. He preferred to keep the debate theoretical. But in a debate like that one, the best approach is very practical. So it is with the issue of Pelagian theology. You see, I think that most professing evangelicals today do not truly know and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think their beliefs about Christ's work are far more likely to fall soundly into Pelagianism than it is to even classify as classic Arminianism.

One indication that evangelicals are Pelagian in their doctrine is their pertinacious defense of free will. For Pelagius, nothing was more important than human freedom. Without it, the essence of what it meant to be human was lost. According to Pelagius, man was created in the image of God and he was good, he was free, and he was fully capable of willing the good. Adam's sin had no effect on man's will or on his nature. It merely sat a very bad example for how we should live. Modern evangelicals may say they accept the idea that Adam's sin makes us all sinners, but in reality, they deny this truth. Perhaps this is due to the fact that most evangelicals have lost sight of what it actually means to be a sinner. We see this most clearly in how modern evangelicals understand salvation. Many evangelicals think man possesses the innate capability to "make a decision" to follow Christ. If we talk to someone about Christ, we consider that person to be fully capable of deciding if Christianity makes sense or if it doesn't. This is why so many evangelicals think it is unfair for God to judge people who have never heard the gospel. It can only be unfair if the final say in who is saved resides in the individual. They argue that these people never even had a chance. It is as if they might have willed to follow Christ if only someone had introduced them to Him. This is more proof that evangelicals do not understand what it means to be an unregenerate sinner. The only way the seeker sensitive brand makes sense is if pelagianism is true. If it is true that salvation belongs to the LORD and that God regenerates the heart through simple gospel preaching, then all the programs and shows and strategies come crashing to the ground.

The seeker-sensitive movement is certainly a clear indication that Pelagianism reigns supreme in evangelicalism. If it is true that sin holds the mind blind and captive and that salvation is entirely the work of God on the heart, then strategy matters not at all. This was Paul's point in 1 Cor. 1. He tells us this again in Romans 1, 3, 8, and 2 Cor. 4:4. Jesus tell us this in John 6 and 10. If we do not accept the Pelagian idea that all men are fully capable of willing the good, then strategy and presentation become irrelevant. It is precisely because we do accept this strategy that programs, music, presentation, and strategy all matter. If you want to make most evangelicals angry, tell them they had nothing to do with their own salvation and see what kind of response you get. Most evangelicals think they had a LOT to do with their salvation. In fact, while they won't admit it, their views logically mean that they are the final cause of their own salvation. This is true even for those who talk about the allusive concept of prevenient grace. This concept is nothing more than a prop for those who want to hold to Pelagian doctrine without doing so too openly.

Paul says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) In what sense does death serve as a good analogy for the sinful condition in modern evangelicalism? Every time this verse is quoted, it is quickly followed by a qualifier. The Pelagian will answer that this just means separation from God, nothing more. But that response fails to capture the true sense of the analogy of death. When we died spiritually, that actually means something very specific. It is not a vague statement about the generic condition of mankind. The reason Scripture uses the word death to describe what happens is because it is the closest thing we can relate to as living beings. We understand what death is. We know what happens to someone when they die. We know what a dead corpse can and cannot do. It cannot do anything as it relates to this life. Nor can an unregenerate sinner do anything viable as it relates to relationship with God. In Pelagian theology, spiritual death is just following a bad example. It is within your own power to trade Adam for Christ and live spiritually. In other words, you can raise yourself from the dead.

Modern evangelicals believe that God reasons with individuals in their minds, that people can actually get it, understand it, and in the end, make up their own minds about Christianity. This is not the biblical description of the sinner or salvation. This is not regeneration. Failure to understand what it means to be a sinner also leads to a very poor understanding of regeneration. These theological misunderstandings produce the inevitable fruit of a false or sorely skewed understanding of the gospel. It is why Christianity has become more akin to moralistic deism than anything else. When you add to this understanding the psycho-babble non-sense in modern American culture, you end up with a therapeutic moralistic deism. I decide to follow Jesus because He is the best example. And if I follow Jesus and His example, He will help me fix all my problems in this life from relationships, to my career to my kids. Christianity becomes a conscience easing exercise with Jesus as my life-coach. We see this behavior in everything from the alter call to the Sunday school to church programs to the academy all the way to the discipline of apologetics.

In Romans 1 Paul tells us that all men know that God exists. He adds to this truth that all these unregenerate men who know that God exists uniformly and universally suppress that knowledge of God. They push it down, corrupt it, pervert it. There is no such thing as a pre-regenerate person "not" perverting the image and knowledge of God that is within and without. If that person exists, then the Bible is false. If Scripture is true, and it indeed is absolutely true, then all men pervert the image of God to one degree or another. To them, God is my daddy who loves and spoils me. Or, He is my life coach. Or He is my best friend who understands my sin and gives me a break when I "make a mistake." Or, He is the God to whom all religious paths leads. Better yet, He is the God who would never sentence anyone to eternal damnation. I could go on and on about the different ways unregenerate men corrupt the image of God. Make no mistake about it; much of this perversion takes place in the seminary and the pulpit. This is due to unregenerate men the academy and the church.

In Romans 3:10-18 Paul goes to great lengths to describe the state of the unregenerate sinner. There is none good he says. This flies in the face of modern thinking. It gets worse for the evangelical who thinks unregenerate sinners can understand and repent of their own will. Paul says there is none who understands. John recorded that Jesus Himself said that everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. In other words, unregenerate sinners do not hear, understand, and continue in their sinful state as is so often taught.

In Romans 8:6-9, Paul unequivocally teaches us that unregenerate men are unable and unwilling to please God. But it gets worse. Not only does Paul say that men in a unregenerate state are unable to please God and unwilling to please God, he says they are actually hostile to God. In other words, every individual who is currently unregenerate is in a state that causes them to be unable to please God, unwilling to please God, and in a state of hostile war against God. There is no state that exists between being regenerate and unregenerate. There is no middle ground. Either you are God's friend, at peace with Him, able to please Him, and willing to do so or you are His enemy, at war with Him, unable to please Him and unwilling to do so. The idea that unregenerate men can understand God, and can please Him if they just will to do so is foreign to Scripture. This is a compromising position created with intention of preserving the radical free will of the creature view.

If this wasn't enough, the situation is even worse for the Pelagianist. In 1 Cor. 1, Paul says that strategies and clever speeches in preaching Christ actually results in voiding the cross of Christ. He specifically says that He does not use sophistry or clever rhetoric to deliver the gospel. He was not concerned about polished presentations of effective delivery of the gospel by the standards of Greek rhetoric. I so wish this were true of our pastors and preacher today. What is interesting is that Paul sees such practices as voiding the cross of Christ. The difference is between joining the Christian community because of a skilled or talented, charismatically gifted man or being born into it by the power of the gospel of Christ. The former voids the cross of Christ while the latter is the power of God to salvation to those who are being saved. So much for those who claim that God uses all sorts of different strategies to bring men to Himself. Perhaps at first glance it may appear so. But Scripture condemns the use of strategies to that end. The truth is that you have no idea when or where someone may have heard the gospel. Just because someone shows outward response at a point in time does not mean that the circumstances surrounding that event are endorsed by heaven. I am sure men have been regenerated in all kinds of outward circumstances that had nothing to do with godliness. For instance, men have been converted at rock concerts because God brought them to that place of brokenness right there and worked His work in their heart. Paul goes on to say that the gospel is foolishness to the unregenerate man. He does not say that it makes sense and men repent. All unregenerate men find the gospel message to be offensive and foolish. God chose to bring a foolish message through a foolish method delivered by foolish men by the world's standards. Why did He do this? He did it so that no one would be able to boast before Him. One pastor, a pelagian chap we shall call him bragged about how his church baptized over 2600 people while making fun of a reformed church that had baptized a mere 26. Such speech is ungodly at its foundation and serves to demonstrate that the fear of God is all but absent even in some men who stand in the pulpit. This is the inevitable fruit of the pelagian gospel which seeks to elevate man, his will, nature, and his capabilities.

Gal. 3:22 says that Scripture has imprisoned and confined all men under sin. Pelagian theology, and modern evangelical theology for that matter fail to understand that the sinful state is not an option. To be imprisoned to sin is not a choice. Adam's choice imprisoned not only him, but his entire progeny afterwards. We are born imprisoned to sin. We cannot walk out of the prison and back into the prison as an act of our will. The curse of God upon the human race has its root in the holiness of God. Man is imprisoned to sin, blinded by sin, held captive by sin, a slave to sin, dead in sin, without understanding because of sin, and unable to please God, unwilling to please God, and a sworn enemy at war with God. As a result he considers the gospel to be a foolish and offensive message while he is busy perverting and corrupting the image of God imprinted on his conscience and the creation that surrounds him. Yet God, in His mercy surrounds man with grace and He endures with great patience these vessels of wrath all for the purpose of showing Himself to be infinitely kind and merciful to those whose eyes He was opened. All praise and honor and glory be to His name now and forevermore. Amen.

7 comments:

  1. you are invited to follow my blog

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    1. Your blog is wrought with an assortment of egregious errors from works-based salvation to self-dependent security. I shall pass.

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  2. Pelagius was defending Christian theology as it always was. Augustine was innovating, mixing Gnosticism with Christianity. The original sin narrative doesn't fit with the story of Adam and Eve as actually found in Genesis 3. We don't find anything there saying they either lost freewill or lost moral capacity. Quite the opposite, "Behold the man has become as one of Us, knowing good and evil..." The story doesn't even say (as Athanasian theology does) that man's likeness to the image of God was marred. Rather, man became more like God according to the confession of God Himself in the story. Pelagianism, then, is clearly correct, and the Islam-like throwbacks still teaching 'original sin' are going to eventually be pushed back into their caves like the neanderthals that they are. Amen.

    --rj

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    1. Sniff, sniff....smells like Rome to me.

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    2. Pelagius has been condemned by many councils throughout church history including the following:

      •Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418)
      •Council of Ephesus (431)
      •The Council of Orange (529)
      •Council of Trent (1546) Roman Catholic
      •2nd Helvetic (1561/66) 8-9. (Swiss-German Reformed)
      •Augsburg Confession (1530) Art. 9, 18 (Lutheran)
      •Gallican Confession (1559) Art. 10 (French Reformed)
      •Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 15 (Lowlands, French/Dutch/German Reformed)
      •The Anglican Articles (1571), 9. (English)
      •Canons of Dort (1618-9), 3/4.2 (Dutch/German/French Reformed).1

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  3. "Paul says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1)" -- dead man walking on the green mile. Its not a statement of something literally true in the now, but of something impending. Calvinists are just illiterate apparently.

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    1. As I said in my blog, death fails as an analogy in the view you defend. Paul should have chosen a different picture other than death to describe the plight of the sinful condition. The essence of your rebuttal is to say that Calvinists are illiterate...nice job.

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