…those being Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Sublapsarian Calvinism, and Supralapsarian Calvinism.

The definitions are intended to simplify complex positions, and in some cases are perhaps pretty accurate, while in others…not so sure. I’ll give my reactions here, and Amy (the invite is for all — literally meaning all though I know all won’t respond…I’m just hoping Amy will 😉 — did you get my Calvinism/Arminianism joke?), I’m so curious to hear what you think! Especially since I’ve never quite gotten the supra/sub thing…why does Calvinism so prefer Latin terminology? These words are too difficult for me! 😉 Everything below should be understood to include the caveat “as best I understand,” to save me from writing it 10 times.

  1. Pelagianism looks pretty accurate to me (though I’m no expert). Pelagianism is generally held to be a heresy by all orthodox Christians, as far as I know…those who’ve heard of it anyway. 😉
  2. Semi-pelagianism — mostly accurate, though I don’t think the semi-Pelagian view is that man (or Matt) does any struggling, as this implies “work” — semi-pelagianism is generally understood to be within Christian orthodoxy, but a works-based salvation would negate that. The distinctive of semi-Pelagianism is that the corruption resulting from the fall does not prevent from being able to choose Christ. I read one article presenting a biblical defense of this position, and I have to say it was a fairly good argument (surprisingly so to me, actually, since this is not my view…ah, well, if we could not put up good biblically defensible views of these positions then this debate among believers would not have lasted all this time, would it?) Anyway, I feel pretty confidant that “God helps those who help themselves” is Pelagian, not semi-Pelagian. It is definitely a man-first, God-second saying. Or really, if we think about how we typically use this phrase, it is a man-only, God as passive witness saying. Yikes, that’s not even Christianity.
  3. Arminianism — Totally missing here is the Reformed (or Orthodox, or Classical, as you like) Arminian concept of prevenient grace. In other words, Matt was unconscious (too corrupted by the fall to seek God on his own), then George brings him back to consciousness — I don’t know how but then “George” is just a dude and not an omnipotent God (prevenient grace offered to all), and then we can continue with the second Arminian analogy. The only difference between #1 and #2 is Matt grabs hold of George while George pulls, or Matt just lets George pull. I’m not sure there’s a big difference, but I guess it depends out whether you mean Matt is straining his muscles in his “grabbing hold of”. No Reformed Arminian would say man strains his muscles in choosing Christ. I like Roger Olson’s analogy of endorsing a check — man doesn’t earn the money for the check, print the check, issue the check, deliver the check, or pay out the check, he merely endorses it. Thus the real, fundamental difference between Orthodox Calvinism (which also requires man’s responsibility to “endorse the check,” and this is not a “work” in either system — it is faith) and Orthodox Arminianism is whether God provides prevenient grace enabling all to choose Him or He has provided effectual grace to a limited number based not on man’s free will choice but on something known only to Him. This is in one sense a very tiny difference and in once sense an enormous difference. I am convinced that Un/Conditional Election is the only real (substantive) difference between the two systems, and that all other differences flow from that one. But back on topic, I think neither definition here is quite right, and I think the first one is actually close to semi-Pelagianism.
  4. Sub-lapsarianism — I don’t think this one is quite right either. The part that I think mischaracterizes Calvinism is the word “if” — “if Matt starts to resist.” My understanding of the Calvinist interpretation of T is that all men will resist if left to their fallen nature, so all men require “the morphine shot.” That is of course the Reformed Arminian position as well, the difference being, again, whether the morphine shot is (a) available to all and of such nature (I don’t say strength because it’s not an issue of the strength of God’s grace — all Orthodox Christians agree God is powerful enough to do anything He chooses to — it’s an issue of the nature or type of grace, cf. God’s “will” — He wills that all are saved but we know that not all are saved) that some will accept its effects, allowing themselves to be pulled out, while others will merely thrash about and resist their rescue OR (b) available unconditionally to a select number, in whom it is of such nature that all who receive it will come to the surface and be rescued, while those who do not receive it never regain consciousness in the first place.
  5. Supra-lapsarianism (you don’t know how hard it is for me to type these strange words!) — I think this one pretty accurately portrays a common Arminian *perception* of Calvinism, but I don’t think any Calvinist would accept it as accurate. It paints God as…well…Munchausen-by-proxy comes to mind, that psychiatric disorder whereby parents deliberately give their children illnesses so they can comfort and save them. There may be Calvinists out there who do view God this way, but I’m pretty sure they’re on some far-flung fringe (just like there are some “Arminians” out there who believe in open theism and so forth — I don’t claim them and I’m sure Orthodox Calvinists wouldn’t claim someone who held this view as presented here). Formal Calvinist theology is very “into” ordering things, and I think this is where the sub/supra thing comes in. Is it really that big of a difference from Sub? I must profess ignorance, though I’m sure this definition is biased in presentation, even if not entirely inaccurate. Can someone (read: Amy) clear it up? I haven’t heard you say much about the sub/supra thing but I’m sure you know more about it than I do. (Hah, but maybe we’ll have talked about it by phone by the time you see this!)

And, BTW, perhaps formal Arminian theology digs ordering things too, and I just haven’t come across it yet. When I start reading all these different ordering lists (I don’t mean sub/supra, but the long ones with 6 or 10 items) my head starts to spin. It reminds of what my former preacher once said about his millennial position — he was promillenial — for it, or pan-millennial — it’ll all pan out in the end. Lest you think this was too glib, he did have views on all this, he was making the point that this isn’t something to obsess over much less argue over — God will take care of it in whatever way He chooses. I kind of feel the same way about the ordering schemes I’ve seen — wow, I’m in Christ — how I got that way, how I stay that way and in what order it all happened…I’ll leave the specifics to God and marvel in his mercy and power. Besides, sometimes I really wonder about the point of what order something divine happens in when the Divine Being is outside of time (in my view — I did actually recently read an argument from an Orthodox Christian that God does not exist outside of time — I can’t agree but it was an interesting read).

My, my, my, there’s nothing like having a blog to be able to ramble to one’s heart’s content. 😉

And lookee! Smiley faces appeared!