Friday, January 22, 2010

Arminianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Wes White, and the real Francis Turretin

Pastor Wes White has an interesting post entitled, "Calvinism and Arminianism: A Middle Way?" He points out that one supposed "middle way" between Calvinism and Arminianism is just a restatement of Arminianism (and he provides a quotation from the real Francis Turretin to make his point). Although (like Pastor White) I'm a fan of Turretin and although he's right in noting that the argument of the classical Arminians is what these supposed "middle way" folks are making, I want to take the opportunity to point out that it is even an older error than that. It is the error of the semi-Pelagian opponents of Augustinians such as Prosper of Aquitaine, as one can see from the passage below in which Prosper is writing to Augustine regarding his semi-Pelagian opponents and their arguments. Read carefully and see if you

Prosper of Aquitaine:
The opinion they hold is as follows: Every man has sinned in Adam, and no one is reborn and saved by his own works but by God's grace. Yet, all men without exception are offered the reconciliation which Christ merited by the mystery of his death, in such manner that whosoever wish to come to the faith and to receive baptism can be saved. God has foreknown before the creation of the world who they are who will accept the faith and with the help of further grace persevere in it. He has predestined for his kingdom those who, called without any merit of their own, He foreknew would be worthy of their election and depart from this life by a good death. Accordingly, every man is urged by the teachings of Holy Scripture to believe and to work, and no one should despair of attaining eternal life, the reward prepared for those who serve God freely. But as to the decree of God's special call by which He is said to have separated the elect and reprobate, either before the creation of the world or at the very creation of the human race, and according to His own good pleasure, so that some are born vessels of honor, others vessels of dishonor, this, they say, takes away from sinners an incentive for conversion and gives the pious occasion for lukewarmness. For both of them, exertion becomes superfluous if neither diligence can save a reprobate nor negligence ruin an elect. Whatever way they behave, nothing can happen to them except what God has decreed. With such doubtful prospects no man can follow a steady course of action, since all pains a man takes one way or another are of no avail if God's predestination has decreed otherwise. To teach that the decree of God anticipates the wills of men is to invite them to cast aside all diligence and give up the effort for virtue; it is, under cover of predestination, to set up a sort of fatal necessity, or to say that the Lord has made men of different natures, if it is true that no one can change his condition of elect or reprobate in which he was created. To put their opinions more briefly and fully: the very objections which in your book On Admonition and Grace you took from the idea of your opponents and proposed to yourself, and the objections of Julian also which in your books against him you relate in this matter and which you answered fully, exactly these our good Christians greet with loud approval. When we show them the writings of Your Holiness which abound in countless unanswerable proofs from Holy Scripture, when we ourselves try, after the pattern of your tracts, to construct some new argument to counter them, they take cover for their obstinacy by appealing to the ancient teaching. The text of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, which you quote to prove that divine grace precedes the merits of the elect, they say was never understood by any of the churchmen in the sense in which you take it now. And when we ask them to explain it themselves according to the meaning given by the authors they prefer, they answer that they have found there nothing which satisfies them, and they ask us not to speak about things whose depth no one is able to fathom. Finally, in their obstinacy they go to such length as to assert that what we teach as being of faith is harmful to the spiritual good of those who come to hear of it; and even if it were true, we should not come out with it, because it does harm to preach what will not be well received, and there is no harm in not speaking of what no one can understand.
- Prosper of Aquitaine, Letter to Augustine, Section 3, translation by P. De Letter, S.J., Ph.D., S.T.D. in "Prosper of Aquitaine: Defense of St. Augustine," pp. 39-41 (Newman Press, New York: 1963).

Notice, for instance, the allegations of universal prevenient grace, and the allegations that Augustinian theology will hurt evangelism. The answers from the real Turretin that Pastor White brings to bear are right on the money.

It's also interesting to note that Prosper is relying on the authority of Scripture over against semi-Pelagian attempts to say that Augustine's view was a theological novelty. We sometimes hear the same allegations about our views today - but ultimately we agree with Prosper that Scripture (not the forerunners of Augustine or even Augustine himself) is our rule of faith.

-TurretinFan

7 comments:

natamllc said...

Well, right out of the shoot, for me, I have a problem with this sentence:

"....Yet, all men without exception are offered the reconciliation which Christ merited by the mystery of his death, in such manner that whosoever wish to come to the faith and to receive baptism can be saved.".

Ok, back to reading.... .

natamllc said...

And:::>

"....He foreknew would be worthy of their election and depart from this life by a good death.".

Can't see anything in me worthy of anything other than temporal and eternal punishments.

I just don't see anything "good" about any kind of "death". God is Eternal.

natamllc said...

It seems to me this is a very nasty charge against both God and His Elect Called servants:::>

"....it is, under cover of predestination, to set up a sort of fatal necessity,....".

natamllc said...

Well, one more of the many more,

"....and they ask us not to speak about things whose depth no one is able to fathom.".

Well take out your scissors and cut out of the Holy Writ, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God".

The real problem with the evangelical side of the Gospel is we do not have more preachers and teachers preaching and teaching so that more of the Elect can hear, repent and be saved!

It is a waste of Christ's activities for one of God's Elect to die in their sins.

I do tremble just writing that!

Coram Deo said...

I've also had several conversations with Confessional Lutherans who seem to exhibit a semi-Pelagian perspective on the decrees of election and reprobation.

In fact I've been accused on more than one occasion of bringing "the whore" of human reason to bear upon the "secret things of God" because of my Calvinistic Reformation theology.

According to A.A. Hodge, while Luther himself was of the order of Augustine, and held beliefs quite agreeable to those later systemized by Calvin; after Luther's death Melancthon at the Leipsic Conference in 1548 explicitly declared his agreement with the synergists, who maintain that in the regenerating act the human will cooperates with divine grace.

What's your understanding of how Confessional Lutheranism compares with semi-Pelagianism, TF?

Have you written anything comparing and contrasting Reformed and Confessional Lutheran theologies?

In Christ,
CD

Turretinfan said...

"Have you written anything comparing and contrasting Reformed and Confessional Lutheran theologies?"

No. Perhaps I ought to do so. I think that there are probably, however, a number of people on the net who are much more familiar with confessional Lutheranism than I am.

Yes, I've heard the same that A.A. Hodge says -- I'm not sure to what extent it is accurate, though my impression from most folks is that it is quite accurate. Obviously some Lutherans today are quite far from Luther.

Coram Deo said...

Yes, I've heard the same that A.A. Hodge says -- I'm not sure to what extent it is accurate, though my impression from most folks is that it is quite accurate. Obviously some Lutherans today are quite far from Luther.

Obviously.

I honestly can't imagine what Luther would make of the ELCA, but I think it would be fair to assume that it wouldn't be very positive or affirming.

In Christ,
CD