And John Cassian said, “Amen.”

In a defense of the “Traditional Statement” on Southern Baptist soteriology, Paige Patterson recently said the following:

“We are obviously not semi-Pelagians. We do believe that the entire human race is badly affected by the fall of Adam. However, we don’t follow the Reformed view that man is so crippled by the fall that he has no choice.”

I take Dr. Patterson at his word that he does not want to associate himself with semi-Pelagianism.  I would assume that no one who has signed the recent statement would want to associate themselves with that view.  However, Patterson’s actual words in this quote, if they are meant to distance his view from semi-Pelagianism, do nothing of the sort.  John Cassian (a famous semi-Pelagian from the 4th-5th centuries) would agree wholeheartedly with what Patterson says here.

Semi-Pelagians do not deny that the human race has been badly affected by the fall of Adam.  They explicitly affirm it.  Pelagians are the ones who deny that Adam’s race has been infected with a sin nature, but not semi-Pelagians.  Furthermore, semi-Pelagians would agree wholeheartedly that the natural free will of man to choose the good, while it has been affected by the fall, has not been obliterated.

The real issue that Patterson and the other signers of the “Traditional Statement” need to address is this: Do sinners require internal divine grace that precedes the exercise of their will and thus enables them to respond positively to the gospel?  Or do they retain enough power of will to respond to the external call of the gospel without an internal grace that draws them?

It would seem that if they affirm the first question, they do in fact believe that man’s free will has been crippled by the fall until the grace of God awakens it.  They would be closer to Calvinists than they think.  (Arminianism, as far as its doctrine of man goes, is indeed very close to Calvinism).  On the other hand, if they affirm the second question, then they are semi-Pelagian, for that position is the hallmark of semi-Pelagian theology.

The “Traditional Statement” clearly needs some revision.  Any theological statement that requires its signers to make these kinds of denials (even though the statement itself contains ten such denials, yet never includes one denying semi-Pelagianism) is clearly not one that has promoted clarity, which is what theological statements are normally intended to do.


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