Charge: Arminianism is Pelagianism

Calvinist Complaint: Arminianism is Pelagianism

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Pelagius argued that man can become righteous without the assistance of divine grace.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.62, emphasis mine)

Knowing therefore that Arminianism instead insists upon the necessity of divine grace (i.e. Prevenient Grace), why do Calvinists so often confuse Pelagianism with Arminianism?

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Semi-Pelagianism salutes the necessity of grace, but under close scrutiny one wonders if the difference between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is a distinction without a difference.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187, emphasis mine)

The basis for this charge is because although God takes the initiative of seeking, convicting, knocking and opening hearts to receive Him, “this step is not decisive, and can be thwarted by the sinner. If the sinner refuses to cooperate with or assent to this proffered grace, then grace is to no avail.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187, emphasis mine)

“Not decisive” (i.e. without irresistible grace). So in other words, according to Calvinism, any theology whereby God sovereignly gives a person a genuine opportunity to respond to grace, is still Pelagian, by definition, as long as the offered grace does not conclusively determine action, but leaves the decision to the sinner to decide for himself:

Sproul continues: “The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? ... Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively?” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187, emphasis mine)

If not effectual, and if not accompanied by Irresistible Grace, then to R.C. Sproul, you cannot account for why a fallen person would ever choose Christ. (To the Calvinist, God is the decisive difference, regenerating the one but not the other. To the Arminian, God still is the decisive difference, insomuch that our reception of God’s grace is by non-resistance.)

Sproul writes:Does grace assist the sinner in cooperating with grace, or does the sinner cooperate by the power of the flesh alone? If the latter, it is unvarnished Pelagianism. If the former, it is still Pelagianism in that grace merely facilitates regeneration and salvation.” (What is Reformed Theology?, pp.187-188, emphasis mine)

“Still Pelagianism.” In other words, according to Sproul, any decision left to liberated sinner, via Prevenient Grace, whereby to accept or reject God's gift, is still nonetheless fundamentally Pelagian, whether grace facilitates the decision, or is absent altogether.

Sproul states:If God merely offers to change my heart, what will that accomplish for me as long as my heart remains opposed to him? If he offers me grace while I am a slave to sin and still in the flesh, what good is the offer? Saving grace does not merely offer regeneration, it regenerates. This is what makes grace so gracious: God unilaterally and monergistically does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.188, emphasis mine)

Irresistible Grace or bust. Why would Sproul think that Prevenient Grace is just an “offer” rather than some actual working at the heart level? Acts 16:14, concerning Lydia, states that God opened her heart to respond to the Gospel. Note that it does not say that her old stony heart was swapped out for a new heart of flesh. (Calvinists often read that into the passage.) Why shouldn’t we simply understand the passage to mean what it says, in that God enabled her to believe? Why shouldn’t we conclude the same thing about others who hear the Gospel, that is, that God gets down to the heart level, convicts them of their sin, and enables them to believe, though not being decisive, that is, determinant, but instead forces the person into a one-way-or-the-other choice? Is God sovereignly entitled to do so?

Sproul summarizes: “What the unregenerate person desperately needs in order to come to faith is regeneration.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.188, emphasis mine)

Saying that “man is so depraved that God must....” necessarily places a limitation on God. That is the illogical can’t, which is really not true inability, but rather a logic puzzle, such as whether God can make a square circle, or create a rock so big that even He cannot lift. There is also the type of God-can’t where God can’t sin, which is not true inability, in that God lacks capacity to sin, but instead is a God-can’t due to preference, in that God’s preference is not to sin, due to His nature. Finally, there is the God-can’t which is true inability, in that God simply lacks the power to do something, and this is precisely what Calvinists must allege, if it is maintained that God lacks the capacity to deliver a person the power of contrary choice. That’s why that I would rather that Calvinists insist that God uses Irresistible Grace (rather than Prevenient Grace), out of preference rather than a “lack of other options.”

Here is a link to a Blog discussion on this point.
I’ve been fighting this battle, to clear the good name of Arminian theology (by showing how it different from Semi-Pelagianism) for years now with very limited success. I find that most of the people doing the misrepresenting of Arminianism and aggressively asserting the sole theological correctness of Reformed theology (their version of it) have little or no interest in being educated about real Arminian theology. Their minds are already made up; don’t confuse them with the facts. Every year I have a group of Calvinist pastors from a local Reformed church come to my class and speak. One of them started out by saying Arminianism is just Pelagianism.” After several such unfortunate encounters I gave them copies of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities on the condition they read it. To the best of my knowledge they never have. (SEA)
The fundamental difference between Arminianism and Pelagianism (or semi-Pelagianism) is that the latter, Pelagianism, affirms a human initiative in salvation, whereas the former, Arminianism, insists upon a divine initiative in salvation, which initiative, liberates the sinner to freely accept or reject God’s mercy. Calvinists insist that this, nonetheless, amounts to a distinction without difference, since both are handicapped by human cooperation. In Sproul’s mind, God is unable to liberate a depraved person to the point where they can receive God’s hand of mercy, and that anything short of full regeneration, leaves all other camps in the same boat. That’s his logic. To him, it’s regeneration or bust, in which all talk about passive non-resistance makes no difference at all, since the depraved sinner cannot be liberated, even by almighty God Himself, unless such liberation includes full regeneration, in which God takes the decision out of man’s hands entirely, and places it in God’s hands alone. So basically, according to Sproul, it’s Monergism vs. everything else.
That’s where it was all headed (i.e. without regeneration, all the rest are the same).
Question:  How do you define what is, and is not, Semi-Pelagianism? Are you asserting, as with other Calvinists, such as R.C. Sproul, that anything shy of Irresistible Grace, Preemptive New Birth, Unilateral and Monergistic Regeneration, necessarily relegates one to the general mass of Pelagianism? Yes or No?