Are We Arminian , Pelagian, or Whatever?

Are We Arminian , Pelagian, or Whatever?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 12:45pm

HERE IS ANOTHER QUESTION: How does the Restoration Movement compare with Calvinism and Augustinianism? I am assuming that we are of an Arminian persuasion, but I would flatly deny the doctrine of total depravity and original sin, which many Arminians claim to believe. So, does that make me a Pelagian or semi-pelagian?


Not all Arminians affirm total depravity and original sin. Even those who say they do (mostly Wesleyan Arminians) have a device called “prevenient grace” that nullifies the total depravity for all people and enables all to respond to the gospel with free will. I define an Arminian as anyone who accepts (significant) free will, i.e., who believes that any sinner can respond positively to the gospel message (via faith & repentance) without the selective, irresistible gift of enabling grace posited by Calvinists as the answer to total depravity.

Pelagianism vs. semipelagianism need not be brought into the discussion. A Pelagian is someone who believes that there are NO spiritual effects coming upon the human race as the result of Adam’s sin, especially no eternal condemnation and no spiritual depravity of any sort. A semipelagian believes there is no eternal condemnation that comes upon the race through Adam, but everyone does receive from Adam a partially depraved nature. Either view qualifies as Arminian. Alexander Campbell was a semipelagian; see his book “The Christian System,” chapters 5-7. On the question of Adamic sin I take a view that I call “original grace,” which is the opposite of original sin. This view is explained in my “Faith Once for All” and in my commentary on Romans 5:12-19. As a result my view qualifies as Arminian.

I realize that many say that anyone who denies original sin and total depravity is not a true Arminian, and is indeed a Pelagian. Thus, because of the ambiguity of these terms, I find it to be clearer if I just say that I am a “non-Calvinist.” People read their own interpretations into “Arminian” and “Pelagian.” The key issue is significant free will. It does not matter what Arminius himself believed, or Pelagius, or John Wesley. Each has his own nuances. The only crucial thing for the difference between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (or “Arminians”) is whether a sinner, upon hearing the gospel, has the ability to respond to it without having to be irresistibly caused to do so.

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Are We Arminian , Pelagian, or Whatever? — 3 Comments

  1. I find this piece so enlightening. But I guess my knowledge about this topic is very limited to a novice degree. However, man’s free will, I believe is very crucial for salvation offered by God. The free will must be wholly surrendered to the will of God as a substance of faith.

  2. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: Perspectives: On Election | Mutual Edification

    • I appreciate this analysis. Yes, I absolutely deny any idea of “total inability” and thus the broader idea of “total depravity.” I believe the Wesleyan idea of “prevenient grace” has the right idea, but does not go far enough. Instead of the cross removing simply a part of the depravity derived from Adam’s sin, I believe Romans 5:12-19 teaches that it (the cross) removes ALL of that depravity for infants. I call this more complete view of the universal effect of the cross “original grace” (as the power that removes original sin). Children are born in the state of original grace, not the state of original sin. See my commentary on Romans for this explanation.

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