Is the Covenant of Works Pelagian?

That’s what some critics say but Nathaniel says they don’t understand either Pelagius or the covenant of works.

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  1. Yes, but this Perry Robinson fellow (me) isn’t FV or Reformed, so tarring me with it is irrelevant. To my recolleciton, there have been Reformed theologians in the past who rejected it on pretty much the same grounds, lng before the FV stuff existed.

  2. Perry,

    Can you point us to Reformed theologians who have rejected the covenant of works as Pelagian?

    Have you read Pelagius?

    Do you think that the fellows who formulated the covenant of works were ignorant of Pelagius?

  3. Perry,

    What is “Pelagian” about the Heidelberg Catechism? It teaches that Adam was created in righteousness and true holiness that he might rightly know his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness. The Belgic Confession teaches that Adam was to keep a commandment of life.

    Why is this Pelagian?

  4. Dr. Clark,

    What is wrong with Pelagius saying that Adam is intrinsically righteous at creation or that his nature is grace?

    Why is that wrong? And how does it differ from what you wrote above?

  5. Perry,

    I took it that by calling the foedus operum “Pelagian” you were trying to discredit it. It’s true that there are ways in which some Reformed theologians has formally agreed with Pelagius, e.g. on the creation of the soul vs traducianism, but that doesn’t make them “Pelagians.”

    Typically to call a Western theological view “Pelagian” is to call it “heretical,” “condemned” or at least “widely rejected.” Pelagius and his views were rejected at Orange II and a number of late Patristic councils and by all the magisterial Protestants.

    Is that your intent or are you simply noting a formal identity?

    Obviously the Reformed were not Pelagian in the usual sense of the term. They rejected his view of human nature post lapsum. They rejected his view of grace post lapsum.

    Thus it it equivocating to use the adjective “Pelagian” in two senses at the same time.

    What’s the point of calling the covenant of works “Pelagian”?

  6. Dr. Clark,

    I didn’t cite any of those other ways. And those issues are motivated by matters independent of Pelagius core views. Without the notion of “natural grace” the rest of Pelagianism falls like a house of cards.

    I am well aware of the history of the Pelagian controversy and how, when an why it was condemned.

    If I were noting formal identity, wouldn’t the ascription of heterodoxy be a direct implication? And wouldn’t formal identity be more than an incidental association?

    It isn’t obvious to me that the Reformed are not Pelagian in the usual sense of the term. Of course, everything turns on “the usual sense.” I would argue in the literature it denotes his core assumption of “natural grace.” It is true that the Reformed rejected his post-lapsarian view of humanity. But it is also true that they adhere to essentially his pre-lapsarian anthropology. It is true that the Spanish Adoptionists rejected Arian conclusions drawn from a hellenistic conception of the divine essence, which they accepted, but took in a different direciton. That didn’t imply that the shared assumption was any less heterodox or that the distinct direction they took it in was correct. So I am not clear how that is relevant.

  7. Perry,

    I’m having a very difficult time following your argument.

    The Reformed self-identified as Augustinians. They accepted Augustine’s repudiation of Pelagius and Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. The doctrine of total depravity taught by all the Reformed churches and most famously at the Synod of Dort is strongly anti-Pelagian. The doctrine of divine sovereignty is strongly anti-Pelagian.

    To teach the goodness of creation is not Pelagian.

    To deny the fall and the necessity of grace after the fall is Pelagian.

  8. Perry,

    A correspondent writes to tell me that you are a formerly Reformed Christian who has become Greek Orthodox.

    This may explain why we’re not communicating very well and why we have quite different understandings of Pelagius.

    I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere. I was suspicious and then I thought, well, perhaps this fellow is a honest dealer who is interested in an honest conversation. Now it seems as if you’re a fellow with an ax to grind against Reformed theology.

    I don’t have time for games.

  9. Dr. Clark,

    I understand all of that regarding Total Depravity and Reformed repudiation of various parts of Pelagianism. And teaching that God made creation good is certainly not in and of itself Pelagian. But teaching that grace is natural or righteousness is intrinsic to human nature is Pelagian. I do not understand why you do not seem to grasp that fundamental point.

    I am not “Greek” Orthodox, just Orthodox. Greek, Russian, etc. just denote jurisdictions, not a difference in faith. I fail to see how it follows that since I was once Reformed that I have an axe to grind. (Actually I converted from Anglicanism and prior to that I was Reformed.) Does it follow that people who convert to the Reformed faith have an axe to grind too? Making criticisms of a theological position in and of itself is insufficient basis to make ad hominem arguments. You can do better.

    Secondly, I didn’t post a link to some other blog attacking yours, but that is what you did which is what drew me here in the first place. Nate Taylor has an obvious axe to grind as is clear by his regular blog postings. He drew you in in an atempt to buttress his case by an appeal to authority. But so far, you seemingly have failed to grasp the point and just fist pounded that the Reformed are not Pelagian because they adhere to Total Depravity, etc. It would have been helpful had you actually read what I wrote on my blog prior to posting Nate’s criticisms and before attacking me personally.

    So you may not have time for games, but I don’t have time for insults and ad hom’s from professionals who should know better.

    Good day, sir.

  10. Perry,

    So you’re point was that you are offended that Gary associated your view with the FV?

    Okay, you’re Orthodox and not FV. It is a fact that the FV have made the same claim.

    So you retaliate by arguing that the Reformed faith is Pelagian based on a possible merely formal identity between a position held in common by Pelagius and Reformed theology? So, any mere formal agreement is sufficient to make one a Pelagian?

    If I agree with Rome that in the supper we eat the body and blood of Christ does that make me Roman? No.

  11. Dr. Clark,

    No, my point was that the argument was being dismissed by poisioning the well. Take for example, Horton’s recent attempt to employ Orthodox ciriticisms of Rome and to map on to them Reformed criticisms. Would it be reasonable for a Catholic to conclude that Horton’s criticisms can be dismissed since they are the same criticisms the Orthodox have made? Obviously not. Likewise, both traditions (Reformed and Orthodox) reject natural theology, but for very different reasons. The FV stuff is irrelevant. Was Lubac reading FV stuff too? How about Ogliari or Weaver or Brown or Teske?

    I think we are talking past each other with respect to the term “formal.” I am using it of the essence of a position whereas you are using in terms of a surface similarity it seems. The agreement with Pelagius on pre-lapsarian anthropology is not merely formal in that latter sense, but material and it is not incidental since it was the heart of Augustine’s fracas with Julian. So again, my original claim is left untouched. Without the concept of “natural grace” there is no Pelagianism.

    As for Nate, who seems to be a student of yours. This is the oral tradition. I was visting back home for the holidays about ayear ago. Nate was one among a group of people who were present one night when a group of mutual friends went out. He engaged me in a theological/philosophical discussion and he didn’t know when to quit and subsequently got his head handed to him. Since then he has been on a quest to show how stupid Orthodoxy is. As I noted previously, he drew you in to bludgeon me with an appeal to authority.

  12. Perry,

    You did claim that Reformed writers had made the same argument as you. Can you substantiate that claim?

    I didn’t hear from Nathan. I don’t know about that argument. It seems a little unfair of you to come here and insult him. I know him as a thoughtful young man.

    I don’t think that anyone else would recognize your definition of “Pelagian.” There are ways in which we agree with Augustine and ways in which we disagree with him but few would deny that Reformed theology is substantially “Augustinian.”

    You’re entitled to your definition, I suppose. You win. I concede. You are smarter than I am. The Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works is “Pelagian.”

    Do you feel better?

  13. Dr. Clark,

    I have interacted with Mr. Robinson before as well, as have others. His response is the same across the board: “You don’t understand Orthodoxy.” You tell him what books you have read, and he says, “Those aren’t good books. You need to read EO theologian a1, b1, c1…z1.” You come back to him and critique it again, and, surprise–“you still don’t understand Orthodoxy. You didn’t pay close enough attention to the books.” So then you ask where you don’t understand, and EOs don’t elaborate.

    Yet, this is not just Perry. This is common EO tripe almost across the board. Vladimir Berzonsky tried to pull this nonsense with Dr. Horton in Three Views On Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, other Orthodox have pulled this with me on my blog, it is the common charge in many EO writings.

    If I had only a penny for every time the EO say we Protestants don’t understand them, I’d be able to retire as a multi-billionaire.

  14. Josh,

    I admit that I am not a scholar of modern E. Orthodoxy. I’ve had several vols on my shelf –with the intent of reading them– for years but other things get in the way.

    I’ve had discussions with angry ex-Prots turned EO and they haven’t gone well. Maybe it’s the Franky Schaeffer syndrome? There’s a lot with which to be unhappy about in fundamentalism and even in our own churches (to the degree we’re infected with QIRC and QIRE).

    I read the Greek and Latin Fathers, however, and I don’t find the same spirit or theology in them that I find in the “cage phase” EO converts.

  15. Dr. Clark,

    Dabney seems to reject it, at least from my reading. But perhaps I am mistaken. Even if every Reformed writer accepted it, it doesn’t follow that it is correct or any less heterodox.

    If you didn’t hear it form Nathan, you certainly heard about the argument from him since you link to it and he is one of your students. It seems a little unfair of you to insult me on the same basis. At least my personal criticisms with him are based on first hand experience.

    If you doubt that anyone else would recognize my definition as Pelagian, then I’d suggest reading some of the secondary literature by specialists who do. Ogliari, Teselle, Greshake, and Teske. For primary source material, I’d recommend taking a peek at Pelagius in Patrologia Latina 30,19, Ep ad Demtriadem 4) where he is quite explicit on the point. Or heck, just read Augustine, On Nature and Grace, c. 19-21.

    Do I feel better? Is this kind of condescension reflective of your doctoral education? Again, you can do better than ad hom’s and complex questions.

  16. Josh,

    yes far be it form an insider to be in a better position to recommend better works from their own tradition. As for Horton, perhaps if he didn’t rely on second hand quotations and popular works, he wouldn’t have had that problem in that essay. In any case, your comments amount to another ad hom. Try showing where my actual argument is mistaken.

  17. “Secondly, I didn’t post a link to some other blog attacking yours, but that is what you did which is what drew me here in the first place. Nate Taylor has an obvious axe to grind as is clear by his regular blog postings. He drew you in in an atempt to buttress his case by an appeal to authority.”

    I do not have axe to grind at all. I just gave some critques of Easten Orthodoxy on my blog. I have never insulted you or anything like that. How is having blog posts that are academic in character and in no way insults anybody personally suggests that I have a axe to grind. I would challenge you Perry to find one quote in my blog posts that is offensive in nature. Posting on how you think that Eastern Orthodoxy is mistaken on something does not mean that you have a axe to grind. I did not draw anybody in to this discussion. I just was reading your blog and I saw you making the same accusation that you always make in person, to the people you teach, and on your blog about the Reformed view of man and the covenant of works. And then I remembered I asked Dr. Clark about this accusation some people have concerning the covenant of works in his lectures on Reformed Sch. So do not bring me into this as if I have had not had good conduct in this whole thing. I hope you are well.

    God Bless,


  18. Perry,

    (1) I haven’t heard any arguments. I have only heard assertions such as “the covenant of works is Pelagian!” just b/c we share *a* view that Pelagius held, but not all of him. That is tantamount to saying that, since Lutherans believe in baptismal regeneration, and since EO believes in baptismal regeneration, that one can therefore say “Eastern Orthodox are Lutherans!”. Do you really want to commit that logical fallacy?

    (2) Show us where, Perry, Dr. Horton misunderstood EO. All I ever hear from EOs is that we supposedly don’t understand. Tell us how. Tell us where. Prove it.

    (3) Repent of your self-righteousness and rest in Christ’s righteousness alone.

  19. “As for Nate, who seems to be a student of yours. This is the oral tradition. I was visting back home for the holidays about ayear ago. Nate was one among a group of people who were present one night when a group of mutual friends went out. He engaged me in a theological/philosophical discussion and he didn’t know when to quit and subsequently got his head handed to him. Since then he has been on a quest to show how stupid Orthodoxy is. As I noted previously, he drew you in to bludgeon me with an appeal to authority.”


    I did not see this portion before. I do not know why you are bringing this into our discussion. But how the story really went was, I was invited to have a friendly eastern orthodox and Reformed discussion from my Eastern Orthodox friend Michael Garten. I asked you a few questions and you started call me names and as this was occurring one of your eastern buddies decided to yell “oh yeah” and make chants whenever you called me name. It was like a football game. You kept on changing the subject and going off topic and insulting me while one of your buddies were chanting you. I did not want to deal with such a odd display so I left. You want to just public insult a Reformed person, so it seems that you do have a axe to grind, Perry.

    I am not trying to show how stupid orthodoxy is, I am trying to show that it is mistaken from scripture and right reason. I was appealing to a historical theologian, Dr. Clark, to support my position, which is perfectly legitimate. Even you try to appeal to scholars in this discussions and many others. You put a negative connotation on what I am doing saying I am trying to draw people in, I never intended that. And furthermore, what evidence do you have that I am? When you make slanderous claims about someone try supporting it with evidence rather than just blank statements.

    You may have certain scholars that may agree with your definition of Pelagianism. But could you give us a primary quote supporting your definition of Pelagianism from the earlier councils such as: Carthage and Ephesus?

    Thanks for all your time Perry.

    God Bless,


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