Surprise! Emergent Leader Embraces Pelagius

Tony Jones rejects Augustine, the North African church of the 4th century, the French Church of the 6th century, the entire medieval church, the Protestant Churches, and the Council of Trent (HT: Kevin DeYoung).

Here’s one on which the confessional Protestants and Rome agree: Pelagius’ denial of original sin was heresy. Here’s a brief introduction to Pelagius.

The Emergent movement is just another way in which contemporary evangelicals are rolling back the Reformation to the pre-Reformation church (and beyond). This is what comes of making it up as one goes along. One of the great discoveries that Luther made early in his pilgrimage to the Protestant faith was the re-discovery, which several medieval theologians had already made, that the late Augustine was correct and was Pauline and was Davidic in his doctrine of original sin and its effects. The medieval church generally affirmed Augustine’s doctrine of original sin but downplayed the vitiating effects of the fall. Some, in the late medieval period, came perilously close to teaching what Pelagius had taught. The neo-Augustinians reacted and Luther, as he read through the psalter with Augustine’s commentary nearby, realized that David (and the other psalmists) taught a doctrine of total depravity or inability and what Reformed people call “sovereign grace.” Luther rejected the Franciscan doctrine that “to those who do what lies within them God denies not grace” as a form of Pelagianism (probably better “semi-Pelagianism but the term didn’t exist yet). It was the first and necessary step toward the Reformation solas. It was a necessary pre-condition to the confessional Protestant understanding of sola gratia as unmerited divine favor (and not a sort of quasi-divine medicinal substance with which we are infused and with which we must cooperate unto eventual justification).

The tragedy of the re-emergence of Pelagianism in the Emergent movement is that many will swallow it as the latest, hippest thing, as just another theological soul patch. The neo-Pelagians, who have already demonstrated a moralist streak, will place their unknowing and unwitting and trendy followers under the law in order to achieve the morality they seem to value so highly. Looks like Mike wrote Christless Christianity just in time.

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  1. Tony Jones is a heretic for sure, but at least he’s clear. For instance, he is clear on where he stands regarding homosexuality and now original sin. (Think I might run a bet on which core doctrine he jettisons next. I’ll give you 2/1 odds on the Trinity.) I think this makes him less of a danger to young sheep blown to and fro by every fad. With every wacky statement he makes these days, he becomes more of a pantomime villain.

    I’ve got less time for the mealy mouthed 5-year-moratorium-before-we-make-up-our-minds-on-whether-to-commit-apostasy-or-not brigade. I think they’re much more dangerous. They need a good gospel smack down (metaphorical smack down of course) just as bad as TJ.

  2. Nick,

    You’re exactly right. I predict it will be Trinity. Moralism and rationalism are twins. The Socinians did the very same thing the Emergent guys are doing viz the atonement. The Trinity will not stand their distaste for mystery (which is strange for churches whose sacraments are coffee, couches, and candles). Therapeutic moralistic deism with a vengeance.

    Pantomime villains reminds me of the Pantomime Bull Moose and the Pantomime Queen Elizabeth. Pantomime heretic?

  3. Yeah, they supposedly love ‘mystery’ then chuck it out when it becomes an inconvenient mystery.

    Pantomime heretic – I like it. Can we turn up to his meetings and boo when he steps up to preach?

  4. Out of curiosity, do the Orthodox churches reject original sin? I’ve read that they, or at least many of them, reject Augustine’s view on original sin. Do they have their own doctrine which is also referred to as “original sin”?

    And concerning the 5th century French church, why are they mentioned by Dr. Clark in particular?

  5. It’s disheartening to hear this kind of theology emerge yet again. (The emergent church only thinks it’s emerging for the first time.) But it’s not surprising. If we read the rest of his series on original sin, we find that he:

    a) denies the historicity of Adam and Eve. Well, fine; if you don’t accept that, I’m not sure you can accept original sin and be consistent anyway. As always, it comes back to the authority of Scripture.

    b) does not seem to have ever been taught the merest fragment of covenant theology. Throughout he talks about original sin as some sort of biological, genetic transmission. I don’t think he realizes he’s making a straw-man here. Here the church bears its share of blame for never having taught him the underlying architecture of the Bible. Still, as a leader in the “Christian conversation” it’s his own responsibility to find the best arguments for a position he’s thinking of opposing. We’ll really see how much he does or doesn’t get it when he continues the series and writes about Calvin. (I’m guessing that article will be particularly daffy but I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised.)

    Stuff like this makes me sad for the believers out there who may have genuine faith but not much knowledge to build it on. It also makes me really grateful for the education I’m getting at WSC. I’m no better than Tony Jones, and in fact he’s very likely a much better man than I am in a number of dimensions. It’s not by any merit in me, or in any of us, that we’ve been given the tools to recognize the errors in his position. God’s grace is a strange thing sometimes, but always magnificent.

    And that, of course–God’s free and unmerited grace to sinners in every area of life and chiefly of all in salvation–is the real point when we dirty, Bible-thumping Calvinists start talking about original sin and human depravity. Outside of the scriptural witness itself, I think the clearest proof of original sin is how offensive the free grace of God is to people, and always has been.

  6. I’m just amazed that the regergents put so much effort into their “conversation”. Some good research and footnotes would settle a lot of this. A little church history would go a long way, but it seems to be about the exercise, more evidence of a particular form of self-absorption. The thing that’s hard to swallow is that they have such an audacious media apparatus that it’s hard to compete, and since “debate” is off the table, the real church gets to live with it. Maybe I answered my initial dismay – it’s all one big theological temper tantrum. Maybe it’s best to walk away and let them cry it out.

  7. Scott
    What gives this crowd the right to be described as ‘evangelical’? Since when did the word -historically speaking -allow for flaming Pelagians to be identified like that? Charles Hodge along with such 19th century stalwarts like WGT Shedd, and BB Warfield categorically condemned Pelagianism as being incompatible with ‘evangelical Christianity’.

  8. Dr. Clark,

    You wrote “Looks like Mike wrote Christless Christianity just in time.”

    Amen. My wife and I recently visited Mars Hill in MI, heard Rob Bell, and didn’t hear a bit about Christ. Oh yeah, except in the Jars of Clay rendition of “I Need Thee Every Hour” and a few other songs.

    My wife and I went home hungry–no spiritual food.

    But then again, if he would preach SiN and grace, most of his hearers probably wouldn’t be there . . .

    Just praying that, through some of us Calvinists and/or Reformed, God would show them a much more excellent, Christ-centered way . . .


    thanks for that perspective . . . very humbling . . .

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