Sinclair Ferguson: Santa Christ Is Pelagian

Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “Do You Believe In Santa Christ?” From In Christ Alone.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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    • FWIW,

      There may be a useful distinction between “Pelagian” and “semi-Pelagian” but the line is much fuzzier than I have thought. I’ve been impressed again lately by the fact that semi-Pelagian is a relatively novel adjective. Perkins used it. The Book of Concord uses it and Richard Hooker used a variant but mainly it’s an intra-Roman category. The Synod of Dort calls the Arminians “Pelagian” more fewer than 8 times. The ancient term for all the Pelagians after Pelagius was “reliquae Pelagianarum (lit. leftover Pelagians). Pelagius’ commentary on Romans is not that different from what one reads in Arminius. They both made very similar exegetical moves and drew very similar conclusions. Their governing assumptions were not far apart.

      There were those who did affirm things that Pelagius denied (e.g., in Adam’s fall sinned we all) but who, like Pelagius, downplayed the effects of sin. They held a doctrine of supernatural grace (contra Pelagius) and yet they weakened grace and made it contingent upon our cooperation and some of them (e.g., Cassian) were willing to speak in Pelagian ways. Semi-Pelagian may be the right way to categorize these folks but I understand why traditionally. we didn’t distinguish clearly between Pelagius and his successors.

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