Recently I came across an article titled “Joel Osteen is a Heretical Pelagian and Universalist!” I’m a little embarrassed to say that I had to look up Pelagian. This point of view by Pelagius is in opposition to Augustine’s original sin and total depravity premise. He is father to the idea that Adam’s sin did not corrupt the flesh but rather simply set a bad example. This then means that man is still fully capable of choosing to do good or evil, and not predisposed to do evil unless redeemed. Christ sets the good example and atones for the sins that do come about. This whole idea is to protect the goodness of God by saying that man can choose whether he wants to be good or evil and therefore God has no responsibility for sin.
Also included in this view is the idea that man effects his own salvation. “When will a man guilty of any crime or sin accept with a tranquil mind that his wickedness is a product of his own will, not of necessity, and allow what he now strives to attribute to nature to be ascribed to his own free choice? It affords endless comfort to transgressors of the divine law if they are able to believe that their failure to do something is due to inability rather than disinclination, since they understand from their natural wisdom that no one can be judged for failing to do the impossible and that what is justifiable on grounds of impossibility is either a small sin or none at all.” (Taken from here.) So if man decides to, man can be good. It also presents man not as a victim, but as the criminal. This changes the dynamic of the necessity of salvation and is ultimately why most declared it heretical.
On the other hand, original sin by Augustine presents the idea that Adam corrupted all flesh with his sin, and man no longer can choose to do good unless God enables it. Thus, man is totally depraved and in need of the grace and salvation of God. Christ’s role then is to provide the atonement and enable people to do good. I’ve always found Augustine’s view troubling to say the least. To make God the one who won’t allow men to be good and then say that they are worthless and need salvation makes God look like an ass. I mean, who would hold a child’s hand into the fire and then turn around and smack the child for getting burnt after you told them not to touch the flame. It doesn’t make sense to me. However, I haven’t thought through all the implications of Pelagianism yet.
There is also semi-pelagianism. Woo, that’s a mouthful. Semi-pelagianism presents the idea that the grace of growing in your faith is God enacted, but that the beginning of faith is of free-will. Instead of the irresistible grace presented in the total depravity idea, we have the idea that man can make the decision to come to God and ask for salvation of his own accord. It also doesn’t let go of the idea that man is able to choose good of his accord. This was thought to be heretical because it allows man to still be the effector of his own salvation.
From under these umbrellas we have Calvinists and Arminians, Janenists and Jesuits. many differing ideas all because of one little question, is man capable of doing good on his own still?
What are your thoughts on the nature of evil? What do they mean to you? What are the implications of your beliefs?