I recently referred to Francis Chan’s “nearly Pelagian”—what I could rightly call semi-Pelagian—”disregard of the role of God’s grace in sanctification.” As if on cue, Arminian Baptist theologian Roger Olson has an evenhanded article about different evangelical perspectives on election (full article behind subscription firewall) in the most recent Christianity Today, which includes a discussion of semi-Pelagianism.
He helpfully describes it with an illustration:
Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that human beings take the initiative in their salvation and service to God. We decide whether to be saved or enter into God’s service completely by ourselves, without prevenient (or necessary) grace. (Prevenient grace is grace that convicts, calls, illumines, and enables. Christian theologians disagree about whether it is resistible or irresistible, but all evangelical theologians agree it is necessary for the first exercise of a good will toward God.) Some years ago, a popular television series featured angels in human disguise helping people in distress turn to God. In one episode, a beautiful young angel with a Scottish accent counseled a man to “reach up to God as far as you can, and then he’ll reach down and take you the rest of the way.” I call that “Touched by an Angel theology.” By itself, without careful biblical and theological clarification, it expresses semi-Pelagianism.
Moreover, he calls semi-Pelagianism “arguably the default view of both salvation and service among American Christians, especially younger Christians. But all branches of Christianity have condemned it as heresy, because it completely contradicts Scripture.”
Did you read that? All branches of Christianity condemn semi-Pelagianism, including us Methodists. I emphasize this because, as Arminians, Methodists are sometimes accused of being semi-Pelagian by our Reformed brothers and sisters because we affirm a limited but (we believe) necessary role for free will in the process of salvation. As Olson writes,
According to Wesley’s essay “On Predestination,” faithfully following Arminius, election (predestination) means that “God foreknew those in every nation, who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things.” He based this on Romans 8, especially verses 29 and 30. Like all Arminians (and many who do not use that label but agree with its essential doctrine of election), Wesley affirmed free will, enabled by grace, because otherwise, “[I]f man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, words, or actions.”
Free will, enabled by grace. Olson goes on to emphasize a point that can hardly be made loudly enough: “[W]hatever role humans play in their salvation, salvation is God’s work. Even Arminians, at their best and truest, believe sinners receive saving grace only because God enables them to receive it with the free response of faith.”