Monday, October 16, 2006

The Four Major Views of Christian Salvation: Part Two

C. Semi-Augustinianism

The Semi-Augustinian understanding of salvation is a synergistic understanding of salvation. However, unlike the Semi-Pelagian view, which sees original sin or human depravity as partial or incomplete, leaving humanity with some internal resources to contribute to the work of salvation, the Semi-Augustinian view sees original sin as complete or humanity as totally depraved. Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, the moral image of God (holiness, righteousness, love, and relationship to God) is completely destroyed in humanity. Consequently, all human beings in their “natural state” are spiritually dead to God, thoroughly sinful, under divine condemnation, helpless to change themselves, ignorant of their present state, and are incapable of grasping their plight. If human beings are going to be saved, God is the One who must take the initiative. If human beings are to be awakened, convicted of their sin, repent, and exercise faith to be converted, then God must do the work, because humanity has no internal resources with which to move toward God and progress in the way of salvation.

Specifically, the Semi-Augustinian view teaches that God takes this initiative by giving to humanity prevenient grace. Prevenient grace, which is given to everyone, brings the power to respond to further works of grace; this grace restores the power to cooperate with further works of grace, as divine grace is made available in life. However, humanity can do nothing until God first moves, until further grace is given. Then, humanity, as a result of prevenient grace given to all, can choose to cooperate with what God is doing or not. From this perspective, a person cannot recognize their fallen state unless the Spirit brings this recognition; a person cannot repent of their sins, unless the Spirit empowers them to do so; a person cannot turn toward God, unless the Spirit enables them; and a person cannot exercise faith to believe whenever they hear the gospel, unless the Spirit creates such faith in them. Thus, prevenient grace, given to all, in itself does not restore to people the ability to progress in the way of salvation (be awakened, repent, believe, etc.). All that prevenient grace does is enable a person to cooperate with further works of divine grace made available at divinely appointed times and places through the means of grace.

If human beings are totally dependent upon God’s grace for progression in the way of salvation the question must be asked, “How does God communicate His grace to people? How does God work to create saving faith in peoples’ lives?” For the Semi-Augustinian, God communicates His saving grace through appointed “channels” or “means.” Semi-Augustinians believe that as people are exposed to the means of grace or as they place themselves in the flow of the means of grace (as they hear the Gospel, partake in baptism and Holy Communion, participate in the Body of Christ, etc.), grace capable of awakening people to the spiritual state, enabling repentance, and creating saving faith is made possible.

However, Semi-Augustinians do not believe that participation in the means of grace always results in the transmission of grace. More specifically, the means of grace are seen as the most likely places for God to give His grace but grace is not always being given through them. For example, not every time the Gospel is preached is grace communicated. There are times when the Gospel is proclaimed and “little” or “nothing” happens, while at other times, God uses the message to draw, convict, and convince people of the truth of the Gospel.

For Semi-Augustinians all prevenient grace enables a person to do is choose to cooperate with these further works of grace or not, as they are made available. Grace from this perspective is the work of the Holy Spirit in humanity. As the Gospel is being shared, in divine moments and places, grace is at work in people, a work that is not humanly generated but of God, drawing people, convincing people of the truth that Christ died for them, compelling them to give their lives to Christ, and creating faith to believe the Gospel. If they cooperate, they will be transformed through the new birth. As such, faith is not a human act so much as a result of cooperating with the “grace” of God at work in people at divinely appointed times through the means of grace. All people have done in the moment of conversion is cooperate with what is being wrought in them. To the Semi-Augustinian the choice is not to believe or not, it is to resist or submit to God’s grace. As such, only in moments when the Holy Spirit is awakening a person from their spiritual slumber, can the person be awakened; only in moments in which the Spirit brings repentance, can a person repent, and only when the Spirit creates and enables saving faith in an individual can a person be converted.

Therefore, a Semi-Augustinian believes that people cannot choose the “day or the hour” in which they will be saved. They can only be saved in the moments in which grace capable of creating saving faith is made available. Once awakened to their spiritual state, they can seek salvation, place themselves in the means of grace (those divinely appointed places and activities where God is most like to work in human hearts and lives), until grace capable of saving them is made available. However, they can not determine when this will take place. This is why John Wesley, the epitome of the Semi-Augustinian view stated, “any man may believe if he will (to be saved), though not when he will. If he seeks faith in the appointed ways, sooner or later the power of the Lord will be present whereby …man believes.”

A cursory look at John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience provides an excellent case study. John Wesley described his Aldersgate experience as having his heart “strangely warmed.” As a result he testified, “I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins. He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Wesley’s “faith” here was not so much an action he took, rather it was something happening inside of him, a divine work creating an internal conviction that Christ loved him and had forgiven him. His heart was being acted upon by a power other than himself, creating personal faith in Christ. Wesley’s Aldersgate experience was a gift of grace.

This understanding of Wesley’s experience is substantiated further by his journals. Before Aldersgate, John Wesley had already been convinced by Peter Bohler that salvation was “by grace through faith,” and he had begun to preach this message. In a sense, Wesley was intellectually convinced of the truth, but he still struggled with personal faith until his Aldersgate experience. Wesley believed in “his head,” but struggled in “his heart” and this “heart struggle” kept Wesley from believing in Christ alone for salvation. Wesley’s Aldersgate experience confirmed that God’s grace creates faith in human hearts.

Overall, the Semi-Augustinian teaching has been overshadowed in the Protestant teaching by the Augustinian teaching, which we will examine next. The best representative of this teaching is John Wesley and it is the official teaching of The United Methodist Church, seen in her doctrinal standards.

D. Augustinianism

The Augustinian understanding of salvation is a monergistic understanding of salvation. If Pelagianism stands at one end of the spectrum of salvation, anchoring the human monergistic perspective on salvation, the Augustinian view stands at the other end of the spectrum, anchoring the divine monergistic view, believing there is no human involvement or cooperation involved in the work of salvation. Salvation is entirely the work of God. Like the Semi-Augustinian view, Augustinians teach that because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, the moral image of God (holiness, righteousness, love, and relationship to God) is completely destroyed in humanity. Consequently, all human beings in their “natural state” are spiritually dead to God, thoroughly sinful, under divine condemnation, helpless to change themselves, ignorant of their present state, and are incapable of grasping their plight. If human beings are going to be saved, God is the One who must take the initiative. If human beings are to be awakened, convicted of their sin, repent, and exercise faith to be converted, then God must do the work, because humanity has no internal resources with which to move toward God and progress in the way of salvation.

However, in the Augustinian view God takes the initiative to save human beings through the work of election. In contrast to the Semi-Augustinian view, the Augustinian position argues that God takes the initiative to save fallen humanity, spiritually dead as a result of original sin, by selecting certain people according to His “secret counsel” for salvation and electing the rest to damnation. Only those who have been elected for salvation by God’s grace and mercy can be converted. Salvation is not available or possible to all. Because all humanity deserves eternal wrath, the fact that God elects some for salvation is a demonstration of God’s mercy and love. Augustinians argue that God’s electing grace is “irresistible.” Human beings do not have a say in their election to either salvation or damnation. There is no cooperation between human beings and God and human beings cannot resist the grace of a sovereign God when it comes. The work of awakening a person from spiritual slumber, repentance, the exercise of saving faith, new birth, and progressive sanctification is entirely the irresistible work of God’s grace in the person’s life.

The Augustinian understanding of salvation is found primarily in the Protestant tradition. Martin Luther and John Calvin held this view and it can be found today in the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods of the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church of America, and the Reformed Church.


The four positions presented so far represent four views of salvation or four points found in a spectrum of salvation. In the next post, I will try to offer other points on the spectrum, which would represent softer and harder Semi-Pelagianism, as well as softer and harder Semi-Augustinianism. I will try to pinpoint where the Churches of Christ (Alexander Campbell), some contemporary Open theists, most Wesleyans and other Christian bodies would fall on this spectrum.


At 8:15 AM, Blogger OnceaWes said...

1.) In the end the difference between Semi-Augustinianism and Augustianism is what makes for Pelagianism. In Augustinianism men are seen as dead and buried and by regeneration God brings them to life. In Semi-Augustinianism, as you've explained it, men are really really sick, and God pours the medicine of life in their mouth but men must add their response of swallowing. Man could still spit out God's medicine of life. Men are saved by their work of swallowing. To man be the glory.

What Semi-Augustinianism does here is that it confuses God's outward call for His internal call. Semi-Augustinianism seems to see the phenomena of men resisting God's call (Acts 7:51, Luke 7:30) and therefore concludes that the predestined elect can refuse God's call. It fails to distinguish between a general call that is generously published and that if unresponded to leaves men responsible and a particular call that comes in the context of a general call that leaves men saved.

We must realize that if, as the Semi-Augustinian says, fallen men are spiritually dead to God, thoroughly sinful, under divine condemnation, helpless to change themselves, ignorant of their present state, and are incapable of grasping their plight, then all they will ever do is always resist the Holy Spirit unless God makes them alive. But herein lies the problem. Semi-Augustinianism doesn't really believe in Total Depravity insisting instead that man is really really sick but not dead. Dead people must be brought back to life. Dead people don't respond to any iniative. An inability to respond is one thing that makes them dead. If they can respond then obviously they are not dead.

There seems to be a good deal of Thomism here as the one thing that remains unfallen in this scheme is the will.

2.)If prevenient grace enbables people to respond to grace but without making it inevitable that they do respond to grace then we are right back to Semi-pelagianism. If salvificly intended Grace is defeasible then man must add the work of his willful complicity or else Salvation can't happen. In that scheme we can never say, "To God Alone Be the Glory." It's even doubtful that we can say, "God saved me," because in point of fact our complicity is what saved me. Saved man's complicity with prevenient grace is that alone which differentiates him from his unsaved neighbor who refused to be complicit with prevenient Grace.

The only way I can see this being rescued is if one makes a distinction between a prevenient grace that is intended by God to leave the reprobate responsible and a prevenient grace that is intended by God to lead fallen man to salvation. In this sense prevenient grace could be seen kind of God's activity in pre-evangelism.

3.) Have you done any study on the Puritans and the problems they ran into with a ill advised doctrine that became known as preparationism?

If you haven't you might want to look into that because it seems that you might be advocating a kind of preparationism in the way that you speak about people putting themselves in the way of Grace.

4.) I am pleased to see an emphasis on the Sacraments. 60 years ago when I was growing up among the Holiness folk the Sacraments were hardly ever mentioned.

Would you agree that Grace is always offered in the means of Grace but that grace is not always conferred because the Grace offered is not greeted with faith? (Hebrews 4:2)

5.) In the end I think that the reason that Semi-Augustinianism has been overshadowed by Augustianism is because Semi-Augustinianism is just Semi-pelagianism dressed up in evening clothes. The differences between the two are only in nomenclature and not in substance.

6.) Surely you realize that not all Calvinists teach equal ultimacy in matters predestinarian. Some Reformed folk do not believe that God elects the unelect to danmantion but instead merely passes them over leaving them in their unrighteousness wherein they are suppressing the truth. (Romans 1:18f)

7.) While according to God's counsel it is true that Salvation is not possible to all, it is still the case that to the Reformed Evangelist, all are treated as possible recipients of the Gospel. No Reformed Evangelist counsel's people to determine whether or not they can believe but instead tells them they may believe and that they must believe. No is the appointed day of Salvation.

8.)You are wrong about Augustinianism and progressive Sanctification. If you research a little bit you will find that Reformed folk have always held to a doctrine of concursiveness in sanctification. B. B. Warfield taught this position.

9.)Reformed folk would say that works are required for salvation, understanding that Salvation is a broader category then regeneration or justification and that it includes the whole Christian experience. Scripture clearly teaches that we were set apart to walk in good works (Eph. 2:10). We are commanded to put off the old man and put on the new man. We are commanded to mortify sin and vivfy righteousness. So, Reformed folk do not believe that regeneration is synergistic, or that justification is within us corresponding to our behaviour but we do believe that good works, counted acceptable because of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to our works, are part of salvation when that word is used in its broadest sense. (James 2:14f)

I think that we would do well to follow Edwards in this.

'In efficacious grace,we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some, and we do the rest. But God does all and we do all. God produces all, and we act all. For that is what he produces: our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are, in this respect, wholly passive and wholly active.'


At 9:16 AM, Blogger Kris Nordstrom said...


Good to hear from you again.

I need some clarification on a point or two, please.

The way I currently understand your position is this:

1. God choses some and forsakes others in their sinful nature.

2. Once one is chosen, there is no choice whatsoever whether s/he follows.

3. God, in his sovereignty, has already determined the who, what, where, when, and how.

4. We are just along for the ride.

Is this a clear, albeit simple understanding of the position yu hold? If not, please clarify.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger OnceaWes said...

1. God chooses some and forsakes others in their sinful nature.

1a.) Romans 9, Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:1-10, Matthew 11:27f, John 10:25-30

Do you think it unfair that God gets to choose? Let's keep in mind also that sinful nature is something that the unbeliever thoroughly enjoys.

2. Once one is chosen, there is no choice whatsoever whether s/he follows.

2a.) Once one is chosen, one chooses Christ. Every time. See Edwards quote in last post. We do and must choose Jesus but if we do choose Jesus it is because God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the World.

3. God, in his sovereignty, has already determined the who, what, where, when, and how.

3a.) God sits in heaven above He does whatever He pleases.

The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

He does according to His will in the army of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the Earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him what have you done.

4. We are just along for the ride.

Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling for it is God who works within you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

But I discipline my body and bring it into submission lest when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified.

What is this irrational fear that calls God's perrogative to preserve His people in the context of their persevering a 'free ride'? God has given us the Holy Spirit to guarantee that which is to come.

Because of that what a ride it is!


At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The hardest thing about the Reformed doctrine of grace is the idea that God chooses some and does not choose others. We prefer the idea of fair treatment for all human beings when it comes to God's love and grace. If anyone is to blame, it is better to blame the individual for not responding correctly to God's call and not God for failing to choose them.

If God only acted with fairness and justice, all of us would be passed over because all of us fairly deserve justice, but because of his love God chooses to give mercy to some. Why he chooses mercy for some and justice for others is a mystery, but the ones who receive justice deserve it, as we all do.

For the Semi-Pelagian and Semi-Augustinian, it would seem that human choice or cooperation still requires some sort of human inherrant goodness. Choosing to respond to grace from a position of spiritual deadness and total depravity takes some kind of spark of inherrant goodness I think. Apparently some do not have it, or not enough of it because many choose not to respond or cooperate. That too seems like a mystery. I have often thought about why I reponded to grace and others I know will not or have not, it seems that the Augustinian view is more scripturally sound than other theories of grace.

Thanks Chris for defining these categories of grace.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


Thank you for your comments.

(1-2) Semi-Augustinianism is indeed a form of synergism like Semi-Pelagianism. However, there is a difference of emphasis upon the work of humanity in the view. As such there is the affirmation that humanity does play some part in the work of salvation.

(3) I am familiar with the Puritan teaching. However, in this articulation of Semi-Augustianism, I am simply trying to articulate John Wesley's teaching.

(4) In regard to the sacraments, when they are met in faith, and even at times when the are not met with faith, I believe grace is bestowed. I, like you, desire to see the sacraments restored to a more proper place in our evangelical and Wesleyan tradition.

(5-6)Maybe, but the same could be said about your distinction between God electing the rest for damnation or simply passing them over:>) I am aware of this distinction and appreciate the distinction - this is an important distinction in Calvinist teaching for me. Unfortunately, I did not make this difference - I should have just stuck to Augustine's teaching on this point. Thank you for helping me articulate this more clearly.

(8) I am not sure where I have articulated an Augustinian understanding of sanctification. However, like Wesleyans, those in the Reformed tradition have variously nuanced understandings of sanctification. Thus,one may talk about "an" Augustinian view and not "the" Augustinaian view of sanctification in the Reformed tradition.

Again, thanks for your comments and insights.

Pax Christi,

Chris Bounds


At 2:11 PM, Blogger Keith Drury said...

Thanks for 3 & 4 Chris. I think I'm Semi-Aug in personal position but I approach "evangelism" as if semi-P were true (assuming that God beat me there with Grace and they will respond).

Also, can I get away with switching the more active phrase of "ability to cooperate" with the less active one: "ability to refuse to resist" thus producing a "resistable grace?"

At 10:25 PM, Blogger OnceaWes said...

It would be interesting to know, given the explanation of Wesley's Semi-Augustinianism, if Wesley was influenced by the Puritan doctrine of preparationism. It was a widely held Puritan doctrine and I suppose it is possible that Wesley could have picked it up somewhere along the way.

Given your admission that Humanity plays a role in regeneration how is it that it can be said 'to God alone be the glory'? This admission seems to eviscerate 'not by works which we have done.'

Rev. Moore wrote,

If anyone is to blame, it is better to blame the individual for not responding correctly to God's call and not God for failing to choose them.


When we read Tolkien's Trilogy do we hold Boromir responsible for his treachery or do we hold Tolkien responsible for Boromir's treachery?

When we do narrative analysis we ask questions like...

Why did Boromir do this?
What were his motives?

Now certainly when we do the larger Authorial analysis we might ask why Tolkien did with his characters what he did. But my point is that we see them both as responsible in a different sense.

I think this fits well with Scripture. Certainly we see this in the book of Acts where in doing narrative analysis Peter holds the Jews responsible for their actions (you by the hands of wicked men have cruified and put to death), while at the same time Peter does Authorial analysis (Christ was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.)

So individuals are to blame and we know from Scripture that God has morally sufficient reasons for why He writes the script the way he does.

Allow me to thank everyone for their unfailing courtesy in this discussion. Becuase such disagreements are substantial and serious and sometimes threatening I seldom have been received with the kind of kindness I have seen here when engaging in these type of doctrinal issues.

I know I have much to learn and far to go to understand the mind of God. Perhaps, as Brothers in Christ, we can learn together.


At 7:06 AM, Blogger Kris Nordstrom said...


Thank you for causing me to REALLY examine what I believe, and to that end, how it will effect my future ministry. While I do not agree with your doctrinal viewpoint, I as you, find it very refreshing that this can be discussed in an atmosphere of Christian love.

Go in peace, serve the Lord.

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Mike Cline said...

I posted a response on the last post, and not this one. So feel free to check that one out.

I grew up Semi-Pelagian in thought, although, I didn't know it at the time(like most church-goers I think). I would love to be semi-pelagian and still am to some degree. however, experience has caused me to shift towards semi-augustinian thought. The older I get, the more I am around people who have grown up differently, had different factors in their salvation, and have ended up in a different place in the Kingdom. Why am I saved, and my friend who used to be is no longer with God? The window of grace is different. It's the only thing I can come to. Otherwise, I'd have my best friend with Jesus. But God has not given up. The Bibles does not paint a "one and done" God or a "this might be your only chance" paradigm. It's an ever-pursuing love that will continue to open up avenues of grace. Listen to me, I think I may just be full out Semi-Augustinian now. Thanks Bounds.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Keith Drury said...

I like this oneawesleyan guy--his Wesleyan background shows through in his irenic spirit. Whoever you are thanks for your thoughtful posts--even if I am often on the other side.

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At 9:44 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just ran across this from Olson. It reminded me of your Augustinian/Pelagian rubric.

"Semi-Pelagianism is the more frequent accusation by informed Calvinists against Arminianism. Semi-Pelagianism is the name given to the teaching of some of Augustine’s critics. (Augustine was a monergist who believed in unconditional election.) John Cassian was a notable monk and spiritual writer of the early fifth century who opposed Augustine’s teaching on predestination and affirmed instead that the sinner, though fallen, can initiate his or her salvation by “exercising a good will” toward God. God waits to see that initiative and only then responds with saving grace. This was condemned as heresy at the Second Council (or Synod) of Orange in A.D. 529 and Arminians have always rejected it. But many Calvinists are convinced that Arminian affirmation of libertarian free will necessarily implies semi-Pelagianism."

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Duke of Earl said...

Let us suppose that there was such a person as Gollum, and we found that the travails of Gollum leading up to his miserable death were not described by Tolkein's pen, but rather caused by Tolkein's pen, would we regard Tolkein as a good person?

To use the named character Boromir, Boromir was only responsible in a fictional sense, which is to say he didn't exist except as a thought in his writer's mind, his actions only exist in his writer's mind, and in any real sense he has no real responsibility at all.

That is where the Calvinist defences of meticulous predestination by appeal to literature fail. The people you walk past in the street are not works of fiction; they are real people. If salvation is not offered to them with the genuine possibility of choosing it, then their eternal sorrow is the direct result of God's action. God is responsible, not them.

When Jesus taught that the prodigal son was dead to his father, he did not mean that the boy was immune to reason and couldn't recognize his loss. He meant the relationship was broken and that it would depend totally on the father for restoration of that relationship.

Calvinists push the metaphor of being dead far further than they should, and in doing so deny the most important attribute of God, his goodness.

Of course nobody can get past their constant strawman arguments, misrepresentations of non-Calvinists (and Calvinism for that matter) and decontextualized mutilation of scripture.


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