Monday, April 14, 2008

The Soteriology of the Postmodern Movements

What one believes about soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) is foundational to every other theological category and will affect those categories accordingly! If the foundation is wrong then everything else built on it will not be right. In the next several posts I want to show how the Postmodern Movements of our day have a philosophy of salvation and not a theology of salvation and how that affects their ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and their eschatology (doctrine of end-times).

As to the soteriology (doctrine of salvation) of the Postmodern Movements, they are man-centered and not God-centered. The movement as a whole can be traced back to bad roots in the area of soteriology. Primarily it is Pelagian and/or semi-Pelagian at its roots. "Pelagianism denies the fallenness of our nature; it denies original sin."

Semi-Pelagianism says, "Yes, there was a fall; yes, there is such a thing as original sin; yes, the constituent nature of humanity has been changed by this state of corruption and all parts of our humanity have been significantly weakened by the fall, so much so that without the assistance of divine grace nobody can possibly be redeemed, so that grace is not only helpful but it’s absolutely necessary for salvation. While we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t."

In essence, both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, claim that man isn't really all that bad and he just needs a little help. But that isn't what the Bible teaches on the subject! The Bible teaches that man is "dead in trespasses and sin", "there is none good, not even one", and "no one can come to Me unless it is granted to Him by My Father." "The semi-Pelagian doctrine of free will prevalent in the evangelical world today is a pagan view that denies the captivity of the human heart to sin. It underestimates the stranglehold that sin has upon us."

Also inherent in Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is the idea that "God helps those who help themselves." And again that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that "God helps those who cannot help themselves."

Salvation is by grace alone! Only the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and therefore all the man-centered gospel gimmicks are doomed to failure. There may be those caught up in the Postmodern Movements that claim to be "reformed in theology" but their methods betray them - "They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him" (Titus 1:16).


Tim said...

Here is the postmodern way of presenting the Gospel:

The way conservative Christians talk about “personal salvation” seems to me to try to persuade by exclusion. In other words, the argument says, “You, the ‘unsaved,’ are on the outside and I’m on the inside. I’ll tell you how to get inside if you want.” I think we would be more in line with the spirit of the gospel if we invite by inclusion, saying, “God loves you. God accepts you. Are you ready to accept your acceptance and live in reconciliation with God?” (Brian McLaren, "A New Kind of Christian", 130)

Olan, I'm just wondering if you're in the mood to discuss the different views of sin and imputation. Here is my understanding of the different views:

Pelagian - Every human soul is immediately created in a state of innocence, free from depravity. Adam's sin is an evil example. Death is not a consequence of sin, but is the natural outcome of mortal life. Man is a sinner because he sins, not because he is born sinful. What God requires us to do - lead holy lives - we must be able to do. Socinians and Unitarians hold this view. It was condemned at the Synod of Carthage (418) and at the Council of Ephesus (431).

Augustinian - Augustine believed that Adam transmitted sin to his progeny by means of natural generation. The entire human race existed seminally in Adam.

Semi-Pelagian - Attempting to find a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustine, the John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins and others suggested that Adam's sin caused spiritual weakness, rather than falleness, in humanity. If Pelagians identify man as spiritually well, and Augustinians as spiritually dead, the Semi-Pelagians view man as spiritually sick. We suffer from a spiritual deficiency due to Adam's fall. This is the most common view in Roman Catholicism, and some would categorize Finney as Semi-Pelagian.

Arminian - Adam's sin causes guilt, depravity, and punishment in the human race, but God's prevenient grace enables man to cooperate with God to overcome this state. Charles Wesley is representative of this view.

Federal/Covenental - Adam was appointed head of the human race by God. God entered into covenant with Adam, agreeing to give eternal life on condition of obedience. The race is condemned on the basis of Adam's sin. Cocceius and Turretin held this view.

New School - All men are born with a physical and moral constitution that predisposes them to sin. And all do sin when they arrive at moral consciousness. The original predisposition may be called sin since it inevitably eventuates in sin, but only voluntary acts are actually sin. So, God imputes to men only their own acts of rebellion. A reaction to Puritan anthropology, New School theology is represented by Timothy Dwight.

Neo-orthodox - For Barth, the Fall is representative of what happens to everyone. We all have our own "little scene in the Garden of Eden". Both Barth and Brunner reject the reality of an historical Adam and Eve.

Liberation Theology - "Sin is a collective reality manifested in socio-political situations." Whether oppression of the poor, or an ethnic group, or of group based on sexual identity, sin is not an individual act, but an act of a society. The solution for sin is social and political freedom.

I think you are right to point out the Pelagianism/Semi-Pelagianism of Postmodern soteriology, but I also detect a strong current of Liberation theology in it as well.

Hope you don't mind the long comment.

The Spokesman said...


McLaren's version of the gospel is just a perpetuation of Robert Schuller's self-esteem gospel which is no gospel at all. It's Pelagian to the core

You are correct in detecting a strong current of Liberation theology in the soteriology of the postmodern movements.

Thanks for sharing the different views of sin and imputation. Which view do you hold to?

Tim said...

I guess the best way to describe what I believe would be somewhat of a combination of the Augustinian view and the Federal/Covenental view.

The Spokesman said...

Tim: I guess the best way to describe what I believe would be somewhat of a combination of the Augustinian view and the Federal/Covenental view.

This is how I see it also. Not only did we exist seminally in Adam, he also had the responsibility of federal headship of the race. Since sin is imputed for those who are in Adam, so also righteousness is imputed for those who are in Christ.

Tim said...

I know you have been pastor at Devco for some time now, so I'm not sure how big a deal this was when you were trying to find a place to serve. But, I can tell you since I am currently looking for a church to pastor that the current thing a lot of churches want to know before they talk to you is whether or not you are a Calvinist. DOM's all over the country are telling churches not to hire Calvinist pastors. Therefore, I have tried to think a lot about how to answer churches in regard to this issue. Below is how I explain my view of depravity/sin/imputation:

In dealing with total depravity what we are actually dealing with is the doctrine of inherited sin. Typically this is dealt with under two sub-categories: inherited guilt and inherited corruption. Calvinists and non-Calvinists (Arminians) typically agree that humanity inherited corruption from Adam. It is when it comes to inherited guilt that they usually disagree. This is one of the five points where I tend to agree with Calvinists.

1. Inherited Guilt

The context of Romans 5:12-21, especially the following two verses, seems to indicate that God thought of Adam as the representative of humanity. Thus, when Adam sinned all humanity became quilty.

Romans 5:18-19 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

2. Inherited Corruption

Psalm 51 is particularly instructive when it comes to inherited corruption.

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

Putting this verse in context shows that David was not referring to his mother's sin but his own sin. David looks back on his life and cannot find a time when he was not sinful. This sinfulness was inherited. As Job says in Job 14:4 "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!" Then, Psalm 51:10 is an indication of the extent of the corruptness of man.

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

The word for "create" in this verse is the same word used in Genesis 1:1. It is a Hebrew verb that can only have God as the subject. The reason is that it means to create something from nothing. It is something only God can do. David recognizes that he can't even give God anything to work with. God will have to make him a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Spokesman said...

DOM's all over the country are telling churches not to hire Calvinist pastors.

That can sure pose problems for the reformed pastor, however, as a Southern Baptist you can show the prospective church a copy of our Baptist Faith and Message.

And I do suggest that a pastor be honest and forth-right about his convictions (that are based solidly on the Word of God) in this area. There is a good blog on this here.