Monday, March 17, 2008

Why terminology is important.

James Swan's recent thread at Beggar’s All (HERE) contains a lengthy quotation gleaned from R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing To Believe. The following comprises the beginning of that quote:

The classic issue between Augustinian theology and all forms of semi-Pelagianism focuses on one aspect of the order of salvation (ordo salutis): What is the relationship between regeneration and faith? Is regeneration a monergistic or synergistic work? Must a person first exercise faith in order to be born again? Or must rebirth occur before a person is able to exercise faith? Another way to state the question is this: Is the grace of regeneration operative or cooperative?

Monergistic regeneration means that regeneration is accomplished by a single actor, God. It means literally a “one-working.” Synergism, on the other hand, refers to a work that involves the action of two or more parties. It is a co-working. All forms of semi-Pelagianism assert some sort of synergism in the work of regeneration. Usually God’s assisting grace is seen as a necessary ingredient, but it is dependent on human cooperation for its efficacy.
(James continues his usual practice of ‘deficient citation syndrome’ [grin], leaving out the page numbers. The selection above is from page 23.)

Sproul, like so many of his Reformed brethren, maintains that “Augustinian theology” (in reference to soteriology) is expressed in but one form, and that if one does not accept this single form, one slips into one of the “forms of semi-Pelagianism” (or even worse, full-blown Pelagianism).

However, a careful reading of the historical context of the birth of semi-Pelagianism reveals a much different landscape. And what is disconcerting to me, is that Sproul, in his Willing To Believe, has obviously read the history behind the emergence of semi-Pelgaianism, as well as the early Church’s reaction to it. Sproul in pages 69-76 gives a brief, but for the most part, accurate portrayal of the rise of semi-Pelagianism, citing three esteemed authorities, whose primary discipline is that of Christian history: Philip Schaff, Adolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seeberg. Yet amazingly, Sproul, in spite of the very quotes he provides from these scholars, misses THE KEY INGREDIENT which distinguishes semi-Pelagianism from all forms of Augustinianism! That KEY INGREDIENT is this:

Semi-Pelaganianism teaches that an individual apart from grace can accept the offer of salvation, and that once accepted one then cooperates with the grace that God gives. In other words, semi-Pelagianism denies the necessity of grace for one to believe/accept the gospel.

The following are from the quotations provided in Spoul’s book:

But the beginnings of good resolve, good thoughts, and faith—understood as the preparation for grace—can be due to ourselves. Hence grace is absolutely necessary in order to reach final salvation (perfection), but not so much so in order to make a start. (Page 72.)

The question, which of the two factors has the initiative, he answers, altogether empirically, to this effect: that sometimes, and indeed usually, the human will, as in the cases of the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Penitent Thief, and Cornelius, determines itself to conversion; sometimes grace anticipates it, and, as with Matthew and Paul, draws the resisting will—yet, even in this case, without constraint—to God. Here, therefore, the gratia praeveniens is manifestly overlooked. (Page 74.)

As I pointed out in my previous thread here at AF, Schaff, in the next section after the one from which the above quote is taken from, then summarizes the Church’s response to semi-Pelagiansim: “These transactions terminated at length in the triumph of a moderate-Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism.” (History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, sec. 160, p. 866.)

And interestingly enough, Sproul seems to be against Sproul, for after stating many times prior that the telling mark of all forms of semi-Pelagianism is synergism from start to finish, he then goes on to say:

The church embraced a way that was more Augustinian than Pelagian. Some have referred to it as semi-Augustinianism rather than semi-Pelagianism, finding it closer to Augustine than Cassian. (Page 76.)

Amen brother Sproul! You finally ‘got-it-right’. The fact that the Catholic Church maintains that it is impossible to accept the gospel without grace (gratia praeveniens), this separates Her teaching from “all forms of semi-Pelagianism”; instead, embracing “moderate-Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism.”

I end by reiterating that terminology is indeed important.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, March 15, 2008


I came across Turretinfan’s (hereafter TF) recent posts concerning Semi-Pelagianism while browsing through his blog yesterday. The first thread on this topic that caught-my-eye was his Pelagiansim, Semi-Pelagianism, Semi-semi-Pelagianism.In this thread, TF links to a previous post Semi-Pelagianism According to Schaff, and IMHO, this second thread (chronologically the prior of the two) should be read first. In the Schaff thread, TF provides an extensive quote from Schaff’s third volume of the History of the Christian Church (section 159 – pages 857-865).

Immediately following this section on Semi-Pelagianism is one termed: “Victory of Semi-Augustinianism. Council of Orange, A.D. 529.” Schaff in this section states: “These transactions terminated at length in the triumph of a moderate-Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism.” (Page 866.)

For what every reason, TF neglects to mention this extremely important distinction that Schaff himself made, and instead states: “That [section 159] provides a very lengthy explanation, but you will find that at other places Schaff simply uses Semi-Pelagian as a synonym for synergistic.”

If one does not keep Schaff’s distinction in mind, one will be susceptible to misconceptions concerning Schaff’s later use of the term Semi-Pelagianism. IMHO, TF himself provides a good example this in the very same thread, which then spills over into to TF’s other thread on this topic.

Returning now to the aforesaid thread, we have TF providing a quote from one of my favorite Reformed theologians, B. B. Warfield. The quote is from the small book, The Plan of Salvation, which is a collection of five lectures given by Warfield. TF quoted from an online version of the first edition (1915) [I happen ot own copies of the second (1935) and third editions (1989).] The quote is from the second lecture, Autosoterism, and contains the interesting term, “semi-semi-Pelgainism”. I do not know if Warfield was the first to use this term, but what is important, is that he is using the term as a substitute for Schaff’s “moderate-Augustinianism” or “Semi-Augustinianism”. Once again, this is an important distinction, and once again, TF has missed the importance. The following is TF’s summation of the Warfield quote:

To summarize, in the set of definitions by Warfield:

Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace;
2. The necessity of initial grace; and
3. The general necessity of grace.

Semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace; and

2. The necessity of initial grace.

Semi-semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace.

IMHO, TF has misrepresented what Warfield actually wrote by substituting the “sufficiency of grace” for “efficacy” of grace. Here is Warfield’s own words:

The necessity of grace had been acknowledged as the result of the Pelagian controversy: its preveniency, as the result of the Semi-pelagian controversy: but its certain efficacy, its “irresistibility” men call it, was by the fatal compromise of Orange denied… (Page 31 – 1989 edition.)

Like his apparent mentor, James White, TF is confusing “sufficiency” and “efficacy”. I have previously dealt with the importance of maintaining a distinction between the two, (HERE and HERE), so will not belabor the point any further in this thread.

To summarize, the Catholic position (explicitly defined at the Second Council of Orange) is not a form of Semi-Pelagianism, but rather it is moderate Augustinianism.

And in conclusion, I would like to recommend a series of excellent posts on this topic at a blog I discovered earlier today: The Supplement.

Grace and peace,


Friday, March 7, 2008

Turretinfan: Attempting some damage control

I got back from my bike ride to discover that Turretinfan (hereafter TF) is attempting some damage control. Rather than reply in the original thread HERE which prompted his in depth, protracted, scholarly (i.e. Google [grin]) research, he chose instead to post his response on his blog HERE, where he has rejected a previous attempt of mine to respond to another one of his ATTACKS. Oh well…free country...

Once again, in this THREAD, TF made some pretty bold assertions in his attempt to rescue his apparent hero, James White. Here are his words:

"There is no evidence of anyone worshiping a trinity of the Father, the Son, and Mary at the time of Mohamed."

In reaching this conclusion TF adamantly rejected Christian Islamic scholars who believe that the Qur’anic passage in question (5.116) was not addressing any form of Trinitarianism at all, but rather, Tritheism. He also rejected the possibility that heretical Christian sects who worshipped Mary also worshipped the Son and the Father (which seems quite absurd to me, for when has any worshipper of Mary not also worshipped her Son, and His Father???) And lastly, he rejected the Qur’an’s testimony that there were Christians who worshipped three Gods—the Father, Jesus, and Mary.

Now, if one takes the time to read through all of TF's posts on this issue, a basic mantra keeps reoccurring: there is NO evidence that ANY Christians (even heretical ones) worshipped three Gods—the Father, Jesus, and Mary. One can certainly discern that TF and I disagree on what actually constitutes “NO evidence”. Be that as it may, I began a search for either a hard copy or an online version of the source quoted in Gibbon's (Eutychius’ Annals), finding a pdf online version on the morning of March 3, 2008. I later that day typed up the info and posted it in the combox (with some typos that are not allowed to be corrected [wink]).

TF finally had some more evidence (uh, I mean ‘evidence’) to deal with. I suspect he first became aware of my response via my rejected attempt to post on his blog; but putting aside the exactly when and how, he now knew that it was time for some damage control (Google…please help…).

Let’s now examine his damage control:

"Eutychius was a 10th century Melkite Patriarch in Alexandria. He reigned in the Coptic church in Egypt during a time when he was surrounded by the ruling majority of Sunni Muslims. To maintain the position I presented on the previous page would have been dangerous to his health."

Error #1 – Alexandria was in full control of the Fatimids, NOT the Sunnis, during the period that Eutychius was Patriarch.

Error #2 – “your position” has NOTHING to do at all with the Nicene period that Eutychius was commenting on. He was merely supplying historical information on some of the diverse sects that attended the council. (Nice try though.)

TF then spends most of the rest of his post attempting to impugn the credibility of Eutychius, invoking a double-standard by linking to scholars—I say double-standard because in a previous POST he makes light of my use of scholars, with this gem:

"Oh wow, scholars disagreeing over something. Remarkable. I feel totally rebutted. (rolls eyes again - I've been having to do that way too much in this discussion)"

Returning to the scholars that TF linked to (Google previews and older, brief references), I happen to own one of them: C. Wilfred Griggs, Early Egyptian Christianity (btw, Griggs is a Mormon scholar), and if needed/requested, I will type up a post demonstrating that what Griggs has to say about Eutychius lends little (if any) support for TF’s position, and at times, speaks to the credibility of Eutychius.

Anyway, enough for now, dinner is ready, and I am really hungry after my brisk bike ride.

Grace and peace,


P.S. Will check for typos later, must take care of the hunger; at least I can correct any typos on my blog posts [grin].

The Qur’an, Muhammad and polemical Evangelical apologetics.

As I pointed out in my Friday, February 15, 2008 post, “James White, during the last few months, has spent a considerable amount of time attacking Islam, and in particular, the Qur’an”. Subsequent to this post I noticed a thread at Beggar’s All which related the following to its readers:

"The Third Secret of Our Lady of Fatima states Mary’s divinity. Mary is God, Mary is the Soul of the Holy Spirit....Mary is God, is the Final Dogma of the Holy Catholic Church…"

In the combox, I pointed out that the worship of Mary by Christians is nothing new, and linked to the above mentioned AF post. This precipitated a ‘firestorm’, a barrage of anti-Islam/Muhammad comments, spilling over into two subsequent threads on BA (HERE, and HERE), and a third at this BLOG (run by the BA poster known as “Turretinfan”).

The basic premise of our Evangelical polemicists (amateur and professional) is that the Qur’an/Muhammad taught that the “orthodox” doctrine of the Trinity consisted of the Father, the Son/Christ and Mary (the Mother), with Mary replacing the Holy Spirit as the third PERSON of the Trinity; and as such, was critiquing what was believed to be the “orthodox” position, not a heretical position. With this presupposition in mind, the next step involves the negative statement that NO Christian (“orthodox” and/or heretical) EVER believed this.

There are some problems with the above polemic (including the variations and nuances stemming from it), the rest of this post will delineate those problems.

Problem #1 – Most Christian Islamic scholars do not believe that the Qur’an is addressing the “orthodox” doctrine of the Trinity (in any of its numerous post-Nicene variations, e.g. Western/Catholic, Eastern/Orthodox, social, relational, et al.), but rather heretical conceptions, which may include one or more of the following: Origenism, Tritheism, Monarchianism (modalistic and/or adoptionistic), Collyridianism, and any notion of the one God comprising a combination of the Father, the Son/Christ and Mary (the Mother)—whether as a Trinity, or in a Tritheistic sense.

Problem #2 – All of the above heresies existed prior to the compilation of the Qur’an, including the last one; and there is NO historical data suggesting that any of them ceased to exist prior to the beginning of the 7th century.

Problem #3 – The failure to grasp the full context surrounding the selective ayat they invoke. For instance, when Surah 5.116 is interpreted by our polemicists, they neglect/ignore one of the most basic themes of the Surah: the condemnation of false practices and teachings. If one keeps this in mind, the efforts by the polemicists to portray Muhammad as being ignorant of what the varying sects of Christians “really” believed in his day becomes quite dubious.

To illustrate this point, I would like to now examine a few selections from Surah 5 (I will be using Marmaduke’s Pickthall's, The Meaning of the Glorius Koran – Dorset Press edition.)

15 O People of the Scripture! Now hath Our messenger come unto you, expounding unto you much of that which ye used to hide in the Scripture, and forgiving much. now hath come unto you light from Allah and plain Scripture,

16 Whereby Allah guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto paths of peace. He bringeth them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guideth them unto a straight path.

17 They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. Say: Who then can do aught against Allah, if He had willed to destroy the Messiah son of Mary, and his mother and everyone on earth ? Allah's is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He createth what He will. And Allah is Able to do all things.
(Page 98.)

This passage is addressing either modalism or Monophysitism; both are considered heretical.

72 They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers. (Page 103.)

Once again, the Qur’an is addressing either modalism or Monophysitism.

73 They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. (Page 103.)

This ayah is clearly addressing Tritheism, and not any form of Trinitarianism. Allah is not a “third” of “three” [gods]. (That the term “third” (thalith/thalithu) is referring one of three separate gods, is made clear in Surah 53.19, 20.)

116 And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah ? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden ?

117 I spake unto them only that which Thou commandedst me, (saying): Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness of them while I dwelt among them, and when Thou tookest me Thou wast the Watcher over them. Thou art Witness over all things.
(Page 107.)

This passage, once again, is addressing Tritheism, and not any form of Trinitarianism. The Arabic is clearly distinguishing two [gods] beside/apart from Allah (min dooni Allahi). No amount of sophistry will morph this passage into a form of Trinitarianism.

Conclusion: All of the above passages are addressing heretical Christian doctrines, and not the “orthodox” Christian position.

Postscript: The purpose of this post is a simple one—an attempt to address certain erroneous methods employed by Evangelical polemicists in their dealings with Islam, Muslims, the Qur’an, and Muhammad. It is my sincere and prayerful hope that this attempt has been a God honoring and fruitful one.

Grace and peace,


Monday, March 3, 2008

Pistol Pete Maravich

A friend of mine this last Saturday, dropped off a book for me read: Pistol – The Life of Pete Maravich, by Mark Kriegel. As he handed me the book he said, “I know you don’t read much other than religion and philosophy, but you will love this book!”

Well, he was correct on both counts: I rarely read much that is not directly related to either religion or philosophy, and I loved the book he gave me to read.

The book is certainly well written; I could not put it down. I started it early Sunday evening, and finished it later that evening while in bed. It brought back some fond memories of my early basketball days, and especially the historic event that my father and I were able to witness firsthand: Pete’s NCCA record for the most foul shots completed and attempted in a single game: 30 of 31. This was during his senior year at LSU, and came during the game with the Oregon State Beavers at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Oregon—a night I will never forget.

But my interest in Pistol Pete started well before that night; it began when I was playing in a brand new summer basketball program in which some of our district’s high school players would each coach a team of 6th graders from one of the local grade schools (if I remember correctly, there were 8 teams). My team took second place, and I ended up being the leading scorer for our new summer league. I got a few comments from some of the parents watching the games that I was a “little Pistol Pete”. “Pistol Pete, who is that” I asked. Well Pete had just finished his freshman year at LSU, and was already becoming a legend. That young farm boy began to follow Pete’s extraordinary career after that summer, and was later shocked by his tragic death in the arms of the Christian psychologist, Dr. James Dobson…

Anyway, I thought I knew a fair amount the Pistol, that is, until I finished Kriegal’s book. This book is a must read for anyone with the slightest interest in the great sport of basketball, and a great preparation for the upcoming “March Madness”!!!

Grace and peace,