God’s sovereignty and human responsibility: A debate for the ages

God’s sovereignty and human responsibility: A debate for the ages By William Wolfe, Op-ed contributor for Christian Post

One of the most difficult theological topics is the question of the nature of God’s sovereignty, particularly over man’s actions and man’s salvation. While I don’t want to adjudicate the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate here, I hope to shed some historical light on the general conversation and help us understand the overall debate a bit better.

To do that, let’s consider two works by two theologians from early church history, Augustine’s On the Predestination of the Saints and John Cassian’s On the Protection of God. As I engage their writing and the Bible, I’ll make my position clear; you are, of course, welcome to disagree — after all, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Human nature

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In On the Predestination of the Saints, Augustine commends fellow believers who have “attained with Christ’s Church to the belief that the human race is born obnoxious to the sin of the first man, and that none can be delivered from that evil save by the righteousness of the Second Man.”

What he means by this is that in Adam, the “first man,” all have fallen and are inheritors of Adam’s original sin, and therefore are rightly deserving of death and condemnation from God. The only way to be delivered from this pitiable condition is through belief in the perfect righteousness and substitution of the “Second Man,” that is, Jesus Christ. Augustine goes on to say that this belief will “abundantly distinguish them from the error of the Pelagians.”

Pelagius was a fifth century monk who believed and taught that man was born sinless and could obey God’s commands perfectly, thereby earning salvation by personal merit. While this belief was rejected as heretical in 418 at the Council of Carthage, a subtler version, called Semi-Pelagianism, continued to be taught by others.

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