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McGrath on Pelagianism and Augustinianism

For those of you who embrace “reformed” theology, the following bit of history may be news to you. Keep in mind, this discussion was happening around 400 AD. You can read more about it at Monergism.com. And I highly recommend McGrath’s book, Christian Theology, to anyone studying a systematic theology. His historical approach to teaching Christian doctrine, by putting all the pieces on timeline, brings invaluable clarity to the issues.

“For Augustine, the total sovereignty of God and genuine human responsibility and freedom must be upheld at one and the same time, if justice is to be done to the richness and complexity of the biblical statements on the matter. To simplify the matter, by denying either the sovereignty of God or human freedom, is to seriously compromise the Christian understanding of the way in which God justifies man. in Augustine’s own lifetime, he was obliged to deal with two heresies which simplified and compromised the gospel in this way. Manichaeism was a form of fatalism (to which Augustine himself was initially attracted) which upheld the total sovereignty of God but denied human freedom, while Pelagianism upheld the total freedom of the human will while denying the sovereignty of God. …

“It will thus be clear that Pelagianism and Augustinianism represent two radically different outlooks, with sharply divergent understandings of the manner in which God and humanity relate to one another. Augustinianism would eventually gain the upper hand within the western theological tradition; nevertheless, Pelagianism continued to exercise influence over many Christian writers down the ages, not least those who felt that an emphasis upon the doctrine of grace could too easily lead to a devaluation of human freedom and moral responsibility.”

Alister E. McGrath Christian Theology: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell 1994) p 372, 377