Michael Horton in his book Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church makes the assertion that Pelagianism is the “default setting” of the human heart. It’s natural for us to want to reject the idea of original sin and the fall of man as a result. Let me give you a little background.
Pelagius was a British Monk (c. 354-after 418) who thought that Augustine’s (354-430) position of original sin was extreme and unfair. Augustine taught that man is unable to do any good because man, by nature, is inherently depraved. Basically, we were born with a predisposition to sin. One example of this doctrine in Scripture is seen in Ephesians.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV).
We also see in Romans 5 that, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Romans 5:12, ESV).
Pelagius believed that we do not inherit Adam’s sin by the imputation of guilt or by nature. The only effect, essentially that Adam has, Pelagius would say, is the example that he set. So from his perspective, all are born neutral with no predisposition to evil. It’s up to us, he would say. His position was rejected later by three different church councils. Back to Horton…
Horton contends that semi-Pelagianism has found a home in American Christianity.
“In most cases, I suggest, it is semi-Pelagianism that dominates American Christianity, just as it did the medieval church. While Augustinianism affirms that God does all of the saving and Pelagianism crowns our moral achievement with the ‘grace’ of acceptance, semi-Pelagianism says that salvation is a process that depends on the coworking of God and humans,” he writes.
Horton contends that “where we land” on this issue is likely the most significant factor in how we approach our faith, how we live our faith out, and how we share that faith with the world around us.
He writes, “This means no matter what methods, gimmicks, or excitements one might employ, no matter how much energy is invested in making the message relevant, our witness will fall on deaf ears unless God graciously intervenes. By contrast, if we adopt Pelagian or semi-Pelagian assumptions, we will carry the burden of trying to produce conversions, relying on our own cleverness and communicative power rather than on God’s Word and Spirit.”
When you recognize it’s all up to God it takes a lot of pressure off when sharing the gospel. My job is to be faithful. It’s God’s job to be fruitful. Someone’s salvation isn’t dependent on my “performance.”