John Starke’s interview with Fred Sanders over at the Gospel Coalition is a really good read. I think it demonstrates the fraternity that can exist between brothers who differ with one another over the doctrines of grace. I welcome the warm expressions that Sanders offers towards Calvinists, and I would simply reply that the feeling is mutual.
There was one section from the interview that I thought worthy of highlighting. Starke asks Sanders to complete the following sentence: “If you think Arminianism is semi-Pelagian, then…” Sanders replies:
You need a more flexible vocabulary of heresiology. John Wesley’s longest treatise was on original sin, and he affirmed it, right down to the bondage of the will. He put a sermon on the subject into his Standard Sermons. The Wesleyan emphasis on sinners being enabled to respond to the gospel has nothing to do with a high view of human abilities, and everything to do with an optimism of grace and a trust in the Holy Spirit’s prevenient work.
In other words, what saves Wesleyanism from the error of semi-Pelagianism is its insistence upon prevenient grace. The Wesleyan Arminians affirm a doctrine of original sin that renders man incapable of responding to the gospel apart from the Spirit’s work. Whatever one thinks about the original five points of “The Remonstrance” (folks like J. I. Packer say they are semi-Pelagian), Wesleyan Arminianism is not liable to that charge. Sanders goes on:
If you think Arminianism is an error, you should just call it “the heresy of Arminianism.” If you have to exaggerate its flaws to make it seem terrible, you probably shouldn’t.
It may also be that some anti-Wesleyans are tempted to characterize Wesleyans by their worst exemplars. There have indeed been Pelagians and semi- demi- hemi- Pelagians in the Wesleyan tradition. I don’t know any other way to interpret Charles Finney. But it’s a basic rule of fair discourse that you should meet your opponent’s views at their strongest and most central, not their weakest and most peripheral. Calvinism has generated its fair share of antinomians, determinists, theocrats, anti-evangelicals, and formalists. Anti-Calvinists shouldn’t attack on that front, but at the places where the tradition is strongest.
Amen to that last part. It doesn’t do much for theological conversation to engage at the margins. This is wise advice from Sanders. Read the rest here.