Perry’s blog post can be found here.
Perry of course grants that there are aspects of Reformed theology that are not Pelagian, but Perry charges that the Reformed conception of anthropology and the covenant of works are Pelagian. In this blog post I will argue that the Reformed conception of man and the covenant of works pre-fall are not Pelagian and that the Catholic and Eastern view of man pre-fall is unreasonable.
First let us look at some quotes where Perry charges that the Reformed are Pelagian, he writes:
Adam was then perpetually under a “covenant of works” since he intrinsically possessed the requisite power to fulfill it. This is why incidentally the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works is essentially Pelagian.
And again he writes:
And historically, the neo-semi-pelagian anthropology of the Ockhamist school trickled down on this point to the Reformers. The obvious irony is that the Protestant protestation against Pelagianism is directly applicable to their own theological system. Providing as a foundation for the Pelagian scheme an Augustinian soteriological doctrine of divine pre-emption doesn’t make the fundamental outlook any less Pelagian.
The standard definition of Pelagianism is this:
A concept proposed by Pelagius (circa 356 to circa 418) who denied the existence of original sin inherited from Adam. He taught that a soul created by god cannot inheret sin from an ancestor. Thus humans are born morally neutral. They can fall into habits of sin but can overcome sin through mental effort. He promoted adult baptism in place of infant baptism. His beliefs were declared heretical by the Christian movement.
The fundamental mistake that Perry Robinson is making here according to R. Scott Clark in his class lectures on Reformed Scholasticism is that the whole discussion of Pelagianism with respect to grace has to do with man after the fall. Perry is illegitimately expanding the definition of Pelagianism.
This is obvious when one reads the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Errors of Pelagianism:
1) Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
2) Adam's sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
3) Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.
4) The whole human race neither dies through Adam's sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
5) The (Mosaic Law) is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
6) Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.
On account of these doctrines, which clearly contain the quintessence of Pelagianism, Caelestius was summoned to appear before a synod at Carthage (411); but he refused to retract them, alleging that the inheritance of Adam's sin was an open question and hence its denial was no heresy.
Thus, we see that the Reformed accept neither of 1 through 6 because the whole discussion of Pelagianism with respect to grace is post-fall and not pre-fall.
However, when Perry tries to argue that the Reformed share similar views to Pelagius on human nature pre-fall, he specifically argues that we believe like Pelagius that human nature pre-fall is intrinsically naturally righteous and able to fulfill the commands of God’s covenant, the covenant of works that is. Perry is right about this, but this does not make us Pelagian, that just means that we share a view with Pelagius. I am sure Perry shares views with Pelagius as well, like he has two arms and that he is a male, but this does not make Perry a Pelagian. If he tries to argue that this view of human nature leads one to Pelagianism then he is wrong because the Reformed are obviously not soteriologically Pelagian. If he tries to argue that if one shares a view with Pelagius that is not condemned as a Heresy by a council but that the Orthodox do not share, then he is begging the question because he is assuming in the argument that the Reformed are Heretics and that the Orthodox position is not (which is what the post was intending to prove, that the Reformed are Heretical on this point).
But it is worse than this because the Catholic and Orthodox position on human nature pre-fall is actually unbiblical and philosophically flawed.
The author of Genesis says that all of God’s creation is good:
Genesis 1:31 "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
If everything that God created is good then the Reformed are right to think that human nature is good in the pre-fall circumstances.
But there are other philosophical problems with the non-Reformed position. Why would God create human nature defective so that it would need grace? If God is the greatest possible being then it seems that it would be better for him to create human nature intrinsically good rather than not. Thus, it seems that the non-Protestant position on this is unreasonable and that Perry's arguments have failed because he is using an incorrect definition of Pelagianism.
Finally, If anyone is Pelagian in this whole mess then it is Perry, who is a Eastern Orthodox. This is because Eastern Orthodox reject the imputation of Adams sin to us. In short, they reject original guilt just like Pelagius. Catholics are also Pelagian because they reject sufficient grace just like Pelagius. If anyone is not Pelagian it are those who hold to the Classical Reformed Protestant position which accepts the imputation of Adams sin to us and sufficient grace.