Biblical literalism + magisterial inertia = sacramental Pelagianism?

I’ve been reading through Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings in which he spends a whole lot of time arguing emphatically why unbaptized infants deserve to go to hell because of Adam’s sin. It seems like the damnation of babies was a huge sticking point for Pelagius and his followers and part of why they were inclined to say that the doctrine of original sin was ridiculous. The core of Augustine’s argument against Pelagius rests upon a literal interpretation of John’s two verses describing the salvation of the two sacraments — 3:5: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” and 6:53: “Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye shall have no life in you.” Though I don’t have time to trace the historical development of this literal attribution of salvation to sacramental observance, I cannot help but wonder if Augustine’s Biblical literalism and the magisterial inertia of the church in following his claims uncritically led to the formulaic view of the sacraments which created the atmosphere of “Pelagian” salvation by works that triggered the Reformation. I realize I’m being mischievous, but the irony is too delicious. Continue Reading

Is America 53% Pelagian?

As the pastor of a politically “purple” congregation, I need to tread lightly on the controversy surrounding Mitt Romney’s remarks about 47% of Americans not paying income tax. I am trying my best to transcend the superficial “issue” level of our increasingly absurd political conversation so that I can yank out the theological roots of the bad weeds that we find in our commonly held assumptions. I really believe that America’s problem is fundamentally theological (and it’s utterly bipartisan). One dimension of it is the impoverished understanding of “individual rights” that Ross Douthat and others have linked to the corrosive impact of secularism (which John Milbank correctly categorizes in Theology and Social Thought as a self-disavowing sect of Christian-rooted thought that has gone atheist). Paul Ryan was right to observe that our “rights” have become dangerously stripped of their bark if there is no longer an assumption that we are “endowed by our Creator” with them (and not by whichever majority of Americans happens to be in power). But the irony is that many of the very people who cheer when they hear lines like, “Our rights come from God and nature, not from government,” actually embrace secularism when the question is framed differently. To say that we are a society of “makers” and “takers” is a profession of disbelief in the relevance of the one true Maker. If I believe that everything I have and everything I have used to gain what I have is a gift from God, then He is the only Maker and we are all takers with one Father who commands us to care for each other as brothers and sisters. Continue Reading