The old saying “God helps those who help themselves” sums up what may be the prevailing perspective on the human relationship with God in the world today. In practice, this notion spans almost all religions. In Christianity, it is called Semi-Pelagianism, which refers to a British monk named Pelagius, who implicitly denied the doctrine of original sin, affirming instead the ability of humans to be righteous by the exercise of their free will. He essentially believed that we choose God as opposed to Him choosing us, a conviction consequently termed Pelagianism. His teachings were condemned as heresy by the Roman Catholic Church in 418 AD.
Semi-Pelagianism constitutes a more mixed and more prevalent view. It understands the sovereignty of God and human effort as working together toward human salvation/justification. You may have heard it in terms of “meeting God half-way”, or “co-laboring with God”, or “God knocks at the door, and I answer”, or “Let go and let God”, or even “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Semi-Pelagianism is particularly seductive because it appeals to our sinful desire to stand on our own two feet, while still “throwing God a bone”. We want to have something to offer God, something by which we can be measured. We desperately want to play a part in the salvation tango. The problems here should be fairly self-evident. Questions of exactly how much of a role we play – and how we know we’ve done so successfully – plague the Semi-Pelagian, fostering the sort of anxiety and judgment that eventually drives people away from Christianity altogether. That is to say, in practice Semi-Pelagianism has a tendency to revert to the non-semi version.
We hope the following guide will explain how certain technical terms are used on the Mockingbird site.
None of these definitions are, or could possibly be, comprehensive. Hundreds of books have been written on each. We are aiming, instead, via a few broad strokes, to give a sense of how the terms are being used. It should be noted that these terms are sometimes used as shorthand for their philosophical implications, or centrifugal outworkings.