Impaired Free Will
The Southern Baptist Convention should be focused on celebrating the first African-American president of its denomination -- one originally formed in support of slavery -- but it's being distracted by a debate over a so-called "semi-Pelagian" heresy in its midst. The Calvinists and Arminians are not at each other's throats on this one, but are together throttling the common Baptist-in-the-Pew understanding of free will and sinful nature. According to "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation," which presents the average church-going Baptist's view:
We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person's sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.
We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel.
This is the common understanding of lay Baptists, but how these two statements fit together is not entirely clear. Hence the joined forces of Calvinists and Arminians, though the latter are surely closer to this typical understanding of Baptists in the pews.
The interesting crux is this: Every person purportedly inherits a sinful nature and invariably commits sinful acts, yet the free will of each person is not in any way incapacitated by this sinful nature. How do these two positions fit together, exactly? If a fallen person's free will is not incapacitated, then why couldn't the person be saved through correct moral choices? In other words, why would one need a savior? This would be the so-called Pelagian heresy. Among the Southern Baptists, however, both Calvinists and Arminians point identify a slightly different heretical view:
[B]oth Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler and George W. Truett Theological Seminary professor Roger Olson, . . . [Calvinist and Arminian, respectively,] said that parts of the document sound like semi-Pelagianism, a traditionally heretical understanding of Christian salvation.
Semi-Pelagianism differs from Pelagianism in that while both affirm that the individual freely makes the first step toward God, semi-Pelagianism makes this a step toward acceptance of saving grace, whereas Pelagianism makes this the first of a series of steps by which one attains moral perfection and thereby saves oneself.
The Calvinists deny free will, which raises the question as to why an unfree person should be held morally culpable.
The Arminians affirm free will, but hold that it is impaired and requires assistance through prevenient grace, given to all, which enables the person to choose to accept saving grace, or so I've been led to understand by my shallow delving into this issue. This avoids the semi-Pelagian threat by affirming that God, not the human being, makes the first move in the initial step toward salvation by extending prevenient grace.
I'm not theologically sophisticated enough to know the finer points of these dogmas, but since my background is Southern Baptist, the issues intrigue me, so perhaps someone more knowledgeable than I could explicate these differences in finer-grained detail.