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📑 The Four Views of the Human Ability

April 1, 2020

4 minute read

📑 The Four Views of the Human Ability

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Understanding the Four Views of the Human Ability is an important first step in understanding what makes Reformed theology stand out.


Pelagius was British monk who clashed with Augustine of Hippo during the 5th Century. To a large degree, the term 'Pelagianism' is defined by Augustine and its original definitions as intended by Pelagius remain elusive. The theological position holds that the original sin committed by Adam and Eve did not taint human nature and that humans have the right to free will to achieve human perfection without divine intervention.

Pelagius taught that it was unjust to punish one person for the sins of another; therefore, infants in his eyes were born blameless. He also taught that God could not command believers to do the impossible in His name. Therefore it must be possible to satisfy all divine commandments with natural human ability.

Key Points:

  • Man is well.
  • Monergistic: Solely the work of man
  • Modern expression: Humanism/Secularism
  • Grace is not necessary. "If I ought, then I can."

Pelagianism was especially popular amongst Roman Elites, monks and the rest of the contemporary Christian world at the time.


The term Semi-Pelagianism is used to describe the combination of Pelagianism and the soteriological school of thought on salvation. There were those that desired to hold an intermediary position between Augustine and Pelagius. Semi-Pelagianism became the dominant view in the Roman Catholic Church of the Medieval period.

This view holds that although all humans who descend from Adam by ordinary generation inherit the consequent corruption by Adams actions. However, this corruption does not extend to the whole man. There remains a part of the human person who is not corrupt. The Soteriological school thought meant that the human person must choose to follow God by engaging the un-fallen faculty which remains within them. As a result, God will provide grace to that individual which will serve to further sanctify that person.

So long as they use their free will to choose to follow God, God will respond with further grace.

Key Points:

  • Man is corrupted, but not completely.
  • Assisting grace required: "I can, but God must assist."
  • Synergistic: Man works, then God.
  • Modern expression: Much of modern evangelicalism.
  • Grace is necessary, but not sufficient. The individual must actively choose God.


Arminianism is a branch of Protestantism based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation but were distinctly different from the teachings and beliefs of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and other Protestant Reformers.

The primary difference is that Jacobus Arminius believed that salvation was open to all persons and that God's election of individuals was determined by means of prescience (anti-predestination). Another key difference is that the Arminianism doctrine holds to the belief that the will of man was freed by Grace prior to regeneration.

Because prevenient grace is given to all men by the Holy Spirit, and this grace extends to the entire person, all people have free will.

Through the preparatory (prevenient) grace given to all by the Holy Spirit, man is able to cooperate with God and respond in faith to salvation. Through prevenient grace, God removed the effects of Adam's sin. Because of "free will" men are also able to resist God's grace.

Key Points:

  • Man is mostly dead.
  • Enabling grace required: "God must work, then I can."
  • Synergistic: God works, then man.
  • Modern Expression: Catholicism.
  • Grace is necessary, but not sufficient.


Calvinism also known as Reformed Theology/Christianity is another major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice set down by John Calvin and other reformation-era theologians.

The primary difference that sets Calvinism apart is TULIP.

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election (ie. Predestination)
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

The primary difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is that of Predestination. Before the foundation of the world, God unconditionally chose (or "elected") some to be saved. The elect are chosen by God.

While God extends his common grace to all humankind, it is not sufficient to save anyone. Only God's irresistible grace can draw the elect to salvation and make a person willing to respond. This grace cannot be obstructed or resisted.

All men are totally depraved, and this depravity extends to the entire person, including the will. Except for God's irresistible grace, men are entirely incapable of responding to God on their own.

Key Points:

  • Man is dead.
  • Effectual grace required: "God must work, then I will."
  • Monergistic: Solely the work of God.
  • Modern expression: Reformed Churches.
  • Grace is necessary and sufficient.

If you have any questions or think I could have taken a better approach, let me know! Feel free to reach out in the comments below or reach out to me via email.

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