The point at which the “old” Gospel most painfully contradicts the human-centeredness of the “new” is at the point of salvation. In 1959 J. I. Packer referred to a shattering of our self-esteem were “God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation” to be preached. Today, assertive preaching of this doctrine would often be first met by utter disbelief followed by anger at the affront to human dignity.
The fact is that God’s sovereign act of election with regard to our salvation is taught throughout the Bible, and thus is a cornerstone of orthodox Reformed theology. Throughout current Western Christianity the closest approach by many to salvation by grace is the false doctrine of semi-Pelagianism. Many Christians embrace an understanding of salvation that is far more human will centered than even semi-Pelagianism allows. The following paragraph is from an article in Modern Reformation (Vol. 10, No. 3, May/June 2001), by R.C. Sproul. The article’s title is “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church.” This excerpt also warrants careful study.
Now what is called semi-Pelagianism, as the prefix “semi” suggests, was a somewhat middle ground between full-orbed Augustinianism and full-orbed Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism said this: yes, there was a fall; yes, there is such a thing as original sin; yes, the constituent nature of humanity has been changed by this state of corruption and all parts of our humanity have been significantly weakened by the fall, so much so that without the assistance of divine grace nobody can possibly be redeemed, so that grace is not only helpful but it’s absolutely necessary for salvation. While we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t. That little island Augustine wouldn’t even recognize as an atoll in the South Pacific. He said it’s a mythical island, that the will is enslaved, and that man is dead in his sin and trespasses.