Pelagianism and the Flowers

It is almost impossible for certain evangelical types to get their heads around the idea that they engage in theological exegesis of the text of Holy Scripture; i.e. that they aren’t simply just reading the Bible de nuda. I have been having an ongoing engagement with Leighton Flowers, and his so-called provisionist soteriology for a couple years now. This engagement has been almost completely one-sided, but he just responded to me on Twitter. I tweeted out, once again, that I do not see how he escapes the Pelgian label. Historically he does not. But he wants to dismiss the history of interpretation tout court. He wants to start from scratch, from a tabula rasa when it comes to biblical interpretation. He doesn’t want to be bogged down by the ‘man-made’ labels that might arrest what he is attempting to do with his soteriological offering (which ironically is steeped in philosophical anthropology—i.e. libertarian free agency etc.). Here is his last response to me on Twitter from earlier today: “You broaden the definition to make us fit in the “species” of semi-Pelagianism and some work to fit you under “semi-Gnosticism”. Who cares? Tell us what’s unbiblical about the claims and drop the manmade labels.”[1] Flowers, as can be observed, is allergic to “manmade labels,” until of course he identifies himself as a Provisionist; but let’s not quibble, eh. Since Flowers wants the theological and biblical problems of Pelgianism spelled out then I thought it apropos to do that for him. I am sure this will not meet his expectations, since he doesn’t like people making reference to other people (unless he’s doing that); he just wants us to reference Scripture (de nuda). Be that as it may, let me share, at some length, from Karl Barth (surprise!). Coincidentally, or better, providentially, as the case may be, I just ran across a paragraph in my CD reading that explains what theological Pelagianism looks like, conceptually; and what its multitudinous problems are. Leighton, this one is for you (be warmed).

Within this sphere, which is itself the only sphere of being, God wills everything. God’s willing something can therefore mean that He loves, affirms and confirms it, that He creates, upholds and promotes it out of the fulness of His life. His willing it can also mean that in virtue of the same love He hates, disavows, rejects and opposes it as that which withstands and lacks and denies what is loved, affirmed and confirmed by Him and created, upheld and promoted by Him. He still wills in it in the sense that He takes it seriously in this way and takes up this position over against it. He wills it in so far as He gives it this space, position and function. He does not do so as its author, recognising it as His creature, approving and confirming and vindicating it. On the contrary, He wills it as He denies it His authorship, as He refuses it any standing before Him or right or blessing or promise, as He places it under His prohibition and curse and treats it as that from which He wishes to redeem and liberate His creation. In this way, then, in His turning away from it. He wills what He disavows. It cannot exist without Him. It, too, is by Him, and is under His control and government. There is nothing that is withdrawn from His will, just as there is nothing hidden from His knowledge. There is no sphere of being or non-being which is not in some way wholly subject to His will. For such a sphere would inevitably be that of another god. Anything withdrawn from His will can only be pure nothing. Whatever exists belongs either (as it is affirmed by Him) to being or (as it is disavowed by Him) to non-being. In either case it is subject to His will. Thus nothing that exists is withdrawn from His will. His will is therefore done in all and by all. There is no escape from what is done by His will. Again, of course, there is the desire to escape. But there is no goal where this desire can be realised. We can adopt an independent attitude to the divine Yes and No. We can hate what God loves and love what He hates. We can accept what He rejects and reject what He accepts. This is our sinful will. But it does not lead us to a sphere where we have withdrawn from the will of God or hidden and secured ourselves against its realisation and fulfilment in us and by us. If we will to sin, we enter the sphere of the divine prohibition and curse, disavowal and rejection; the realm of death. We can certainly attain this goal. But even if we do, we do not leave the sphere of the divine will or escape from God. Here, too, we cannot actually govern ourselves. In fact we are under no other government than that of the will of God. By our decision, our decision against God, we merely fulfil God’s decision. Besides willing and deciding for God or against Him there is no third possibility of choice or decision. There is no neutrality in which we can slip between the divine Yes and the divine No (which circumscribe the area of being), thus saving ourselves in this neutrality from the will of God in a middle position between faith and belief. There is no such place outside that area. The Yes and No of the divine will are absolutely and definitely the true circumscription of the area of being. There is nothing beyond. If we want to be neutral, we definitely want to be disobedient. For to struggle against adopting the position of agreement with the divine Yes and No, to look instead for a third possibility beyond the antithesis set up by the divine decision, to make a refusal to will the object of our will is a piece of folly in which we have already hated what God loves and loved what He hates and therefore sinned. If there is no neutrality towards God, we are already against God if we will to remain neutral. It is, therefore, impossible—really impossible—to fall out of or escape from the lordship of the divine will. His will is done in heaven and on earth both when we are obedient and when we are disobedient. This is no less true when our disobedience take the form—as it usually does—of trying to avoid the decision marked out for us in the divine pattern. But God’s will is God Himself, and God is gracious and holy, merciful and righteous. Therefore, again, to say that God is the One to whose will all things are subject is a word which is full of warning and yet at the same time full of comfort.[2]

Ultimately, sharing this isn’t for Leighton Flowers; it is for those who can see through the theological problems that Flowers is presenting to those who might be under his spell. Flowers himself is a lost cause, and is drunk on his subscriber’s count on YouTube. But I digress. Barth’s basic premise in the whole of the aforementioned is to think all things from a doctrine of creation (protology). In nuce, for Barth, all of reality is sustained by the singular will of God. There is no going outside of it; there is no independent wills in competition with God’s. The moment a theological position claims human beings have an individual and natural capacity to be for or against God, even as that might be externally aided by ‘grace,’ this position has strayed outside of God’s singular will and now is asserting its own independence (which as Barth rightly notes, is an illusion); this is theological Pelagianism, and is grounded in the idea that humanity has some modicum of independence and neutrality from God. This is the heinous danger of what Flowers is peddling his little buddlings. He is giving them a theology based on the idea that humanity has a natural in-built capacity to be for God or against Him; but of course, as Barth develops, this is an impossibility, and only reduces that person into the sphere of pure and demonic idolatry.

Flowers has demonstrated to me that he is un-teachable. He is full of bluster, and no substance. His arguments are made in appeal to the people and not the theological implications of Holy Scripture as he claims. I engage with him, not because he is theologically capable, but because he sells himself to the people as if he is. He is a theological Pelagian; he fits Barth’s description above, in regard to human neutrality vis-à-vis God. I pray he repents.

[1] Leighton Flowers, Twitter comment, accessed 12-27-2020.

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §31: Study Edition Vol 9 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 122-23.

5 thoughts on “Pelagianism and the Flowers

  1. Hello Bobby,

    It’s been quite a while since I commented on your blog or anywhere else for that matter. You probably won’t find anything I have to say enlightening, but I decided to give it a go anyhow.

    I do sympathize with Leighton Flowers about rejecting labels. I believe my stance on free will is technically described as soft libertarianism, so I have been labelled on multiple occasions, by Calvinists, as being “semi-Pelagian.” The attitude of the opposing commenter apparently being that the mere accusation of such rank heresy should make me shrink back in horror like Dracula from the noon-day sun. Somehow, I just don’t care.

    I know that Karl Barth holds to a modern theory of language that makes it impossible for God to communicate with us in a clear concise manner. I am aware that there are difficulties in transmitting and translating documents such as the sixty-six books of the Bible if indeed there are sixty-six books in the Bible. While I am not supposed to be able to objectively understand truth as revealed in scripture, I am supposed to understand Karl Barth. To me that places God in the corner mumbling while theologians such as Barth speak clearly. I know it would take a miracle for God to be able to communicate with me directly, but I do believe that God became man, died in the cross, and was resurrected three days later for my personal benefit. If I can believe that I can believe God is capable of anything.

    The bottom line for me is that if I believed Barth is right then I would pack it in and become a mystic. Why study Barth or any other theologian when I can use Lectio Divina and be on the path of theosis?

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    Glenn W


  2. To preach/proclaim Christ is to exhort disciples not to live in the world as if some other story were true.


  3. @Glenn,

    Yes it has been awhile.

    As far as Pelagianism. Flowers doesn’t understand the deep definitions of what the even entails. He doesn’t understand substance metaphysics and how that implicates a doctrine of grace that both he and classical Calvininsts and Arminians ALL operate with and from. I have already spent 15 years explaining all of that in the blogosphere, so I won’t rehash that here.

    I really have no idea what you mean by a ‘modern day theory of language’ in regard to Barth, but judging by what you say subsequent, no he doesn’t; whatever that is supposed to mean. Barth does not believe it is difficult for God to communicate clearly and precisely to us, he just believes that God only does that through Godself in Jesus Christ rather than through speculative philosophical reasoning as the Great Tradition operates from in the main. You have misread Barth. Theologians are you and me, they are people, but they have learning that many in the churches do not, and us such have a capacity that many in the churches do not. Remember, Jesus through the Apostle Paul declares that He would raise up TEACHERS et al for the edification of the church. You seem to reject that in your comment.

    And your final paragraph makes no sense at all. Lectio divina and theosis? Huh. I don’t know Glenn. But hey


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