In Ashland Theological Journal 36 (2004) 101-102, Brenda B. Colijn in “A Parable of Calvinism” writes:
The kingdom of God is like a cruise ship that goes on a long voyage. The captain of the ship overhears his passengers planning to go swimming off the side of the ship. He makes an announcement to all the passengers, warning them against such an action. If they jump off the ship, they will be unable to climb back in, because the hull is too steep and there are no ladders to give access. The ship is hundreds of miles from land, so they won’t be able to swim to shore. The surrounding waters are infested with sharks. Nevertheless, despite the captain’s warning, all of the passengers jump overboard to go swimming. They are soon in deep trouble.
Seeing their distress, the captain broadcasts a message to all of them. He says that he can rescue them all; to be rescued, all they need to do is to grab the life preservers that he will throw to them. Then he takes out a few life preservers and instructs his crew to throw them to certain individual passengers he has picked out…
Link to PDF here
Since the passengers ’need to grab the life preservers’ we might extend Coljin’s parable of Calvinism because it could be thought to sound a bit too synergistic! It might be more appropriate to further it by saying that the captain in throwing out the life preservers, not only leaves it nearby for them to cling onto, but irresistibly drags those selected individuals back in. This parallels the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace, which has its roots in Augustinian thought. The rest of this post will revise the parable making gradation between Augustinian and Pelagian views on grace.
The Pelagian version of the parable might have the passengers in the water able to swim back through the water and climb aboard the ship, thus saving themselves from their own predicament. From the semi-Pelagian view, the drowning passengers might ask the captain to throw out the life preservers so the captain can then save them, but they have initiated the process by which they are saved by the captain.
Arminianism is often mischaracterised as being semi-Pelagian (typically by the ‘Young, Restless and Reformed’ crowd on the Internet and even by some popular Biblical teachers, eg. R.C. Sproul, Edwin Palmer, John MacArthur, etc.). Any serious historical theologian will tell you that this is not the case, but that Arminianism is semi-Augustinian in holding to the necessity of grace to overcome the sinfulness of the totally depraved. See Article IV of Remonstrance before moving onto the semi-Augustinian/Arminian parable: “That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting, awakening, following, and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, in as much as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,—Acts vii, and elsewhere in many places.“
Now we will revise the parable such that the captain initiates the saving process by throwing out life preservers to everyone according to his outward call that he wills to save all. We might again extend this further as we did with the Augustinian/Calvinist parable where the captain throws life preserves over all the drowning passengers and is actively pulling them all back in to be rescued. However, despite the captain’s intention to save all, the passengers being drawn in can let go of the life preserver to their own destruction.
The obvious problem with the Augustinian/Calvinist parable, outlined in the article by Colijn, is that the captain’s outward call to save all the drowning passengers is insincere. This translates across to God’s apparent intention to save all and that none should perish as being deceptive. The Pelagian case models blatant works based salvation and the problem with the semi-Pelagian case is that man, by himself, cannot come to faith which saves, unless it be by grace cf. John 6:44, Eph 2:8 (whether it be resistible or irresistible).
Finally the semi-Augustinian/Arminian case gives us the best of both worlds. Just as the captain’s call to save all drowning passengers was sincere, so God’s will to save all and that none should perish, is honest. And as the captain draws in all the drowning passengers, less they duck out, God performs all the work necessary for salvation. This means He gets all the glory for saving but the one who resists is justly condemned.