Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Charles Simeon, Calvinism, Arminianism and Cooperation

Charles Simeon was an Anglican who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. The story of his life and ministry are fascinating and challenging to modern pastors who tend to be soft and too quick to retreat in the face of opposition and trial.

Simeon tells the following story from his early years of a meeting that he had with the venerable John Wesley. A young, largely unproven Calvinist engages an older, much revered Arminian. The conversation--and heart behind it--is instructive for us today as we contemplate how brothers should relate to those with whom we disagree on important doctrinal points. Too often we allow our disagreements to eclipse completely the fundamental beliefs that we hold in common.

Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford have recently addressed the issue of Calvinists and non-Calvinists working together in the Southern Baptist Convention. What they write is helpful and exudes the kind of spirit that should characterize all of us who genuinely want to see spiritual and doctrinal renewal in the SBC, hopefully through efforts to promote a Great Commission Resurgence. Tim Brister has added his reflections to the conversation as well, reminding us that while we should not allow secondary or tertiary concerns unnecessarily divide us in gospel enterprises, we must never lessen our insistence that primary, fundamental issues be firmly and clearly held.

Now let's allow Charles Simeon join the conversation (he writes about his experience in the third person perspective). He has something to teach us. May the Lord grant us a double portion of his spirit today.
A young Minister, about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians in this kingdom; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words: "Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction." Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask, "Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put [it] into your heart?"--"Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed."--"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by any thing that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"--"Yes, solely through Christ."--"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"--"No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last."--"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"--"No."--"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?"--"Yes; altogether."--"And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"--"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."--"Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."
The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connexion between the parties, he retained an unfeigned regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.
(Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1: Genesis-Leviticus Preface, pp. xvii-xviii)

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Calvinist vs. Arminian evangelism

These caricatures are funny. To adapt a phrase from my friend, Voddie Baucham, if you can't laugh, you oughtta say ouch! Enjoy.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Reconsidering Calvin and Calvinism

The latest Founders Journal is out and the theme is "Reconsidering Calvin and Calvinism." The articles in this issue should disabuse any honest reader of history or theology of the caricatures that so often are promoted about the man and the views that are usually associated with his name. In this, the 500th anniversary of his birth, Calvin deserves an honest reassessment of hi life and teachings. This issue of the FJ hopes to make a modest contribution to that.

The full contents of each issue of the Founders Journal is place online about 6 months after its publication. You can subscribe to the journal to have it delivered to you as soon via snail mail as it comes out by going to the subscription page of our website and signing up. The journal is published quarterly and the annual subscription is only $20.00 ($25.00 outside the USA).

Following is a lineup of the contents of the current issue:
  • "Calvin the Evangelist" by Frank James III
  • "Calvin the Calvinist" by Erroll Hulse
  • "Calvin and the Atonement" by Tom Ascol
  • "Calvin on Missions" by Michael Haykin
  • "John and Idelette Calvin" by Michael and Victoria Haykin

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Concerns about the challenge of Calvinism

Clear Creek College
Two stories arrived in my inbox within 24 hours that indicate that Southern Baptists are past the point of avoiding a dialogue about theology. The first came from the September 9, 2008 edition of the Kentucky Baptist Western Recorder. Dennis Fox is the President of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College and contributes a weekly column to the paper. He announces an upcoming conference on "Meeting the Calvinist Challenge." The conference is decidedly "not a debate about Calvinism" but rather a "response to the challenge of Calvinism," which he defines as "the challenge of trying to be 'converted' to Calvinsm."

Dr. Fox is plain-spoken when he writes,
The trustees and administration of Clear Creek made it very clear a few years ago when we publicly stated that we do not teach, promote or endorse Calvinism. We maintain this same position today.
This kind of candor is commendable. While I could wish that Clear Creek would be more open to the theology on which the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, it is certainly the prerogative of the trustees and administration and Kentucky Baptists not to be.

The other story is announces the results of a LifeWay study. Noting the documented growth among younger SBC pastors who identify themselves theologically as "5-point Calvinists," LifeWay Research asked 778 Southern Baptist pastors to agree or disagree with the statement, "The rise of Calvinism among recent seminary graduates concerns me."

The results: "27 percent strongly agreed and another 36 percent somewhat agreed with the statement indicating that they were 'concerned.' Sixteen percent strongly disagreed with the statement and another 17 percent somewhat disagreed. The remaining 5 percent indicated they 'don't know.'"

Call it the return of theology to the SBC. Whatever your attitude about the actual theological points involved there is no escaping the fact that Calvinism is a conversation that the Southern Baptist Convention is going to have. And it will be best addressed in formats initiated by last year's Building Bridges Conference, where the issues are clearly stated and positions are heartily yet respectfully argued.

Does Calvinism present a challenge? Without a doubt it does. If it is true, then we must acknowledge that much that is being taught in our churches today is false. If it is false, then we must acknowledge that those who believe and teach the biblical doctrines historically delineated by that nickname are misled and misleading others. We cannot have it both ways.

I believe that this coming conversation has great potential good as well as for evil. By that I do not mean that it will be good if "our side wins" and "there side looses." What I mean is this: if the kind of thinking that views this dialogue as a "win-lose" proposition and that wants to choose up sides prevails then much evil can erupt from it. If the 63% that are "concerned" decide that they need to declare war on the growing numbers that embrace the doctrines of grace, or if those in the growing minority decide to lock and load on the ones who are concerned, then we can expect an ugly and largely fruitless bloodbath.

If, on the other hand, cooler heads prevail and this issue can be viewed as an intramural debate amongst brothers who are willing to show love and respect to those with whom they disagree, then much good can come from it. This is my prayer. And it is how I want to conduct myself.

Don't misunderstand me. I am NOT suggesting that anyone back off his or her convictions. What I am suggesting is that Southern Baptists grow up and learn how to be ruthlessly biblical in arguing for positions that we believe are derived from the written Word o God and to do so in love and gentleness. Ours is a day that seems to think that solid convictions and genuine humility are mutually exclusive. But truth and love are not opposite choices. Truth requires love and love always rejoices in the truth.

So, let the conversation begin...or in some cases, let it continue. Join it. Don't be shy about it. Nail your theological colors to the mast and speak plainly about your beliefs. And do it without rancor or animosity, but in joy and hope that as we press each other to examine God's Word more carefully, the Lord may well be pleased to give us all greater insight into the truth He has entrusted to us.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

What Should Southern Baptists Do with Calvinists?

In the previous post I mentioned the above titled article written by Elmer Towns of Liberty University and published in Theology for Ministry (May 2008). Kenneth Fryer found the article online which makes it more convenient to review (the published version has been somewhat edited). I encourage you to go read it at the link above.

I found Dr. Towns' article to be seriously flawed in both research and argumentation. While he does not caricature the doctrines of grace in the typical ways that characterize many of the opponents of Calvinism, he makes some glaring factual mistakes, fails support some gratuitous assertions and leaves the reader wondering what exactly he is trying to say.

For example, in a footnote that is appended to the acknowledgement that "from the beginning the issue of Calvinism has been an issue among Baptists," Towns' makes this observation:
Leon McBeth in his historic encyclopedia, The Baptist Heritage Broadman Press, 1987 gives several incidences of Calvinism in the history of Southern Baptist. He gives lengthy discussions of the English Particular Baptist in the 17th and 18th century, and their decline (p. 152-154, 171-178). He tells of the Primitive Baptist, or "Hardshell Baptist" including other small sectarian movements, i.e. the "Absoluters" (p. 720), the "Old Liners" (p. 720), the "Progressive" (p. 720) and the "Two Seeds in the Spirit" (p. 720). He describes many smaller attempts of churches and associations to revive Calvinism such as “Sovereign Grace Bible Conference” (p. 771) and "The Banner of Truth" (p. 771-772), "The Sword and Trowel" (p. 773) and the paper The Baptist Reformation Review (p. 773). We are indebted to McBeth for documenting the futility of so many Calvinistic attempts to influence the Southern Baptist Convention [emphasis added].
What does his last sentence mean? The Southern Baptist Convention was formed by men and churches who held to some version of the 1689 Baptist Confession. Is Towns suggesting that the groups he mentions tried (and failed) to "influence the Southern Baptist Convention?" Does he really regard all of these groups as "incidences of Calvinism in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention?" Check the pages cited from McBeth and judge for yourself if Towns accurately represents the author's meaning.

He misunderstands the LifeWay research that was released at the Building Bridges Conference last November. After noting that some "alarmists" have warned that "eventually the Calvinists will take over the convention if the seminaries continue to indoctrinate graduates with Calvinist leanings," Towns evaluates the study this way:
Should people be upset at this trend? The research indicated that "churches pastored by Calvinists tend to have smaller attendance and typically baptize fewer persons each year." While the study suggested that many Calvinists have the same statistics as non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists, it also asserted that the growth of Calvinism is not a threat. However, the study did not differentiate between five point Calvinism, and Southern Baptist pastors who have identified themselves as Calvinistic [emphasis added].
He is simply mistaken. The 2006 LifeWay research asked the question, "Do you consider yourself a five point Calvinist?" the 2007 NAMB research asked respondents to state their level of agreement with the following statement: "I am a five point Calvinist." Towns makes this mistake twice in this article, the second time by asserting, "Stetzer’s report did not distinguish between five point Calvinists and the generic Calvinist [by this latter term Towns means someone who believes in the "sovereignty of God," "salvation by grace" and "eternal security"]." Further, the word "threat" is nowhere in the research document. The conclusion, however, does not the growth of Calvinism, particularly among younger ministers within the SBC.

Towns raises the following big question before addressing four specific questions that he believes will help clarify how the big question should be answered.
Should or should not Southern Baptists attempt to purge itself [sic] of five point Calvinists?
The first clarifying question is this, "Should any Southern Baptist fly under a particular flag?" He asserts, "Most Southern Baptist pastors fly the SBC flag rather high, but some also have other flags," and then names some of them, including the "Bible expostion," small groups," "Sunday School" and "Southern gospel music" flags.

Towns then asks, "So what’s wrong with a five point Calvinist flag?" And answers,
The problem is that most five point Calvinists don't just point to their flag; many become exclusionary of any other view that will not salute their flag and fight for their flag in ecclesiastical battles. These five point Calvinists claim they have the right flag that should be flown over all churches. Some five point Calvinists try to proselyte everyone into their point of view [emphasis added].
Not only does Dr. Towns demonstrate an inability to read published research accurately, he also shows no hesitation to speak in unwarranted generalities based, as a footnote explains, on nothing more than his experience.

Second clarifying question: "Is Calvinism a diversion against the Great Commission and baptism?" Included in this section is the odd statement that "Most five-point Calvinists do not give a gospel invitation after they push to get people saved." What is a "Gospel invitation" if not a "push to get people saved?" As becomes evident later in the article, Towns equates the former with an altar call.

In this section Towns does acknowledge that Spurgeon was a "great Calvinist," but then makes the undocumented assertion that "research doesn’t show he preached often in [sic] the tenets of five point Calvinism."

Towns' treatment of Calvin left me wondering if understands the reformer's theology. He pits the theology in Calvin's Institutes against his expositions of Scripture.
In his early life John Calvin espoused extreme positions on predestination in his theology called the Institutes of the Christian Religion.14 Later in life Calvin seemed to mellow his view of predestination as he studied the Scriptures more thoroughly by writing commentaries on every book of the Bible. As an example, his view on predestination opened when he wrote in his commentary on I John 2:2.
Calvin published the Institutes first in 1536 and revised it 4 more times before the final 1559 edition was published. Towns' footnote in this paragraph (14) is to the 1559 edition. Calvin's commentary on 1 John was published eight years earlier, in 1551. Had the reformer changed his views he would have had ample opportunity to note that in the last edition of the Institutes.

Towns' third clarifying question is this, "Is five point Calvinism a new intolerance?" Fair enough. But the explanation that follows has nothing to do with Calvinism at all but rather address the widespread cultural relativism and ideological intolerance of our day. He concludes with this: "Now anti-Christian views are gaining influence, and they have become intolerant to the Christian church, denying the freedom to teach in public what they have always believed."

What does that have to do with Calvinism?

The fourth clarifying question: "Will five-point Calvinism spread?" Again, I do not follow the reasoning that follows this question. Towns writes,
If five-point Calvinism were an isolated doctrine that could be embedded into a church for only its members to enjoy, that would be fine, but does it preach "the whole council [sic] of God?" As an example, many deeper life pastors find a nugget of truth in the “abiding life,” and their church becomes a separatist congregation from all other churches because they go deeper into the Word each week to find new nuggets. Sometimes, nuggets become the reason to verify their existence. In the same way, five point Calvinists find their doctrine of predestination the main reason for their existence.
Each of these sentences can be dealt with individually (though the first one doesn't seem to make much sense), but their relationship to each other escapes me. For the record, I have never met a five point Calvinist who found his reason for existence in the doctrine of predestination.

Towns suggests that a dandelion rather than a tulip would be a better description of Calvinism because "dandelions spread their seeds across the entire lawn, blown about by the winds of fads and self-examination. And what more do we know about dandelions, they kill the surrounding grass and as they spread across a beautiful lawn, they can destroy an entire lawn [this sentence was edited in the published version in the journal, but not without new grammatical difficulties]."

So, what should Southern Baptists do with Calvinists? Towns acknowledges that it is "alright to be a Calvinist," but quickly adds that "it is not alright to be a flag waving five point extremist that attacks any and every position or church that disagrees with its own." Since I do not know any Calvinist--or non-Calvinist for that matter--who fits this description, I suppose it is safe to assume that every Southern Baptist Calvinist should feel welcome in the SBC, according to Dr. Towns' view.

He also makes the point that it is "alright not to be a Calvinist." Churches that are "dispensational" and that "expose their young to an altar call where everyone - including children and youth - are led to Christ through a tangible conversion experience" do not have to be Calvinistic. I have never come across the language of "tangible conversion experience" before but suppose that he means by that a spiritual experience (conversion?) that is marked by physical movement (walking the aisle).

In the final analysis, Towns does not answer the question his title sets out. While I can understand the difficulty in publicly doing so, I wish that his article had not promised more than it delivered. What he has written does not offer much help to the kind of fraternal exchange that needs to take place within the SBC on this issue.

What would be wonderfully beneficial is a thoughtful, expository explanation of the convictions that men like Towns hold in contrast to historic, evangelical Calvinism. Perhaps the John 3:16 conference will do that. I certainly hope so. That type of effort could promote genuine engagement over the Word of God. Every Christian--Calvinist or not--can support that.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radio Interview on the resurgence of Calvinism

Bill Feltner of Pilgrim Radio interviewed me for 30 minutes recently about the resurgence of Calvinism in Baptist life. The station is non-commercial and is based in Nevada. I love their mission statement:
Our mission is to establish and operate radio stations and related media facilities for the purpose of advancing a program of Christian education using an artful blend of music and Scripture, stimulating instruction, interesting guests, and great books, all done in the public interest.
The interview is scheduled to be broadcast over the airwaves and with internet streaming 3 times today: 5:04am; 3:04pm and 12:04am (on the 20th). All times are Pacific.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

New name, same historical revisionism

On December 21, 2007 Ergun Caner sent me an announcement about the name change of Liberty Theological Seminary to Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I gave it only passing notice. From all that I know, Liberty may be the finest Fundamentalist seminary around and I don't care how many times they extract and reinsert the name "Baptist" on their letterhead.

When Caner became dean of the seminary in 2004 he took the name "Baptist" out. The rationale given for reinserting it I found mildly amusing, but again, not worth much more than a raised eyebrow. He wrote,
[S]ince 2004, much has changed, both here at Liberty University and in the Southern Baptist Convention. Too many schools have Baptist in their name but not in their doctrine. Some have drifted into liberalism and cultural relativism; still others remain orthodox, but have drifted toward non-Baptist reformed doctrine and cultural isolationism. For us, this was our line in the sand. We want to build bridges to a lost world without burning the bridges of our doctrinal heritage. We are putting Baptist back in our name, and taking back a term that has been misused [emphasis added].
He further explained their vision:
We want to train students from across the evangelical spectrum, in the classic Baptistic stance of our Anabaptist tradition and Sandy Creek revivalistic heritage.
I remember thinking at the time that if Caner is the one defining the "classic Baptist stance" of our heritage at Liberty then any student there who wants an accurate understanding of Baptist history should definitely make sure he has access to the internet so he can verify what he is taught by reading primary sources that are now readily available online.

I was content to keep these thoughts to myself and had forgotten about them until Wednesday night. While sitting in the Newark airport due to weather-related flight delays I took the time to listen to an interview with Caner conducted by Wes Kenney over at SBC Today. It is a very good interview. Kenney does a good job of raising issues pertinent to Southern Baptist life in a very brief span. The whole interview lasts about 17 minutes. I encourage you to listen to it.

Some of what Caner says is encouraging and informative, such as the story of his conversion and the account of how Dr. Falwell "tricked" him into becoming the Dean of the seminary at Liberty in 2004. He describes the recent transitions of leadership at Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church how smoothly they have been due to Falwell's clear instructions that his sons were to take over responsibilities upon his death.

Caner then explains the reason behind the recent reversion to including "Baptist" in Liberty's name.
I am a classic Sandy-Creeker-Anabaptist-history-Baptist and there just didn't seem to be a voice for that on the east coast. There is a great [voice for this view] in Southwestern Seminary....But on the east coast we had guys building bridges toward Geneva.
This is an obvious slap at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's co-sponsorship with Founders Ministries of the Building Bridges conference last November (get the audio here). I suppose this means that I could claim to have a hand in the renaming of the largest Fundamentalist seminary in the world. :-)

Commenting on the Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism Conference, Caner commends Malcolm Yarnell for doing a "masterful job of defining the rest of us," by which he means those who are not part of the "small" and "tiny" portion of the SBC that are not committed to the doctrines of grace but who are the "stump-winders"(?) and "saw-dust-trail boys."

Dr. Caner both hates and misrepresents historic Calvinism. He is concerned with the undeniable resurgence of evangelical Calvinism among Baptists. I can certainly understand that and have no quarrel with his desire to debate renounce it. I do regret, however, that he consistently handles the historical data so poorly.

He can call himself a "Sandy-Creeker," but at some point he must deal with the abundant evidence that within the Sandy Creek, Separate Baptist tradition there is a significant regard for Calvinistic doctrines. Even his mentor, Dr. Paige Patterson, publicly acknowledged this fact in the dialogue he held with Dr. Mohler at the 2006 Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference.

Caner further muddies the waters and exposes both a pugilistic demeanor and untrustworthy historical assessments when he makes this observation about the current resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC:
The whole fight started when they started saying, " ...we've always been Calvinists, both strands [presumbably he means both Charleston and Sandy Creek traditions]." That's a lie. That's not just a misstatement. That's just an outright historical fallacy....To say that ... Southern Baptists have always been in one way or another, Calvinists, is not only short-sited, it is just poor theology and poor history.
First, who is fighting? There are some in the SBC who are drooling for a fight over Calvinism. That tends to be endemic to certain strands of Fundamentalism. Without some boogeyman to battle they are without a raison d'etre. I am hopeful that a growing number of Southern Baptists are seeing through this tendency to demonize those with whom we disagree and not allow those who are itching for a fight to dominate the denominational dialogue. That was a large part of the motivation for the Building Bridges conference.

Second, who has ever said that Southern Baptists have always been Calvinists? This is a very unhelpful misstatement at best and gross misrepresentation at worst. Of course Southern Baptists have not always been Calvinists in a universal sense. No one believes that. But the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that this convention was founded by those who affirmed the sovereignty of God's grace in salvation.

Timothy George has noted that each of the 293 delegates who met in Augusta, Georgia in 1845 to establish the Southern Baptist Convention came from churches or associations that embraced the Chaleston/Philadephia/Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. Caner may not like this fact, but it will take more than gratuitous assertions to make it go away.

The final excerpt from Caner's interview illustrates the cautions that one ought to have in following his historical assessments. When asked about whether Calvin would approve the so-called 5 points of Calvinism, Caner made the following historical gaffes while trying to distinguish Calvin from the Calvinists.
During the life of Calvin a guy named Amyraut...Moise Amyraut said Calvin believed in general atonement. And his fiercest opponent was Theodore Beza, the guy who took over for Calvin.
So historian Caner would have us believe that Amyraut disagreed with Calvin during Calvin's lifetime and was fiercely opposed by Beza. Calvin (1509-1564) died 32 years before Amyraut was born and Beza (1519-1605) died when Amyraut was 11. Those must have been some fierce debates between the octogenarian Beza and the pre-adolescent Amyraut!

It was Shakespeare who wrote, "What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In the final analysis I do not care much whether an educational institution calls itself Baptist or not. What matters to me is that those who lead and teach in such institutions be honest with their subjects and not try to rewrite history simply because they don't like the way it happened.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Frank Page on Calvinism and Southern Baptists

SBC President, Frank Page, wrote an article for Baptist Press yesterday entitled, "Calvinism and Southern Baptists." He cites the recent Building Bridges conference and the research on the growth of Reformed theology within the SBC that LifeWay released in conjunction with that coference. Of the former he says,
Though I was unable to attend the conference, except for a very brief time of greeting, it is my understanding that the conference was a wonderful event where solid, healthy discussion took place.
Of the latter he comments,
The research portrays what many have imagined to be true. While around 10 percent of rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors would consider themselves to be five-point Calvinists, a sizeable portion (29 percent) of recent seminary graduates would identify themselves in that particular way. In fact, over 60 percent of graduates of one of our seminaries identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.
In light of this theological renewal (at least, that is what I regard it to be), Dr. Page offer the following helpful opinion, "I believe that the issue of Calvinism is one that can be discussed within the family of Southern Baptists. I believe we need to have honest, open dialogue." So do I, and I greatly appreciate Dr. Page openly and honestly addressing it.

Echoing encouragements from Paige Patterson (and Danny Akin), Dr. Page encourages prospective pastors to be forthcoming about their theological commitments with regard to the doctrine of salvation and every other doctrine when dealing with pastor search committees. He also admonishes search committees to be very clear about "what they will allow regarding teaching in this area [of Calvinism]."

I add a hearty "amen" to his statements. But I also think it is necessary to inject a huge does or realism into the discussion at this point. Many of our Southern Baptist churches have not been very well taught on basic doctrinal issues. It would unkind and unproductive, therefore, for a pastoral candidate to employ theological jargon in a thoughtless way when interviewing with a search committee. Such language can be intimidating to some sincere believers and confusing to others. The goal is genuine understanding. Therefore both love and wisdom dictate speaking plainly and simply about one's doctrinal commitments when in the interview process.

In defense of my Calvinistic brothers, I need to point out that, too often, calls for them to "lay their cards on the table" actually thrust them onto the horns of a dilemma. What some mean by this is that you must bring up the term, "Calvinism" in your interview, or else you are being dishonest. I don't believe that is true. Furthermore, if a brother does mention the term then he is liable to be accused of "pushing" Calvinism. But if he doesn't, then he is being dishonest. It is, to say the least, an untenable position.

I encourage men to provide the search committee with a confession of faith that represents what the candidate believes. This can be a recognized confession or one that he himself has written. But it ought to be more thorough than brief. Don't try to hide your convictions. To do so is cowardly and dishonest and has no place in Gospel ministry. Try to explain your views in clear, concise language. If "Calvinism" as a term comes up, fine. Define it accurately and address it. If it doesn't come up, don't feel compelled to mention the word as some kind of test of honesty. Just be very clear about your biblical convictions.

In addition to Dr. Page's calls to both churches and pastoral candidates, I think it would be appropriate to make a similar call to denominational employees. They need to be scrupulously honest when speaking about the issue of Calvinism and Calvinists within the SBC. Enough caricatures and misrepresentations have been hurled about by denominational servants over the last few years to last for a lifetime. It is shameful and should be stopped. Also, those in such positions should be very careful not to impose themselves on local churches as if they were operating as bishops in an episcopacy. Local churches need to remember our Baptist polity and refuse to allow this to happen.

Finally, Dr. Page's concluding statements should be heeded by all:
It is incumbent upon all Southern Baptists that we study the Word of God clearly to see what it says about the salvation given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be peaceful, Christ-like in our discussions, but let us be diligent in our study.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 5

In another of his articles in the Alabama Baptist, Dr. Garrett asks, "Have Baptists always been Dortian Calvinists in their confesions of faith?" The answer, indisputably, is no. General (Arminian) Baptists and Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists have published their own confessions of faith throughout the modern history of Baptists. Dr. Garett gives a helpful overview of some of the more prominent of those confessions, including the decidedly Calvinistic Second London Confession of 1677 (published in 1689).

This confession, through its adoption by the Philadelphia Association (with 2 additional articles) and the Charleston Association became the most influential doctrinal statement among Baptists in the South in the 18th and most of the 19th centuries. Leon McBeth notes the adoption of this confession by the Philadelphia Association in 1742 with these words:
It fixed for generations the doctrinal character of Baptists in this country as evangelical Calvinism, providing a bulwark against both the Arminianism of the Freewills and the determinism of the Hardshells" (The Baptist Heritage, 241).
After commenting on other confessions produced by Baptists in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the Abstract of Principles (1858) and the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963, 2000), Dr. Garrett offers this conclusion:
Those Baptists framing confessions in England and America who were on the Calvinistic side of the Calvinistic-Arminian divide generally adhered to some of the "five points" of the Synod of Dort, but such was not generally true of those on the Arminian side, and progressively those on the Calvinistic side modified or muted their adherence to Dort so that by the 20th century, only the affirmation of perseverance remained.
He does not mean that by the 20th century that Baptists only affirmed the last of the so-called five points of Calvinism. That would be much too broad of a statement. Rather, he presumably means that the confessions of faith produced by Baptists in the 20th century affirm only perseverance out of the Dortian 5 points.

I think he almost asserts too much at this point. Some might conclude that all of the other points of Calvinism have been denied by 20th century Baptist confessions. Even the Baptist Faith and Message can be cited to demonstrate that this is not the case. And I grant that a failure to deny is not necessarily an affirmation, therefore, in that sense, Dr. Garrett's point is well taken. He most certainly is correct that the 20th century witnessed a loss of an earlier commitment to the doctrines of grace among Baptists--especially Southern Baptists.

Still, it is interesting to note the language of the BFM on a few of the other points. In the 1925 version the following statement is made about man's bondage in sin:
He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
While I would affirm more than this, the statement hardly seems like a repudiation of total depravity (for a fun and frightening treatment of our move away from the biblical doctrine of sin, read Mark Coppenger's "The Ascent of Lost Man in Southern Baptist Preaching").

But there is more. The BFM 2000 affirms election in terms that view it as fixed and unchangeable:
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
Again, I would affirm much more but how can election be the gracious purpose of God that is unchangeable while at the same time being the basis on which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies sinners unless it is eternal? I suppose one could be a universalist and believe that statement but can one honestly believe that election is both conditioned on anything in the creature and at the same time be the "gracious purpose of God" which is "unchangeable?" I agree with Dr. Garrett that this is certainly a "muted" statement of unconditional election, but I would not be willing to say that it does not therefore affirm that point of doctrine.

If some want to debate me on the above two points, I will readily concede that the language is ambiguous and not as clear as one would hope from a document that is supposed to help us confess our faith. Nevertheless, those two statements do at least allow for a Dortian view of sin and election.

My final example is not so linguistically ambiguous. At least it isn't to English teachers and those who are accustomed to taking grammar seriously. Article 4 of the BFM 2000 says,
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
This statement declares that regeneration is "a change of which the sinner responds in repentance and faith." I have heard the arguments against reading the statement this way but still contend that this is the simplest reading of the text.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 4

Dr. Garrett helpfully distinguishes the internal, effectual call of God from the external, general call. Many less thoughtful critics of Calvinism fail to recognize this distinction and, consequently, often wind up dismissing a straw man in their critique of "irresistible grace." Garrett writes,
Dortian Calvinists normally differentiate the external, or outward, call of God from the internal, or special, call of God to salvation. The external call includes the public preaching of the gospel. It can be rejected. In fact, we are told that it is uniformly rejected by nonelect human beings.

The internal call, on the contrary, cannot be rejected and always results in conversion because the Holy Spirit is at work. Neither the new birth (John 3:8) nor the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) nor "God's workmanship" (Eph. 2:10) can be resisted, according to Edwin H. Palmer in "The Five Points of Calvinism." Furthermore David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas in "The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented" cite as proof-texts for irresistible grace numerous texts that specify God's internal call: Romans 1:67, 8:30, 9:2324; 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2, 9, 2331; Galatians 1:1516; Ephesians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:15, 2:9, 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1; and Revelation 17:14.

However, these allusions to God's effectual internal calling apply only to the irresistible grace that relates to internal calling. They do not invalidate the rejection of the outward call and indeed of the gospel of Christ by those who persist in unbelief (John 3:18, 5:47, 6:64; Rom. 11:23; Heb. 3:19).
I don't disagree with Dr. Garrett in his treatment of this point. His final comments on it, however, leave me wondering why he included them. Again, he writes,
We should never tell an unbeliever who scorns the message of the gospel that he or she can never be saved. Remember how the unbelieving, persecuting Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle!
No Calvinist would disagree. And no non-Calvinist would disagree. It may be that Dr. Garrett felt compelled to include this statement in case some might tempted to entertain the notion that rejection of the Gospel at any point means the forfeiture of any hope of ever being saved. With him, I renounce any such thought.

In his treatment of "unconditional election" Dr. Garrett makes the following helpful observation when commenting on Romans 8:29-30,
Dortian Calvinists are probably correct in interpreting "foreknew" as "loved beforehand" rather than "knew beforehand."
Furthermore, he observes,
The standard Arminian answer to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is to posit that God knew beforehand who would repent and believe and hence chose such persons to be the elect. As noted, such a position may rest on a faulty understanding of the biblical term "foreknew."
His main point of critique comes when he questions whether "the Augustinian-Calvinist tradition has over-individualized the doctrine of election and downplayed the corporate or collective aspect of the doctrine." While that may be demonstrable in certain writers, it is certainly true that belief in both is not mutually exclusive.

Dr. Garrett does not address perservance of the saints because, he says, "most Southern Baptists hold to this doctrine."

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 3

In his article, "Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?, " Dr. Garrett appropriately raises the issue of the biblical basis for the five points of Calvinism. He writes,
One may be inclined to say, relative to the teachings of Dortian Calvinism, that such a system should claim the allegiance of present-day Baptists only if its teachings can be clearly validated by and found to be grounded in the teachings of the Old and the New Testaments. Tradition, however important, must bow to the higher authority of the canonical Scriptures. Hence we need to inquire as to whether the tenets of Dortian Calvinism are indeed supported by the prevailing teachings of the Bible.
This approach should be applauded by all Christians, regardless of what one thinks of of the doctrines of grace. The final question is, what does the Word of God say?

Dr. Garrett asserts, "Those who teach limited atonement are prone to cite five New Testament passages in support of their position." He then quotes from those verses: Matthew 1:21, John 10:15b, John, 15:13, Acts 20:28c and Ephesians 5:25). Though I am not familiar with arguments for particular redemption based on the third of these references, the other four do help establish that position. However, I would be quick to add that those who teach particular redemption, or definite atonement, do not limit themselves to five verses only. Dr. Garrett would not disagree with this and I note it only for those who might be tempted to take his words to suggest otherwise.

Here is a secret that we Calvinists need to make known more broadly: everyone who is not a universalist limits the atonement at some point. Either you limit it in its design or you limit it in its application. That is, unless you believe that Jesus' death actually does save every person who has ever lived or will ever live.

The case for particular redemption rests on the Bible's teaching about the nature of the atonement, the intent of it and what it secured. What actually took place in the death of Jesus? Was the atoning work accomplished there objective, or subjective? Was it an actual atonement or a potential one? Did Jesus actually save sinners or merely make them savable? It is in the searching of biblical answers to these questions that the case for particular redemption is made.

Unfortunately, after citing the 5 verses above, Dr. Garrett does not attempt any exegesis of them. No doubt the limitations of space as well as the context of the article inhibited that. The lack of any examination of these verses in their contexts blunts the force of his summary concusion:
The accumulated references to "His people," "the sheep," "his friends" and "the church" are said to show that the intention of Jesus in His death was to die only for elect humans.
From this, Dr. Garrett launches into the citation of three kinds of biblical texts that that believes support general atonement: the "all" texts, the "many" texts, and the "world" texts. Unfortunately, none of the seventeen verses that he cites are engaged or interpreted. They are merely quoted. Again, I will concede the limitations of that format but it is regrettable that we are denied the serious exposition of these texts by one as capable as Dr. Garrett. Mere citation of verses does not advance theological discourse and tends to give the false perspective that there are some "Calvinistic" verses and some "Arminian" verses in the Bible.

After citing five New Testament verses that use the word "all" in relation to salvation, this observation is inserted:
Augustine of Hippo interpreted the "all" and "all men" to mean all classes and types of human beings, and thus he could retain limited atonement.
One could feasibly accuse Augustine of arbitrarily assigning that meaning to the word all, though Dr. Garrett is perhaps citing him as an example of one who recognizes that the little word "all" cannot be simplistically be taken as a universally inclusive word each time in appears in Holy Scripture. As Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains,
In particular one may speak of a summative, implicative and distributive signification of πας [the Greek word for "all"] as the term embraces either a totality or sum as an independent entitity (summative), an inclusion of all individual parts or representatives of a concept (implicative),or extension to relatively independent particulars (distributive). If the reference is to the attainment of the supreme height or breadth of a concept, we have an elative (or amplificative) significance (Vol. 5, p. 887).
Even without the technicalities of Kittel's analysis anyone who reads the New Testament carefully recognizes that the oft-quoted adage that "all means all and that's all that all means" may get lots of Fundamentalists laughing and shouting "amen," but it hardly sheds light on how that word is used in the Bible. I will limit myself to one example: "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him" (Matthew 3:5).

The problem that we Calvinists have with citing the "all" texts as if they prove a general atonement is this: for that case to be made, the nature of the atonement must be altered, usually away from an objective reality to a potential one. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:14, that Dr. Garrett cites. “One died for all, and therefore all died” If this teaches general atonement (One died for all who have ever lived or ever will live), then we must infer that all who have ever lived or who ever will live have in fact died with Christ. But no orthodox believer thinks that all mankind has spiritually died to their sin. The proponent of general atonement responds that Paul is speaking "potentially" or conditionally here--all those who trust in Christ spiritually die to their sin. But, that is not what the text says, and if that is what it means, then in order for the parallel between the two deaths to stand, the death that One died for all must likewise be only potential. Thus the atonement is drained of its objectivity and definiteness.

The "many" texts might just as easily be cited as supporting a limited perspective as a universal perspective since many is by definition less than the totality.

The "world" passages fall under the same critique as the "all" passages. If they are interpreted to mean "every person without exception" then the nature of the atonement must be altered. What happens if we interpret "kosmos" in John 1:29 in this way? "The lamb of God takes away the sin of the world [every person without exception]." If Jesus' death actually does this then no one will have any sin to bear and thus everyone will be saved.

Granted, our brothers and sisters who believe a general atonement do not believe this. But our argument with them is "why not?" How can the atonement of Christ be general and universalism be avoided without the nature of the atonement being somehow deobjectified? The answers offered to that question are less compelling to me than the answers offered by the Calvinistic understanding of the death of Christ.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 2

In his article entitled, "Calvinism: What does it mean?," Dr. Garrett makes the following comment on hyper-Calvinism:
A third meaning, no longer in common use, takes Calvinism to be the professed teaching of certain 18th-century English Congregationalists and Particular Baptists, a group believing that only the "elect" could be saved. These teachings we now properly label "Hyper-Calvinism." Five distinctive teachings of Hyper-Calvinism can be identified:

- God's decree from eternity to elect some human beings for salvation and reprobate (or eternally damn) others as being logically the first of God's decrees (a teaching known as supralapsarianism);

- an eternal covenant among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the redemption of elect humans through the Son (covenant of redemption);

- the eternal justification of the elect without the requisite faith on the part of the elect in history (eternal justification);

- the discouragement of the preacher's "offering of grace" indiscriminately to his hearers (no offers of grace) and

- Christians as not obligated to obey the moral law of the Old Testament (antinomianism).
Before offering my own thoughts I want to point you to other responses that are worth reading. Michael Haykin has responded to Dr. Garrett in his typical, irenic and careful way, taking exception to Dr. Garrett at several points. Timmy Brister, in his typical, balanced and comprehensive way, has already posted 4 of his multi-part responses with more to come (1, 2, 3, 4). Both of these men are worth reading.

To call these five points "distinctive" teachings of hyper-Calvinism suggests that those who hold to any of them are advocating, at least partially, hyper-Calvinism. While that case can be made for the last three of those teachings, it cannot be made for the first two. The first two of Garrett's points are held by many Calvinists who are decidedly against the deadly error or hyperism. John Bunyan was a supralapsarian and the Philadelpia Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes a covenant of redemption, stating that the covenant of grace "is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect" (chapter 7, para. 3).

While nearly all hyper-Calvinists affirm the covenant of redemption and are supralapsarian, not all who hold those points of theology are hyper-Calvinistic. Had Garrett limited his "distinctive" teachings to the last three on his list, I would have no reason to take exception.

In an excellent article on hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson provides this helpful definition by Peter Toon:
1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .
2. It is that school of supralapsarian 'five-point' Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word "offer" in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, "Hyper-Calvinism," New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]
I find this definition far less problematic than Dr. Garrett's "five distinctive teachings" approach.

Dr. Garrett makes the following claim later in this article:
Total depravity may not have been a key difference between the men of Dort and the Remonstrates. The interpretation of faith and repentance by Dort as gifts from God and by the Remonstrates as human duties may have been a leading difference, for the third article in the Remonstrant confession of faith refers to "saving faith."
Evangelical Calvinism does not believe that the claim that repentance and faith are gifts of grace and the claim that they are universal duties are mutually exclusive. The Bible teaches both. At Mars Hill Paul said, "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30). Repentance is clearly a duty required. But it is also the gift of God. As Peter puts it, ""He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31; cf. Acts 11:18).

It is also the duty of people to believe the Gospel. Paul and Silas commanded the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31; cf. Matthew 11:28). But faith is also the gift of God. As Paul puts it, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake , not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).

The Canons of Dort recognize that faith and repentance are obligations. They state, "By this ministry [preaching of the Gospel] people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified" (1.3). Further, those who do not believe are to be blamed for the cause lies in them and "not at all in God" (1.5). As the New Hampshire Confession puts it, "We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God" (8).

Indeed, it is at just this point where the real biblical strength of evangelical Calvinism is seen most clearly. It willingly integrates those teachings of the Bible that tend to make the rational mind think they cannot be believed at the same time; ie. that faith is both a gift and a duty, or that man is both depraved and responsible. The Bible teaches both. True Calvinism recognizes this and affirms both.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 1

I have been swamped the last several days and have not had time to post my promised evaluations of Dr. Garrett's articles before today. In the meantime, several commenters have expressed many of my own views about them. I will offer only some summary thoughts in a several-part response.

I write as one who is grateful for Dr. Garrett's influence in my life. The Lord used him to help keep me in the PhD program at Southwestern at time when I was so discouraged I was ready to quit. His example as a Christian scholar has been one to which I have pointed many times when discussing theological education with students and pastors.

First, three preliminary notes:

1. I refuse to question Dr. Garrett's motives and would admonish all who are tempted to do so to resist such temptation. I suspect he wrote in response to a specific invitation and I have no reason to believe that his motivation was anything other than an accurate and fair assessment. I do not think that he achieved accuracy or fairness at every point, but not because he intentionally tried to spin the material. There is nothing in my knowledge of or experience with Dr. Garrett that would lead me to believe otherwise. In fact, I have many reasons (besides the biblical teaching that love hopes all things) to believe the way I do about this. Motives belong to God. No one can discern them infallibly. We are to deal with arguments and evidence.

2. As I disagree with many of his arguments and claims, I hope to do so in a gracious manner because I owe him that. This is a discussion among brothers and not a war between enemies. Those of us who believe the doctrines of grace must press each other to remember that it is never enough to be right. We must also be loving. Even to our enemies. And Dr. Garrett is far from an enemy. He is a brother--an elder brother who deserves to be treated with the utmost respect even as what he has written is scrutinized with the utmost care.

3. Dr. Garrett is a serious student of the Bible, theology and history and would want his writings on these subjects to be taken seriously. When I had him for classes and seminars, he was never offended at a student's disagreement with his own views. What he demanded, however, was careful research, argumentation and documentation of one's position. Some of the critiques offered in by commenters over the last week have done just that. Others, however, have not risen to that level.

I have discussed Dr. Garrett's articles with various friends and have been the beneficiary of their insights. My response integrates those insights at many points.


Dr. Garrett implies that the Canons of Dort deemphasize human responsibility in their defense of divine sovereignty when he writes that, "Dort and the Arminians provided very specific answers--Dort in the direction of divine sovereignty and the Arminians in the direction of human accountability." Yet, consider a sample of what Dort actually says about man's responsibility (the first number refers to the "Head of Doctrine," the second to the specific article under that head; thus "1.1" refers to First Head of Doctrine, article 1). The bold emphases are mine.

"Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)" (1.1).

"The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man" (1.5).

Concerning those not elected for salvation, God chose "to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves" (1.15).

God's "justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body." (2.1)

"However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault" (2.6).

"Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts." (3/4.1)

"The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13)" (3/4.9).

"However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back" (3/4.16).

"This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints" (5.12).
Do these words suggest that Dort in any way slights man's responsibility before God? Hardly. Dr. Garrett does not specifically make that claim, but his words do leave that impression. One of the great misconceptions about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the former emphasizes God's sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility and the latter emphasizes human responsibility to the neglect of God's sovereignty.

But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish human responsibility at all. Granted, hyper-Calvinism does this, but it has always been regarded as an error by true Calvinists (as Spurgeon or Andrew Fuller). The point of departure comes because historic Calvinism does not make human responsibility depend on moral ability as Arminianism does. Calvinism teaches that, in the fall, man lost his moral ability to choose righteousness and carry out the duties of faith and repentance. Thus, these duties must be worked in a person by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (thereby making them gifts as well as duties).

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Alabama Baptist Stories on Calvinism

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bob Terry, editor of the Alabama Baptist, has published 6 articles by Dr. James Leo Garrett on Calvinim. The articles are now available online. I am linking to them so that they may be more widely accessible to those outside of Alabama.

My quick prereading of them suggests that they are indeed marked by Dr. Garrett's scholarly precision when it comes to research, affirmations and conclusions. He typically nuances his statements very carefully so as not to misrepresent a person or position. I greatly appreciate that, even though I had to read a couple of sentences more than once to make sure that he was not actually saying what the drift of his argument seems to suggest. For example, note carefully what these two sentences say:
A third meaning, no longer in common use, takes Calvinism to be the professed teaching of certain 18th-century English Congregationalists and Particular Baptists, a group believing that only the "elect" could be saved. These teachings we now properly label "Hyper-Calvinism."
Is Dr. Garrett suggesting that the 18th century Particular Baptists were guilty of Hyper-Calvinism? One could easily get that impression. Though, what he actually--and very carefully--said is that some take Calvinism to be the "professed" teaching of "certain" Particular Baptists. That is certainly true, though it is equally true that not all Particular Baptists--all of whom believed that only the elect will be saved--were guilty of Hyper-Calvinism.

Dr. Garrett is writing at the invitation of the Alabama Baptist. He has obviously been made aware of certain scenarios where Calvinism has been cited as an issue in church problems and disruptions in the state. Some of his descriptions of such problems seem to be pointed to specific cases, though, unless I missed it, he does not refer to any such case by name or location.

I intend to interact with some of his points next week, as I have time. For now let me simply make a few general observations. First, I reiterate my encouragement to see a state Baptist newspaper taking up an important theological issue in such a significant way. Six articles by a respected and capable theologian on an important doctrinal issue is to be applauded.

Second, Dr. Garrett's historical treatment of men and movements is trustworthy. He is not a Calvinist. In fact, if I am accurately remembering conversations from years ago, he has serious problems with certain aspects of Calvinism. Yet, he is a Christian scholar who seeks to represent any subject he treats accurately and fairly. I anticipate nothing less from these articles.

Third, I already recognize one significant disagreement I have with the methodology informing Dr. Garrett's reasoning when he examines the fruit of the revival of Calvinism in the SBC. There seem to be certain unwarranted assumptions about the nature of the churches he envisions being detrimentally effected by Calvinistic ministries. I will try to address this in my interaction with his writings next week.

Until then, here are the articles.

A question facing Baptist churches

Calvinism: What does it mean?

Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?

Have Baptists always been Dortian Calvinists in their confessions of faith?

How prominent Baptists stack up

What are the alternatives to Dortian Calvinism?

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The Alabama Baptist on Calvinism

Wyman Richardson and Timmy Brister have informed me that the August 2 issue of the Alabama Baptist contains 6 articles on Calvinism written by Dr. James Leo Garrett, Distinguished Professor of Theology Emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am trying to access the articles, but thus far, have been unsuccessful.

Bob Terry, the editor of the paper, explains why he is providing this much attention to this issue in his editorial:
This effort is not an attempt to persuade readers whether this viewpoint is right or wrong. Instead we present a series of articles designed to inform readers about Calvinism. We examine the definition of Calvinism. We explore what the Scriptures say about key teachings. We look at history through examinations of both confessions of faith and Baptist theologians. Alternatives are considered.


Calvinism is an important issue in Baptist life. On the national level, there is what amounts to a pro-Calvinism caucus known as Founders Ministries. The organization sponsors a Web site listing churches in each state that affirm the doctrines of Calvinism. Several Alabama Baptist churches are on that list. Unofficially this Calvinist group also has sponsored candidates for election to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) offices.
He is mostly right. Though I would never describe Founders Ministries as a "caucus," we do have a website and churches are listed on it. He is simply wrong when he says that Founders has "sponsored candidates" for SBC offices. The closest Founders ever came to anything remotely close to that was last year when I--personally, not as Mr. Founders--along with others encouraged Mark Dever to allow his name to be placed into nomination for 2nd VP. He would have won, too, if Southern Baptist Calvinists didn't all get hungry at the same time. :-)

I commend Bob Terry and the Alabama Baptist staff for dealing with the issue of Calvinism so directly. This is simply further confirmation that the timing is right for the Building Bridges conference I announced yesterday. Southern Baptists are talking about Calvinism. Why not talk about it as carefully and helpfully as possible? That is what this conference promises to do.

I look forward to reading Dr. Garrett's articles. He is one of the finest professors I have ever had. I expect that his treatment will be noted by his characteristic scholarly care and Christian humility. When I get the articles. I will post my thoughts.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism Press Release

The formal announcement for the upcoming conference at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, November 26-28, 2007 is now available at the LifeWay website. Registration information is available there, as well. Speakers include Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Tom Nettles, David Dockery, Sam Waldron, Ken Keathley, Nathan Finn, Malcolm Yarnell, Greg Welty, Thom Rainer, James Merritt, Charles Lawless, David Nelson, JD Greear and Voddie Baucham.

The conference is being sponsored by Founders Ministries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. LifeWay is hosting the event.

I am personally very encouraged at the prospect of this conference. The Lord has worked in wonderful ways already in the planning. It is time for Southern Baptists to quit talking past one another on important theological issues. The issue of Calvinism has become increasing prevalent in the minds of many over the last several years. Brother and sisters in Christ ought to be able to discuss such an important topic like this without condemning those with whom we disagree.

This conference will provide a forum for just such a dialogue. We have a significant lineup of excellent theologians and expositors who represent what Scripture means when it says iron sharpens iron. This conference is an opportunity for Southern Baptists to experience the kind of theological sharpening that takes place when brothers and sisters come together to learn from one another and to challenge each other to follow our Savior more faithfully.

I hope there will be a wide cross-section of Southern Baptist life represented by those who come and participate in this conference. It promises to be a historic gathering. Please join me in praying that the Lord will use it in a mighty way to encourage and strengthen pastors, leaders and churches throughout the SBC and beyond.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Florida Pastors sent anti-Calvinist propaganda

Just before leaving the state of Florida on my way to Texas for the Southern Baptist Convention next week, our family stopped to visit dear friends who live in the panhandle. As we shared dinner in their home with another pastor and his family, I was informed of a "care package" that arrived today in the mailboxes of pastors throughout the state.

It seems that Dr. John Sullivan, the Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Convention, has mailed a set of Jerry Vines' sermons entitled, "Baptist Battles," to ever pastor in the Florida Baptist Convention. These are sermons that Dr. Vines preached at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA last year. One of those messages is entitled, "Calvinism, A Baptist and His Election." I reviewed that sermon not long after it was preached.

I ended my assessment of that mistake-laden message with these words:
One final observation: Dr. Vines' message screams for a response from denominational leaders who never hesitate to issue warnings to Southern Baptist Calvinists whom they label "Calvinazis" and charge with being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person. Wouldn't it make sense that those who issue such warnings should feel some compulsion to issue them in both directions? Will this kind of complete misrepresentation of the theological heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and the theological convictions of thousands of Southern Baptist pastors be given a pass by denominational leadership? If recent history is any indicator, that is exactly what we can expect.
Little did I know. Not only has the denominational leadership of my own state convention given Dr. Vines a pass on this sermon, they have used God's money to send it to every Southern Baptist in the state!

This mailing comes on the heels of a very egregious attempt last week by a state convention executive to intimidate pastors in a local association in our state over the issue of Calvinism--a matter into which I have been drawn and that I am in the midst of personally investigating in hopes of seeing it resolved. So far I have been unsuccessful in getting this person to return my phone call. At least one pastor who has spoken with people in the denominational state office about this affair has been disappointed in the response.

I don't know what is going on in Jacksonville, but I hope to find out. This much is clear: the mailing of Dr. Vines' sermon on Calvinism is a clear indication that the Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Convention has an agenda to demonize the ministers and churches in our state who believe what the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention believed regarding the grace of God in salvation. This is a serious matter. Very serious.

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