Thursday, March 04, 2010

Memo: How to smoke out a Calvinistic pastor in your church

Yesterday I was sent the following 3 documents that have been circulating in Western Tennessee among some Southern Baptist Churches. It seems that they were distributed at seminars being held for churches to teach "how to find out if any of your staff are Calvinists and how to get rid of them." Since receiving them I have communicated with others who have verified that they are being made available to Southern Baptist churches in Tennessee, not by any official denominational worker, but by zealous people who view the doctrines of grace as heresy. I am trying to contact one or more of those persons in hopes of better understanding what has provoked this mission.

The first document is in the form of a memo and is entitled, "Reformed Red Flags." It contains a list of 16 "behaviors" to look for when seeking to smoke out Calvinistic pastors. Number 3 on the list is "use of the ESV Study Bible." Someone should alert Crossway immediately. Founders made the list, as did John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, RC Sproul, James White and the first Southern Baptist confession of faith (which is still used at Southern and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminaries, and which even the famous non-Calvinist Paige Patterson has signed), the Abstract of Principles.

To read the documents in a larger size, click on them.

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The second document is entitled, "Theological differences between Traditional Southern Baptist and Extreme Calvinists." It seems to be a warmed over version (and perversion) of some of the things that Fisher Humphreys put in his book, God So Loved the Word: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism. Most of the depictions of Calvinism in this document are built on the caricatures found in the previous one and many of the views described as "Traditional Baptist" are held by all evangelical Calvinists. Granted, I know the document purports to deal with "Extreme Calvinists," but I defy anyone to capture and put on display such a creature as described below. Are some Calvinists unbalanced? Yes. Are some jerks? Yes. Is there a danger that the profile given below of extreme Calvinism is sweeping into Southern Baptist churches? No. The kind of inaccurate and distorted representations are easy to make (anyone who reads blogs knows this) but they violate the 9th Commandment and should be renounced by anyone--Calvinist or not--who genuinely takes the Bible to be the Word of God written.

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The last of the documents is recommended to churches to use with new pastors and staff members. The desire expressed in this document that a pastor be forthcoming in doctrinal convictions is commendable. It assumes, however, that the church to which it is recommended does not have a historic Southern Baptist confession of faith (most notably, the Charleston Confession, Abstract of Principles or New Hampshire Statement). A case can even be made that the Baptist Faith and Message is largely a Calvinistic statement, though not as explicit as earlier Southern Baptist confessions. The problem with many of our churches is not that pastors are coming in and trying to teach some "new" doctrine. Rather, it is that they often have drifted from their own stated doctrinal foundations through neglect or liberalism or pragmatism. When a pastor begins to restore those foundations, what he teaches can sound new when in reality it is fully in accord with the church's own doctrinal statements.

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Much could be said about the wickedness and ignorance behind a campaign to "smoke out" Calvinistic pastors using these dubious tools. However, I want to conclude by issuing a plea to my fellow pastors who may be more reformed in our understanding than others in the SBC. Though these documents promote caricatures and distortions, they are a sad reminder that this is the way that at least some people perceive us. As I have indicated, I don't know anyone who fits the profile that these documents present. I doubt such a person exists within the SBC. Nevertheless, this is how some people perceive us.

What shall we do? Protest and return fire with fire? Point out the practical (and sometimes, doctrinal) Pelagianism of our less Calvinistic brothers? Become defensive and try to answer each accusation point-by-point? I don't think that response is called for. Saying nothing of Proverbs 26:4 for the present, I instead recommend that we take the opportunity to examine ourselves and our ministries and see if there are any kernels of truth whatsoever in the accusations on which the caricatures are built. Enemies can help us even when they are trying to destroy us. Learning from them does not mean that we agree with the charges or judge them fair.

Caricatures die in the presence of long, consistent evidence to the contrary. Our agenda is not to be set by accusations (or even affirmations). We have the Word of God for that. Let's examine ourselves in the light of that Word and determine to live wholeheartedly for our crucified and risen Savior. Critics will come and critics will go. What ultimately matters faithfulness to our Lord expressed through obedience to His Word.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Steve Gaines revives the caricatures of Calvinism

I hope I live long enough to see the day when the common caricatures of the doctrines of sovereign grace have been so widely exposed that any self-respecting preacher will be ashamed to keep serving them up as if they were irrefutable critiques of what John Broadus called "that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism." Honestly, I don't know what keeps some men from being ashamed of doing so in this present day, given the numerous refutations of those caricatures over the last twenty years. Some doctrinal misrepresentations seem to have a shelf life that is longer than most urban legends.

Steve Gaines illustrated this point again last week in his chapel message delivered at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Here are a couple of the straw men that burned to the ground with much ado. After warning his hearers not to "get caught up in [that] theology that says that God just wants to save some" and citing Scriptures that he believes disallow particular redemption, Gaines says (at the 20:20 mark),
It would emaciate my evangelism if I couldn't walk up to a total stranger and say, "Jesus died for you." There's some people who can't do that. They can't do that. They say, "Jesus died for the elect, I hope you're one of them."
I would hate to think that my evangelism would be emaciated by the elimination of something that the New Testament knows nothing of! Nowhere in God's Holy, inerrant Word do we find an evangelistic appeal based on the idea that Jesus died for the particular person being appealed to. Where is there any record of any apostle going up to a person, stranger or not and saying, "Jesus died for you"? Jesus died for sinners as sinners. The promise of salvation is for all who will, through faith, receive Him as Lord. "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31), not "Believe that Jesus died particularly for you."

What does it say about one's understanding of evangelism when it would be "emaciated" unless a statement that the Bible nowhere makes nor instructs us to make can be said? I mean no disrespect, but this highlights much that has gone wrong with the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Too many are willing to thump their Bibles and boldly declare its inerrancy while denying its sufficiency in for matters of faith and practice. If the Bible is inerrant (and I am fully convinced that it is), then shouldn't it be treated with more respect than is shown by those who blatantly neglect (church discipline) or add to (evangelism) its clear teachings?

Gaines' caricature of how those who believe in particular redemption evangelize needs no comment. It is dishonest on its face and I challenge him one example of a Christian who would make such a statement. If such a miscreant were to be found, I would be the first resist him and his God-dishonoring engagement of lost men and women.

Next, Dr. Gaines repeats a canard that should have been put to rest long ago. It was a key point of Jerry Vines' diatribe against Calvinism in 2006. It stems from equating regeneration with the whole work of salvation. Regeneration is sine qua non to salvation, but it is not the full content of salvation. Failure to make that distinction leads to the following fallacious critique (beginning at 24:00):
You cannot be saved until you repent. The same theology that says that Jesus only died for some says, no, no, no, no, no, you repent after you are saved. Number one, that's not even logical. But, number two, it is not biblical. You say, "Oh no, no if you believe you have to repent to be saved then that's works!" You know what that's like" [It's like] saying, go downtown to Dallas, find a guy on the street; he's a beggar, he's sitting there and you go up to him and you say, "You know, I want to give you some money. But, now, don't you reach out your hand because that would be works. Don't you reach out your hand! In fact, when I hand it to you, don't even open your hand because that would be works. I'm just gonna throw it on you and somehow you need to get hold of it. I don't know how. I'm just gonna zap you with some money. Don't you say anything! That'll be works, too." How ridiculous have we gotten. "Oh but that's my system." Get rid of your system and go back to the Bible. Quit reading the Bible through your theology and start getting your theology from the Bible."
Now, I applaud Gaines' insistence that repentance must be preached in the preaching of the Gospel. That is no small thing in this day and age of minimalist preaching. The confusion that his words reflect, however, between reformed theology and dispensational theology is astounding. It is the Reformed understanding of the Gospel that has insisted on the preaching of repentance in the face of those who have attempted to separate repentance from faith.

The recognition of the priority of regeneration in relation to faith and repentance cannot legitimately be construed as teaching that repentance comes only after salvation. It is a misrepresentation that no honest theologian--Reformed or otherwise--would ever make.

Teachers like Zane Hodges have asserted that repentance is not part of Gospel and should not be insisted on in evangelism. But he does so as an advocate of "non-lordship salvation." Gaines would have done much better to take that teaching--that does exist--and critique it rather than building a straw man out of his ill-informed understanding of reformed soteriology and destroying it.

Some will regard my review of Dr. Gaines' remarks as unkind or perhaps even harsh. Such is not my intent. I look forward to the day when this kind of review will be unnecessary because the caricatures that call them forth will have died away. Until that time, those who unabashedly misrepresent the theology and teaching of a growing percentage of Southern Baptist pastors and churches should be held accountable for their words. If doing so causes embarassment, let the cause be rightly traced to the those who perpetuate the caricatures and not to the ones who simply call attention to their misrepresentations.

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