The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has a strange history. Many, not all, of the Founders of the SBC would have self-identified as Calvinists, or Particular Baptists. J.L. Dagg’s Systematic Theology is one example. Tom Nettles traces the history in By His Grace and For His Glory. Over the years, Arminianism took root in the SBC. There has been a resurgence of Calvinism that parallels the resurgence of Calvinism prompted, in large part, by the ministries of men like J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul. Men like Tom Nettles and Tom Ascol formed the Founders’ Conference. Let’s just say there has been some push back from the SBC at large.
The latest has emerged in a series of Affirmations and Denials in A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. As I read the document, my thought was that they gutted the gospel in an attempt, in their minds, to save the gospel from those pernicious Calvinists. The affirmations and denials, in their own words, ultimately cause problems in understanding the gospel. This is an exercise in theological over-reaction. They fulfilled one of the CavCorollaries: in theological disputation we tend to move to greater extremes.
We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.
I would take issue with the phrase “select few”. I believe there will be a numberless multitude according to Revelation. They don’t affirm what Scripture means when it talks about election, chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph. 1). But early on, you can see they are asserting a particular view of free will. They don’t seem to realize that Calvinists hold to free will (there is a whole chapter on it in the Westminster Confession of Faith). The difference is that they don’t really see much of an effect from Adam’s sin to the will of man.
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
Here is a denial of what we find in Romans 5- the imputation of Adam’s sin to all. Paul teaches that all sinned in Adam. He stresses the “one man’s trespass” in contrast to the “one man’s obedience”. You see, if you deny the imputation of Adam’s sin, you lose the basis for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. You … gut the gospel. Paul is teaching covenant theology here as the basis for the fall of humanity and salvation in Christ.
We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.
I’m not sure what the first part is about- no Calvinist denies the need for faith. Or that it is freely given. We teach that God does “no violence to the will of the creature”. But we affirm that God must regenerate us because Adam’s sin has indeed crippled us spiritually (Rom. 3). We are, in fact, dead in sins and trespasses according to Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3. They ignore the severity of the problem as described by Paul in Ephesians 2 and 4 (paralleling Romans 1) with darkened understanding. Ephesians 4 shows that is still the case for unbelievers. There is no sense that Jesus’ redemption removed the effects of Adam’s sin so that people are now neutral with regard to the gospel. They are still spiritually dead, living in the dark and following the lead of Satan. That person cannot freely choose the gospel. Regeneration following faith makes no sense when you take Paul’s assessment of fallen humanity seriously.
We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.
They limit election to the fact that God chooses to save people. Not particular people. This is utterly irreconcilable with what Paul teaches in Romans 8:28-9 and Ephesians 1. It is sad to deny Scripture in order to maintain your theological position.
We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.
We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.
I can’t really understand this because they include sovereignty. I could understand if they just said eternal knowledge. How is God sovereign if He isn’t willing a particular person’s acceptance or rejection of Christ? They are limiting God’s sovereignty in a way that Scripture does not. They are so committed to “free will” that God’s providence ultimately controls only the actions of animals and inanimate objects. God does not guide history because history is make up of the decisions of people. Such is view is quite contrary to Gen. 50, Job 1-2 and Acts 2. There we find concurrence- God willing certain things to happen and they do. The other persons involved will the same thing, but for different reasons. I can’t see the Father hoping His Son is crucified so He can save people. God is in control!
We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
Actual free will is described here as the ability to choose between two options. Calvinists do not deny this. Again, no violence is done to the will of the creature. But we recognize that people choose according to their nature. I don’t like peas- you have to coerce me to eat them. That is the heart of people apart from Christ- at enmity with God and his law. And the gospel. Christ is not precious to unregenerate sinners. These views of election and free will leave sinners in their sin, all of them!
We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.
They are Reformed Arminians, affirming eternal security. But isn’t this a denial of free will? If there is no possibility of apostasy, they are limiting free will in this instance. An interesting inconsistency indeed.
There are lots of problems with this document. But the most serious one is the denial of the imputation of Adam’s sin. This, as I noted, guts the gospel by undermining the basis for the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness. They over-reacted to the growth of Calvinism. In their refutation of what they THINK Calvinism is (they share many misconceptions) they go too far and reject basic gospel facts.
Tom Ascol will be responding to this document in a series of posts. That should be interesting.