Monday, February 05, 2007

Ed Stetzer on the Resurgence of Calvinism in SBC Life

7. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?

I have mixed feelings which I will share below.

However, I share them not to be divisive, but hopefully to “provoke one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). The convention should want, and does need, all Calvinists who affirm the Baptist Faith and Message and want to cooperate for the purposes of God’s kingdom. Furthermore, it is often the Calvinists who remind the convention about important theological issues like regenerate church membership, theologically driven ministry, and other important emphases. We need such theologically minded people in our convention today.

For many, Calvinism in SBC life boils down to a few key leaders (who I happen to like, but that is another story). However, if we extrapolate the numbers from Lifeway Research, there are over 4000 SBC churches with Calvinist pastors—and recent indications are that the influence of Calvinism is growing. So, I am not sure there is just one type of Calvinism in SBC life.

My concern is not with Calvinism per se, but with a form of “nostalgic Calvinism.” Nostalgic Calvinism leads to endless discussions of "solas" rather than an evangelistic impulse. I think the talk of “hyper” Calvinists is a straw man—“hyper-Calvinism” is a technical term in theological circles. I don't know any in SBC life. But, I do see many self-identified Calvinists who are constantly discussing the 18th century as the golden age of theology and praxis in Baptist life. So, I don't want them to get over Calvinism, but it would be nice if they got into the Third Millennium. At times, I am convinced some “nostalgic Calvinists” have forgotten our mandate is to see men and women brought into the kingdom, not into Geneva.

I think one of many positive examples is J.D. Greear and Summit Church (see The Summit Church in Durham, NC is a church that takes the Reformed tradition seriously yet remains relevant and contemporary in its approaches to ministry. Its explosive evangelistic growth is a testimony to biblically-faithful ministry.
Nostalgic Calvinism, like so many other “yearnings” for past days, sounds great in the classroom or the conference. But we need a “faith once delivered” lived biblically in culture and transforming lives. There has always been a stream of Reformed minded people in SBC life. Great. Let’s reach the lost together. Let’s cooperate for missions. Let’s even have good honest discussion about theology (as Drs. Patterson and Mohler did so well at the last SBC Pastors Conference). But, let’s talk about God’s heart for the lost at least as much as we talk about the five solas. Reformed theology is incomplete when it does not give birth to passionate evangelism.

Two hundred years after the Reformation, William Carey stood up and presented a treatise, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” Within a few months, the first mission society was formed and money was collected using Andrew Fuller’s snuff box. But at that meeting, he was sternly rebuked, “Young man…When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me.” Although few would use those words today, it seems that a few in the Reformed tradition are critical of every means—and use none of them. Yet, they often do not have much of an alternative other than the argument that the “means” of others is wrong.

It was the Calvinists that launched the modern missions movements—but they did it by discovering the use of means. With the great need in the world today (not to mention the clear mandate of scripture), we can wait 200 years to figure out that we don’t know who the elect are and that we are called to proclaim the gospel to all, using diverse means, for the glory of God.
Before I went to work for the denomination, I was a pastor. One thing sticks out from that time—I think God received just as much glory when we baptized 51 people in Lake Erie one Sunday as He did when I preached that salvation is God’s work alone.


Blogger clayfutrell said...

The resurgence of Nostalgic Calvinism seem to be following a historical pattern of the ebb and flow of the church’s understanding of soteriology. The first records we have of the difficulty of understanding and holding in tension the clear teachings in Christian Scriptures of “predestination/election” and “whosoever will” are found in the writings of Pelagius and the refutation of them by Augustine. The fact that both views were widely held can be seen in the felt need of the church of seek a resolution to the conflict. To this end, the second council of Orange (in July 529) was held at which the teachings of Pelagius were declared anathema and those of Augustine were set as canonical.

History teaches us that, in reality, little was resolved. The position of the 14 Bishops at Orange were adopted by the Bishop of Rome as Dogma. However, it was not long before this dogma was essentially ignored and the practices of the church returned to a more Pelagian understanding of soteriology. These conflicting views were held and taught by different bishops and in different geographical areas of the church. And then along comes Luther and Calvin.

And so the pendulum swings.

I have truly tried to, as mentioned above “to hold in tension the clear teachings in Christian Scriptures of “predestination/election” and “whosoever will” but my Calvinist friends insist that I am naught but a closet Arminian. And, at times, I suspect they are right even though I find limiting our understanding of God’s Grace to pat formulae are counter to the understanding scripture.

Here is what I believe and Why-

Free Will: Alive and Well

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the premature death of Free Will have been greatly exaggerated. Reports of the demise of free will can be found in the writings of many theologians, including the renown Puritan and Baptist Jonathan Edwards, not to mention John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo. This belief, that due to the fallen nature of humankind and imputed sin, has led many to subscribe to a “Hyper Calvinism” position wherein man is totally unable to exercise any role in his being born again; no one has self determinism and thus can not exercise free will.

Exercising my free will, I can not accept this position. (And If you accept this position, are you not exercising your own free will?)

Now, lest I be assaulted on the way to the forum, I want to assure you that “works” have no place in my understanding of regeneration. To wit:
-No one can be born again unless the Holy Spirit first creates within the person an awareness of the great need for redemption.
-Even the faith that one exercises if a free gift from God.
-It is not ones belief that brings about salvation. It is the shed Blood of Jesus the Christ that covers our sin and restores us to a right relation with God.

I believe that we have received an invitation. We are invited, not forced, to make a pilgrimage into the heart and mind of God. According to Christian Scriptures, “a door of welcome seems open to everyone without exception. No person or circumstances other than our own decision can keep us away. ‘whosoever will may come’”. (Dallas Willard from The Divine Conspiracy p11)

So, I would say that I am a Universalist as it relates only to the invitation of God.I would conclude, then, that I believe in self determinism or Free Will. This not withstanding Edwards efforts to dissuade me from such a position. But then what is Free Will?

I will share with you what I believe to be an excellent, if short, article entitled Self Determinism by N. L. Geisler from Elwell Evangelical Dictionary. This explanation works for me.

Self determinism

On this view a person's acts are caused by himself. Self determinist accept the fact that such factors as heredity and environment often influence one's behavior. However, they deny that such factors are the determining causes of one's behavior. Inanimate objects do not change without an outside cause, but personal subjects are able to direct their own actions. As previously noted, self determinist reject the notions that events are uncaused or that they cause themselves. Rather, they believe that human actions can be caused by human beings. Two prominent advocates of this view are Thomas Aquinas and C S Lewis.
Many object to self determinism on the grounds that if everything needs a cause, then so do the acts of the will. Thus it is often asked, What caused the will to act? The self determinist can respond to this question by pointing out that it is not the will of a person that makes a decision but the person acting by means of his will. And since the person is the first cause of his acts, it is meaningless to ask what the cause of the first cause is. Just as no outside force caused God to create the world, so no outside force causes people to choose certain actions. For man is created in God's image, which includes the possession of free will.
Another objection often raised against self determinism is that biblical predestination and foreknowledge seem to be incompatible with human freedom. However, the Bible does clearly teach that even fallen man has freedom of choice (e.g., Matt. 23:37; John 7:17; Rom. 7:18; 1 Cor. 9:17; 1 Pet. 5:2; Philem. 14). Further, the Bible teaches that God predestines in accordance with his foreknowledge (1 Pet. 1:2). Predestination is not based on God's foreknowledge (which would make God dependent upon man's choices) nor is it independent of God's foreknowledge (since all of God's acts are unified and coordinate). Rather, God knowingly determines and determinately knows those who will accept his grace as well as those who will reject him.
A further argument for free will is that God's commandments carry a divine "ought" for man, implying that man can and should respond positively to his commands. The responsibility to obey God's commands entails the ability to respond to them, by God's enabling grace. Furthermore, if man is not free, but all his acts are determined by God, then God is directly responsible for evil, a conclusion that is clearly contradicted by Scripture (Hab. 1:13; James 1:13 - 17).
Therefore, it seems that some form of self determinism is the most compatible with the biblical view of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.
N L Geisler
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
End of Article

So, I shall continue to hold in tension the evangelical doctrines of Predestination and Free Will, not denying one over the other.

One could argue that it would be better to avoid the error of scholasticism as we consider Free Will. By this I mean the bringing to bear on the argument such speculative concepts as posited by Thomas Aquinas’ theory as to whether angels are a species or not. Would it not be better to accept both as true when the scripture says “everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” and then says “those whom he foreknew he also predestined”. Should we not apply the doctrine of suspended judgment when we have this level of tension presented by Scriptures?

I think it is a worthy consideration.

Baptist Deacon Emeritus

“The palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity”
Michael Patton

7:45 AM  

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