On the SBC and anti-CalvinismPosted by RazorsKiss
Just to open up, I found Timmy Brister’s timeline very useful in organizing all of the commentary concerning the John 3:16 conference. While the conference was, indeed, an SBC All-Star event – it was decidedly anti-Calvinist. Now, I am quite aware that they don’t particularly like this categorization of their stance – Dr. Allen, for example, has taken exception to this – but, on the other hand, they certainly aren’t worried about categorizing Dr. White (a good friend, and spiritual mentor), Steve Camp, and Dr. Robert Reymond, whose Systematic Theology has been very helpful to me, as Hyper-Calvinists. Now, I’ve had quite a bit of dialogue with real hypers – and I have to say… they obviously have no idea what a hyper-calvinist is.
Now, I’m aware he would also reject this statement. He has, repeatedly. However, he has also repeatedly demonstrated that he has a lack of understanding concerning the difference between orthodox, historical calvinism and hyper-calvinism; decretive and preceptive will; anthropological will/desire and theological will/desire; not to mention showing a complete lack of balance in addressing the issue of Calvinism, in general. Apparently, Dr. Allen, as a professor of systematic theology, is unable to distinguish between these things. As a member of the SBC, I find this lack of perception absolutely mind-boggling, given our historical foundation as a Calvinist denomination. I don’t doubt that he would differ with that – but the fact remains.
My problem with this entire issue – with this entire conference, is that it is a group of SBC theologians with an axe to grind. The axe, of course, being the dismissal of Calvinism as orthodoxy. In the process of attempting to paint Calvinists in a certain light, they stooped to slander, followed by libel, in defense of the original slander. Dr. Allen’s statement is as follows:
“This is important. Here is the reason why this stuff is important. Limited atonement creates a situation where there is a diminishing of belief in God’s universal saving will. Dr. Tom Ascol sums up the historic Calvinist position when he wrote ‘I believe that God desires for all people to be saved but has purposed to save His elect. I see two (at least two) dimensions in God’s will: revealed and decretive. Failure to make this kind of distinction is a failure to read the Bible’s teachings on the will of God accurately.’ This statement was made in 2006 just before the time when the debate with the Caner brothers was scheduled to take place and Dr. Tom Ascol was supposed to join forces with James White to oppose the Caner brothers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, James White is a hyper-Calvinist. By the definition of Phil Johnson in his A Primer of Hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson of spurgeon.org, who is the right hand man of John MacArthur, Phil Johnson tells you the five things that make for hyper-Calvinism, and James White by his teaching is a hyper-Calvinist. Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don’t need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It’s fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism.
By the way, James White is a Baptist, he is not a Southern Baptist. On April 10, during a phone call on the “Dividing Line” web cast, James White scornfully denied there is any sense in which God wills the salvation of all men. That is the total opposite of what Tom Ascol said. By the way, Ascol is right that God wills the salvation of all men. White is the one who’s wrong. The denial of God’s universal saving will is a problem.”
Now, the reasons that this is an absolutely absurd statement have been documented, quite thoroughly, by both Phil Johnson, and Dr. Ascol – not to mention Dr. White!
if Dr. Allen thinks James White is a hyper-Calvinist by my definition, then he doesn’t understand my definition.
Although I must say that any conference that accuses James White of being a hyper-Calvinist loses credibility with thinking people.
I simply point out that he seems to wish to establish a definition that forces one to somehow confess what God desires without providing any biblical basis for how we as creatures are to know this. Does God command repentance? Of course. Of all? Yes, of all. Do you proclaim the gospel to all? Yes, to all. Do you say it is the duty of all to believe? Surely, of course. Do you believe the proclamation of the gospel is the means by which God’s Spirit draws the elect unto Christ? Most assuredly. So what is the single basis of Allen’s accustion of “hyper-Calvinism”? My refusal to believe God decreed His eternal disappointment. I find nothing in Scripture or in the LBCF1689 that forces me to believe that God chose to create in such a fashion as to create His own unhappiness, His own lack of fulfillment. I see no reason to believe that God desires to do something He does not will to accomplish. It is only man’s limited nature that even raises the issue, for we know that the proclamation of God’s law reveals God’s prescriptive will, i.e., do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not lie, etc. Hence we ascribe to God the concept of “desire” and say God does not “desire” that man do these things. Yet, we likewise know that texts like Genesis 50:20 tell us that God has willed that such events take place, and that, in fact, He uses them to accomplish His own purposes, His own glory. The problem is in trying to read into God’s will our own self-limitations. I can freely offer the gospel to all, not because I reject election, nor because I ascribe to God a human-oriented desire that runs directly counter to His own self-revelation and consistency, but because I do not know the identity of the elect, and I have the full promise of Scripture that no man, no woman, no child, will ever, ever turn in faith to Jesus Christ and yet be rejected by Him. ALL who believe will be saved. Will any man believe outside of God’s grace, God’s granting of repentance and faith? Surely not, but again, I do not possess knowledge of the identity of the elect. Hence, I can freely and properly proclaim the duty to repent and believe to all, knowing that those who do so will be those God has drawn to Himself. I find myself completely consistent with the Apostle who likewise said he endured all the trials and tribulations of the ministry “for the sake of the elect” (2 Timothy 2:10).
As I’ve said, this commentary by Dr. Allen, and the other j316 presenters, has been discussed by many, many folks – Timmy Brister has also put together a compilation of liveblogging links from calvinists who attended, as well. A cursory search will give you a wealth of commentary. My concern, as I’ve said, is that these noted SBC theologians seem to have an axe to grind. That axe, regardless of their protests to the contray, is an anti-calvinist one. Dr. Allen is on record as saying that “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward 5-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the gospel.” (This was met with a standing ovation.) Now, although Dr. Allen’s insistence is that he is not an anti-calvinist – the reason he says this is as follows;
One of the overriding concerns throughout Ascol’s blog post is evidenced by the four times he identifies me (indirectly each time but clearly I am included) as “anti-Calvinist” (emphasis mine). This is simply false. I am not anti-Calvinist. … Neither is it accurate to portray my recent review of the book Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue or my John 3:16 presentation as “anti-Calvinist.” One must distinguish between being against people who hold certain theological views and disagreeing with the views those people hold. I am not against any Calvinist in the Southern Baptist Convention. I do believe that Calvinism, especially five-point Calvinism, is biblically and theologically flawed at certain points.
In my book review and presentation at the John 3:16 conference, I was at pains to show this. It is apparent to me that some Calvinists within and without the SBC simply will not brook any criticism of Calvinism. To do so in their minds is to be anti-Calvinist.
Let me also say that there are occasions where I am against what Calvinists do or don’t do because of what they believe. I referenced one or two such incidents toward the end of my John 3:16 paper as well as in my book review. Why should this be a problem since Calvinists likewise reciprocate here? In fact, is not this rejoinder the result of Dr. Ascol’s own criticism of my criticism whereby he takes exception to what I have done or have not done because of what I believe? I consider this to be an example of being too thin-skinned.
Also, would it be possible for anyone reading Ascol’s blog to come to the conclusion that he is anti-non-Calvinist or anti-Classical Arminian? I suspect some could, some would, and I know of some who have. Sauce for the goose.
News flash: This is equivocation. When we say one is “anti-calvinist” – we very much do mean that someone is against reformed theology. That someone opposse it. To equivocate, as if the statement somehow means that one is personally dead set against the inclusion of Calvinists, as persons, in the SBC, is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, I would have to say that Dr. Allen knows this very well. It was a cheap attempt to score points. Yes, we recognize that, Dr. Allen. Thank you so very much for your attempt to score points off of us with your supporters via condescension. Does Dr. Allen think that we won’t recognize such cheap tricks? If that is what he thinks, I sincerely hope he understands that we do, in fact, recognize such attempts for what they are. They certainly aren’t building any bridges. In fact, it simply propagates the contrary of his insistence that he has no personal animosity, when he makes such remarks. If one treats those one disagrees with such contempt for their understanding, one cannot be surprised if we respond as if he were being insulting. Frankly, if he doesn’t recognize it as insulting, that concerns me. What on earth is he teaching? While the personal dismissal is troubling, what troubles me more is the constant misrepresentation of the positions held by the men he defames. If this misrepresentation is so endemic – as Dr. White, Dr. Ascol, and others have shown – if his understanding of Reymond, Edwards, Owen, Calvin, not to mention Scripture itself, is that flawed – as has been shown by many in the Reformed faith – what on earth can we say other than what we are saying? Dr. Allen is either woefully ignorant – in which case, what is he doing teaching systematic theology? Or, Dr. Allen is being intentionally deceitful, by misrepresenting men of God. What else can we say? Did he not expect this response, when he penned his words for this talk? Did he not expect that those of the reformed faith would examine his words, and compare them to that of historical calvinists, modern calvinists? That those he criticized would not respond? We’ve done both – and we’ve found his comments woefully lacking in historical basis, understanding, and most especially, in any sort of Biblical foundation. Far be it from me to mince words – but in any sort of factual examination of his comments, they have no basis whatsoever in reality, these men’s comments, or in Scripture. This is why we comment so forcefully in our responses. His comments are an affront – not only to these precious men of God, but to the Scripture which we regard so highly. It’s not an attempt to “score points” – but to defend the Word, and the gospel we are commanded to preach. I exhort him to take that into consideration, and to examine his comments in light of Scripture, and not in light of Dr. Byrne’s conception of historic calvinism, which seem to greatly influence his comments.
Yes, I’m a bit perturbed. I’ll admit it. This does not, however, dismiss the fact that the speakers at the J316 conference are either intentionally misrepresenting the Reformed faith to attempt to “stem the tide” of young adherents to calvinism, or misunderstand our position so badly that they are simply firing darts into strawmen constructed of various and sundry piecemeal constructs with no real foundation in real, reformed theology. This insistence is not a new one. Men have been misrepresenting Fuller as an antagonist to Gill for quite a long time. Gill has been represented as a hyper-calvinist for a very long time. Owen, Turretin, and others have also been represented as hyper-calvinist. These representations, however, are simply not true, if you examine their works. You can see a consistent representation of historic, orthodox calvinism in all of the aforementioned men; and their affirmation of it’s doctrines has consistently led to the careful and painstakingly precise exegesis that is the hallmark of the reformed faith. To say otherwise is simply to anachronistically read your own free-will requiring principles back into historic calvinism. To cite Edwards’ Freedom of the Will to somehow affirm unlimited atonement is utterly baffling. To water Owen down in such a manner is simply amazing. To wrest Scripture to an affirmation of autonomous free will, I’m sorry, is just incredible. When you do even a cursory examination of the writings of both the historical and modern champions of human autonomy, and compare them to the historical and modern champions of God’s unquestioned, and incomparable sovereignty; there is simply no comparison whatsoever in the quality and consistency of argumentation. There is no difference in this discussion, either.
Friends, I’m just plain annoyed that this debate even exists in the SBC. That men are so self-deceived that they think that championing man’s autonomous free will, as practically every other apostate denomination does, is somehow an affirmation of Scripture, simply appalls me. If you don’t like the harshness of that comment – too bad. Sneer at the “unkind” tone all you like. I do love my brethren who disagree – but the love of the brethren is grounded in love of Scripture, first and foremost. If you reject the Word of God, and it’s position on the place of man, the place of your will, and the place of your own determination in your own salvation – if you persist in the Romish pursuit of decisional works in your own salvation – if you persist in the downright slander and libel of those who faithfully preach the word of God, for the sake of your desire to preserve the choice of man, while advocating the slavery of God’s will to the will of man – expect opposition. Expect opposition when you defame men who preach the gospel without fear or favor, to all men. Expect opposition when you condescendingly assume that those who were graciously brought to transformation of their mind, lovingly corrected of their conformation to the world in their embrasure of the sovereignty of their own wills, are simply ignorant of history, theology, and Scripture. Sirs, we are most decidedly not ignorant. If we were, we wouldn’t be objecting to the unfair usage of the historical calvinists whom we have read, love, and emulate, as they emulated Christ. Expect opposition when you paint the men who have done so much to teach us the Word out to be heretics, scripture-twisters, and the like. When you tell us that the gospel we preach is nothing of the sort. I beg to differ, sirs, and I expect your opposition when I say the following. “Open union with the people of God is most desirable. It would argue disloyalty in a soldier if he would not wear his regimentals, and refused to take his place in the ranks. True, he might fight alone, but it would probably turn out to be a sorry business. If God’s people will not be ashamed of us we need not be ashamed of them. I should not like to go into a public assembly disguised in the dress of a thief; I prefer my own clothes, and I cannot understand how Christians can bear themselves in the array of worldlings.” – C.H. Spurgeon I, Sirs, think very much that you are ashamed of us. Further, I feel that you are, in fact, ashamed of the Gospel.
Sirs, a gospel which presents sin as sickness, not death; a gospel which presents a foreseen work of faith as the sole, passive acknowledgment of God in salvation of sinners; a gospel which presents Christ as dying for the never-to-be-justified, along with those who will be justified; a gospel which presents the works of faith and repentance as the requirements for regeneration; a gospel which presents certainty of salvation as a nebulous (but still within the freely willed choice of man?) “seal”, but without the decretal, sovereign will of God as the complement to and surety for it – this is a gospel without power, and not the Gospel of Scripture. There is indeed a Gospel delivered once and for all to the saints. The gospel that was presented in this conference is nothing of the sort. You wonder why there was such a response? The response was due to the sub-biblical gospel presented, the dismissive manner in which the Scriptural Gospel was treated, and the frequent, cavalier, even reckless accusations thrown at ministers of the Gospel. First and foremost, the response engendered by the John 3:16 conference was instigated by the complete disregard for Scripture shown by those who spoke. Secondly, it was instigated by the insistence of the speakers to misrepresent and redefine reformed theology. Thirdly, it was instigated by the strange and acontextual cherry-picking of quotes from reformed theologians to substantiate the claims made by the speakers.
As has been shown, by many, many folks around the web, the conference was an unmitigated debacle. It has done nothing but polarize things further – I don’t really midn that, in some ways, because it shows what they really think, when they get together, but will not say in a conventional setting – only in conferences. I challenge Dr. Allen to discuss these things publicly, in a formal setting, with Dr. White, as he has been asked to. Let the SBC see your arguments for your position. Let Dr. Byrne, Dr. Yarnell, Dr. Allen, Dr. Land, Dr. Hunt, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Keathley, Dr. Vines, Dr. Stanley, and Dr. Caner debate these issues publicly, with their theological opponents in and out of the SBC. This was an All-Star conference, as I’ve said. If they truly feel, as Dr. Allen said, that “a move toward 5-point Calvinism is a move away from the Gospel” – let’s hash it out, instead of doing this conference-sniping. Instead of skirting around the issue, let’s get this issue concerning the Gospel out in the open, and freely discussed in public. Let’s debate it, instead of sniping from the opposing sides. If you are truly against the gospel preached by the reformed, then let’s see some real discussion of that, and discussion with the men you disagree with. Like myself. Let’s see, from Scripture, how your position stacks up. Debate it. Yes, yes, good men can disagree on it.
I’m tired of the pussyfooting around. Let’s start talking to each other, not past each other. I don’t need you to tell me what I believe. I need you to show me how what you beleive accords with Scripture. “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason … my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” ~ Luther
Here we stand, my friends. We can do no other.
I’ll leave you with something from the Prince of Preachers.
It has this singular virtue also—it is so coherent in all its parts. You cannot vanquish a Calvinist. You may think you can, but you cannot. The stones of the great doctrines so fit into each other, that the more pressure there is applied to remove them the more strenuously do they adhere. And you may mark, that you cannot receive one of these doctrines without believing all. Hold for instance that man is utterly depraved, and you draw the inference then that certainly if God has such a creature to deal with salvation must come from God alone, and if from him, the offended one, to an offending creature, then he has a right to give or withhold his mercy as he wills; you are this forced upon election, and when you have gotten that you have all: the others must follow. Some by putting the strain upon their judgments may manage to hold two or three points and not the rest, but sound logic I take it requires a man to hold the whole or reject the whole; the doctrines stand like soldiers in a square, presenting on every side a line of defence which it is hazardous to attack, but easy to maintain. And mark you, in these times when error is so rife and neology strives to be so rampant, it is no little thing to put into the hands of a young man a weapon which can slay his foe, which he can easily learn to handle, which he may grasp tenaciously, wield readily, and carry without fatigue; a weapon, I may add, which no rust can corrode and no blows can break, trenchant, and well annealed, a true Jerusalem blade of a temper fit for deeds of renown. The coherency of the parts, though it be of course but a trifle in comparison with other things, is not unimportant. And then, I add,—but this is the point my brethren will take up—it has this excellency, that it is scriptural, and that it is consistent with the experience of believers. Men generally grow more Calvinistic as they advance in years. Is not that a sign that the doctrine is right. As they are growing riper for heaven, as they are getting nearer to the rest that remaineth for the people of God, the soul longs to feed on the finest of the wheat, and abhors chaff and husks. And then, I add—and, in so doing, I would refute a calumny that has sometimes been urged,—this glorious truth has this excellency, that it produces the holiest of men. We can look back through all our annals, and say, to those who oppose us, you can mention no names of men more holy, more devoted, more loving, more generous than those which we can mention. The saints of our calendar, though uncanonized by Rome, rank first in the book of life. The names of Puritan needs only to be heard to constrain our reverence. Holiness had reached a height among them which is rare indeed, and well it might for they loved and lived the truth. And if you say that our doctrine is inimical to human liberty, we point you to Oliver Cromwell and to his brave Ironsides, Calvinists to a man. If you say, it leads to inaction, we point you to the Pilgrim Fathers and the wildernesses they subdued. We can put our finger upon every spot of land, the wide world o’er, and say, “Here was something done by a man who believed in God’s decrees; and, inasmuch as he did this, it is proof it did not make him inactive, it did not lull him to sloth.”
The better way, however of proving this point is for each of us who hold these truths, to be more prayerful, more watchful, more holy, more active than we have ever been before, and by so doing, we shall put to silence the gainsaying of foolish men. A living argument, is an argument which tells upon every man; we cannot deny what we see and feel. Be it ours, if aspersed and calumniated, to disprove it by a blameless life, and it shall yet come to pass, that our Church and its sentiments too shall come forth “Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”