At the John 3:16 Conference last week, Dr. David Allen, Professor of Preaching at Southwestern Theological Seminary, spoke in opposition to "Limited Atonement." Dr. Allen offered that many theologians known as Calvinists, including John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Bunyan did not believe in a particular redemption (i.e. that Christ died for the elect), but they believed that Christ died for every sinner without exception, even those who will receive the condemnation of God in hell. I had no problem, at all, with either Dr. Allen's remarks nor the defense of his proposition. I found Dr. Allen displayed excellent scholarship, and enjoyed his presentation, though I would in the end disagree with a few of his conclusions.
There was one area of Dr. Allen's presentation, however, that did cause me some sadness. Dr. Allen felt it necessary to call several individuals "hyper-calvinists," including modern Baptist James White, 18th Century Baptist theologian John Gill (whom Charles Spurgeon called "my mentor in Israel"), and George Ella. Ella was listed as a "hyper-calvinist," along with about a dozen other individuals in one of Dr. Allen's handouts. I thought Dr. Steve Lempke of New Orleans, who followed Dr. Allen in the program, was dead on when he made the observation, "I am not sure that there is such a thing as a living hyper-calvinist. I find that those who call others hyper-calvinists have simply run into people more calvinistic than they are." The reason the "hyper-calvinist" label bothers me is because those who use it seem to believe that the alleged hyper-calvinist is not preaching the gospel, has no concern for the lost, and is not orthodox in his view of salvation.
Dr. George Ella, approaching 70 years of age, is a member of our church. He is a prolific author, having written many excellent biographies of 18th century saints, including Augustus Toplady, William Huntington and John Gill. The first time I met George was at the Oklahoma City Airport when I picked him up after flying in from Germany. He was crying. I asked him if everything was all right. He explained that he had spent the previous five hours sharing Christ with the young lady seated next to him. His soul was burdened for her salvation. George spent years among the Lap Indians of Finland, sharing Christ while serving as a missionary to the Laps. These Laps, the poorest of the poor and the outcasts of society in Finland, grew to love George. Dr. Ella learned their language, lived with them in their tent villages, ate their food, and became their father in the faith. This is the same George Ella, the linguist, who learned nearly 20 languages in order to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people in their native tongue. This is the man Dr. Allen called a hyper-calvinist. If Ella is a hyper-calvinist, may God give the Southern Baptist Convention more of them.
I think that if it is the desire to build bridges in the Southern Baptist Convention, it would probably be best to avoid tagging people who believe differently from us with "labels" other than those things which Christ calls them. They are forgiven, they are brothers, they are His people, they are children of the King. My brother in Christ, Dr. David Allen, may disagree with Dr. George Ella on issues of the atonement, but it might be helpful if we avoided labeling people "hyper-calvinists" and simply discuss the issues of disagreement.
In His Grace,