Monday, April 24, 2006

What Charismatics and Calvinists in the SBC Have in Common

The Southern Baptist Convention is composed of autonomous churches who are subject to the authority of Jesus Christ and the Word of God. We coooperate together for the support of missions world wide.

Some Southern Baptist churches teach from the pulpit, and practice within the congregation, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament. These churches are as Southern Baptist as the churches who hold to a cessationist view of the gifts.

Some Southern Baptist churches also freely teach from the pulpit what is commonly called "the doctrines of grace" or what Spurgeon called "Calvinism." These churches are as Southern Baptist, and some would say because of SBC confessional history, even "more" Southern Baptist, than those churches who do not hold to the doctrines of grace.

What do Charismatic or Calvinistic Southern Baptists have in common?

It seems that some would like to propose that a church cannot truly be Southern Baptist if the congregation of believers hold to one or the other view --- not to mention those churches and pastors who hold to both views.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Though my church cannot be considered "charismatic," and though I have never uttered the word "Calvinism" from our pulpit during a message, I teach, and our church holds, to the inspired Word of God. We see the gifts of the Spirit taught in Scripture and we see the grace of God as the preeminent theme of Scripture, culminating in the revelation of His grace in the person of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Our church also holds to the Baptist Faith and Message. We are missions minded and evangelistic. We don't mind serving and cooperating with other Southern Baptists who disagree with us on the practice of the gifts or the doctrine of election. Our convention is big enough for us all.

Due to the influence of C.J. Mahaney, John Piper (who himself does not hold to continualism, but is sympathetic), Sam Storms and other leading evangelicals who are Baptist, Calvistic, and "Charismatic," there is an ever increasing number of young Southern Baptists who are, at the minimum, open to both the doctrines of grace and the continualist view of the gifts. If we don't keep our doors of cooperation open and broad enough to allow entry of all conservative, evangelical Baptist, including these young Charismatic Calvinists, then the SBC will eventually die a slow death as up and coming pastors look for conventions and denominations who are more concerned with exalting Christ and taking the gospel to the nations than they are a narrow view of the gifts and grace.

I think those of us in the SBC concerned about our future had better draw a deep, deep line in the proverbial sand and say, "We must stop narrowing the doctrinal parameters of our convention, particularly when there is a demand to conform to specific interpretations of Scripture on which the BF&M remains silent. The SBC is big enough for us all."

If we don't speak up now on the basis of principle, then Calvinists may one day find themselves in the same position that Southern Baptist continualists are now --- disenfranchised and disowned. I continually take comfort in the fact there is nothing new under the sun. In the late 1800's when English Baptists sought to move away from a grace oriented understanding of salvation and adopt the Arminian view of free will, the erudite C.H. Spurgeon wrote out a prayer with his sharp pen and lid before his fellow Baptists what an Arminian prayer might sound like:

Spurgeon's Rendition of the Arminian's Prayer

Fancy him praying, `Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not - that is the difference between me and them.'

Let us remain dependent upon the grace of God as we seek to keep our SBC free and open to all conservative evangelicals.

In His Grace,


UPDATE: Sam Storms emailed me this morning with this comment:

"Excellent entry on the blog today. But Piper is a continualist or continuationist (however one chooses to put it). He believes all gifts of the Spirit are valid and operative in the church today. Check out his excellent series of articles entitled “Compassion, Power, and the Kingdom of God.” They are the transcripts of a sermon series he preached. You can find them at Desiring God and just type in "Compassion, Power, and the Kingdom of God" where it asks for Topic. Or you can go to Spiritual Gifts and it should get you there. Blessings."

Note from Wade: Dr. Storms has just finished filling the pulpit for Dr. Piper in John's absence.


Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. B,

You've pegged it. I'm Calvinistic and sympathetic with those who speak in tongues (properly). But I am willing to share mission work all day long with other Baptists who are not. "Can't we just all get along?"

Love in Christ,


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Wade, for your thoughts! I grew up in Oklahoma Baptist churches and have a Bible degree from OBU, so my connection to Baptists in the state go deep. I am also a continualist concerning the gifts. My love of Bible education and evangelism is as much as ever, and I would love to continue working alongside Baptists in the work of the Gospel.

I am called to start and pastor a church, and would love it if my church could cooperate in missions as a member of the SBC. But due to my interpretation of Scripture my church would not be accepted. Even if I could find a sponsoring church it would cause divisions in the association. This has caused me a great deal of sorrow.

We all too easily dismiss those with whom we disagree, but how must this hurt the Lord's heart? Paul declared "Is Christ divided???" but we break with each other so quickly that our answer is obviously "Yes."

The Lord prayed that His disciples would be one. When will He have His prayer answered?

Anonymous said...

It's this kind of Biblical and historical point of view regarding the essentials of the faith and the SBC that has so encouraged me. This big tent, yet theologically conservative mentality must be the future for our great convention.

Great post Wade

Anonymous said...

I am right with you on the Calvinism. I have a couple questions. Do you think a committed Southern Baptist Calvinist and a committed Southern Baptist non-Calvinist can do church planting together -- on the same team -- in the US? What about overseas? All other things being equal, would you plant a church with someone who was a committed non-Calvinist Southern Baptist?

Scotte Hodel said...

and then there are the Calvinistic charismatics ...
[sometimes my pastor just shakes his head at me]

Then again, my pastor has often said, "If it's in the Bible, it's Baptist."

Bob Cleveland said...

Gotta love it!

A couple years ago, our church had a Sunday evening series of speakers addressing cult beliefs; specifically what the Mormons, Muslims, and Jehovah's Witnesses believe. It struck me funny as, in our SS class, I rarely field questions about those, but frequently am asked about Presbyterians (predestination, etc) and Pentecostals (healing, tongues, etc). It seems my members actually work around and talk to members of those groups. So they get into discussions and challenged, or asked questions, by those folks.

I went online and downloaded the BF&M, the Methodist Discipline statements of faith, the AG Statement of common beliefs, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Then we laid out the topics in each, and went through each topic the statements had on common, like Jesus, the Bible, God, Man, etc. For the ones that all didn't have, I gleaned what I could from all the statements.

We studied those things for about 5 months and it was the most interesting study I've ever been involved in. I recommend everyone do that.

The 2 biggest things I learned were that our beliefs are overwhelmingly similar and should facility unity, and the BF&M is by far the most responsible, IMHO, system of doctrine of the 4 we studied.

And we all have very, very much in common.

Kevin Bussey said...

Amen Wade!

I hang out with Charismatics--the real one's not the PPL guys-every day. I learn a lot from them. I don't believe I will ever speak in tongues but I love their zeal.

My father is a 5 point Calvanist. We have great discussions but I don't think I will ever be a 5 pointer myself. I'm sure not going to disown my father. I just wish we could all agree on the most important part of the Bible--that Jesus died for our sins and He lives today and we have abundant life today and in the future by trusting in Him. said...


Good words! I would agree. said...


I absolutely believe it is possible for non-Calvinists and Calvinists to work together, worship together, plant churches together, evangelize together, etc . . .


Both believe in Christ. Both believe in salvation by God's grace. Both abhor salvation by works.

One just has a hard time believing He believes BECAUSE of God's grace. A proper understanding of the order of salvation (election, calling, regeneration, faith, etc . . .) is NOT essential for salvation.

In our church we have both Calvinists and non-Calvinists and get along very, very well because we worship around Christ and Him crucified.

Anonymous said...

You wrote, "the SBC will eventually die a slow death as up and coming pastors look for conventions and denominations who are more concerned with exalting Christ and taking the gospel to the nations than they are a narrow view of the gifts and grace."
And I say, "Amen."
We have got to stop worrying about petty things. My generation doesn't take whatever its leaders say and just accept it like seemingly generations before me. We read the Bible. We research the meanings, we come to our own conclusions of what scripture says about various things. And when we find the church we grew up in taught us ridiculous things not found in the Bible, it makes us wonder what else it taught us in error.

Micah Fries said...

A wonderful post. As a young pastor I have often struggled with admitting to people that I believe in the doctrines of grace because of the stigma associated with it. It's sad that, even though I hold to a very traditional SBC theology (reformed theology) I often feel like a leper among my friends who are pastors, or denominational leaders. I'm thankful for this move to accept those who differ with us in some areas as long as we can unite on the fundamentals of the faith. People like you, Wade, give me hope for our future.

Anonymous said...

Hi Wade,

Great piece, and a great discussion.

I don't know what I am, to tell you the truth.

I preached on grace Sunday. It was one of those sermons you feel like is more for the preacher than for the congregation, if you know what I mean.

Is there any difference in doctrine between two believers that is more powerful than the blood of Christ? Is there any impediment to ministry that is too high for the blood to wash away? If we as men make a rule that someone cannot serve Christ for whatever reason, are we not saying that there is a situation in which the blood of Christ will not avail? Are we not over-ruling the Holy Spirit if there is a genuine call on that person's life?

Example: A lost teenager marries a girl in high school and shortly thereafter due to immaturity the couple divorces. Years later, the young man remarries, and later comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Despite an awesome testimony, and signs of an obvious call on his life, could this person, by our rules, even be considered as so much as a deacon in an SBC church? Do we hold sins committed before salvation against him, thus rendering the blood of Christ of insufficient power to make him whole and prepare and sanctify him for the Master's service? Hmmm....

Many churches would disqualify such a man in my example. The same concept applies to cooperation with those with whom we disagree on what we in your blog have come to call 'non-essential doctrines'. Say, for example, you are really wrong about one of your views, say Calvinism. Does your error on such an issue/doctrine mean you are beyond Christ's grace? Does it mean that your error is more powerful than the blood of Christ in which you have placed your trust? Is it something for which the blood cannot avail? If so, are you just out of luck? Sorry, no heaven for Calvinists---go to hell, straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200, because the blood in which you trust won't wash away the stain of Calvinism. Sorry.

Aren't we saying just this when we exclude others with different beliefs on these 'non-essentials'? Aren't we really saying that there are limits on God's grace and the power of the blood of Christ, and since these are limits of our own making, we, by our legalism, make ourselves above the blood of Christ. Hmmm...

Love in Christ,


Trevor said...

sarcasm alert:

"Poor God, what ever will He do if the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't make it?"

Wade, I think you have the most intriguing blog on the internet right now for preachers.

You know, if the dominant evangelical denomination on planet earth implodes over the issues of election & sign gifts, it will be tragic...but the gospel will live on...the Great Commission will still be intact...and Jesus will still be Lord of all.

I was a lifelong Southern Baptist whose church plant was denied access into the local baptist association over our form or church government (elders)...

They never even asked me about my views on grace & the gifts of the Spirit, but if they had, we certainly would have been denied.

I heard the late, great Adrian Rogers say one time, "God does not need the SBC."

Maybe he was right.

Trevor Davis

David Rogers said...

For some reason, a lot of people here in Spain seem to think the term "conservative" is more or less equivalent with "anti-charismatic". In my home and church, growing up (i.e. under my Dad's ministry), I always thought it was about the authority of the Bible, not "charismatic" vs. "non-charismatic", or what degree on the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum you fall on. That doesn't mean we don't have opinions on those issues, or keep them to ourselves. But I always thought (and still think) being conservative or not was about something different. said...


Maybe some are just now saying enough.

Anonymous said...

Your example of the young man saved after being divorced and not being allowed to serve is not theoretical. Many are excluded on that basis as "career" missionaries with the IMB, but they can serve any number of 2-year assignments. Is that hypocritical or what? I dare not sign my name, but I am a 10 year veteran with the IMB and have seen many a bright young couple treated as second class missionaries like this. Why is divorce the unforgivable sin, especially if it occurred before salvation??

Anonymous said...

Wade said:
"If we don't speak up now on the basis of principle, then Calvinists may one day find them-selves in the same position that Southern Baptist continual-ists are now --- disenfranchised and disowned."

You hit the nail on the head. I think that is one reason why you are going to see a big turnout at this years convention. A lot of calvinistic baptists have heard their beliefs on salvation lampooned and misrepresented from the pulpits by guys like P. Patterson, Jack Graham, Steve Gains, Ergun Caner, and the late great A. Rogers.

We're wondering when there will be a movement to fill Southern Seminary's Trustee Board with anti-calvinists who will get rid of President Mohler.

Anonymous said...

Ooooo Kevin,

You bring out some great points.

Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Free will vs. Irresistable grace. Absolute sovereignty of God vs. God's allowing the disobedience of man. We argue a lot.

But you know, I just can't help but think that God is bigger than we give Him credit for. That, within the realm of an awesome all-knowing, all-powerful God, why can't this God who can do anything grant full license to the humanity He created to choose while still having absolute authority, fully knowing and approving the choice? With God, all things are possible. I stagger trying to get my mind around that. What an awesome God we serve!

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If He "formerly" confirmed His word with signs and wonders, why wouldn't He do so now? Did He change?


Kevin Bussey said...


All I can say is II Corinthians 5:17!

Anonymous said...

Kevin & All,

Sorry, I had to jump up and leave before finishing my thought a minute ago. (day job, you know)

Kevin, you brought out the fact that many "show the gifts" but treat their brothers and sisters poorly. Jesus said that "Ye shall know them by their fruits". So, what would be the outward sign of the in-filling of the Holy Spirit? Tongues? Healings? Miracles? No...The manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, etc. As you hinted at, the other "gifts" can be imitated, but trueness of life in the Spirit can't be faked.

Good stuff, Kevin. Thanks.


Dave Miller said...

Wade, you seem to have become the "point man" of this movement. What an honor, right?

Here's my question to you. We seem to be headed for a confrontation - maybe not an all-out war like started in 1979, but something unpleasant, nonetheless.

Has anyone, from the Young Baptists movement (or whatever it is called) contacted Dr. Patterson and the inner circle of current power brokers in the SBC and tried to set up a meeting, to come to a mutual understanding?

You seem to have an irenic spirit. Perhaps a mutual solution is possible? I know you didn't ask for the mantle, but it seems to have fallen to you.

Maybe that will only be possible after a show of strength at Greensboro.

Last time, there was no middle ground (in my opinion). Either the SBC would hold the line on scripture or it wouldn't. This time, there seems to be a lot of middle ground. said...


I have called and gone by personally to see the good Dr. and his pastor. I think your suggestion is a good one, though so far it has been difficult to get a hearing.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Wade. We need to be for what the Bible is for and against what it is against. Concerning the Doctrines of Grace, a litmus test one way or another would be wrong. I am not a Calvinist, but work very well, read and learn from, and appreciate much of the work of those who are. I am a continualist and have a harder time working with those who are cessationists because they seem to be SO dogmatic and their view has much less weight in my mind than the Calvinist position. But, I am still able to work with them. As you stated, the Cross of Christ is the main thing. What do you really have to believe to be saved?

This is a MAJOR issue in our churches. Churches are splitting over these issues and much damage is being done in people's lives and their walk. It is unnecessary and is usually being encouraged by the side that is looking to eradicate the other side who is just wanting to exist. We have to chart this path of understanding or there will be major consequences.

That's a long way to say, good job.

Anonymous said...

You could have said more... what about verses 18-21.... at least they complete Paul's thought!

What (or Who?) do you have to believe in order to be saved? I would recommend the "ego eimi" phrases in John's Gospel contrasted with Romans 10:9-13 since it appears that HE decides! For me, the real sobering thoughts are the Scriptural quotes at the end of Chapter 10!

Forgive me for sounding a mite disrespectful, but I get the feeling that some of the comments appear to leave the impression that our theological opinions sort of catch the Lord off guard..... obviously, I don't think so! I think it wise for all us young, and second childhood theologues to reconsider Paul's charge (admonishion) to Timothy (2 Timothy 3) to keep our focus on the WORD and not the WORLD!
I've been stimulated and blessed by the exchanges!

Anonymous said...

You did not answer my last question: All other things being equal, would you plant a church with someone who was a committed non-Calvinist Southern Baptist? said...


I answered you in about the 12 comment.

Yes, it is possible.

Shoshana L said...

Somehow charismatics are always thrown into the Arminian camp, and Southern Baptists are always thrown into the Calvinist camp. I agree with Cate, who said most in our congregations “haven’t a clue” about these arguments.

I only know I was saved in 1965 when a Baptist minister preached a message about God “standing at the door of our hearts, knocking to get in.” Now, some would take that text from Revelation and understandably argue that it has nothing to do with Jesus standing at the door of the unbeliever’s heart and asking to come in and save his/her soul.

I only know that, as a girl of 12, I could picture Jesus knocking at my heart’s door, and I wanted Him to come and live in me forever. And so I asked. I don’t know if that makes me Arminian or not…But one thing I do know—that day I was saved!!

I’m definitely not a Calvinist, but Spurgeon’s “Arminian prayer” in no way reflects my beliefs. To me, the Word teaches neither a selective election nor an election based upon some merit in man. It DOES teach, however, a Divine election “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and the sprinkling by His blood.” (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Thess. 2:13-14).

It seems to me Calvinism makes God ultimately responsible for those who do not come to saving grace. He could have chosen them, but He didn’t. They could not come, for they were unable, and He was not there to help them. I think the above Scriptures prove otherwise.

It’s nice to know that we can differ on this, however, and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. And yes--I believe Baptists and non-Baptists can and should work together, on or off the mission field, as long we’re on the same page concerning salvation by grace.

Christian liberty is a good thing. In fact, through our interaction on this website, I feel a measure of healing beginning in me for some of the wounds I received in Baptist camps when I first became a “charismatic.” Thanks Wade, for proving-- through modeling it here--what you’ve been saying about openness, and trusting God.

Bob Cleveland said...

I never did explain one thing: I am a five-point Calvinist, as well as Pentecostal (yes I speak in an unknown tongue from time to time) and a 25-year Southern Baptist. I usually just say that means I can disagree with ANYbody.

From my perspective, the greatest hindrance to real understanding is the "I'm right so you must be wrong" mindset. I try never to think that, since I know we're all humans and our understanding is flawed at best.

Our Pastor is as Baptist as one can be. He's frequently said "I'm Baptist born and Baptist bred, and when I'm gone, I'll be Baptist dead". But after he delivered a "Dangerous Doctine" messsage on hyper-Calvinism, I had a nice long talk with him the next day. Frankly, at the end, we couldn't really find anything to disagree about.

That's the spirit I wish would pervade the whole SBC, if not the great "church universal".

I also heard a pastor say once that one would have to be a fool to let what a pastor (or friend, teacher, etc)is NOT, interfere with what he IS, to us. Interfere with what he DOES have, in the Lord, for us.

In fact, I think if our faith is genuinely authentic, there will be some point or other we'll differ over, with nearly everyone. We would starve, spiritually, if we made complete agreement a prerequisite to fellowship and learning.

Tim Sweatman said...

In John 20:23 Jesus prayed, "May they [those of us who are His followers] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me." Since this unity serves as a sign to the world that Jesus was truly sent by God, that would imply that this unity is something remarkable, something that is beyond our power to create. Now if we agreed on everything, would it be all that remarkable for us to have unity? No; it would be relatively easy for there to be unity when there is total agreement on everything. But for us to have unity even when we disagree on some things; now THAT would be truly remarkable. That would be the kind of unity that would say to the world that Jesus really makes a difference, that the way of Jesus truly must be the way of God. Unfortunately, too many Christians are pursuing uniformity instead of unity. Uniformity says that you must be exactly like us in order to be accepted, in order for us to work together. Unity says that we accept you and can work together with you even though we disagree on some things.

GeneMBridges said...

It seems to me Calvinism makes God ultimately responsible for those who do not come to saving grace. He could have chosen them, but He didn’t. They could not come, for they were unable, and He was not there to help them. I think the above Scriptures prove otherwise.

Where does Scripture say that moral responsibility is limited to ability? It relates moral blame to a moral motive, not a moral ability.

The "above Scriptures" show that God's love is covenantal and apart from foreseen faith. This is the Calvinist view and always has been. The very word "foreknowledge" here is the noun form of prognosoko, in Romans 8:29. Those God choses are the "foreknown." He foreknows them all the way He foreknows Christ. In this text, they are all predestined, called, justified, and glorified. If this isn't selective, what is it? Is it corporate? Then why aren't all saved, since all foreknown are called, justified, etc.? If it's not selective, it makes salvation a form of remunerative justice. The problem is, salvation is in the category of mercy, not justice.

In Calvinism God is responsible, but He is not to blame. Responsibility is a necessary but insufficient condition for blame. Men are not held responsible for rejecting Christ in Calvinism; rather they are passed over and left in their sins.

In fact, Calvinism can supply a reason for the passing over of sinners. In contrast, the contrary position cannot do so. Why would God create persons whom He knows will reject Christ, send Christ to die for their sins too, and then have them never hear the gospel?

This objection overlooks the reason why people are condemned and confounds the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition. People are condemned on account of their sins, and for this reason, they are lost, and for this reason, they are, apart from Christ, sent to hell.

First, election renders a thing certain. However, election alone is insufficient to render a person justified. Reprobation as preterition (passing over) of a sinner is a necessary, but alone an insufficient condition to result in condemnation. Faith in Christ is both necessary and sufficient to guarantee justification. Sin is both necessary and sufficient to guarantee condemnation. All men are sinners, and all men without exception are unable to believe in Christ and repent of their sins. This inability is moral, not natural. They “can’t” because they “won’t.” Apart from grace, this is their natural condition. Therefore, men are lost because they are sinners, not because they are not elected. Not all sinners are elected, but then, apart from election, no man would desire to not be a sinner. The entire objection ultimately tries to center itself on the notion that it is wrong for God to “violate” men’s free wills. Since Calvinism maintains that men’s “free will” decision apart from effectual grace and uncondiitional election is, in fact, to be lost, why is this a good objection?

The implication of Scripture is that men would believe if they could, so the reason they don't is their love of evil. Since nobody has a just claim on God's mercy, He can't be blamed for passing them over, since they deserve to be passed over.

How do men come by saving faith? Through calling. How do they come by calling? Through election. Without election, men could not be saved. The objection would be valid if and only if men could, of their own free wills muster saving faith, but their wills are bound by their love of evil. The implication of the objection is that men are condemned apart from their sin. This is false. It seeks to imply that Calvinists teach men who want into the kingdom are left out, and men who don’t want in are “dragged kicking and screaming.” This is also false. None who wish to enter are left out; none who wish to be left out get into the kingdom. The question the synergist must answer is: Why do some believe and not others?

The problem with cooperation between the two groups is that history shows that Calvinists and non-Calvinists usually don't work well together, because they differ on the gospel itself and the proclamation of it at several key points. This arises on the part of both parties.

Allow me to explain. We affirm that Calvinism is not and yet is "the gospel."

To say that if the "non-Calvinist gospel" is not the true gospel, then non-Calvinists are not saved is muddled in several respects. Non-Reformed theology is an admixture of truth and error. It can be taken in either a more evangelical direction or else a more Pelagian direction or into sheer humanism and liberalism. We are saved by election, but not by believing in election. Because election is true, we should believe in it and commend that belief to others, but one of the things which makes sovereign grace to be sovereign is that it can save men and women with a defective theological understanding--up to a point.

What, exactly, is there in the offer of the gospel (or whatever we want to call it) that we should not urge upon elect and reprobate alike? Take repentance. Don't all men have a moral duty to obey God? And if they sin, don't they have an obligation to repent? Total depravity subtracts from their ability, but not their duty. To say otherwise is to say that the more wicked we are, the less responsible we are for sin. By that line of logic, the more evil I am, the more innocent I am. Talk about another gospel! What about faith in Christ? If it is true that Christ is the Savior of the world and the Lord of the universe, then shouldn't everyone believe that and trust in him? Isn't there a standing obligation on the part of everyone to believe in whatever is true?

Ah, but if Christ didn't die for the reprobate, then they are not qualified to believe in him, right? Wrong! It's non-Calvinists who define the offer of the gospel in those terms. In the examples of Gospel preaching in the New Testament, you never run across a conversion formula which consists of believing that Christ died for me as a condition of salvation. The *fact* that Christ died for the elect alone is a condition of salvation, but *believing* that Christ died for the elect alone is not a condition of salvation. Since the Scriptural offer of the gospel is never framed in those terms, it is applicable to elect and reprobate alike.

And, as a practical matter, the reprobate will never believe it any way, while only the elect will believe it, so where's the harm? The elect will believe that Christ died for them as a result of believing in him. Let's not get the cart before the horse.

Again, the point is not that the preacher goes self-consciously out of his way to target the reprobate. No, the point is that he shouldn't be inhibited by any self-conscious scruples and anxieties. Leave the sorting out of the sheep and the goats to God on the Day of Judgment.

Non-Calvinists agree that one need not believe in general atonement to be saved on the one hand, but on the other they tell believers to believe Christ died for them, defeating this proposition. There is no NT statement to that effect, and that would more properly be a funcition of repentance, not conversion. Only hyper-Calvinists state you must believe in particular redemption for example, and one does not need to believe in a particular scheme of election to be saved. The means of salvation is the gospel alone and the grace of God alone. The object is Christ alone. The method is faith alone. The object of that faith is not a particular scheme of doctrines. Faith in a range of doctrines does not save. Saving faith is more than mental assent; it involves a clinging or a trust, what the Reformers called “fiducia,” but it’s object is not the five points of Calvinism, the Remonstrance and the Opinions or the Baptist Faith and Message. The object is Christ.

That said, We generally affirm that Calvinism is the gospel by way of dogmatic (eg. confessional or theological linguistic usage), in that, as a comprehenisve, systematic soteriology it identifies the source of salvation, the condition of men, the nature of the atonement, the necessity of grace, and the assurance of salvation for all who will believe far more accurately than Arminianism. This is what Spurgeon meant, when he said, "Calvinism is the gospel." It is also a worldview that shapes much of the way we view the world. In our church, we affirm that where you stand on these issues affects the way you understand the whole world.

J.I Packer put it this way in his intro to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the 'five points' indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world's Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God's own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible - the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God's world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.

Then, in the second place, the 'five points' present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive evangelical values. The negative cast of the 'five points' is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel - that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

So, we are left to reply to this, as I did on the Founders blog awhile back:

Why do Calvinists say things like this: "to point people to worship the God of scripture rather than the god of one's own imagination." To me, it is arrogance to say if you don't believe what I believe (among Christians), then you're worshipping a God of one's own imagination? Packer also wrote:

Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind - election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit - as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, all who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that man's salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God's gift of salvation, the other as man's own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the 'five points', as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the areas in which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.

So, one of us is worshipping according to our vanity, as where one stands here affects one's view of man, sin, Christ, God, the atonement, ethics, church order and discipline, worship, prayer, and a whole host of other things. Look at the state of the non-Calvinist churches in the SBC. We can't get 1/2 of our membership to church on any given Sunday, and we continue to press for baptizing a million and tell the world we are 16 million strong. Calvinism did not result in this situation. In fact, if we were living in the 19th century, our churches would be questioned if they did not hold to the Philadelphia Confession or one agreeable with it.

I would add this: Arminianism is a mixture of truth and error as a system and a worldview. How can anybody look at historical theology and not see this? Arminianism is inherently Unitarian at a functional level. It puts, in its more Pelagian forms (like the easy believism of Dave Hunt)m both election and regeneration outside a chain effected by grace; only the cross is in view. Ergo, this is functional Unitarianism. In classic Arminianism, the kind with a real doctrine of prevenient grace (in the former this is explicitly equated with common grace, cf. Elmer Towns), a person is enabled to believe from a state of equipoise effected by grace, so, while regeneration is outside the chain of grace directly, indirectly it resides inside of it, because faith would not result in it apart from this grace. The Father, however, because He bases election on foreseen faith, is still outside the chain of grace. Ergo, this is "Bi-Nitarian." It's not without reason that Arminianism has historically flirted with Socinianism as a result of this. Let's not forget the General Baptists and early Arminians in general turned to Socinianism relatively quickly, and it was only via the New Connection that they survived among Baptists. Calvinism, unless it deteriorates into hyperism, has been a stabilizing force in theology and society in general. Neo-orthodoxy does spring from Reformed theology, but in so doing, the Neo-Orthodox deny their Calvinism, just as the Arminians did, so it can't truly be said to be "Reformed." The crossroads of theological liberalism also tends to lie near or in Arminianism. Moreover, Arminianism tends toward neo-sacramentalism in Baptist churches where it takes hold, contrary to our Baptist ecclesiology. They do not affirm baptismal regeneration, yet so much emphasis is put on aisle walking and hand raising and sacramental prayers (decisional regeneration) that they end up creating neo-Campbellite sacraments of their own when we do this.

However, not all Arminians are of a stripe. They range from classic liberals to neo-orthodox to Open Theists to evangelical Wesleyans and Methodists to the Assemblies of God to Free Will Baptists to the 4 Point Variety in the SBC like Dr. Ergun Caner. For the record, I have far more problems with those who claim to be "modified Calvinists" (eg. 4 Point Arminians) because, for the most part, they deny prevenient grace, lumping it with common grace, and, in so doing are closer to Campbellite theology than evangelical Arminianism. In fact, as a general rule Reformed Baptists will say that they are more willing to work with an Arminian like Wesley than they are one like Jack Graham. My Wesleyan friends are appalled by what they see in the SBC largely for the same reasons that my RB friends are appalled. They would rather work together than with those in the SBC for two reasons: (1) the functional Unitarian view of the gospel in the majority of SBC churches and (2) the politics of exclusion. RB's today say they would rather work with a true evangelical Arminian than with this fundamentalist version of Arminianism (and that is what it is, it is 4 - Point Arminianism, no matter how you parse it), because of the absence of Sola Gratia and the eclipsing of the Trinity, and the repeated meme by this group that seeks to redefine the meaning of historical terms like "Amyraldian" to include their views (to which Amyralt never held). Add the healthy dose of pragmatism, sacramental prayers, the idea that public invitations are the sine qua non of evangelism, and you have oil and water. I have church members who left a local SBC church because a well-known SBC evangelist came in, read one Scripture, and gave an hour long invitation. These abuses must cease. We don't need to abandon the invitation system (in fact most RB"s use them when the message fits one), but we could revive some old methods like Q and A to the pulpit on most Sundays. Now that would make pastors sit up and take notice, because their views would be put to the test from the floor in public. We actually do this in my church, and they do it in my Mom's too, and it has worked wonders for accountability between pastors and members.

If you define "gospel" in exegetical terms, both Arminianism and Calvinism affirm the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the necessity of Sola Fide and personal conversion.

Ergo, when "gospel" is defined in this manner, closer to exegetical usage, the essential issue addressed by the Gospel is that man is a sinner, under the condemnation of God. The Gospel never calls upon the unregenerate to believe that they are unable to believe. Rather, it calls upon us to recognize our guilt before God, and to see Christ's sacrificial death as the sole remedy for our guilt and condemnation.

The Gospel message is about guilt, condemnation and forgiveness. It is not about "Who chose whom?", or "Where does faith come from?" Gospel-faith is trust in the person of Christ, having the confidence that He, by means of His Substitutionary death, has borne our sin and is fully able to forgive everyone who calls upon Him for salvation. Gospel-faith recognizes that Christ saves only those who trust in Him. It does not necessarily recognize the truth that this trust is God-given. One need not know or believe that God is the one behind your repentance and faith to experience repentance and faith. One need not understand the nature of justification before he experiences it. One need not believe in eternal security in order to be eternally secure; one need not believe it is impossible to fall away and fail to persevere in the faith in order not to fall away and persevere in the faith. Ergo, in this sense, both Calvinism and Arminianism can be said to encapsulate the gospel. However, if you use a more extensive definition, the contrary position simply cannot sustain itself either biblically, dogmatically, or practically.

Even more, we have folks today who are trying to say that there is no room for Calvinism in the BFM. In so doing, they completely ignore the history of the BFM and locate the statements in the BFM on particular issues in the minds of Mullins, Hobbs, and Rogers. Why is this a problem? Because the statements he isolates are, in fact, drawn from the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, not the minds of those men. The NH Confession is itself, from a historical perspective, intended to reassert Calvinism over and against the rise of Arminianism. Ergo, the words in it should be read not with Arminian categories and definitions in mind, but rather with Calvinistic definitions in mind. Only by reinterpreting those terms can they come to his understanding that the BFM is out of step Calvinism.

If so, then so is the NH Confession, but the NH Confession was a response to Arminianism. History: In the 1770s Benjamin Randall, a Congregationalist, reacted against Calvinism and infant baptism and finally became a Baptist. Randall began in 1780 the religious movement which later came to be known as the Freewill Baptists. Freewill Baptists were very successful among the middle class people of New Hampshire, drawing many laymen, ministers, and churches away from the Calvinistic Baptists. The Baptist State Convention was organized in 1826. In 1833, this convention published a confession in response to the success of the Freewill Baptists. The New Hampshire Confession's doctrine of salvation was formulated in reaction to the popularity of the Arminianism of the Freewill Baptists.

It is worth noting that at that time Arminian Baptist confessions always contained statements about the freedom of the will, like "The human will is free and self-controlled, having power to yield to the influence of the truth and the Spirit, or to resist them and perish." The New Hampshire Confession goes out of its way to exclude this statement, which is the first clue as to the intent of the author. Without such a statement, it is highly doubtful that its terminology should be interpreted in Arminian categories. It mentions "free agency," but this is a reference to concurrence with God's sovereignty, spelled out in the LCBF2 9, not libertarian freedom.

On the other hand, its lack of precision could also be interpreted as a way to make it more palatable to those who had left for Free Will churches, a way to woo them back to the fold. The 19th century was highly concerned with ecclesiology (in historical theology in general, not just in Baptist circles), so it is likely that was the case. Folks became less concerned with "What must I do to be saved?" and more concerned with "What is a true church?" Waning interest in soteriological doctrine, providence/concurrence, etc. and the concern to woo back those who had left could probably be construed as being involved in the formation of this particular confession, given its context in history. As a result, the NH Confession is quite controversial .

William W. Barnes wrote that the New Hampshire Confession "was so mild in its Calvinism that the five points of distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism were almost ignored." By the same token, others differ. Thomas J. Nettles writes, "Many have interpreted the contents of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith as an attempt to modify the strong Calvinism of earlier days into something more palatable to the tastes of nineteenth-century churches. It is true that it not as detailed or as lengthy as the Philadelphia Confession, but it is also true that the substance of its doctrine remains unchanged." Nettles concludes, "Rather than interpreting the New Hampshire Confession as a gradual retreat from the Calvinism of former days, it is better to see it as an affirmation of the Calvinist position on the particular issues raised by the presence and growth of Free Will Baptists in New England."

B.H. Carroll used the NH Confession for SWBTS when it was formed, probably because its ecclesiology is so limited that it suited his Landmark tendencies. Ergo, its association with the SBC began.

So, the BFM suffers not merely from its own problems, but rather from the problems associated with Calvinism in the New Hampshire Confession, its immediate historical antecedent, whatever those problems may be. Certainly the lack of precision is one. Add to that the number of historical interpretations of the intent behind its composition, and the water gets muddy indeed. RB's historically like to use more detailed confessions like the 1689 or the 1646 or the Charleston or Philadelphia Confessions. The Abstract of Principles is based on the 1689 and Charleston Confessions. The churches that formed the SBC were all churches that affirmed the Philadelphia Confession. These are, without a doubt, more detailed confessions that articulate much more, yet SWBTS and SBTS functioned cooperatively quite well under different statements of faith, so it's hard to see how a truly clear case could be made that the Abstract and the BFM are in conflict with respect to cooperation in the SBC. So, in order to answer whether or not the two are in conflict, I would recommend folks to remember that the BFM is an umbrella document whose heritage is not simply rooted in EY Mullins, Hershel Hobbs, or Adrian Rogers. Rather it is rooted in New Hampshire Confession. If folks want to discuss "original intent" of the words, then both its history in the SBC as the BFM and the parent document, the NH Confession should be considered.

The BFM for 2000 was designed to work like the 39 Artlcles of the Christian Religion and its function in confessional Anglican churches. If you read through the 39 Articles there are portions that are sufficiently vague such that a Calvinistic Anglican and an Anglo-Catholic can come to the Articles and see enough of a broad definition of their denominational articles to function in the same communion. In other words, it says a lot but might as well say nothing in the process, because it is intentionally vague. On top of this, it really is the 4th interation of another confession. As such it suffers from a number of difficulties. As a confession for doing church, I personally think the 1646 version of the LCBF is a far superior confession. It's not as restrictive or complex as the LCBF2 and its children, but it's restrictive enough to allow for some give on many things without giving away the store. You can hold to Covenant, New Covenant, or Dispensational theology under it, but the LCBF2 is restricted to CT and moderate NCT.

This isn't to say I think cooperation is not possible. It is to say I'm not sure the BFM 2000 is the best document for it for the above reasons. We use our confessions prescriptively now (as we did when we generally affirmed the Charleston and Philadelphia Confessions), and we have folks now who want to prescribe folks who have supported them from the beginning get out. This is undeniable, given the tenor about Calvinism that grows more and more shrill. In large part, I think this has to do with the reasons Packer cites. However, in equally large part, I think it has to do with folks who simply aren't willing to look at the history of the denomination fairly. Unity takes work, and what we need is a confession that prescribes unity but isn't so vague on these areas. That also takes work.

Solution? Actually, I have one.

Southern Baptists would do well to do the work and construct an entirely new confession of faith instead of reinterating the same one over and over with slight changes. At a point, it becomes a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.

I would suggest a unique approach which states a position then says, we *also* accept this (quote from an RB confession on soteriology) and this: (quote from the Assemblies of God on spiritual gifts) and spell out that "5 Point Calvinism" is acceptable (if not, then what about Dagg, Boyce, Mell, Broadus, and others), and differing views on spiritual gifts are acceptable as well. A committee should be formed not from The Good Ol' Boy Network (as the last committee was formed) but from the theology departments of the seminaries and from representatives from all these positions. Let men like the Ascols and Nettles have a place at the table, for example, and give each perspective equal representation. Let them sit down and hammer out something new for us to which they can all agree; one that isn't so vague and one that spells out what is and is not acceptable in no uncertain terms. If not, the current rancor will not cease any time in the foreseeable future. Doing this would promote cooperation. In fact, I know some RB churches who would join, because they agree with cooperating and with the missions philosophy of the CP but not the rancor, politics, and waffling confessional standard.

Anonymous said...

Wade, Amen to your post. I am an SBC pastor who became Southern Baptist after leaving behind a fundamentalist upbringing. I am very concerned that the SBC seems to at times be heading in that same direction by excluding those who take a legitimate reading of scripture against a cessationist viewpoint and/or for a Calvinistic interpretation of scripture. These issues are not about the nature of scripture or Christ, and therefore should not divide us. They are all about our interpretation of that inerrant Word of God and our legitimate interpretative differences. The SBC should be open and inclusive enough to allow each one who affirms distinctive Baptist evangelical doctrine to co-exist and thrive and be unified within the Southern Baptist context of ministry.

Scott Hill said...

Gene, that comment was so long I may have to change the name of our Award from the Abanes Award to the Gene Bridges Award.

It was, however, unlike Richie, a very good comment, that I pasted into my word docs.

Keep up the good work.

Shoshana L said...


I tried to read your entire post, but I got a terrible headache.

Is this the way you talk to your parishioners? If so, I really feel for them on Q and A day...

GeneMBridges said...

Shoshana, I am not the pastor of our church. I assure you, he is more long winded than I. Our worship lasts 1.5 to 2 hours, an hour of which is dedicated to preaching/teaching and Q and A unless we are receiving new members or baptizing. I do assist with Q and A, and I try to give as complete an answer as possible, as do Dustin and Sterling.

This last post was occasioned by a number of issues...but if you notice, the bulk is actually s series of quotes by J.I. Packer's intro to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, so I can't claim originality.

Speaking of which...we're meeting in hotel. Cut us some slack, we're only a year and half old, okay. Anyway... We have some baptisms lined up, but we've not yet done them.

I have the feeling we're having an old timey outside baptism after Memorial Day. In other words, I suspect that we'll be going outside to pool to baptize our new folks in front of the congregation and all the hotel rooms. The hotel rooms all open around the outdoor pool. I love being part of a new work, where you have to rough it. It actually lends the feeling of being back in the old, old days. It's a tad like being on the mission field.

BTW, we take Free Will Baptist baptisms, and we are a 1646 Confession Church. Our confession is much less forgiving on that than the BFM. How ironic.

Rhett Wilson said...

May God help us to rightly understand the differences between Personal Preferences, Personal Convictions, and Absolute Truths.

If not our convictions can become like the shadows of the real thing Paul writes about in Colossians. Like a man in love with his woman's shadow instead of her.

I just posted sermon notes on my blog by that same title: