As I read the recent "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" I was filled with both disappointment and dismay; disappointment because these brothers feel the need to go on the attack, dismay because of their misrepresentation of Calvinistic soteriology. Either they don't understand the Calvinistic position or they are purposely and dishonestly seeking to malign a large segment of Southern Baptists. I hope and trust it is the former. As a Southern Baptist and a Calvinist I want to address some of the elements in this statement.
From the very beginning, with the preamble, the misrepresentations begin with the suggestion that traditional Calvinism is plagued by "anti-missionism" and "hyper-Calvinism." They also downplay the Calvinistic roots of the SBC. A look to history reveals a substantial influence of Calvinism. The first president of the Convention, W.B. Johnson, was a Calvinist. Basil Manly, Patrick H. Mell (who held the office of SBC president longer than any other man), John Broadus, William Williams, etc. etc. -- all Calvinists. James Petigrue Boyce, SBC president and founder and first president of Southern Seminary drafted the Abstract of Systematic Theology, a solidly Calvinistic statement. While the majority of Southern Baptists today may hold to Arminian soteriolgy, it would not be accurate to declare this to be the "traditional" position when even our first seminary was solidly Calvinistic. In addition, B.H. Carroll, founder and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a Calvinist. And while they stress that their "traditional" view of salvation is stated clearly in the Baptist Faith and Message, "Article IV," the truth is Calvinists also agree with this statement. And while, as I will point out below, they claim to hold to this statement, they in fact do not. Allow me to make some comments on the articles of their statement. Again, the Calvinistic view is often misrepresented. There is so much to be said, but I'll try to keep my comments brief.
Article One - Calvinists also affirm that "God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person." There is a genuine offer of grace to all who will turn from their sin and trust Christ as Savior. We also affirm, however, that no man "can come" unless it has been granted to him from the Father (John 6:65), and that "all that the Father gives" to Christ will come to Him (John 6:37).
Article Two - They grossly contradict themselves. On one hand they declare the depravity of man as rendering him unable not to sin, "that every person who is capable of moral action will sin." But then they declare, "We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will." Why doesn't the lost man simply "will" not to sin? The Calvinist also agrees with them that no sinner "is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel." One other comment: if no man suffers the guilt of sin until he actually sins why do innocent children die? "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--" (Romans 5:12).
Article Three - We also affirm the "penal substitution of Christ." And we also deny that this atonement results in salvation apart from faith and repentance. But then they add: "We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved." Once again, they are demonstrating an inconsistent position. Did Christ really die as a "substitute" for all of the sins of those suffering in hell? Why is it that they are in hell?
Article Four - Calvinists also believe in God's free offer of grace to all men. We also affirm that the grace of God can be and often is resisted. Jesus told Paul, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14). While the Gospel can be resisted, the Bible teaches that ultimately saving grace will be efficacious - "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37).
Article Five - This is where everyone who signs this document needs to make an honest declaration that they reject the "Baptist Faith and Message." They state, "We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel."
The BFM, Article IV: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." They cannot honestly claim to hold to the BFM statement on salvation and then reject this clear statement that regeneration precedes faith and repentance.
Article Six - I don't even know what they mean here. Do they really believe that election is only a plan? Is that really what the Bible teaches about election? That election is only God's selection of a plan? What about the boundless passages that speak of God's election of individuals. And they seem to ignore the very passages they reference.
Ephesians 14-6 - Paul writing to the "saints" at Rome declares in Verse 3, "who blessed us," then in Verse 4, "Just as He chose us," then in Verse 5, "having predestined us," and finally Verse 6, "which He freely bestowed on us." Will a sound exposition of the text allow you to conclude that Paul is speaking of just a "plan" or that he is speaking of all men in general?
Romans 8:29-30 - Again, what about the context? In Verse 28 speaks of God working all things for the good of those called according to His purpose. Not to all men in general but to those He has called. Then, as he continues in Verses 29-30, he speaks of God's foreknowledge and predestination of these called ones. Foreknowledge implies events fixed in time. Events are fixed in time because God fixes them - "having predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11).
OK, I promised to be brief.
Article Seven - Again, a contradiction. "We affirm God's knowledge of and sovereignty over every person's salvation." "We deny that God's sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause . . ." Sovereignty refers to God's absolute, independent, reign and governing of all things. Nothing is left outside of His sovereign reign. God is the first cause of all things. You really cannot claim to believe in the sovereignty of God while denying that He is sovereign over all things, including the hearts of men. Pharaoh can testify to this. So can Solomon, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1).
Article Eight - This would take much space to debunk. Did Lydia open her own heart or did God open it? "And the Lord opened her heart to respond . . ." (Acts 16:14). Ephesians 2:8 can be debated endlessly as to whether "grace" or "faith" is the gift from God. Either way, we have to agree that it is "not of yourselves." Salvation is God's work. If the ultimate difference between heaven and hell is my act of faith, then salvation is an act of human effort, a work. Yet Paul continues, "Not as the result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:9).
Article Nine - The Calvinist also denies the remote possibility of apostasy for those who are in Christ. But our belief rests in the full work of God in His redemptive purpose. Once again, they are inconsistent here. If salvation is based upon the exercise of our free will in coming to Christ, then reason would demand that a person also has the free will to turn from Christ to his former way of life. Would God violate our free will by keeping us in the faith?
Article Ten - To this every Calvinist would also say Amen. And multitudes of Calvinist missionaries, both in the past and in the present, testify to God's saving grace and the power of the Gospel unto salvation. Are they honestly accusing us of believing that a person can be saved apart from faith and repentance? This is the maligning of Calvinists that is both unfair, and perhaps even dishonest.
If their misrepresentation of Calvinist doctrine is sincerely due to a lack of understanding, then there needs to be more serious dialogue between the two sides. I find this of particular concern since there are so many seminary professors and seminary presidents who are signing the document. Surely, they understand the doctrines and beliefs of historical Calvinism. If, on the other hand, this is a purposed effort to malign a group that disagrees with them by misrepresenting the Calvinist position, shame on them. This can only cause further division, particularly among the rank and file in the pews who read and listen to these leaders and conclude that all Calvinists are heretics who are anti-missions and who deny that the Gospel must be brought to all men.