By Dr. Steve Lemke, Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, occupying the McFarland Chair of Theology, Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
In New Orleans we have medians on major boulevards which are traditionally called “neutral grounds.” These medians provided a boundary (somewhat of a demilitarized zone) between the various ethnic neighborhoods in New Orleans (French, Spanish, Irish, Italian, etc.). The members of the other ethnic group were not welcome to cross those lines, but anyone could be in the “neutral grounds,” the middle ground between them.
There are middle grounds between various theological polarities as well, including plenty of middle ground between Calvinist and Arminian Theology. In response to my recent post “Using Logic in Theology: The Fallacy of False Alternatives,” it has become apparent that some dear Arminian and Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ are really struggling with the logical fallacy of false alternatives. In a parallel discussion on my Facebook page, one Baptist who “gets it” wrote a sarcastic parody of these responses which seem not to “get” this fallacy, and thus keep demanding an “either/or” Arminian or Calvinist identity: “But you still didn’t tell us which of the two you are!!!!! Which ONE is it? Are you sitting on the fence? You know what God says about being neither hot nor cold. . . .“ Indeed. It is rather amusing when the response to an account of the fallacy of false alternatives is to keep insisting that there are only two alternatives and demanding which of those alternatives you are. That’s not “getting it.”
Some have asked (in this blog and in other places) at what points the authors of Whosoever Will if at all we differ from Arminius, or at what points we disagree with Arminianism. Frankly, it would be difficult to enumerate all the ways in a setting such as this. To give a simple answer, since most of us serve at confessional Southern Baptist institutions which require affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a condition of employment, to say that we were Arminians would require that we immediately resign our positions for departing from our doctrinal confession at least at the point of eternal security. Clearly, we have many more points of affinity with Arminianistic Baptists in the General Baptist or Free Will Baptist tradition than we do with pure Arminianism (because these Arminianistic Baptists have already denied some key elements of Arminianism proper, just as most Calvinistic Baptists have denied some key doctrines of Calvinist Presbyterianism proper). But we disagree with General Baptist and Free Will Baptists at some points as well.
I can’t speak for all the contributors to Whosoever Will (some of whom range from 1 point Arminians/4 point Calvinists to 4 point Arminians/1 point Calvinists), but I’ll give a short list of the doctrinal points about which I think most people who affirm the BF&M 2000 would disagree with the doctrines of Arminianism. Since our doctrine is enunciated in the BF&M 2000 (rather than a non-Baptist Arminian or Calvinistic document associated with the Synod of Dort), I’ll go by the order of the BF&M instead of imposing the structure of some Reformed document on our theology.
To those who deny that the BF&M expresses a valid and significant standpoint in this discussion, I’m struggling to avoid sticking my tongue out at you, but I’ll have to content myself with pointing out that the name “Southern Baptist” and our doctrinal confession really does represent a distinctive theology. The BF&M is the official confession of America’s largest Protestant denomination. It is not some unknown, hidden, or arcane theological perspective. More people affirm the BF&M than most other non-Catholic denominational faith statements in the world.
So, for what it’s worth, enumerated here are a dozen major points of disagreement with various classical forms of Arminianism . . .
Article II (God) – “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
Some Arminians in the Holiness/Pentecostal tradition do not hold to an orthodox view of the Trinity. This was not true of Arminius or most Arminians, but it is true of the churches in this strand of the Arminian tradition.
Article II (God), continued — “God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.”
Southern Baptists do not affirm Open Theism. Neither Arminius nor many Reformed/Classical Arminians affirm Open Theism, but it is nonetheless a doctrine primarily associated with Arminianism. Not all Arminians are Open Theists, but most Open Theists are Arminians. Southern Baptists would want to clearly separate themselves from any view of God which denied His exhaustive foreknowledge.
Article IIB (God the Son) –”He [Jesus] honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.”
Many Arminians in the Wesleyan tradition followed Arminian theologian John Goodwin (and earlier Arminian theologian Hugo Grotius) in moving away from the penal substitution view of the atonement toward the governmental view of atonement. Again, this was not the view of Arminius himself nor is it held by contemporary Reformed/Classical Arminians, but it does represent a significant thread within Arminian theology. Southern Baptists affirm the substitutionary atonement as a key element in our Christology and soteriology.
Article III (Man) — “Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”
Arminius and many Arminians continued to believe in original sin (as guilt) that was handed down through each generation, so each infant is born already guilty (and hence the need for infant baptism). Southern Baptists believe that although persons inherit a sinful inclination, they are not guilty of sin until the age of accountability.
Article V (God’s Purpose of Grace) — “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
Arminius and the Remonstrants (and some Classical Arminians) make no definitive judgment about eternal security, noting that Scriptures could be interpreted either way. However, most Arminians deny eternal security of the believer. This is obviously a major point of difference with Southern Baptists, who affirm eternal security unambiguously.
Article VI (The Church)– “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel;”
Many Arminian churches in the Wesleyan tradition function with an Episcopalian church polity rather than the local church autonomy of Southern Baptists.
Article VI (The Church), continued, further detailed in Article VII (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) –”observing the two ordinances of Christ,”
Arminius retained the view of Calvin with regard to the ordinances not affirmed by Southern Baptists, and Free Will Baptists practice a third ordinance not recognized by Southern Baptists.
Article VI (The Church) continued — “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.”
Again, most Arminian churches are organized in an Episcopalian church government, with bishops guiding the activity of local churches, rather than the democratic processes utilized in Baptist churches.
Article VI (The Church) continued — “Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.”
Arminius and his immediate successors continued essentially the same Presbyterian church polity of Geneva. Southern Baptists believe that there are two scriptural offices, not three. “Elder” is another word for “pastor,” not an alternative to deacons.
Article VI (The Church) continued — “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Many Wesleyan and Holiness Arminian (and Calvinist/Presbyterian) churches affirm women pastors, but not Southern Baptists.
Article VII (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) – “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Arminius and many of his followers practiced infant baptism and do not baptize by immersion. These practices are at variance with foundational Southern Baptist doctrines.
Article XVII (Religious Liberty) – “The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”
Arminius continued the state church in Amsterdam modeled after the state church in Geneva and other cities dominated by Calvinism, as the name “Magisterial Reformation” suggests. Freedom of religion and the First Amendment are distinctively associated with Baptists.
Having listed these dozen points at which Southern Baptists are at variance from various varieties of Arminianism, this will hopefully help those who cannot understand that there truly is a mediating position between Arminianism and Calvinism, and thus we majoritarian Southern Baptists are “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians, But Baptists”!