A Commentary on
Article Four: The Grace of God
of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”
Article Four of our Traditionalist Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation says:
We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.
We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.
Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 3:34; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 19:16-30, 23:37; Luke 10:1-12; Acts 15:11; 20:24; Romans 3:24, 27-28; 5:6, 8, 15-21; Galatians 1:6; 2:21; 5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:2-9; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 4:16; 9:28; 1 John 4:19
I will begin by stating my assumptions regarding the affirmation: 1) Most Southern Baptists affirm the affirmation. 2) Many who affirm the affirmation may not think it went far enough (that is, they would not disagree with it, but would add to it). 3) Many who would deny it do so on the basis of the phrase “any person.”
Since Dr. David Allen has already addressed the third assumption concerning universal atonement it would be redundant for me to do so. Thus, the affirmation concerning the Grace of God is either agreed upon as a minimal statement or the disagreement has already been addressed. Yet, it would prove beneficial to view some of the passages referenced.
“But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (NASB)
I agree with what John Polhill states, “God’s acceptance of the Gentiles has drawn a basic lesson for the Jews as well. There is only one way of salvation – “through the grace of our Lord Jesus.”” (Acts, New American Commentary, Broadman, 2001, p 327). One could never earn one’s way into heaven. Our greatest works are filthy rags to a Holy God. Grace, Amazing Grace is what brings our spirit to life.
A Response to Dr. Tom Ascol
Concerning His Adherence to Imputed Guilt
Despite Its Denial in the Two Most Recent
Versions of The Baptist Faith and Message
In November, fellow Southern Baptist Pastor, Dr. Tom Ascol, will celebrate his thirty year anniversary as Executive Director for the Founders Ministries, an organization “committed to the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation of local churches.” By this, they clearly mean to influence churches toward the acceptance of Calvinism, as is their right, just as it is my right to oppose their efforts if I believe that both the Gospel and the churches they seek to influence are better left alone, as is, of course, the case.
Nevertheless, congratulations are in order for this thirty year anniversary. While I cannot wish upon Dr. Ascol that his tribe would increase, I can acknowledge the three decade existence of this tribe and commend his diligent leadership, especially compared with the fledgling clan I do not lead, but merely serve. I only pray that, in like manner, my new fellowship centered on John 3:16 traditionalism will be around in thirty years.
I am especially grateful for Dr. Ascol’s comprehensive discussion of A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. Although I disagree with his conclusions, the attention he has shown by taking this document seriously and interacting with it carefully only confirms the need in our convention for this conversation to take place, and is certainly commendable and praiseworthy.
Unfortunately, in Part 5 of his series, dated June 5, 2012, Dr. Ascol concludes by admitting his fear that an Arminian is actually correct, and that Dr. Roger Olson may have been right to claim that “most American Christians, including most Baptists, are semi-Pelagian.” For a Calvinist and an Arminian to join forces and suggest that most Baptists are guilty of heresy seems, on the face of it, to be a much more divisive action than it would be for hundreds of Baptists, for example, to sign a simple doctrinal paper without accusing anyone of any kind of heresy at all.
The TULIP of Calvinism
In Light of History and the Baptist Faith and Message
Recently, Dr. Danny Akin reissued his classic article on Calvinism at a sister blogsite. We welcome that re-contribution to the ongoing conversation. In that same spirit, a sister piece from the same April 2006 publication is reissued here, with minor revision, for your consideration.
The following is a summary of the “TULIP” of classic Calvinism, set against the backdrop of its origins and compared to the Baptist Faith and Message, with the full recognition that Scripture is the final authority on all beliefs and doctrinal systems.
TULIP’s Origins and Emphasis
After the death of John Calvin, Theodore Beza and other Calvinist theologians reformed their doctrine around predestination in the matter of salvation and developed their various “doctrines of grace.” Their major emphasis on divine sovereignty led to theological assertions that caused division in the Reformed theological community. Jacob Arminius, a Dutch student of Beza, countered some Calvinist teaching. In 1610, the “Arminians” crafted five articles that affirmed the election of believers but disagreed with the Calvinists’ interpretation of election. In 1618, the Calvinists of the Dutch Reformed Church convened the Synod of Dort in order to condemn the Arminians and their five points. Dort’s “five heads” of doctrine were later rearranged under the acronym TULIP.
Calvinists at Dort viewed man not simply as sinful, but argued that every aspect of man’s being is affected by sin, including his will. Some of Calvin’s later followers went so far as to say that God actually decreed humans to become sinners. On the basis of Scripture (Romans 3:23), Southern Baptists have consistently affirmed that all humans are sinners by nature and by choice, but have generally rejected extreme views of post-Dort Calvinists that man is incapable of moral action and that God is ultimately responsible for human sin. The Baptist Faith and Message states, “By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race …. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”
By David L. Allen, Professor of Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Allen is co-author of Whosoever Will: a Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.
Article 3 addresses the Atonement of Christ. It consists of one proposition in affirmation and three in denial.
I expect there will be no disagreement on the affirmation regarding the penal substitution of Christ. The penal substitutionary atonement, though often attacked and vilified in modern theology, is the bedrock doctrine for explaining the work of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. Sin can only be atoned by the shed blood of Christ on the cross as our substitute. The word “penal” connotes legal imagery. Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the justice and wrath of God against our sin. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. Apart from his atonement, there is no salvation. Only the cross of Christ provides an available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.
The first proposition in the denial states: “We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith.” The operative word here is “free.” The Scripture teaches that the atonement is only applied to those who meet the condition of repentance and faith. When it comes to the question of free will, it needs to be understood that all Calvinists affirm some form of divine determinism along with free will. Most affirm “compatibilism,” by which is meant God changes the will of the individual by means of irresistible grace, such that having been regenerated, he genuinely and freely desires to trust Christ. It should be noted that according to compatibilism, the individual does not have the ability to choose any differently. Compatibilism is heavily dependent on Jonathan Edwards’s concept that we always act according to our greatest desire.
Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
I am thankful for you and find myself in agreement with most of your comments in your June 6 article entitled, “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk.” The impact of your service to the Lord and leadership in theological and cultural conversations is immeasurable. Your words carry significant weight both inside and outside of our convention. It is precisely because of the influence which God has granted you that I offer a preliminary reply to your comments regarding the newly-released document, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Although I am grateful that you chose to engage in the public discussion of this important issue, I offer for your consideration my observation that certain comments in your post prompt a variety of concerns among fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have signed, or might sign, the statement in question. May I share with you three specific concerns? Full disclosure: I signed the statement.
The first area of concern regards your comment that some statements appear to affirm semi-Pelagianism. You write,
“Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.”
The charge of semi-Pelagian is a serious indictment. In fairness to you, your statement falls short of a charge. Your position seems to be that some portions “appear” to affirm the view. Even so, words fail me in describing the far-reaching implications if such a charge were actually sustained. If this charge were true, then the implications would be as follows: A heterodox doctrinal statement has been affirmed by sitting seminary presidents, former SBC presidents, and hundreds of other Southern Baptist pastors, professors, and denominational leaders. I don’t mean to claim that churches in our convention should learn to simply count votes to settle doctrinal differences. But surely those votes should be weighed.