A Model for Theological Dialogue

By Steve Lemke, Provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

What does constructive theological dialogue look like?  Unfortunately, there are fewer
models today than might have been the case.  On the one hand, the Balkanization of the SBC has led to many speaking to each other within in-groups but not really addressing the larger SBC fellowship.  These discussions tend to produce a sense that everyone agrees that this perspective is right and everyone else is wrong. On the other hand, when other perspectives do interact with others, many blog and Facebook posts regarding theological issues are guilty of “flaming,” reducing to ad hominem insults, reducio ad absurdum stereotypes, and “straw man” arguments.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I have shared below (with permission from the participants) a discussion which took place on my Facebook page (in which it is not unusual to have discussions with 50 or more posts on some issue). I cite this discussion thread for two reasons: (a) it expresses the diversity of views even within the Calvinist, Arminian, and Baptist perspectives, and (b) it models theologians from different theological perspectives discussing an important belief by expressing real differences of belief with substantive content in a respectful spirit.  To do so within the innate space limits of Facebook is quite an achievement!

The principal participants are Gary Shultz, Jr. (author of the book review, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, Missouri, whom I described as a “Calvinist” and he later qualified himself as a “moderate Calvinist”), Tony Byrne (a four point Calvinist who is a graduate of Criswell College and writes in the Theological Meditations blog), and James Leonard (a Cambridge scholar doing research at the Center for New Testament Textual Study at NOBTS, and a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians).

The original impetus of the discussion was my noting that a review by Gary Shultz of the book I co-edited with David Allen, Whosoever Will, had been published in the online journal Themelious. I expressed appreciation to Gary, who, though he is Calvinistic in theology and our book being a critique of Calvinistic theology, Shultz provided a “fairly balanced” perspective that said “a few nice things about my article and a few others.”  That is where the discussion began . . .

Gary  Shultz — Dr. Lemke, have to say I am a moderate Calvinist in my theology, and while you are right that I was not thrilled with the book, I did appreciate your essay, and it really made me think through the issue. I am glad that we are seeking ty and truth concerning these issues and thankful for the discussion your book raised. Looking forward to reading your latest on premillennialism, with which I am in full agreementty and truth concerning these issues and thankful for the discussion your book raised. Looking forward to reading your latest on premillennialism, with which I am in full agreement!clarity and truth concerning these issues and thankful for the discussion your book raised. Looking forward to reading your latest on premillennialism, with which I am in full agreement!

James M Leonard — Moderate” Calvinist?

It’s important to note that some Arminians do believe in eternal security. It may be that Arminius never took a position on this, and the Remonstrants did not. You can join the Society of Evangelical Arminians without affirming or denying eternal security.

Many Arminians do affirm Total Depravity. Some Arminians convey that it is impossible for a person to respond to God without God miraculously enabling him to do so. Accordingly, the only difference between this view and Calvinism is that this Arminian view states that God’s enabling grace is resistible.

Gary Shultz — James, let me respond to your points in order. I call myself a moderate Calvinist because I don’t hold to all five points – I reject particular redemption. I also reject double predestination, and believe that God “controls” or “ordains” evil in a different way than he does good. I have read Arminius, and understand him to believe that one can apostatize (lose their salvation), though you are right that the Remonstrants did not come down conclusively on this issue. And while Arminians do hold to total depravity, they typically believe it is mitigated by prevenient grace or some other work of the Spirit so that one’s will is free to choose or reject God, which makes their understanding quite different. I believe there are many more differences b/w Arminians and Calvinists besides the resistibility of grace, but this post has already gotten way too long!

James Leonard – Calvinists and Arminians both agree that total depravity is mitigated by God’s grace. The difference is resistibility.

Gary, I still didn’t see how you are a Calvinist, except on the point of continuance in salvation–which many Arminians affirm.

Do you accept unconditional election? I’m just mystified by the term “moderate Calvinist.”

Here are the “FACTS”: Freed by grace; Atonement for all; Conditional election; Total depravity, Security in Christ. See http://evangelicalarminians.org/Outline.FACTS-of-Arminianism-vs-the-TULIP

Gary Shultz — James, while your first statement is true, I would say there is much more involved in the differences then resistiblity, such as one’s view of God and free will (but I really don’t want to write an essay!). Yes, I hold to unconditional election, as well as irresistable grace, total depravity, and perseverance of the saints. That is why I consider myself a moderate Calvinist.

Steve Lemke – Thanks for your comments, Gary, and again, thanks for the overall fairness represented in your review. I cannot resist pointing out one mischaracterization, however. Since you have discomfort with being called “Calvinist in theology” because you are a Christmas Calvinist (no “L”), I wonder why you would discount the statement of the authors of Whosoever Will for their affirmation that “we stand in the great Baptist tradition that is neither fully Calvinist nor Arminian but is informed by both,” insisting that we should just admit that we are predominantly Arminians? Indeed, another review of our book from an Arminian perspective characterized us as “moderate Calvinists,” so you and us should agree! I think you calling us moderate Arminians and them calling us moderate Calvinists suggests that we are exactly what we said we are.

James Leonard — I think Matt Pinson calls Arminians who believe in eternal security “moderate Calvinists” as an accommodation to Southern Baptists, and not out of principle. (Recalling his review comments off the top of my head.)

But if someone can 1) subscribe to the doctrinal statement of the Society of Evangelical Arminians (and many Southern Baptists do!), and 2) affirm the Remonstrance, then it would seem strange to call them moderate Calvinists!

Gary Shultz — I do see the irony in my chafing a bit at being called Calvinist when I discounted your chosen label of “Calminian” for Arminian. I also would also most likely interpret the critique from both sides in the same you do, as I have for my position on the extent of the atonement I argued for in my dissertation. However, I stand by my characterization of Whosoever Will as espousing an essentially Arminian theology, as I saw very little “Cal” in the “Calminianism.” I agree we are in the same camp, as those who stand in the great Baptist tradition informed by both sides, but I thought the book as a whole (admittedly some essays more than others) shaded so close to Arminianism as to be almost indistinguishable from it. It seems we all draw the line for our labels in different places. I reiterate my appreciation for your work, and yes, we can all agree on the Return of Christ, and hopefully his pre-millennial return.

Steve Lemke — Gary, thanks for mentioning your affirmation of The Return of Christ. Happily, I think that’s something about which you, me, and James can all agree!

Tony Byrne — Gary said in the review: “Both Allen and Lemke argue for the Arminian position concerning these two doctrines.”

Actually, Gary, Allen does not argue for an Arminian position. The bulk of his chapter merely deals with the extent of Christ’s death, without getting in to the intent or the ultimate cause of the application. If Allen did get in to these areas (intent and the decisive cause of the application), his own non-Calvinist opinion would emerge, but it’s not in the chapter. Again, he’s arguing and using Calvinistic sources to prove that there is no limitation in the sin-bearing of Christ. It’s a case of unlimited imputation of sin to Christ, not a limited imputation (Owen) or limited transference (Crisp).

Allen made it abundantly clear that his chapter was only dealing with the extent question (p. 65), and all moderate Calvinists (who believe Christ suffered for the sins of all mankind) agree with Allen in that area. This is why Thomas Lamb (a moderate) said he agreed with John Goodwin (an Arminian) on the point, stating that,

“…yet I deny not, but grant with him [John Goodwin], that the denial of Christ’s Death for the sins of all, doth detract from God’s Philanthropy, and deny him to be a lover of men, and doth in very deed destroy the very foundation and ground-work of Christian faith.”
(Thomas Lamb, Absolute Freedom from Sin by Christ’s Death for the World (London: Printed by H. H. for the Authour, and are to be sold by him, 1656), 248. For more from Lamb, see here: http://theologicalmeditations.blogspot.com/search/label/Thomas%20Lamb).

It is only the high Calvinists in the Owenic or Turretinian model (and the hyper-Calvinists) who cannot agree since they see an additional limitation in the imputation of sin to Christ, such that He can only be said to have substituted for (or satisfied the law for) the sins of the elect alone.

Tony Byrne — Gary, I am a moderate Calvinist myself, in the atonement trajectory of Musculus, Bullinger, Gwalther, Zwingli, Latimer, Becon, Rollock, Ursinus, Kimedoncius, Ussher, Davenant, Martinius, Preston, Culverwell, Calamy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman, Polhill, Charnock, Howe, Scudder, Baxter, Edwards, and Ryle, just to name a few. I worked with Dr. Allen as a research assistant on his chapter, and I am thoroughly acquainted with the content of it. There is nothing in it that is necessarily Arminian. When Allen makes certain statements about the death of Christ (that He suffered for the sins of all) or that God desires all men to be saved (with no statement of equalness), both Arminians and moderate Calvinists can agree with these statements, but add qualifications.

At least two other reviewers (one in the Founders Journal) that I have read have made the mistake in thinking that the content of Allen’s chapter has any necessarily Arminian component to it. It does not. If anyone disagrees, I would like to see specific words cited and page numbers given in his chapter.

Steve Lemke — Gary, let me try another couple of swings at this. First of all, not only did we insist that we were neither Calvinist or Arminian repeatedly in our book, but after some early reviews we reiterated our position in published statements (primarily our “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians, But Baptists” statement at http://www.baptistcenter.com/Documents/Journals/JBTM%207-1%20Baptists%20and%20the%20Doctrine%20of%20Salvation.pdf#page=58, and at http://www.baptisttheology.org/documents/NeitherCalvinistsNorArminiansButBaptists.pdf).

Our point is that the five points of the TULIP are simply not the way we would even characterize our own theology. The whole framework of the TULIP imposes an interpretive framework on our theology which is foreign to our approach. So, you can refuse to believe our repeated assertion of where we are, but that seems a little unkind.

Second, to be described as an adherent of Arminianism requires that we be consciously followers of Jacob Arminius and his theology. I’ll just speak for myself in saying that I was only peripherally aware of Arminius through at least my MDiv training. I never read primary material from Arminius until much later. Tom Nettles (my Baptist History teacher and Sunday School teacher) never seemed to mention him much (J). So to suggest that Arminius played any significant role at all in shaping my theology (and, I believe, almost all the contributors in Whosoever Will) is simply mistaken.

Third, just because people happen to affirm a few beliefs in common does not make them the same or identical. For example, Americans may agree with the Chinese that alien invaders with ray guns are bad. That does not mean that Americans are Chinese. It just means that we are united against a common foe. More to the point, in a Second Century Seminar that I participated in for several years in the Dallas area, we often found the conservative Baptists, DTS Bible church guys, Church of Christ, and Cistercian Catholics to be on one side, and the liberal Protestants (Presbyterian, Methodist, moderate Baptists, etc.) to be on the other side. The fact that we happened to agree with the Church of Christ guys or Catholic guys on those particular issues did not make us Catholics, for instance; it just meant that we had affinity with their views on that particular issue. There is a difference.

Gary Shultz — Dr. Lemke, it is not that I refuse to believe where you say you are (and I read those documents before reviewing the book), it is that I don’t believe it accurately represents the theology presented in the book. It is not my intention to be unkind in any way, but to accurately label the book’s position, even if you disagree with my assessment. As an analogy, if I were reviewing a book claiming to   somewhere between Presbyterian and Baptist ecclesiology that accepted the Baptist distinctive of priesthood of the believers, but argued for infant baptism and presbyterian church govt., I would assert that no matter what they wished to call it, the ecclesiology of the book is essentially Presbyterian. Your book is framed as an attempt to present a soteriology somewhere between Arminianism and Calvinism, and while you may reject TULIP as the interpretive framework for your theology, you acknowledge its importance by focusing the first half of the book upon those issues. On four of those five issues, the book comes down on the Arminian side. In labeling your soteriology Arminian, I was in no way implying that you are a conscious follower of Arminius or that you are Arminian in any other way, just as I have no problem calling my soteriology Calvinistic, but would strongly object the term if applied to my ecclesiology or eschatology, or my overall theological stance. I hope this clarifies my position somewhat – I am not trying to be argumentative, which seems to happen too often in Facebook theology discussions!

Gary Shultz — Tony, to clarify a few things, I am well-aware of the development of the doctrine of the extent of the atonement, and the number of Calvinists who held to it and hold to it today (if you are familiar with my work, I am clearly in this camp). However, holding to unlimited atonement is the Arminian position on the issue, as opposed to the Calvinist position of particular redemption, which is why we have to acknowledge this by calling ourselves Moderate Calvinists. That is where I am coming from in my review. I really appreciated Dr. Allen’s essay, though I disagree with a few of his historical assessments. I agree with your posts that nothing in the essay is essentially Arminian (I believe we agree on this issue!), but in evangelical theology today unlimited atonement is the “Arminian” position, which is why I used that term in my review. I don’t believe it is pejorative, and I wasn’t trying to use it that way.

Tony Byrne — Gary:
(1) Yes, I have read your dissertation, so I know about your “multi-intentional” position, which is sometimes called “dualism.”

(2) Since “unlimited atonement” is an ambiguous label, it is not necessarily the case that it is “the Arminian position on the issue.” If “unlimited atonement” merely references the satisfaction for sin (as it does in the Calvinistic writings of Samuel H. Cox, George Payne, Albert Barnes, Henry Smith, R. L. Dabney, W. G. T. Shedd, William Weeks, Bennet Tyler, Ransom Welch, and Edward D. Griffin), then this view is indecisive, since both Arminians and some Calvinists hold the position that Christ satisfied for the sins of all men (not merely the elect).

The difference between Arminians (who still believe in penal substitution) and the moderate Calvinists is not the point of Christ’s unlimited sin-bearing, but Christ’s intentionality in that act. The Arminians think Christ has an equal desire for the salvation of all men, while the moderate Calvinists believe Christ has an unequal desire for the salvation of all men. Moderate Calvinists see a sense of “limitation” or “particularity” in Christ’s intention that pertains to the elect and in the effectual application of the Holy Spirit that accords with that special intent, but they see no limitation in the imputation of sin to Christ, contrary to those in the Owenic trajectory.

So, again, those advocating an “unlimited atonement” (or unlimited imputation) are two sorts: Arminian and moderate Calvinists. Since David Allen was only focusing on the “extent” question, or unlimited imputation vs. limited imputation, that point is not necessarily Arminian, and his own views on the will of God were not mentioned in the chapter at all. In his chapter, he’s merely standing in the overlapping area of unlimited imputation where both non-Calvinists and moderate Calvinists agree. It is, therefore, an error to say that the content of his chapter is Arminian. It is not, since its stated singular purpose is to focus on the “extent” question, not the “intent” concerning Christ’s saving will (equal vs. unequal) or the ultimate decisive cause in the application.

(3). I know you are not meaning to be pejorative in using the label “unlimited atonement.” I just don’t think you’re sufficiently recognizing the ambiguity of that label. You yourself hold to an “unlimited atonement” in the sense that Christ suffered for the sins of all men (unlimited imputation). Even the label “particular redemption” is somewhat ambiguous historically, which is why J. L. Dagg (see Whosoever Will, p.62 footnote #2) says that some who still maintain the doctrine of “particular redemption” think that Christ made an atonement for the sins of all men. All moderate Calvinists have the component of an unlimited imputation of sin to Christ, but they label that concept differently. There is theoretical agreement, but difference in terminology, since some of them prefer to reserve the term “redemption” for “deliverance effected,” or for the freedom that believers alone experience (not for Christ’s satisfaction alone considered).

I challenge anyone to show me a single sentence in Allen’s chapter that is an Arminian distinctive. It cannot be done. Period.

Gary Shultz — Tony, I am glad to know that at least one other person besides myself and my professors read it!

I understand the difference between the Arminian and Calvinist positions on unlimited atonement and the nuances b/w them. This in no way negates the truth that Limited Atonement is Calvinist distinctive, while unlimited atonement is an Arminian one; you are acting as if the extent question is neither one, which I simply disagree with. I believe Allen’s essay, which I have read carefully three times, is a great explanation of unlimited atonement, which can and is held by both sides, but is definitely an Arminian position, which is why four-pointers are called moderate (or Christmas) Calvinists. I am pretty sure we are not going to agree on this point, and I don’t really want to belabor it, but I am appreciative of your obvious knowledge and passion for this doctrine.

Tony Byrne — Gary said:
“This in no way negates the truth that Limited Atonement is Calvinist distinctive, while unlimited atonement is an Arminian one; you are acting as if the extent question is neither one, which I simply disagree with.”

Me now:

As I see things, to say that “unlimited atonement” is an Arminian distinctive is like saying God’s desire to save all men is an Arminian distinctive. I think that one cannot tell if another is either Arminian or Calvinistic if they affirm that God desires the salvation of all men, just as one cannot tell if another is Arminian or Calvinistic if they believe that Christ made an atonement for the sins of all men. One has to consider the qualifications of the person in order to discern their position. Do they think that God equally wills the salvation of all men? Then they are Arminian on that point. Do they distinguish between senses of God’s will, so as to say that God desires the salvation of all men (in the revealed will) but especially the elect (in the secret will)? Then they are a Calvinist. The same thing can be said about the love of God and the grace of God. Merely affirming that God loves all men is not decisive since both Arminians and all mainstream Calvinists agree on that point. Merely affirming that God is gracious to all men is indecisive. Again, both parties agree. Likewise, affirming that Christ satisfied for the sins of all men is not decisive. Some Calvinists agree with Arminians on that point (the extent), but that is not to say that they agree with the Arminians on the issue of Christ’s will or intent behind that act.

If one says that (1) believing Christ suffered for the sins of all men is an Arminian distinctive, then they have to say that (2a) believing God is gracious to all men is an Arminian distinctive, and (2b) that God loving all men is an Arminian distinctive, and that (2c) believing God desires the salvation of all men is an Arminian distinctive. None of this is the case, since both parties can agree to these things. What matters, then, are the additional qualifications concerning inequality and discrimination in God’s grace, inequality and discrimination in God’s love, and inequality and discrimination in God’s intent to save.

Gary said:

“I believe Allen’s essay, which I have read carefully three times, is a great explanation of unlimited atonement, which can and is held by both sides, but is definitely an Arminian position, which is why four-pointers are called moderate (or Christmas) Calvinists.”

Me now:

I am not denying that “unlimited atonement” (i.e. that Christ suffered for the sins of all men) is an Arminian “position.” What I am denying is that it is a dividing line between Arminians and Calvinists. It divides Arminians from some Calvinists, but not all, as you say. In other words, it is not an Arminian distinctive, which is to say that it is not a belief that sets them off against all Calvinists. And, since Allen’s chapter only focuses on the “extent” issue, one cannot say that he is advocating an Arminian distinctive in that chapter. Allen is standing on common ground with moderate Calvinists, and he does not bring up other issues that would divide himself with moderate Calvinists. Reading the chapter three times (or more) does not guarantee that one is seeing that point.

“Four-pointers” (a modern sloppy label) are not called that because they agree with the Arminian conception of the design of Christ’s death. Rather, they agree with them (against the Owenists) that Christ suffered for the sins of all men, but these moderates still see decretal particularity or “limitation” in Christ’s volitions and in the saving application of His death to the elect alone. To represent the so called “four-pointers” as entirely agreeing with the Arminians in their conception of the design and intent of Christ’s death is an error. They only agree with them on the “extent” issue alone.

The way in which you are labeling the categories is problematic, Gary, not only here, but in your dissertation as well. Also, there is nothing new about the “multi-intentional” view that you and Bruce Ware are advocating. It’s just the old dualistic or “middle-way” position taken by many Calvinists long ago (from the first generation Reformers up to some of the Puritans and after), but without the same modern expressions and all the modern qualifications. All of these dualistic or “middle-way” Calvinists believed that Christ suffered for the sins of all men (unlimited imputation), but all of them maintained that behind that Christological act was a special, decretal intention that pertained to the elect alone, and that this effectual purpose eventually issues in the giving of the Spirit to quicken the elect alone, and thus to obtain the eternal benefit of His death (application).

Anyway, I will leave it there for now. Perhaps we can discuss this (and the history) at some other time and place. You and I both agree in our “multi-intentional” viewpoint. We just seem to disagree on how to label our concepts and how to describe the positions and arguments of other people. This is where, I think, some refinement is needed.

Grace to you,
Tony Byrne

James M. Leonard — I love it when Calvinists split hairs on the extent of the atonement, for all of a sudden, we find agreement on key passages which convey that Christ died for everyone, which has otherwise been a source of contention between Calvinists and Arminians throughout the storied debate.

Another nice feature about Calvinists who concede that Jesus died for everyone is that all of a sudden, “double penalty” is off the table. This was one very powerful contribution that Lewis Sperry Chafer made in defense of his 4 point Calvinism.

Reformation Arminians who hold to penal satisfaction have long argued that “double penalty” is an invalid argument since payment is effectual only through union with Christ.