We are pleased to welcome as a guest writer at SBC Today one of our more frequent commenters, Chris Johnson. Chris is currently the Pastor of Grace Church at Hermitage which is located eleven miles east of downtown Nashville. He is a full-time employee of Fresenius Medical Care, the world’s largest dialysis provider, with headquarters in Bad Homburg Germany. Chris is the Manager of Information Systems specializing in Network Architecture and Engineering for over 2200 clinics serving 175,000 patients.
Irony belongs to history as one notable contemporary leader steering theology through the lens of Calvin pens a comment toward another prominent leader seen leveraging theology through the lens of yet another historic teacher named Arminius.
“More than any other individual, Paige Patterson was the man who put all at risk for the sake of what he so profoundly believed. Confronted by a looming denominational disaster, and aware of what this would mean to the cause of the Gospel, Paige Patterson threw himself into the controversy, defined the issues, mobilized an army, educated a denomination, and paved the way for a new generation to continue the work he so boldly began.”
- Albert Mohler
The question is still brewing today: Can both lenses, that of Calvin and Arminius, rest in the same set of spectacles, sit comfortably in place before the eyes of a Baptist? The answer to that question, without a nanosecond of hesitation, is emphatically Yes! And the spectacles should be worn with thankfulness and caution.
But here’s the rub: there are individuals that require and insist there must be a fight, and fights often ensue with myopic endeavors and motive which consequently never engage in the reality and mission of true theology. It would be very possible to label these prideful endeavorists’s as educated “clip-ons." These opportunists really have little to do with the spectacles, but when attached these “clip-ons” tend to color and induce theological myopia one way or the other, or they tend to fly off and clutter the floor, most often seeking personal profit and emotional gain.
In times past, much like our current landscape, various theologians were involved in the myopic formulation of the TULIP (musing on Calvin and Arminius), but of course this never came from Jacobus Arminius or John Calvin, since the writing of the Synod of Dort of 1619 from which these arguments emanate did not appear until both Calvin and Arminius were already in the grave, a grave left unmarked for Calvin.
So where does this fit into the current Baptist theological landscape? Well for one thing, thankfully…. Mohler and Patterson are not in the grave! So the real benefit to this generation is that these two leaders understand the reality of what Calvin and Arminius believed and each of them are more than willing to bring the practical fruit of their predecessors to the surface. In the spirit of Mohler and Patterson, Arminus commented that his sole ambition was:
“to inquire in the Holy Scriptures for the divine truth,for the purpose of winning some souls for Christ”
And Calvin also testified:
“it is enough that I live and die for Christ, who is to all his followers a gain both in life and in death.”
Calvin and Arminius were passionate concerning the cross of Christ and demonstrated their affection to Christ as hard working Pastors serving a local congregation to the end of their respective earthly lives. In fact, more seemly ironic comments of Arminius rang out about his forerunner John Calvin:
"They (Calvin’s commentaries) occupy second place only to scripture. I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed to us in the writings of our Fathers – so much so that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, indeed, above all.”
So what is the difference in Calvin and Arminius, and now their implicated ancestors called Baptists? It is merely the intelligible fact of God’s power in salvation. Well that’s easy enough to understand, isn’t it? Is freedom really that hard to understand? Isn’t it for freedom that anyone in Christ has been set free?
It is an essential truth to recognize that the gospel is not like soteriology. This fact is true for any Baptist and really anyone else for that matter, especially those endeavoring in the art of theology. Holy Scripture defines that the gospel is outside of us completely. The gospel is the possession of God alone. The gospel is power. As justification, the gospel is present in us. As sanctification, the gospel changes us. As glorification, the gospel transitions us. Soteriology is a system. Soteriology is a presentation of man. Soteriology is the possession of humans alone. Soteriology is not present (like the gospel) in us. Soteriology does not (really) change us. Soteriology will never (really) transition us. God does not concern Himself with a system of salvation. He simply is the power unto salvation and reveals it to us as the Gospel.
Therefore, any pastor or teacher must answer the following question. When does the teaching of a soteriological system become heretical? Oh, but be very careful to remember that not all heretics wind up in hell. Thank God for that! The truth really being that the only heretics that wind up in hell are those that are not in Christ. So, when does soteriology become heretical? Well here it is: A system of salvation becomes heretical when it places any opportunity for salvation in the will of man.
Why? Because the Gospel is unknown to the will of man, but it is manifest in his knowledge. So in order for man to change, God provides the Gospel. Therefore, any willing man is responsible, because God’s assurance is His sanctifying application for His Glory.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
- Romans 1:18-21
The principle difference then, between those that follow Arminian logic and that of Calvin is simply the level of heresy which is modeled by what is “apprehended” in the ability to know the mind of God, and the passion to explain it. Both Arminius and Calvin demonstrated a comprehension of the essential elements of the Christian faith and articulated the facts with clarity and passion to their respective congregations and apprentices, yet were seemly confident to forgo what was apprehended. The subsequent TULIP conversations on the other hand, blossomed in yet another generation, vaulting onto the scene out of the bold apprehension of aspiring protégé’s. The results are constantly bantered about in similar fashion even today as theologians continue to passionately place in view persuasive pictures of the indefinable mind of God, lovingly playing havoc on the simple minds of human flesh who are no doubt acutely aware of God, as our friend Paul has so aptly illustrated to us in his letter to the Romans.
So there is really a simple foundational difference between a Calvinist and an Arminian. And that difference is based upon how one apprehends the indefinable mind of God. But more importantly, you must understand, this apprehension was little issue for Calvin or Arminius, but it became a voluminous issue for those who followed. So any Baptist, or any human for that matter looking back at theological history, will in some fashion decide which dancing partner they are willing to romance, an Arminian jazz step or a Calvin ballet. But looming ever present in each dance step is the tendency for heresy. But there is always the rescuer--the gospel--the alien remedy for the restless soul that becomes attracted toward heresy. So, spend an exorbitant amount time with the gospel, while you hammer out your soteriological advantages. Not the bumper sticker version of the gospel we see advertised in our churches and on our cars these days, but the real gospel that, when preached clearly and with clarity, rushes about like a mighty wind arousing the will of man, giving light to the blind eye, making audible His word to a deaf ear, and all to the glory of God forever!
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
- Jude 1:24-25