Calvinism is Heretical: A Plea for Unity?




By Dr. Brad Reynolds
Vice President for Academic Services
Truett-McConnell College


Were I to make the statement “Calvinism is heretical” and then claim “Traditionalists and Calvinists need to work toward unity and cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention,” my Calvinist brethren could rightly question my sincerity concerning unity and cooperation.

There are certainly some non-Calvinists who believe Calvinism ultimately leads to God foreordaining men to evil, which was condemned at the 2nd Council of Orange.1 However, to claim Calvinism is heretical would be a stretch most of us are unwilling to make.2 There is a major difference in addressing: 1) the belief that God foreordains men to evil as heretical; and 2) calling all Calvinists heretical. The former I would gladly affirm; the later I would wisely avoid.

When Calvinists refer to those of us who have signed the Traditional Statement (hereafter referred to as TS) as being Semi-Pelagian or having apparent Semi-Pelagian leanings, and then speak of unity, they should not be surprised that we reject such duplicity. If we are to have unity in the SBC between the Traditionalists and Calvinists, then the name-calling should cease. Rather than paying the unity resolution verbal homage without committed action, I would recommend the following suggestions as a start for true unity between Traditionalists and Calvinists.

1. Recognize Christian Orthodox unity still has boundaries. “and if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him…” (2 Th. 3:14).

    Scripture is our authority. And when something is unbiblical, then there is just cause for disunity. During the Battle for the Bible, the concept “Unity around Missions” was ultimately rejected for the concept “Unity around Truth.” When unity with an individual would cause us to deny a Scriptural truth, then we are wise to desert the unity rather than the truth. Concerning the current discussion, the BFM2K provides the minimal “truth” parameters we as Southern Baptists have affirmed for unity in education and church planting.

    Moreover, as we discuss Calvinism and Traditionalism, may we do so appealing to Scripture. Men and Church Councils have erred but God’s Word is inerrant. A corollary to this truth is that God’s Word is inerrant in all matters to which it speaks including secondary and tertiary doctrines (which is why Baptists are not “unified” with Presbyterian Calvinists or Methodist Arminians in planting churches). It is not that we think they err on the primary doctrines of the faith (i.e., the doctrines necessary to affirm for salvation), but the secondary and tertiary ones which are still Scripturally authoritative.

    Thus, we should not compromise Scriptural truth for unity.

    In fact, if there are Southern Baptists who sincerely believe those of us who signed the TS are Semi-Pelagian, then it is their duty to cut ties with us heretics.3 I suggest they protect the convention from our heresy by bringing a resolution to the convention floor condemning the TS as heretical. To do otherwise would be the first step in reversing the battle for the Bible. Never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity4; that is what the Moderates asked us to do.

    Concerning the accusation of Semi-Pelagianism, we note that many of the arguments behind the accusation have referenced our denial of inherited guilt. However, some of the language used was actually borrowed from the BFM2000. Notice the similarities.

    BFM2000

    Adam’s “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.”

    TS

    “and that every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin.”

    (NOTE: In speaking of what man inherited from Adam, those on both the BFM2000 and the BFM1963 committees chose not to say “guilt” but rather “nature and environment inclined toward sin” – It appears it is not the TS statement that is at odds with the BFM)

    We do clarify our position by spelling out some of the implications of the above statement, but to insist that the BFM2000 affirms inherited (or imputed) guilt is foolishly erroneous. The BFM2000 language clearly implies that one becomes a transgressor and is under condemnation WHEN one is capable of moral action, not before! Thus, unless one wants to argue that embryos are capable of moral action at the moment of conception, then the language seems to affirm a denial of inherited guilt.

    2. Recognize we all err. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

      Before pointing out the sin of others, I would be wise to recognize my own. None of us like swallowing our pride and admitting we were wrong; but we have all been in situations where we should (and hopefully did), and we will all be in similar situations again. We all sin. Sadly, the fullness of the effect of sin blinds me (via my own pride, subjectivity and presuppositions) to both my errors and the intent of others. Recognition of this effect would prove beneficial during discussions and may generate a more friendly atmosphere for discussion.

      3. Confess when we err. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us…” (1 John 1:9)

      Confession and humility are both honored by God. This truth, in and of itself, should encourage us. Additionally however, we engender the respect of others. When I see individuals apologizing for an error they made I respect them (and, yes, calling the TS signers Semi-Pelagian [heretics] is erroneous, as is calling Calvinists heretics). On the other hand, one should not be surprised if respect is withheld from those who refuse to admit their prideful error. May we provide encouragement when others confess their errors. May our discussions be of such a nature that confession feels welcome but pride feels out of place.

      4. Forgive others before they ask. (Matthew 18:21-35)

      Not much needs to be said here – pretty cut-and-dried, scripturally. I understand how hurtful and embarrassing cutting words can be. But God didn’t give us much of an option on this one.

      5. Be careful about attributing motives. “And GOD who knows the heart…” (Acts 15:8).

      We do not know what is in a person’s heart, only he/she and God know that. Not only should we avoid attributing ill motives to individuals, but it is healthy to attribute pure motives. Choose to believe the best of your Christian brothers/sisters with whom you disagree. The medium of blogs is laden with misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Therefore, it is dangerous to interpret words without assuming pure motives on behalf of those typing.

      6. Avoid inflammatory language. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity…” (James 3:6)

      Name-calling is usually unwise when one is correct, and sinful when one is incorrect. My feathers are not ruffled much when Arminian Methodists or Calvinist Presbyterians call me names. I almost expect that. They are not Baptists. We have more in common with each other than we have with them. Dr. Al Mohler and Dr. Paige Patterson have more theologically in common than Dr. Ligon Duncan and Dr. Mohler do or than Dr. I. Howard Marshall and Dr. Patterson do. We as Baptists should actually be more at home with each other than we are with the Presbyterians and Methodists.5 They are more tied to the writings of man than we are. We truly are Scripture alone. May we be more faithful to cooperate with fellow Baptists (even in our conferences) and avoid inflammatory language which hinders such cooperation.

      7. Do our best to forsake pride in our theological position. “…God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

      Pride is at times more difficult to spot than a Traditionalist at a Founders’ breakfast. Pride is one of those sins that is so deceptive we are tempted in it even when we are repenting of it. We recognize it in others rather quickly but find it most difficult to recognize in ourselves (I will be the first to admit I have it and find it difficult to recognize). But perhaps one way to avoid pride and engender unity is to never assume our theological perspective (when it comes to Traditional or Calvinist soteriology) is also God’s position.

      There is no doubt that the T.S. is a grassroots movement which includes very godly individuals and has received great popularity across the convention (the TS received almost 1/5 the signatures of the GCR in 1/3 the time even though it was not pushed from any seminary chapel, was not passed around seminary campuses, was not advertised by any of our entities websites, did not use the terms “Great Commission,” was not broad enough theologically to include all individuals in the SBC, was not pushed from the leadership of our convention, but was truly Baptistic in its grassroots) nevertheless for me to state that it is therefore a work of God or God’s truth to man is arrogant.

      Were either a Calvinist or a Traditionalist to state his doctrines and/or a reviving in the beliefs of his doctrines are from God is blatantly arrogant. To say such is to imply the other side is holding views which are against a movement of God or the truths of God. This type of rhetoric has no place at the table of unity. The Traditional Baptist doctrines and the doctrines of grace are not equivalent to Scripture by any stretch of the imagination. They may be a summary of what we believe Scripture teaches but that is not the same as Scripture. May we be careful to recognize the fullness of the boundaries in the BFM2000 (affirmed by both Traditionalist Baptists and Calvinist Baptists). Further, may both sides be careful to affirm we believe our position is closest to Scripture and therefore we think God may be blessing us without crossing the line to affirm that our position is God’s position (such reveals a blindness to our own subjectivity).

      Finally, unity always flourishes when we pray for one another. I would cherish your prayers and have purposed to pray for those with whom I may disagree.



      1 From the Second Council or Orange: “We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.”

      2 In fact, most of us would not claim Calvinism appears to have heretical leanings.

      3 Some may object to the strong language here (“heretics”). But Traditionalists would agree with the early church that the concept of man initiating his salvation without God’s grace is “heretical.”

      4 I am assuming all agree that the truths in the BFM2000 protect us from Semi-Pelagianism. If some feel it does not, then they should bring a motion to revise the BFM2000 in order to protect us from such heresy.

      5 We should be more together for the gospel with our Baptist brethren than we are with our Presbyterian or Methodist brethren. If we are not, then perhaps we should be Presbyterian or Methodist.