Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology
Part 3: Theological Presuppositions
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the third of a four-part series by Eric Hankins entitled “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology.” This series attempts to frame Baptist soteriology in a different structure than the traditional “TULIP” comparisons with the doctrines of Calvinism or Arminianism.
The Theological Presupposition in a Reformed Soteriology:
Both Arminians and Calvinists assume a “Covenant of Works” between Adam and God in the Garden of Eden, even though there is no biblical basis for such. The Covenant of Works, they assert, was a deal God made with Adam whereby Adam would be rewarded with eternal life if he could remain morally perfect through a probationary period. Failure would bring about guilt and “spiritual death,” which includes the loss of his capacity for a good will toward God. Adam’s success or failure, in turn, would be credited to his posterity. This “Federal Theology” imputes Adam’s guilt and total depravity to every human. In Calvinism, actual guilt and total depravity are the plight of every person. Free-will with respect to salvation is, by definition, impossible, and with it, the possibility of a free response to God’s offer of covenant through the gospel. The only hope for salvation for any individual is the elective activity of God. In Calvinist soteriology, election is privileged above faith because regeneration must be prior to conversion. In Arminianism, the effects of Federal Theology and the Covenant of Works must be countermanded by further speculative adjustments like “prevenient grace” and election based on “foreseen faith,” a faith which is only possible because prevenient grace overcomes the depravity and guilt of the whole human race due to Adam’s failure. All this strays far beyond the biblical data. Such speculation does not emerge from clear inferences from the Bible, but is actually a priori argumentation designed to buttress Augustine, not Paul.
Bill Harrell has served as Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, for over 30 years. He also is active in the Augusta Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Convention, and SBC, including having serving as the Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
In the short span of time of about five years, those of us who are observers of activities within the Southern Baptist Convention have witnessed not only changes but mega-shifts in our convention. It would take a large volume for someone to treat all the various subjects at hand but I want to address just a few that are very subtle in some ways but very overt in others.
Most of our Southern Baptist people are just tending to the business of the Kingdom in their part of the world unaware of the forces that are in play and what those forces are trying to achieve and indeed are achieving with much success.
Two things have come to our attention in recent days that bear watching. First, our agency for missions within the US, NAMB, has been using some of the Cooperative Program funds to help establish “Acts 29” churches. These churches must, by their own charter, be organized as five-point-Calvinist churches. There are those who have it as their goal to change the SBC into a Reformed convention more akin to a Presbyterian church that a Baptist church. I cannot, in these few words, get into a broad examination of what is going on, but any informed member of the SBC understands that this is happening.
The driving force behind the Acts 29 churches has been Mark Driscoll; and I do not need to elucidate how controversial he is. He has become, to the younger people, somewhat of a folk hero who they are willing to follow no matter what he says or does. Chapter 10 of his recent book, Real Marriage, is nothing but pornography. It encourages people to think that it normal to do sexually what the Bible condemns. Yet, it is Southern Baptist people who suddenly seem willing to accept the things that the people of our convention rejected outright as sinful until recently. In recent days the leadership of Acts 29 has shifted to someone else, at least in the public eye. Driscoll is the founder of this emergent church, Calvinistic organization; and many believe he will still be the “behind the scenes” leader. Being the founder, he is not going to “ride off into the sunset” too easily or too far.
Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology
Part 2: Philosophical Presuppositions
about Freedom and Determinism
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the second of a four-part series by Eric Hankins attempting to frame Baptist soteriology in a different structure than comparing it to Calvinism and Arminianism. In the first article, Hankins contrasted individual election as a key Biblical Presupposition in Calvinism and Arminianism with corporate election in a Baptist soteriology. In this article he contrasts the Philosophical Presuppositions of Calvinism (The “Problem” of Determinism and Free-Will) and that of a Baptist soteriology (“The Freedom of God and the Free-Will of People”).
The Philosophical Presupposition of Calvinism:
The “Problem” of Determinism and Free-Will
Like Calvinism and Arminianism, the 2,500-year-old debate concerning the “problem” of determinism and free-will has also reached an impasse. This is because absolute causal determinism is untenable. Put simply, the “problem” is not a problem because the paradigm for causation in the Western philosophical tradition is wrong. The whole of reality cannot be explained in terms of uni-directional causation from a single first-principle. The universe does not work that way. Causation is complex, hierarchical, and interdependent. God sits sovereignly and non-contingently atop a hierarchy that owes its existence to the functioning of the levels below it, levels that include the fully operational free-will of humans. Opposing God’s sovereign guidance of the universe and the operation of free-will within that universe is a false dichotomy based on reductionistic metaphysical assumptions. God has made a free and sovereign decision to have a universe in which human free-will plays a decisive role. Human agency is one force among many that God has created to accomplish His cosmic purposes.
Free-will plays a unique role within God’s purposes for the universe because it is the unique power of human beings freely to enter into covenant relationships, especially a covenant relationship with God. This makes human willing fundamentally moral. Under certain circumstances, God, in His freedom, contravenes free-will, just as He is free to contravene any other force in nature, but this is not His normal modus operandi. Because God is God, He knows all of the free acts of humans from eternity, but this knowledge does not cause these acts nor does it make Him responsible for them. Moreover, the existence of these acts in no way impinges upon either His freedom or His ability to bring about His ultimate purposes. The ability of humans “to do otherwise” does not call God’s sovereignty into question; it actually establishes and ratifies His sovereignty over the particular universe that was His good pleasure to create. Opposing free-will and sovereignty is, from a philosophical perspective, nonsensical.
BEYOND CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM:
TOWARD A BAPTIST SOTERIOLOGY
This is part one of a four part series. These posts are adapted from Eric Hankins’s article “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianims: Toward a Baptist Soteriology,” published in the online Journal for Bapist Theology and Ministry, Spring 2011, Vol. 8, No. 1, and may be accessed here. The material published here is used by permission of the author.
For over a century, Southern Baptists, by-and-large, have not felt the need to identify themselves as either Calvinists or Arminians. We were glad to affirm different aspects of each system, politely reject the points that were at variance with the clear teaching of Scripture, gladly accept those in our tribe who did affirm one or the other, and go on about the business of reaching the world around us for Christ. We did so without formulating a distinctive soteriology of our own. This has served us well, but, unfortunately, such détente appears to be coming to an end. For the last several years, voices calling for a recommitment to Reformed theology in Baptist life have become louder and louder. The Reformed-minded want to make the case that Baptists have always been made up of two groups, Calvinists and Arminians, and that they are representing and calling for a revival of just one stream in our soteriological tradition. They believe that this would be a return to the “normal” state of affairs and would balance what they perceive as an Arminian tilt in Southern Baptist life over the past couple generations. So, the way to get us back to where we are supposed to be is to force us to choose one system or the other. And that’s the problem. Most Southern Baptists don’t want to be one or the other. It is becoming clear, however, that simply stating that we are “neither” is not going to work.
The time has come for Southern Baptist to spell out exactly what we believe about the nature of salvation without appealing to either Calvinism or Arminianism. We must break with the notion that these are the only two options. We must break with the notion that these two options can be successfully integrated. We must break with the notion that we can “all just get along” without having a serious debate. We must break with the notion that the “Neither” position has a future. These blog posts are written in hopes that a new direction can be forged.
By Ron F. Hale.
He has served as Pastor, Church Planter, Strategist (NAMB), Director of Missions, Associate Executive Director of Evangelism and Church Planting for a State Convention, and now in the 4th quarter of ministry as Minister of Missions.
While living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I loved looking down at the cityscape from the perch of Mt. Washington. You could ride the incline car up the steep hillside and see the confluence of the Ohio River as the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers came to an end at “The Point” in downtown Pittsburgh; Three Rivers Stadium is nearby. Depending on the weather in southwestern Pennsylvania, some days you could see muddy waters from one river flowing into the headstream of the Ohio River, while the other river brought much clearer water. These two rivers (one cloudy and one clear) seemed to flow side-by-side while slowly mixing and mingling together in the formation of the mighty Ohio.
Two rivers of theological thought have historically flowed through the mainstream of the Southern Baptist Convention. The waters have been muddied a bit by the Great Awakenings in America, the Sandy Creek revivalist tradition of Separate Baptists in the South, the Charleston tradition influenced more by Particular confessions of faith and their pastors trained in Presbyterian seminaries like Princeton, and the adoption of new Baptist confessions and statements of faith forged in the New World.