Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Soteriology 101 and is used by permission.
Most Southern Baptists grew up being taught to believe in the “age of accountability” (AoA), as was I. After all, we certainly see this even in our own Baptist tradition as the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message states regarding man “as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” However, after going away to college and adopting five-point Calvinism, I became convinced that this was not a taught in the Bible. I had been persuaded by my new Calvinistic mentors that this was a “man-made doctrine” created to help ease the pain of those who tragically lost a young child. After leaving behind Calvinism many years later and doing some more thorough study on the matter, however, I have come to firmly believe this doctrine has strong biblical roots.
Though not explicitly set forth in scripture (much like infant salvation which also is not explicitly taught) the principles of AoA are quite plain in the text.
First, the bible is clear that “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12)
Can a two-year old baby who tragically dies in a car accident give this accounting of himself to God? Can the mentally handicapped? Difficult circumstances like these lead us to ponder on such questions as to when one is held accountable for their sins before God.
Scriptures do not speak so much about a specific age but simply to a time in everyone’s life when God’s truth is clearly made known. When a child comes to understand that they have sinned against God and deserve punishment due to their sins, then and only then can they give an account for their wrong doings. This is why we reference them being as being “accountable” (able to give an account for sin) or “responsible” (able to respond to Christ’s appeal). Some even prefer the “age of responsibility” because it connotes the child’s ability-to-respond of his own volition to the word’s of Christ, after all every one of us will be judged by those very words:
“He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” (John 12:48)
Let us look at some passages in scripture which convey these principles. According to John’s account, Christ indicates that one’s accountability depends, at least in part, upon one’s understanding of sin:
John 15:22: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
John 9:41: Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
Paul, likewise seems to indicate this same principle:
Romans 7:9-10: “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me…”
Another passage often used to support this principle is the story of King David’s loss of a child. David seems to presume that one day he would be reunited with him:
He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam. 12:22-23)
It is also worth mentioning that Jesus spoke of allowing the children to come to him “for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Lk 18:16). And Jesus even uses a child as an example in one of his lessons declaring, “Anyone who becomes humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”Apparently heaven is made up of such, which certainly gives much credence to David’s words and actions after the death of his own son.
Am I meaning to suggest that children do not have the inevitable curse of sin upon them? No, it is only to say that God, in His graciousness, does not hold them accountable while they remain in their ignorance. As recorded in John 9:41, they are not held to account for the sins they did in ignorance. Other passages seem to indicate that God does graciously pass over sins because of his loving patience toward fallen humanity:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23-26)
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18-19)
The AoA principle can also be found in the Old Testament narrative. For instance, when God banned the unfaithful Israelites from entering the promised land he did so based upon age and ignorance:
“Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” (Dt. 1:39)
Likewise, when the prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah’s coming he spoke of when a boy “will know enough to refuse evil and choose good,” suggesting there is a time in the child’s life he remains without enough knowledge to make accountable moral choices (Isa. 7:16).
So too, the prophet Ezekiel seems to strongly indicate that guilt was not imputed from one’s parents, which would seem to contradict the idea that all people are born guilty for the sins of those who have come before him:
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezek. 18:20)
For a complete systematic proposal which covers both a Biblical and historical survey of this issue, I highly recommend Dr. Adam Harwood’s book, “The Spiritual Condition of Infants.” Harwood concludes,
“Those who claim that infants inherit sin and guilt are faced with the following inconsistencies in their viewpoint: First, it would be inconsistent for God to hold infants guilty of the sin of another person (Adam) because he states that he holds people responsible for their own sin, not the for sin of another person (Ezek. 18:20). Each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12). We will not give an account to God of our parents or grandparents or even our furthest descendants, Adam. Second, because the Scriptures indicate that God judges people for their sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions, it would be inconsistent for him to judge infants to be guilty of sin solely based on their sin nature.”
 Some believe the age of accountability could have been around 20 years old because this was the age when young men in Israel became accountable to serve in the army of Israel (or Ex. 30:14 mentions the census only counting those 21 years and older). Others believe the age of accountability to be around 12 or 13 due to this being the age when Jesus went up to Jerusalem with his parents and was found in the temple discussing the Law and asking questions. This was also the normal age for being received into Judaism as a “son of the law,” which would make him a full member of the religious community. https://bible.org/question/what-does-bible-say-about-age-accountability
Some have even speculated that when a child begins to recognize his or her own nakedness (as exemplified by Adam and Eve did in the garden after their sin) it may be an indication they have reached the age of accountability.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at soteriology 101 and is used by permission.
As previously noted, Jared Longshore posted an article entitled, “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology” at Founders.org in which he addressed the chapel message of Dr. Rick Patrick at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Having once been a member of the Founders’ ministry and part of one of their church starts over a decade ago, I have great respect for these brethren and appreciate the cordial manner in which they confront these disputable matters within our convention. In that spirit, this would be a good opportunity to offer one Traditionalist’s commentary on the Founders’ initial response to Patrick’s message.
Longshore breaks down his critique into three sections of study, Patriology (the doctrine of God), Anthropology (the doctrine of man), and Missiology (the doctrine of missions). This article will cover the third of these three sections. Under the heading of “Missiology,” Longshore writes,
Finally, the chapel message claimed that Calvinists “have used the commission as God reaching the elect few from every people group,” and therefore are less concerned “to reach souls wherever they may be found.”
Christ has given his followers a clear commission to go after the lost, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Calvin was so passionate about this commission that he had severe words for those who were lax in it. He did not try to target the elect, but taught the world-wide scope of Christ’s command, “The meaning amounts to this, that by proclaiming the gospel everywhere, they should bring all nations to the obedience of the faith.”
Calvinistic Southern Baptists:
Southern Baptists, who hold to the Calvinistic roots of their forefathers, possess that same hopeful and missionary spirit. That missionary fervor was indeed the very thing that brought them together. Their fervor to see God glorified in the salvation of souls motivates them to keep man-fishing even when there are no visible signs of success. This missionary resolve is seen in the Calvinistic Baptist missionaries William Carey and Adoniram Judson who labored years with no fruit, only to see abundant fruit after long and enduring faithfulness. The missionary passion of Calvinistic Southern Baptists is seen in one of those leading 293 delegates who gathered to organize the SBC. While remembering Carey, John Dagg exhorted his fellow American Baptists, “It is our duty to labor faithfully and perseveringly to bring all men to the knowledge of the truth… This commission requires us to preach the gospel to every creature; and we ought to be foremost in obeying it.”
When I was a 5-point Calvinist and a part of the Founders Ministry, I was also evangelistic. I participated in mission efforts and was as active in sharing my faith with others as I am today. In this blog and on my podcast I have regularly strived to help my non-Calvinistic brethren understand that Calvinists are not typically anti-evangelistic and that every modern day Calvinistic scholar or pastor I know of is very interested in spreading the gospel to all people. As logically inconsistent at that may appear to some, it is a verifiable fact of the matter.
This fact, however, does not negate the merit of some sound logical arguments raised against the Calvinistic belief system. There is a good reason that when believers are introduced to Calvinism their first question is typically about the necessity of evangelism. This natural reaction to the teaching of Calvinism is evidenced by the volumes of work which have been produced by Calvinistic scholars over the years to answer this objection:
“If God has unchangeably determined who will and will not be saved, then what does it matter if I evangelize or not?”
Below is a clip from an article written by a respectable Calvinist attempting to answer this common objection:
Some would see the Calvinist as holding to what is sometimes called “Theistic Fatalism.” Obviously, much different than pure “fate” type fatalism, this view would acknowledge God as the cause of all things, which is certainly true, but would then lead to a false conclusion of inactivity. And this really is ultimately what separates a Theological Calvinist from a Theistic Fatalist: the conclusion we draw based on God’s sovereignty and ordination. Fatalism leads to inactivity, while Calvinism leads to the opposite…
The Calvinist’s belief in God’s sovereign power does not lead to inactivity, but rather activity on a grand scale. And part of the reason for this is that a Calvinist believes that God not only ordains the end; but also the means. Fatalism, however is largely unconcerned with the means, holding to more of a “let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” sort of philosophy. This is much different from the result of a Calvinistic philosophy of God’s ordaining work. The Calvinist teaches that while God ordains the “end” of salvation for His elect; He also ordains the “means” of their salvation through belief in the gospel. Pure, Biblical Calvinism would lead to a vibrant form of evangelism; as I think you clearly see displayed in the New Testament by the Apostles. So the “end” and the “means” are both ordained by God. -Shane Kastler <link> (emphasis added)
It’s interesting to me that when a Calvinist seeks to defend against the charge of being a “Theistic Fatalist” he often argues “God not only ordains the end; but also the means” as if that is a point the Theistic Fatalist would in anyway deny.
That argument does not avoid the charge of Theistic Fatalism, but in fact affirms it. For what is Theistic Fatalism if not God’s determination of the ends and every single meticulous desire, thought and action (i.e. “means”) that bring about those ends?
What do the Calvinists think this qualification is accomplishing in their effort to distinguish themselves from the Theistic Fatalist? The belief that God unchangeably causes every meticulous detail of both the ends and their given means is at the very heart of Theistic Fatalism.
Are there Theistic Fatalists out there arguing, “God doesn’t determine the means,” while the Calvinists are going around correcting them saying, “No, no, no God does control the means too?” Of course not. Both systems of thought clearly affirm God’s cause of all things, including the ends and their respective means.
So, what is the Calvinist seeking to accomplish by pointing out a common belief that they share with Theistic Fatalists?
It appears to me the only real difference between a Theistic Fatalist and a Compatibilistic Calvinist is that the latter refuses to accept the practical implications of their own claims in order to remain consistent with the clear teaching of the Bible.
In both Theistic Fatalism and Calvinism, if God sovereignly decrees for me to go witness to my neighbor He will give me the effectual desire to go witness to my neighbor. If my neighbor is one of His elect and God has unchangeably elected for me to be the means by which my neighbor comes to Christ, then logically I would have to believe that God will give me the effectual desire and the opportunity to carry out His pre-ordained plan (i.e. “God ordained the means”). If that effectual desire never comes then why couldn’t I rightly conclude it ultimately was not God’s pre-ordained plan for me to be the means through which my neighbor would come to Christ?
The only logical argument a Compatibilistic Calvinist could bring to this charge is, “That’s true but you can’t think that way!” In other words, the Compatibilist has to ignore the truth claims of his own systematic in order to live practically. His actual beliefs are untenable and must be ignored in order to remain consistent with the Biblical mandate.
NOTE: To hear studies about the effects of deterministic beliefs on practical application please listen to THIS PODCAST contrasting the teachings of Dr. Albert Mohler and Dr. John Piper.
If you go back and re-read the Calvinistic explanation posted above you will notice that there is no difference in the actual claims of the Calvinist and the Theistic Fatalist. The only difference is in how the person chooses to act in response to their commonly held belief of Divine determinism. Therein lies the problem for the Calvinist, for that choice is just as unchangably determined by God as is the choice of His elect to believe.
Did you follow that? Under the Calvinistic system, God unchangeably determines those who will accept the belief that “God not only ordains the end; but also the means.” And He determines if that believer will respond with evangelistic activity or inactivity. In other words, God decides if the believer of theistic determinism will become a hyper-Calvinist who refuses to actively participate in evangelism or a productive, obedient Calvinist like the author above.
Calvinists are known to argue, “God has ordained for His elect to be saved through the proclamation of the gospel.” But wouldn’t they likewise argue that God has ordained for the saved to proclaim the gospel when they do proclaim it and not to proclaim it when they remain disobediently inactive? After all, the author does affirm that God causes all things that come to pass, which would include the inactivity of the saints, would it not?
Think about this. If any particular Calvinist chooses to disobey God and not proclaim the Gospel when impressed to do so by the Holy Spirit, who is really responsible for that choice to disobey?
Has God, for some unknown reason, not granted the sufficient grace to convince the will of His messenger to proclaim the truth when told to do so? Or has that messenger disobeyed of his own libertarian free will? And what is the result of that disobedience? When an individual Calvinistic believer disobeys God’s command to evangelize, did any fewer elect individuals respond in faith than what God ordained? Of course not. Why? Because God ordained for that Calvinist’s disobedience with the same level of “sovereign control” as He does in ordaining for another Calvinist’s obedience.
You see, a Calvinist may argue that evangelism in general is necessary for the salvation of the elect in general, but logically speaking, your individual responsibility to evangelize any particular elect person is not necessary for the salvation of that elect person. After all, if you weren’t ordained to evangelize that elect individual, someone else was, otherwise they wouldn’t be elect.
Granted, someone (but not necessarily you) has to share the gospel with the elect in order for them to be saved. If God has ordained you to be that evangelist, then He will give you the effectual desire to do so. Thus, if you refrain from doing so you could rightly conclude that you weren’t meant to be the means for that person’s salvation. You are left with the perfect excuse for your inactivity and disobedience to God’s command: “God unchangeably ordained the means, or in this case, my lack of participation in those means.”
So the next time a Calvinist argues that “God ordains the ends as well as the means” just remember this does not avoid the charge of Theistic Fatalism but actually confirms it. In fact, their system logically affirms that the believer’s inactive disobedience is as much according to God’s ordained plan as is another believer’s active obedience. So, if and when a Calvinist becomes “hyper” or “anti-evangelistic” in his behavior, he does so by God’s decree. And so, too, if a Calvinist becomes highly evangelistic in his behavior he does so equally by God’s decree (i.e. “God ordains the means”). A consistent Calvinistic scholar cannot get around this logical fact no matter how much theological rhetoric they use to placate their opponents. The best they can do is say, “Just don’t think of of it that way,” which in essence means, “Act like what we believe isn’t true.” And to that I say, “AMEN!”
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at soteriology 101 and is used by permission.
As mentioned in Part 1, Jared Longshore, posted an article entitled, “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology” at Founders.org in which he addressed the chapel message of Dr. Rick Patrick at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Having once been a member of the Founders’ ministry and part of one of their church starts over a decade ago, I have great respect for these brethren and appreciate the cordial manner in which they confront these disputable matters within our convention. In that spirit, this would be a good opportunity to offer one Traditionalist’s commentary on the Founders’ initial response to Patrick’s message. Continue reading