Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at the Baptist Message and is used by permission.
NEW ORLEANS (LBM) – A noted scholar has published a focused assessment on study notes in the newly published Christian Standard Bible (CSB), saying non-Calvinists “will be disappointed” due to the heavy Calvinistic leaning in some of its comments about passages that address salvation.
Adam Harwood, associate professor of theology with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, described the actual Bible translation as a “theologically conservative resource,” but took issue with the “theological interpretation” of some study notes provided at the bottom of pages, saying, “those who affirm that God loves every person, Christ died for every person, and God desires to save every person will be disappointed.”
LifeWay Christian Resources is the publisher of the CSB.
Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher for LifeWay, has distributed copies of the newest LifeWay Bible to news media with an accompanying letter calling the translation accurate and readable “without compromise” – a view Harwood does not dispute.
But Wax also lauds the study notes developed by “renowned biblical scholars from multiple denominations,” saying the notes reflect “the Bible’s original context,” something Harwood refutes with regard to interpretations of several passages about salvation.
HIGHLIGHTS OF HARWOOD’S CONCERNS
Harwood prefaced his assessment with six notes, framing his comments as:
— “from a friendly perspective” (he calls Wax “a friend” and discloses that he has a professional relationship with LifeWay’s B&H Publishing);
— limited to “the study notes only, not the text of the Bible”;
— focused on “only one doctrine, salvation”;
— “not arguing for or against Calvinistic theology,” but just simply analyzing a selection of study notes about salvation “to determine whether the study notes are consistent with the interpretations of Calvinists only, non-Calvinists only, or both groups”;
— respectful of the “impressive list of theologically-conservative contributors;” and,
— careful regarding the fact that some of the study notes “were originally written for the HCSB Study Bible, published in 2010” (and he promises “to address study notes as they appear in the 2017 edition,” only).
Likewise he identified six key texts for his study note examination: “three which are often cited by those arguing for Calvinistic theology (Acts 2:23, Rom 8:29–30, and Eph 1:3–9) and three texts which are often cited by those arguing against Calvinistic theology (2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4–6, and 1 John 2:2).”
Harwood’s “Theological Review of the CSB Study Bible Notes” at AdamHarwood.com offers an extensive examination of LifeWay’s treatment of the concept of salvation in these select passages, but the highlights below are representative of his observations.
Harwood said the study note on Acts 2:23 refers to both “the plan and foreknowledge of God” as well as “the free (and sinful) acts of human beings.”
Noting that most Calvinistic interpreters understand genuine human choice to be compatible with divine determinism, he said “they will probably not object to the explanation of this verse” and concluded “the study note on Acts 2:23 should satisfy all evangelicals, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.”
Harwood said the study notes for this text contains “theological definitions and presuppositions affirmed by Calvinists only.”
Among other concerns, he specifically cited study notes that portrayed God as putting His “’electing love’” on some people but not on others “’in eternity past’” – an idea “consistent with Calvinistic presuppositions of eternal decrees and election to salvation,” he said.
“Other Christians, however, affirm that God knows in advance all things (including who will respond in repentance and faith to be saved as well as well as those who will not respond in repentance and faith but will be condemned),” Harwood said. “But they reject the view that God selects only some people and passes over others for salvation.”
Harwood felt the study notes on Eph 1:3–9 “can be affirmed by those who affirm Calvinistic theology as well as those who reject Calvinistic theology,” noting that the comments acknowledged election is best understood as God choosing us “in Christ.”
He said that “emphasizing God choosing in Christ is appropriate since God the Father referred to Jesus as ‘my Son, my chosen (eklegomai) one’ (Luke 9:35).”
He also pointed out that the note “mentions God’s work of ‘bringing persons to faith in Christ,’ which is another carefully worded statement which could be affirmed by most Christians, because those who affirm Calvinistic theology will read the phrase with monergistic regeneration [regeneration before faith] in their mind while other Christians think of an offer by God of salvation which can be freely accepted or rejected.”
1 Timothy 2:4–6
Harwood said the study notes for this passage “favor … an explanation consistent with Calvinistic theology.”
Specifically, he noted the comments on verse 4 included the remark, “‘This verse implies the universal offer of the gospel’” — and he questioned why the study notes would contain such “an implication.”
“This study note fails to restate the proposition clearly contained in the verse, that God wants every person to be saved,” Harwood said. “Such an omission is consistent with the Calvinist presupposition that God desires to save all kinds of people rather than every person.”
He also pointed out a key omission in this portion of the study note: “These verses provide the theological basis for the preceding statement that God wants people to be saved.”
Harwood said this comment omits the key word: “all.”
“This study note, consistent with Calvinistic interpretation, fails to affirm God wants all people to be saved – despite the Bible itself stating in verse 4 of the CSB that God “wants everyone to be saved,” he said.
2 Peter 3:9
Harwood said “the study note on 2 Peter 3:9 seems to favor the Calvinistic interpretation in two ways,” saying it “fails to address a key phrase in the verse” – that God wishes “all to come to repentance” – “which would strengthen the case for the non-Calvinist interpretation.” He also said the comments favor a Calvinistic interpretation that the verse “‘should be understood as a promise of security for believers’” as opposed to the non-Calvinist interpretation that God desires to save sinners.
Still, he allows that the note on this verse is written in such a way “that one could affirm the interpretation of the study note whether or not one affirmed Calvinism.”
1 John 2:2
Harwood concludes that the CSB study note about 1 John 2:2 “provides an interpretation consistent with Calvinistic theology but fails to present an interpretation consistent with non-Calvinistic theology.”
He cited the study note which states: “‘The phrase for those of the whole world does not mean the salvation of all people. It does mean that, in keeping with God’s promise to bless all the nations through Abraham and his descendants (Gn 12:3), Jesus’s saving death extends the offer of salvation to all nations.’”
“This explanation of 1 John 2:2 supports particular atonement (that Jesus died for the sins of only the elect),” Harwood said, “rather than general atonement (that Jesus died for the sins of every person).”
Harwood is the NOBTS McFarland Chair of Theology, and serves as the director of the Baptist Center for Theology & Ministry and as editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
Wax has served as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a LifeWay Bible study curriculum, and writes the Kingdom People blog hosted by The Gospel Coalition, a self-described network “in the Reformed tradition” [exclusively Calvinistic churches].
Dr. Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
Executive Director, Connect 316
From 1987 to 1996, television commercials for the American Express Card concluded with the tagline Membership has its privileges. Every organization’s leader hopes this adage is true, for if conditions are better on the outside than they are on the inside, there is no incentive for anyone to join. If one can simply remain a partner and receive all the same benefits of a member with few, if any, of the responsibilities, then membership is bound to experience a cycle of decline. Such a group’s unofficial slogan is Partnership has its privileges.
Within many layers of Southern Baptist life today, we have created just such a dire situation. A variety of partners currently enjoy all the same benefits of being Southern Baptist without ever truly embracing our denomination, rolling up their sleeves or opening their pocketbooks. These organizations include (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, and (d) multi-site church networks.
The aim of this essay is not only to expose such arrangements, which may have gone unnoticed by the typical Southern Baptist layperson, but also to question whether the numerical growth these partnerships allow us to claim is actually in the best interests of Southern Baptists, especially if the groups we are adding do not really claim any meaningful identity with us, and fail to contribute to the SBC a significant measure of their time, talents and treasure. To be blunt, the concern is that with each additional partner we gain, we have another group taking more than they are giving—a situation unsustainable in the long term.
Defining Our Terms—Benefits, Partners and Members
Before exploring the nature of these uneven partnerships, let us define a few terms.
Certain member benefits are currently being extended today to organizations that are honestly only our partners. These member benefits include (a) access to our sizable church plant funding resources through NAMB, (b) free ministry support and consultation from denominational entities, (c) voting privileges at our SBC Annual Meetings, and (d) seminary student discounts of 50% off tuition.
Frankly, such member benefits are provided courtesy of the Cooperative Program, a missions mutual fund paid for primarily by the proven members of loyal Southern Baptist churches whose contributions are now being expended upon the unproven partners of various ministries that until recently would be considered outside the Southern Baptist Convention. Historically, these benefits were reserved for people, churches and organizations who identified with the SBC theologically, culturally and financially. They were clearly Southern Baptist Churches. Today, some churches may be wearing the boots and the hat, but deep down, if they were completely honest, they would have to admit they are not really cowboys at all.
These partners may share very little with us in the way of history, doctrine, culture, or shared values. They may not really know us very well. They may not support the SBC very much financially. In fact, we may have little more in common with them than we do with any of the other 250,000 Non-Southern Baptist Churches in America. Sometimes, they don’t even consider themselves to be Southern Baptists. They don’t really identify with the SBC in any meaningful way. The SBC is not mentioned on their church sign or their website. To put it simply, we are taking the resources of proven SBC churches who are very loyal to our brand and spending them upon unproven SBC churches who are not very loyal to our brand. What happens when all the loyal churches run out of money to squander upon all the disloyal churches? Doesn’t it make more sense for loyalty to invest in loyalty?
As mentioned earlier, these partners might be (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, or (d) multi-site church networks. In Part Two, we will look at specific case studies in which these partnering churches have structured themselves in a very diverse manner—with strong loyalties to outside partners and supporters. Such groups are generally outside of the authority of the SBC. They have their own rules, complete autonomy, unique confessions and leadership unaccountable to Southern Baptists.
Please note that I sometimes use this term partner to refer to individual churches that may technically fit within the official definition of a Southern Baptist Church, even though they do not take our name, identify with us publicly, contribute more than a pittance financially, participate in any of our ministries or meetings, or have their names on any kind of publicly available registry identifying them as Southern Baptists. At the risk of being overly blunt, there may be some churches out there with members who are not really Southern Baptists in their heart of hearts, and they know they are not really Southern Baptists, but they are willing to pretend they are Southern Baptists in order to get what we give to our own. They are not in it to give. They are in it to take. We have done a good job of incentivizing churches to become technically Southern Baptist without ever really asking them to fall in love with Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Church Potlucks, Brotherhood Breakfasts, Fifth Quarters, VBS, Christmas Cantatas or the Bereavement Casserole Brigade. Frankly, they’re not very Southern Baptist, and they don’t really want to be. But for a little church planting money and a few seminary discounts, they can at least bring themselves to call us one of their “partners.”
Officially, according to the SBC Constitution, a church is Southern Baptist if it meets three conditions. First, it has a faith and practice closely identifying with our statement of faith, which is The Baptist Faith and Message. Notice it is not necessary to adopt the statement, which is frankly quite broadly written to begin with, but only to “closely identify” with it. This condition is useful whenever a church endorses homosexual behavior, for example, since such a position is clearly not “closely identifying” with our statement of faith. Second, it has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the SBC. This could be done by completing the Annual Church Profile. It could be satisfied by Church Business Meeting minutes affirming their intention to cooperate. Third, it makes undesignated contributions through the Cooperative Program or directly through the Executive Committee or toward any convention entity in the prior year. No dollar amount is specified. Thus, to be a Southern Baptist Church, officially, all you really have to do is (a) basically believe like we do, (b) state somewhere that you will cooperate with the SBC, and (c) give at least something to any Southern Baptist entity. It is easier to become a Southern Baptist Church than it is to join a wholesale food club, rent a locker at an amusement park, or order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
The definition above is the official one—the one I consider to be far too lenient to sufficiently guard the long-term interests of the SBC. However, as I am using the term “member” in this series, I am talking about the truly faithful, loyal, long-standing, traditional Southern Baptist Church. Perhaps this church has been around for 50 or 100 years or more. They might give 10% through the Cooperative Program and 3% to their local Baptist Association. They have a VBS every summer. They invite evangelists to speak at Revivals at least once a year. They are active in their State Convention. They know about Hershel Hobbs Commentaries. They know about the envelope offering system. They know we don’t claim to have assigned seating in church—but you better not sit in anyone’s seat just the same. This is the church that is culturally Southern Baptist, convictionally Southern Baptist, and unashamedly Southern Baptist. These are the churches primarily paying the bills in our denomination. They are loyal Southern Baptist Churches filled with godly, faithful, humble souls. They are giving much more than they take. And they pretty much assume that the people and churches and groups with which we partner are similarly proud to be generous and committed Southern Baptists whose absolute and undivided denominational loyalties match their own.
In Part Two, we will explore some of these partners and their divided loyalties.
Editor’s Note: This was the keynote address at the annual Connect 316 Banquet held June 13, 2017, in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting. It was a tremendous address, gladly and enthusiastically received by those of us in attendance.
This is the full, unedited version of Dr. Hankins’ address in it’s entirety. We are taking a pause from our usual standard of articles ranging between 1,000-1,500 words, as I feel this address needs to be read in it’s completeness to allow you, the reader, to get the full force and context.
Let me begin this evening by offering a word of thanks to those of you who have given your support to the Traditional Statement, by signing it, by speaking up for it, or both. As I found out within the first few minutes after we made the TS public, affirming these beliefs vis-à-vis Calvinism sets one up for surprising levels of criticism and ill-treatment. By affirming the statement, you were, among other things, sticking your neck out for me. A special thanks to Rick Patrick and the leaders of Connect 316 for their encouragement over the years and for keeping the torch burning for Traditional soteriology. Continue reading