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Words With Friends, part 2: Precise Names for Soteriological Views

RickPatrick

by Dr. Rick Patrick, pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Ala.

From 1982-1990, the television sitcom Newhart entertained America with eccentric characters who lived in a small Vermont town, among them three backwoodsmen who lived in a shack and whose last name was never mentioned. The spokesman for the brothers introduced them the same way every time: “Hi, I’m Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” With apologies to boxer George Foreman, the failure to identify your children with unique names is intrinsically ridiculous.

In a similar fashion, confusion reigns in a small town not far from a church I previously served as Pastor. This town featured street names practically identical to one another—names like Third Place, Third Street, Third Lane, Third Avenue and Third Circle led to the next block where one might find Park Drive, Park Road, Park Court, Park Trail and Park Way. Most Pastors in the community, when attempting visitation, did not even bother with maps or directions, but simply dropped by the fire station for assistance from the professionals who memorized the confusing street patterns in order to save lives.

Fortunately, there is a better way. By giving brothers and streets and theological positions their own unique names, we contribute to clarity, precision and mutual understanding on the part of everyone involved. To put it simply, the Calvinist Family has entirely too many brothers using the same name. We can do something about it.

In Part One of Words With Friends, I discussed a unique, whole, acceptable and unused term for the specific view of salvation doctrine that I believe accurately describes the majority position among Southern Baptists—Savabilism. In Part Two, I will now turn my attention to the moniker Calvinism, a multi-faceted, umbrella term whose strongest proponents must even admit fails the test of theological precision quite miserably. Some will say, “But Calvinism is not a monolithic system.” Indeed. To paraphrase a line from The Incredibles: “If everyone is a Calvinist, then no one is.” Only by providing each theological view their own name, room and cell phone will our communication improve.

A TAXONOMY OF UNIQUE SOTERIOLOGICAL LABELS

1. Fatalist: Also called Hyper-Calvinist, this view rejects the idea that the atonement in any respect was intended for the salvation of all. It thus discourages inviting all men to believe in Christ for salvation. Fatalism lies beyond the scope of Calvinism per se. Thus, a Fatalist is truly no Calvinist at all. An example would be John Gill.

2. Calvinist: This view embraces all five points of the TULIP, while also affirming the free offer of the gospel to all men. May the label “Five Point Calvinist” become viewed as a redundant term, for there is truly no other kind. An example would be Al Mohler. It is possible, however, to identify three noteworthy Calvinist subcategories:

2a. Supralapsarianist: Also called High Calvinist, this view embraces all five points of the TULIP while placing the creation of the elect and the reprobate logically prior to the fall of man. An example would be Jonathan Edwards.

2b. Infralapsarianist: Also called Low Calvinist, this view embraces all five points of the TULIP while placing God’s choice of the elect and the reprobate logically after the fall of man. An example would be Charles Spurgeon.

2c. Nonlapsarianist: This view rejects both of the lapsarian positions above, considering them either speculative, unnecessary or lacking in scriptural support. An example would be Herman Bavinck.

3. Amyraldist: A position disaffirming limited atonement but holding to the other four points of the TULIP. While God provided Christ’s atonement for all, He saw that none would believe on their own, and thus elected unconditionally those He would bring to faith in Christ. An example would be Richard Baxter.

4. Molinist: A position disaffirming limited atonement and irresistible grace, reconciling divine determinism with man’s free will without appealing to the Calvinist explanation of a mystery. Through God’s “middle knowledge,” He knows what His free creatures would do under any circumstance, as illustrated by the statement, “If you enter the ice cream shop, you will choose chocolate.” God also actualizes the world in which we freely choose that which God intends for us. An example would be William Craig Lane.

5. Savabilist: While compatible with the Molinist understanding of election, this view affirms one point of the TULIP, namely perseverance of the saints. Unlike Arminianism, perseverance of the saints is a doctrine embraced in a completely non-negotiable manner. An example would be Eric Hankins.

6. Arminian: A position disaffirming unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace, while embracing an interpretation of total depravity that affirms total inability. Unlike Savabilism, this view remains open to either perspective concerning the perseverance of the saints. An example would be Roger Olsen.

7. Semipelagian: According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, this is “the name given to doctrines on human nature upheld in the Fifth Century by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that grace supervened only later.” An example would be Saint Faustus of Riez.

Please note that the label Semipelagian is rejected by Arminians and Savabilists alike, for neither maintains that the process of salvation is initiated by human free will. In the same way, on the other end of the spectrum, the label Fatalist is rejected by Calvinists and Amyraldists, for they embrace the free offer of the gospel to all men. Our ongoing conversation regarding soteriology invites enormous damage whenever we attempt to push the definitions of our debate partners into either extreme position on the spectrum.

CONCLUSION

 In conclusion, this two-part essay has attempted to promote the use of specific, clear, whole words for each soteriological view. The goal is to distance ourselves from the kind of language encumbered by modifying terms and negating prefixes. To those who say, “We are all Calvinists of one sort or another,” let me reply, “Such a characterization is not at all helpful, for it is profoundly denied by those who disaffirm Calvinism.”

Fortunately, there is a much better way to approach this subject. If we desire to promote improved understanding, collegial conversation and respectful dialogue, let us begin by avoiding the tendency to lump every position into a few broad categories. Let us give each specific view a term of its own and a friendly welcome to the soteriological table. In this manner, whenever I ask Darryl to pass the salt, everyone knows what I mean.

Christian Index editor, Harris, querries Calvinism Committee

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Read Peter Lumpkins’ commentary and Dr. Gerald Harris’ article here. http://bit.ly/1ayLqqk

On the Insufficiency of the Notion of Sufficiency Among Some Calvinists, part 3 of 3

DavidAllen2

by David L. Allen
Dean, School of Theology
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Ed’s. note: A careful researcher and Southern Baptist statesman, Dr. Allen does not ascribe a singular view of Christ’s atonement to all Calvinists, universally; however, his sensitive use of qualifying terms provide both clarity and distinction regarding the topic at-hand.)

VII. The Problem Illustrated in the Southern Baptist Calvinism Advisory Committee Statement

I was privileged to be a part of the SBC’s Calvinism Advisory Committee and the resulting statement “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.” I believe it is a helpful statement and serves as a good launching pad for further discussion. Documents of this nature sometimes contain some understandable ambiguity for the sake of unity. Let me state at the outset that I believe every signatory of the statement acted with a clear conscience and in good faith.

Consider the following two statements on this issue of “sufficiency” in “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension” on the subject of the Atonement of Christ:

We affirm that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was both penal and substitutionary and that the atonement He accomplished was sufficient for the sins of the entire world. We deny that there is anything lacking in the atonement of Christ to provide for the salvation of anyone.

In the section on “Tensions,” the following statement occurs:

“We agree that the penal and substitutionary death of Christ was sufficient for the sins of the entire world, but we differ as to whether Jesus actually substituted for the sins of all people or only the elect.”

In the spirit of the document’s call for continued dialogue, here is a question for those who affirm limited atonement: How can one affirm both of the above statements consistently? Notice in both statements the language “sufficient for the sins of the entire world” is used. As argued above, how can the atonement in any meaningful sense be said to be sufficient for the sins of the non-elect since there is no atonement for the sins of the non-elect? It would seem Calvinists who affirm limited atonement are forced to use the word “sufficient” only in a hypothetical way, which does not solve the problem. In fact, it creates a logical problem, a theological problem, and a practical problem with respect to preaching and evangelism. This tension has been pointed out by many Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike since the Reformation.[9]

All who affirm limited atonement face the problem of the free offer of the gospel. In their system, the atonement is actually only sufficient for those who believe.

VIII. Conclusion.

Strict Calvinists eventually cloud the issue of sufficiency when they tell us that Christ’s death is sufficient in the sense that if anyone believes the gospel, he will find a sufficient atonement for his sins. Therefore, all people are saveable insofar as if anyone believes, then he will be saved. Well of course! No one doubts that! That proposition is true as far as it goes because it only speaks to the causal relationship between faith and salvation: anyone who truly believes will certainly be saved. But strict Calvinists exhibit their confusion on this issue when asked why this is so. Their response: because there is an atonement of infinite value able to be applied to the one who believes. Of course there is. But ask the question this way: suppose one of the non-elect should believe, could they be saved? Not according to the limited atonement position because no satisfaction for sins exists for the non-elect.[10] (Ed’s. note: Be sure to read footnotation #10. It is powerful.)

Imagine that Christ had not died at all on the cross. Now, in such a scenario, imagine this statement: “If anyone believes in Christ, he shall be saved.” Such a statement is meaningless nonsense and is, in fact, false. In this scenario, there is no means provided for anyone to be saved regardless of whether they believe. This is precisely where the non-elect stand in relation to the cross of Christ and their sin in the limited atonement scheme.

My argument is simple: If there is no atonement for some people, then those people are not saveable. If no atonement exists for some, how is it possible that the gospel can be offered to those people for whom no atonement exists? If anyone is not saveable, he is not offerable. One cannot offer the gospel in any consistent way to someone for whom no atonement exists. Strict Calvinists cannot have it both ways. Either Christ has substituted for the sins of all men or He has not.[11]

This is the huge blind spot most strict Calvinists exhibit. Most Southern Baptists have long staked their claim that all people can be saved because Christ died for all.[12] Universal atonement grounds the free offer of the gospel to all people.

There is a provision of forgiveness for all to whom the gospel comes. There is a provision of forgiveness for all who come to the gospel.


[9] See my “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” in Whosoever Will: a Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, D. Allen & S. Lemke, eds. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 61-108.

[10] Some may try to evade the issue by arguing that the non-elect will not believe because they cannot believe apart from effectual calling. There are two problems with this response. First, it begs the question whether the Reformed understanding of total depravity as total inability and the Reformed notion of effectual calling are correct. Second, even if these are correct, the problem is not lessened: one cannot offer something to another in good faith when that “something” does not exist.

[11] See my critique of D. A. Carson on his ambiguous use of “sufficiency” with respect to the extent of the atonement in David L. Allen, “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” in Whosoever Will, 89-91.

[12] This is certainly the implication of the following statement in the Article on Man in the Baptist Faith and Message: “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”

Biblical Illiteracy and the Death of the Church Library

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by Johnathan Pritchett

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” thunders the preacher quoting Hosea 4:6a, which is appropriate pulpit thunder these days.

“Yeah, but knowledge puffs up,” think some folks in the pews who know just enough random Scripture quotes to be dangerous. Of course, these folks are completely oblivious that the quoted passage deals with a lack of faithful love, rejection of God’s teaching, and being without truth. They are also completely oblivious that the snippet that popped in their minds in rebellion and protest has to do with food and idols.

Of course, the folks that don’t think of that text from somewhere, 1 or 2 Corinthians-something, at all usually don’t think much about anything they hear. They lack the mental tools to follow the points in a given sermon, and since in many cases the preacher thundering Hosea 4:6a forgets to thunder 4:6b along with it — which is the pertinent part to the biblical illiteracy problem in our churches — then some of the ignorance in the pews can be more easily understood. Often times, many pastors are proof-texters, filling their topical sermons with random verses that suit the message of their own spinning.

No, this is not a rant against topical sermons. The best topical preachers exegete and teach the passages they use to fit their themes. Sadly, many don’t. They merely fill their sermon with simplistic principles without explaining from the very texts they quote why the principles matter and how they relate to the story of God’s redemption in Christ that runs from Genesis to Revelation. That’s the problem.

In other news, biblical literacy is down in Southern Baptist churches, and other denominations as well. Even among those who read their Bibles regularly, though these people are fewer and fewer each year. Congregations get so caught up in the current routines that the fundamentals are forgotten. One fundamental that has been forgotten is teaching people how to read and study their Bibles. This lack of teaching from leadership may contribute to a lack of doing from the congregations.

My family and I spent six months last year visiting various churches, mostly SBC churches, but also other churches just to see what was happening there. We weren’t members anywhere at the time, so we took some time off from active membership somewhere (blasphemy to some people) to see what all was happening in the churches in our community.

Apparently, not much.

In any case, in Sunday school classes, small groups, sitting in the pews during services, and whatever other occasion for biblical study or learning, people were just at a loss as to how to follow Scripture. They do get some milk they remember until Monday morning when they wake up, but they do not get the meat, and meat sticks to the bones.

Is this purely anecdotal and limited to my community? Perhaps, but I highly doubt it. I hear too many stories from elsewhere, and hear the statistics in seminary. So, yeah, this is probably everywhere.

In other news, I noticed something that has paralleled this decline of biblical literacy that is truly sad. This I will refer to as “The Death of the Church Library.” In too many churches, even large ones, the best library in the church is the pastor’s office bookshelf, or even more likely (and sadly), the youth pastor’s office bookshelf. The most recent scholarship in the actual church libraries, if there is actually any scholarly works to be found in them, is sometimes only as recent as the 1970s. Most of the time, the tiny libraries are filled with old and occasionally new devotional junk, and way too much Christian-fiction junk.

It couldn’t hurt to reemphasize the need for the folks in the pews to study to show themselves approved, (2 Timothy 2:15), to be good Bereans (Acts 17:11), to store up the word in their hearts (Psalm 19:11), etc. Besides, speaking of Bible snippets, Jesus gave this command: “…teaching them everything…” (Matthew 28:20)

That sounds comprehensive.

Given the general lack of knowledge of Scripture, even among those who do not lack a familiarity with Scripture (big difference), not only is encouraging more daily study of Scripture necessary, but also necessary is a moving on from promoting, or encouraging, or even condoning, simplistic daily devotionals, goofy Bible app reading plans, and the like. After all, God has a standard for all this (Joshua 1:8).

It is time for pastors and other leaders to encourage the folks to buy a biblical survey book and a commentary or two for using as study and conversation partners in their private daily Bible reading. What level of commentary or survey? Whatever suits the person, and that takes the pastor(s) or other leaders knowing each of the persons in their churches to figure out what level of commentary is right for each person, be it lay, semi-technical, technical, etc. Are they somewhat pricey? Well, that depends — certainly not any more pricey than many people’s Blu-ray collections.

Given the Conservative Resurgence, all the affirmations — from the seminary professors to the pews — about the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture is rendered meaningless if it is nothing more than a “uh-huh” affirmation of lip service without the actual knowledge of Scripture stored up in our hearts and its governing authority in our lives.

We are Southern Baptists. We are Evangelicals. We are “People of the Book.” It is time once again to live like it.

It is also time for SBC churches to reinvest in their church libraries. We build gyms for our churches, so why not also stock the libraries? One of those two things is related to knowledge, truth, faithful love, understanding and remembering God’s Word, and most importantly, avoiding destruction. One of them isn’t. It is not too hard to figure out which is which.

 

SBC Today Revisions

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UPDATE:  SBC Today is getting a new look and new features.  Work is still progressing on the new site revisions and commenting is once again back up and operational.  Look for the complete site revision after the SBC Annual Meeting in Houston.  Visit us at booth 1613 in the exhibit hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.

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Thank you for your patience.