Harwood reviews ‘Disenchanted Calvinist,’ by Ronnie Rogers

by Dr. Adam Harwood
Associate Professor of Theology
McFarland Chair of Theology
Director, Baptist Center for Theology & Ministry
Editor, Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry

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This review is excerpted from the most recent edition of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, published by NOBTS and edited by Dr. Harwood. The edition’s theme is “Chaplaincy: Ministering in Caesar’s House,” with many of the articles arising from papers presented at the conference on this theme sponsored by the NOBTS Institute for Faith and the Public Square.

Download your free copy of the entire issue HERE.

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Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist: The Disquieting Realities of Calvinism. By Ronnie W. Rogers. Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2012. 183 pages. Paperback, $14.99.

There is no shortage of books critiquing Calvinism. The uniqueness of Ronnie Rogers’ contribution is its irenic tone and its rejection of both Calvinist and Arminian tenets (xv). Rogers is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. For twenty years, he was a self-identified four-point Calvinist (xvii). This book developed from answering many of the questions about Calvinism from his congregants and to explain his current position as a “disenchanted” (now former) Calvinist (xiii).

After a foreword by R. Allen Street, chair of Expository Preaching & New Testament Exegesis at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, and a page of acknowledgements, Rogers outlines the structure of his work in the introduction. Rather than an examination of the TULIP acrostic, as was the case with Allen and Lemke’s Whosoever Will (B&H Academic, 2010) or Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism (Zondervan, 2011), Rogers structures his twenty chapters topically. This allows him to address particular issues without being bound to answer them according to the theological framework of Calvinism, Arminianism, or Molinism; Rogers aims to be a Biblicist (xxi).

The first sixteen chapters are built around a pair of affirmations and disaffirmations on a particular topic followed by explanation and supporting arguments. For example, in Chapter X, “World vs. Elect,” Rogers affirms “that ‘world’ means all people” and disaffirms “that ‘world’ or ‘all’ always means merely and/or exclusively all people groups, thereby signifying that some individuals do not have a choice to believe” (46–47). A potential liability of these paired affirmation-disaffirmations is that chapters might feel wooden and rigid. But readers may discover that the clarity and precision provided by this format outweighs the liabilities due its style.

Rogers affirms God’s sovereignty but rejects monergism’s “selective regeneration” (5). Surprisingly, while Rogers repeatedly rejects monergism (5, 60, 78, 132), he falls short of endorsing synergism (62). He seems to find flaws at certain points of all philosophical theological systems and prefers to draw his theological cues from Scripture alone (xviii).

Rogers affirms God’s omniscience as simple foreknowledge by appealing to Lewis Sperry Chafer’s distinction between certainty and causation (10). Following Norman Geisler’s lead, Rogers identifies libertarian free will as the opportunity for both the origin of evil and grace-enabled salvation (16, 96). Rogers affirms man’s depravity but also his ability to respond to God due to having been made in His image and having been provided “grace enablements” such as the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Gospel, and God drawing all men to Himself (21, 55, 76–77, 98, 154).

Rogers affirms a universal atonement. Because the Calvinists’ “general call does not offer anyone a real chance to believe the Gospel and be saved,” Rogers suggests replacing it with the term sufficient call. He writes, “The sufficient call, along with God’s grace-enablement, is sufficient for anyone and everyone to be saved” (27). Every person who responds to the sufficient call receives an “efficacious call,” which results in salvation for all who believe. He distinguishes this from the Calvinistic general and effectual call because he regards the former as only the announcement of the gospel and the latter as selective regeneration which is only provided to the elect (71–72, 156–7).

His treatment of the age (or time) of accountability outlines carefully the solutions for infant salvation offered through baptismal regeneration and election prior to the exercise of faith. Instead of these solutions, Rogers advocates a position which “sees faith and election working synergistically” and “a certain mental capacity” required to exercise faith. He explains, “(T)hose who die prior to the ‘age of accountability’ are covered based upon the sufficient sacrifice of Christ and the rich grace of God” (80–81).

Rogers advocates for a corporate view of election from Romans 9. The strength of his view is that he does not depend on a standard articulation of corporate election, such as William Klein’s The New Chosen People (Zondervan: 1990; Wipf & Stock, 2001). Instead, Rogers argues his case by interacting with exegesis of Romans 9 by Calvinist commentators such as John Calvin, John Piper, John MacArthur, G. C. Berkouwer and Oliver Buswell (121–34).

Three areas not explored in the book may deserve further consideration. The first unexplored area concerns the eternal destiny of those who have never heard the Gospel. Mission-minded Calvinists who affirm Particularism have an answer to that question. Their answer is that God chose not to extend His grace to those people. Rogers’ work may have been strengthened by addressing this important soteriological issue. The second unexplored area is a theological conclusion regarding Calvinism. Rogers affirms clearly his love for people who advocate “major” (which he defines as five-point) Calvinism and respect for their sincerity. Because Rogers regards Calvinism to be a cistern “contaminated with faulty theology and logic” (xvi), it would be helpful to know how those who imbibe of this system should be regarded. Does Rogers consider five-point Calvinism to contain errors that fall within an acceptable range of orthodox Christianity, or does he regard these particular views to be heterodoxy, teaching of another kind mentioned in 1 Tim 1:3? The third unexplored area is a concluding chapter. Because the book was organized as a collection of chapters arranged topically, it may have been strengthened by including a final chapter which either summarized the main arguments of the book or pointed the way forward in the quest for Biblicism.

Readers who embrace “moderate” or “high” Calvinism will benefit from the particular examples in which certain theological claims within their system seem to be internally inconsistent. These particular examples are peaceably presented and documented by statements from prominent theologians past and present. Readers who desire to embrace “Biblicism,” with its radical method of bypassing long-held theological conclusions which do not seem to conform to the plain teaching of Scripture, will find support in these reflections by Rogers.

Adam Harwood, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, La.

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Be sure to download your free copy of the entire issue of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, published by NOBTS and edited by Dr. Harwood,  HERE.

To order a copy of “Reflections” click HERE.