After graduating from seminary with my MDIVBL in 2002 and was able to immerse myself more into the Bible rather than what other people thought about the Bible, I began a quest to figure out how salvation works. In other words, how does predestination work in salvation, and what is man’s responsibility in being saved? At about mid-2004, I began to embrace what is commonly known as the doctrines of grace, except for limited atonement. It was a thrilling time for me as I discovered those doctrines and began to understand more and more of God’s love. It was at this time I hesitantly accepted the label “Calvinist.” The reason for hesitancy was that I also understood the wide definition of Calvinism and some of the false representations of what Calvinists are. This is where I have stood until recent events have caused me to rethink and reject the label of Calvinist. While doctrinally I still stand where I have been, I refused to be defined by this doctrinal label that has been mischaracterized by many on both sides of the issue.
Therefore, I wish today to officially drop myself from any connection to Calvinism or its movement. Below are the reasons:
1. Recently I saw a dear evangelist friend to whom I became acquainted four years ago. At that discussion four years ago the topic turned to Calvinism. I told him at that time I was one. In my most recent conversation with him the subject came up again and I mentioned to him that I was not a five, but a four pointer. He was shocked and said he always thought I held to all five points. I said no. For four years he assumed that I held to limited atonement. While I disagree with that point and in no way am I saying that those who hold to this point are somehow evil or heretics, it is a point that I nevertheless do not embrace (similar to being given the label Landmarker, which I am not). There is a prevalent confusion on defining Calvinism. Is it acceptance of all five points or just four? Frankly, that confusion is not what I want to leave people when they think of my doctrinal stands.
2. For a long time I have also stated that I am somewhere between three and four points. Another friend commented to me that you are either a three or a four pointer, there are no in betweens. Personally I disagree for this reason, I believe in God’s sovereignty in election and salvation, but I also believe in human responsibility in accepting the message of salvation. For some, this type of understanding in election rejects irresistible grace. I am comfortable with that because irresistible to me seems a bit misleading. For others God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is perfectly fine as long as irresistible grace is understood as God’s persistent calling or wooing that will ultimately lead to the elected accepting the gospel message. This does not make man the mind-controlled robot of God, but a free agent to accept His offering of Grace. Both sovereignty and responsibility need to be preached equally from the Sacred Text. For me how this works is truly a mystery and I cannot make declarations that God regenerates before someone accepts or that someone accepts before God regenerates. I know for some who are able to get deeper in the text, they are able to decide that issue of doctrine, but I choose to just leave it alone and pick up where the Baptist Faith and Message takes it by understanding that, “Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.”
3. One final reason was the recent discussion held at Southern by Drs. Malcolm Yarnell and Michael Haykin. I thought the dialog was great and I appreciated the spirit of the whole event. I wish more interaction such as this could happen with this type of Christian respect so no more boogey man scenarios are allowed to float out there. I also appreciated Dr. Haykin’s viewpoint and will now look to read more of his research into Baptist heritage. I believe we all can learn from his years of diligence. Yet while I appreciate his work, I cannot agree with his assessment that a good Baptist is a Calvinist Baptist. While Calvinism has played a role in the theological history of Baptists, so has non-Calvinism. I have to affirm the question presented, “Why can’t we all identify as Baptists and be free to be a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist?”
I am a Baptist, pure and simple in the historical and biblical sense. I believe being a “good” Baptist means we are to be people of the book and that the truest form of a New Testament local church is a visible group of regenerate Christians who covenant together to practice believers baptism by immersion, carrying out the two ordinances of the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (participants are to be saved and properly baptized), organized under a congregational system of polity, submitting to the Lordship of Christ, and propagating the gospel to the lost. As a "good" Baptist, one should uphold the doctrines of inerrancy, priesthood of all believers, and soul competency. Now, in a biblical sense, there is no one “good” but God. I am only borrowing the language used by both speakers, but also in a biblical sense I am under the strong belief that these doctrinal stands, working together, identify us as Baptists. I again revisit the question, “Why can’t we all identify ourselves as Baptists and be free to be a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist?” Why does identifying with Calvinism make one a better Baptist than a non-Calvinist? The answer, it doesn’t. Both groups have been instrumental in passing on a rich heritage to us. To classify us into a hierarchy based on our understanding of soteriology creates nothing but worldly division. Again, for all including those who distort Calvinism as the dreaded death knell to Southern Baptists, let’s be Baptist and be free to choose how we define our soteriology.
I would prefer to be known as a Baptist pastor who diligently searches the scriptures for God’s wisdom, shepherds the flock for which I have been given responsibility, and tells others about the love of Jesus for them. Pure and simple.