Interview with Ronnie Rogers, a former Calvinist

July 16, 2012

The editors of SBCToday present a two-part interview with Ronnie W. Rogers – pastor, Southern Baptist statesman, and former Calvinist — whose 2012 book, “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist,” recently caught our attention. SBCToday will also post selected excerpts from his books in the ensuing days.

Ronnie is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a university city cited by the North American Mission Board in 2006 as the most unchurched in the state. Pastor Rogers’ expositional sermons draw large collegiate crowds during the school year as he preaches and teaches (and writes) from a biblical perspective that boldly challenges popular culture.

A magna cum laude graduate from Criswell College in Dallas, Ronnie matriculated to Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Ark., for a Master’s in Counseling to complement his Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies. Ronnie is a member of the Oxford Roundtable, having presented three papers at the famed institution in England.

From SBC boards to state convention president to the local associational, Ronnie is a Southern Baptist Statesman. He served as chairman of the SBC’s Committee on Nominations, and later on the Committee on Committees; was a board member and later chairman of trustees at Midwestern Seminary; was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention; and served as vice moderator for the Garland (Texas) County Association.

Comments about the following interview will be open. However, for anyone wishing to engage Pastor Rogers about his views, SBCToday’s editors recommend reading his book first as we believe he ought not have to rewrite his book as replies to the voluminous comments and questions the interview is expected to generate.

You may obtain a copy of “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist: The Disquieting Realities of Calvinism” at Pastor Rogers has written two other books: “The Death of Man as Man: The Rise and Decline of Liberty,” 2011; and “Undermining The Gospel: The Case for Church Discipline,” 2004.

How did you initially arrive at your original Calvinistic position?

After accepting Christ, I began studying an average of five hours a day, a practice I have continued throughout my Christian life — 35 years. I read Lewis Sperry Chafer’s eight-volume Systematic Theology three times. This provided me with a systematic approach to the perplexities of Scripture, e.g., predestination, election, free will, etc. This was followed by reading other Calvinists’ commentaries and systematic theologies. I became a 4-point Calvinist and remained unabashedly so for the next 20 years.

Retrospectively, as I have shared with others, I now see another dimension to my choice of Calvinism. When a person becomes a Baptist, he is exposed to two positions — Arminianism and Calvinism — and everything else is simply a derivative of one of those, e.g., 5-point, 4-point, etc. Now, he can’t be an Arminian because at the end of the continuum is the Devil and just before him is Arminianism. Thus, if he does not desire to become a Methodist, he must be a Calvinist of sorts. My pilgrimage, which parallels many others, highlights the problem of defining our theological position based on how many steps up we are on the Calvinist ladder. Even in our seminaries, our theology books are Calvinistic, which profoundly highlights the need to develop non-Arminian, non-Calvinist systematic theology books. Also, we need to define ourselves by some other standard than Calvinism, which practice presently makes Calvinism the default standard of orthodoxy like it or not.

Now, I see this forced decision as the either/or fallacy. I have sought to systematically answer the biblical paradoxes from a biblical vantage point that does not seek to be consistent with Calvinism, Molinism, or Arminianism, but only the Scripture.

I now am not a Calvinist-biblicist, Arminian-biblicist or Molinist-biblicist, but simply a biblicist without a preceding adjective.
What was your sense about yourself at that time, spiritually, academically, theologically?

I was very dedicated to grow in my knowledge of God so that I could follow Him more closely. I was growing spiritually, academically, and theologically. I loved God deeply, and I assume the same today for my Calvinist brothers and sisters.

Retrospectively, I was very prideful about Calvinism. Everything else was wrong and unintellectual. I deeply regret my prideful attitude about that now. This saddens me, and I see it in many young Christians whom I know have not come to truly understand Calvinism or Scripture enough to be so pridefully sure, which is not a statement about the biblical soundness of Calvinism or the lack thereof. That is another issue. However, my experience helps me to be more patient with younger (and some older as well) people who claim to be Calvinist.

Did you have any uneasiness in your heart when you began to imbibe Calvinism?

No. I was very excited, certain and satisfied. I continued to study Calvinism in order to better understand the Scripture, e.g., Institutes, Hodge, Shedd, Boyce, commentaries, etc. Thus, I had no uneasiness about Calvinism at the beginning and for many years thereafter.

Retrospectively, my comfort level with Calvinism was due to what I called then “a gentler and kinder Calvinism” e.g., 4-point, still talked of the tragedy of rejecting Christ, etc., which I now refer to non-pejoratively as “double-talk.” Of course, I admit that I was as guilty as any Calvinist for my quotidian reliance upon double-talk. My desire now is to help Calvinists see their use of this subtle rhetorical skill so that they may see the “disquieting realities of Calvinism,” thereby enabling them to accurately determine whether or not they are a Calvinist. Added to the problem of double-talk is that most people who claim to be a Calvinist, or Calvinistic, have so nuanced their Calvinism that it is no longer Calvinism, but rather a very personalized non-Calvinism Calvinism. Everything hinges on “unconditional election.”

Part 2:  Read part 2 of Ronnie Rogers’ interview tomorrow.
Sneak peek: “I was convinced that Calvinism was wrong and that I had been wrong. I came to believe that there was a better way to interpret the Scripture, although my abandonment of Calvinism left me uncomfortably holding beliefs that still had significant unanswered questions.”