by Ronnie Rogers
Although I no longer don the Calvinist label, I do continue to recognize the system of thought as an option within historic Christianity as well as Southern Baptist life. Further, I have no interest in personally attacking my Calvinist brothers’ and sisters’ devotion, piety, or love for God and His word, for I do sincerely believe that most Calvinists are truth seekers. I do not wish to expel Calvinists nor to be expelled by them from SBC life, but rather to suggest and take some substantive steps to help all of us know God better. I assume that is what the vast majority of those of us in this discussion truly desire; although, there is obvious disagreement in how to accomplish this quest.
In order to continue to move our discussions toward lucidity in both articulation and understanding of our various theological perspectives, I would like to suggest implementing the following ideas within Southern Baptist life. My suggestions are drawn from my life as a Southern Baptist, which include both the perspective I gained in my years as a Calvinist and now my post-Calvinist reflections. While I view my suggestions as necessary, I also view them as partial and modifiable. I believe that some of the steps should be implemented immediately, while others are clearly long term goals that may take years. I offer my suggestions with no more credentials than being a rather obscure but concerned Southern Baptist.
I trust that if we speak with grace and listen with humility, we can learn from each other. I do genuinely believe that if the following suggestions are not implemented, the future of the SBC may not be as bright as it could be; although, one may easily find sufficient grounds to view my suggestions dismissively since I do seem to have an extraordinarily unimpressive record as a prophet. As a Calvinist, I loved, respected and worked with those who were not, and now that I am no longer a Calvinist, I hold that same love, respect, and desire to work with those who are.
Please consider the following suggestions:
I Calvinism’s challenge is to face its disquieting realities and unabashedly seek to elucidate them to the masses by speaking clearly, often, and consistently with the full implications of Calvinism.
Disquieting realities are the cold, harsh, inescapable implications and conclusions of consistent Calvinism, which I do not believe comport with the warp and woof of Scripture. I mention only two examples; first, according to Calvinism, God necessarily desires for the vast majority of His creation to burn in hell forever and ever; meaning that the gospel, according to Calvinism, is that God “loves to save some sinners and equally loves to damn most sinners to eternal torment.” To retreat to “it is a mystery,” “God is sovereign,” or “all people deserve hell and to save one is grace” does nothing to assuage this austere understanding of God, which I believe is fundamentally inconsistent with the panoply of Scripture and a biblically balanced view of the attributes of God; second, in Genesis, God commanded Adam not to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17); according to Calvinism’s compatible view of man’s nature, which governs the range of choices he has, God did in point of fact desire—not cause—Adam to sin, and this with full knowledge of all of its ensuing torturous horror, of which we are all both perpetrators and sufferers. Both of these concepts are inextricable components of Calvinism and therefore cannot be dismissed by discussing the order of decrees or declaring “mystery.” I appreciate and applaud my Calvinist brothers who shamelessly seek to proclaim these essentials of Calvinism.
I only ask of those who believe Calvinism to be correct, which necessarily entails believing that it pleases God to withhold salvation from more of His humanity than He saves, to please be no more reticent in proclaiming these realities as often, loudly, and consistently as one does the more palatable concepts of Calvinism. At least Calvinists should be as forthright to declare these inescapable conceptions about God as they are to speak of God’s glory, sovereignty, etc., and this without double talk (see definition in next paragraph). Actually, these realities are as much a part of Calvinism’s understanding of the gospel as is “whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In point of fact, the latter is only trivially true in Calvinism since only the unconditionally elected whosoever can indeed be saved.
By double talk, I specifically and only mean, whether meditatively or unmeditatively, thinking, praying, writing, or speaking in such a way that obscures the disquieting realities of Calvinism. This rhetorical practice of many Calvinists makes substantive conversations regarding the essence of Calvinism, so that both Calvinists and those who are desiderative can fully understand these disquieting realities, frustratingly improbable. If a person accepts and clearly and consistently proclaims such realities, then he can be a knowledgeable and consistent Calvinist; however, if one is unwilling to accept and unambiguously proclaim them, he cannot be a consistent Calvinist.
I am not labeling anyone as a double-talker nor is my use of this term intended in any sense to be pejorative but merely descriptive. I only intend to highlight one of the issues that I believe, if left unresolved, dooms the otherwise potential fecundity of our conversations. Additionally, I truly desire to contribute to a more clear understanding of Calvinism so that individuals can make a more informed choice of whether to don the designation Calvinist. Anything less than a total repudiation of dissembling communication on both sides will simply perpetuate beclouding the issue.
Additionally, the inconsistencies of which I speak are not the inconsistencies that are endemic in the frailty of all human ideologies merely because we are human and growing; thus, my concerns cannot be justly dismissed by noting that everyone is inconsistent unless the inconsistencies referred to in others are essentially similar to the inconsistencies I am addressing. To wit, these inconsistencies must include language that obscures or euphemizes the insufferable and inescapable corollaries of their position. Further, I come to this understanding by reading Calvinist’s theologies and commentaries, and listening to their declarations and messages as opposed to basking in Arminianism.
Cont’d. tomorrow, Part II: Non-Calvinists’ challenge …
© 2013 Ronnie W. Rogers
Ronnie Rogers is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla.