Review: Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter
“Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions”

September 18, 2012

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3A

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions”
by David L. Allen


In Part 3 of my review of Whomever He Wills (hereafter WHW) I will cover Chapter 9, “Calvinism Foundational for Evangelism and Missions: A Biblical and Historical Survey” by Dr. Tom Ascol. Dr. Ascol attempts to demonstrate the positive relationship between Calvinism and evangelism and missions. Along the way he responds to portions of my chapter in Whosoever Will (hereafter Whosoever). For the purposes of this review, the phrases “limited atonement,” “particular redemption,” and “definite atonement” as used by Dr. Ascol and myself should be defined to mean “Christ died only for the sins of the elect.” The “limited” in “limited atonement” refers to the limited sin-bearing nature of Christ’s death; he only satisfied for the sins of the elect.

Dr. Ascol organizes his chapter around an introduction (269-71), two major headings: Scriptural Testimony (271-79) and Historical Testimony (279-88), followed by a short conclusion.

1. Introduction.

Dr. Ascol begins by quoting W. R. Estep’s claim that “Calvinism is anti-missionary. The Great Commission is meaningless if every person is programmed for salvation or damnation, for [then] evangelism and missionary effort are exercises in futility” as an example of the kind of thinking he intends to refute (269). This statement by Estep is indeed problematic on several fronts. First, it is a gross generalization and such statements are seldom helpful. Second, even if Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election according to Dortian standards is an accurate reflection of Scripture, it does not follow of necessity that evangelism and missionary effort are exercises in futility for the very reason that Ascol brings out. According to Calvinism, God determines the means as well as the ends. Third, “programmed for salvation or damnation” is an unfortunate choice of words. Compatibilism, which most Calvinists affirm, is a form of soft determinism that still posits a measure of free will in humans. Whether that freedom is genuine freedom and whether compatibilism comports with Scripture or human experience is a different story, but that is a rabbit trail we need not pursue at this point. We can concede for the sake of the argument that our Calvinist brothers and sisters affirm a limited view of freedom in which persons do voluntarily desire to do what they do. Fourth, as Ascol correctly points out, historically many great evangelists and missionaries were Calvinists.

But let’s dig a little deeper. First, if Estep had said something along the lines of this, “Historically, Calvinism was at times not only not known for its evangelistic and missionary thrust, but actually opposed it,” his statement would have been accurate, for such was indeed the case. One thinks first of the stifling anti-missionary stance of those Calvinists in the 18th century who opposed Carey, Fuller and their friends. Such a mindset permeated English Calvinism at the time. What of the anti-missionary Calvinists in the 19th century who opposed Spurgeon? What of those 20th century anti-missionary Calvinists in America? What of hyper-Calvinists who have been identified in history since the Council of Dort and are still with us today? (See page 96, footnote 105 in Whosoever for documentation of this.) Ascol actually acknowledges the problem of extreme Calvinism in two ways. First, his second sentence following the Estep quote correctly notes: “Though it is easy to find examples of believers of Calvinistic persuasion whose evangelistic engagement is shameful in its anemia, that task does not become more difficult when one examines the more Arminian regions of evangelicalism” (Ibid.). Second, he makes three references to hyper-Calvinism later in the chapter: “Carey rejected both Arminianism on the one hand and hyper-Calvinism on the other” (283); in a quotation of Timothy George who noted with respect to Carey, “he confronted and overcame the resistance of those Hyper-Calvinistic theologians who used the sovereignty of God as a pretext for their do-nothing attitude toward missions” (Ibid.); and in reference to Andrew Fuller being a Calvinist “in contrast to the ‘false Calvinism of hyper-Calvinism” (284). Ascol is aware of the problem of hyper-Calvinism with respect to missions and evangelism in the late 18th century and beyond.

Second, what may lurk behind Estep’s “exercise in futility” comment is that fact that in the Calvinist system the elect are going to be saved regardless of what we do in missions and evangelism. According to Calvinism, nothing any Christian does or does not do in evangelism and missions can alter the outcome of election one whit. This fact is a double-edged sword. Ascol uses it to cut a good point by saying that God will without fail gather in the harvest of the elect. Perceived in this fashion, confidence in evangelism and missions is emboldened. But the sword also cuts the other direction as well. Human nature being what it is, knowledge that nothing one does in evangelism and missions will change the outcome one iota can breed lethargy. Granted, we are to evangelize because God has commanded us to do so and anything less on our part is nothing short of disobedience to our Lord. In addition, we can agree with our Calvinist brothers and sisters that God ordains the means as well (though we might differ over certain nuances here). Nevertheless, it can be demonstrated historically that a lack of evangelistic zeal has been an intermittent problem in the Reformed world because of its construal of the doctrine of election by some. Though it is too strong in my opinion to say that Calvinism entails a loss of evangelistic zeal, it is not too strong to say that some of its doctrines as understood and practiced by some (wrongly as Ascol would no doubt say) have sometimes diminished evangelistic zeal and at other times even opposed it. The historical record here simply cannot be read otherwise. Nor can this loss be laid totally at the feet of hyper-Calvinists.

Dr. Ascol speaks of the evangelism of “both Calvinists and Arminians within the Southern Baptist Convention” (270).  In footnote 4, he informs his readers, “I do not use the term ‘Arminian’ in a pejorative fashion but as a historically accurate alternative to the cumbersome non-Calvinist appellation.” He persists in labeling all Southern Baptist traditionalists as Arminians. This kind of statement illustrates the rigid two-dimensional myopia unfortunately characteristic of some on both sides of the aisle in the Calvinism dispute. This appellation is inaccurate for a number of reasons. First, when someone is labeled “Arminian” the question arises: Which Arminianism? Is it the Arminianism of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants, who were all Reformed and who believed that Calvinism in their day had become extreme at some points? Is it Wesleyan Arminianism? Is it modern day Arminianism in its conservative expression or in its more liberal openness of God expression? Like Calvinism, Arminianism is not a monolithic belief system. Second, modern day Arminianism believes one can lose salvation. But the Baptist Faith and Message, the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, clearly affirms the eternal security of the believer and the impossibility of losing one’s salvation. One cannot be a Southern Baptist and be an Arminian. Third, such a moniker fails to recognize the diversity within the Traditionalist group on Soteriology. For example, with respect to Soteriology, the authors in Whosoever range from accepting as few as two points of the TULIP acrostic to as many as four points. No writer in Whosoever is “Arminian.” (See “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians, but Baptists” at

http://www.baptisttheology.org/documents/NeitherCalvinistsNorArminiansButBaptists.pdf.

Dr. Ascol writes, “I want to argue in this chapter that the relationship between historic Calvinism and biblical evangelism is best understood in terms of ‘therefore’ rather than ‘nevertheless’” (270-71). “Calvinism is, above all else, a biblical theology. Evangelism is a biblical practice. It stands to reason, then, that Calvinism, when understood and applied properly, would undergird and propel evangelism and missions. Both Scripture and Christian history demonstrate that this is indeed the case” (271).

I think these statements need some qualification. First, what is meant by “historic Calvinism”? Would that be the Calvinism of the first generation of reformers who did not teach limited atonement? Would that be the Calvinism of Dort? Would that be the Calvinism of the Hypothetical Universalists, or the Amyraldians, or the Saumur School? Would that be the 17th century Calvinism of the Puritans? If the latter, would that be the Calvinism of John Owen who affirmed limited atonement or that of Richard Baxter who rejected limited atonement? Who defines what “historic Calvinism” looks like? Calvinism is not nor has it ever been a monolithic system. Second, Calvinism is a biblical theology if one interprets that to mean that it is drawn from a particular interpretation of Scripture which is highly debated in the Christian world. The biblical practice of evangelism is not a debated issue in orthodox Christianity. Notice the words “when understood and applied properly” in Ascol’s statement. This is an important clause because some Calvinists argue that one should not offer salvation to all people (see David Engelsma’s Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel). That Engelsma is considered to be an extreme Calvinist by many Calvinists does not erase the fact that he is still a Calvinist who affirms TULIP and denies the label of hyper-Calvinist. Finally, Christian history demonstrates that Calvinism sometimes does not “undergird and propel” evangelism and missions. The question now is whether Scripture does so. Ascol thinks it does and proceeds to make his case in the next section of his chapter.

 

 

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Ron Hale

Thank You, Dr. Allen … You explain things so well!

Norm Miller

Dr. Allen:
Your posts remind me of my dad’s pool playing days when he was in the US Navy. Yes, it’s true. Allow me to explain.
My dad could really play some pool. Whenever he was on the table in the rec room playing pool, his peers would drop by wanting to play a game, and many would see him on the table and simply leave.
Trying to win the table from my dad was an exercise in futility. Others dared not even pick up a pool cue for fear of being trounced. — Norm

    abclay

    Yes…I’m certain Calvinists are shaking in their boots at the thought of debating Dr. Allen (or anyone) because their beliefs are so un-biblical.

    It couldn’t be they are taking the high road by not engaging in this folly and instead spending their energies for the advancement of the Kingdom and sharing the gospel?

      Lydia

      “It couldn’t be they are taking the high road by not engaging in this folly and instead spending their energies for the advancement of the Kingdom and sharing the gospel?”

      It appears you did not get the memo. They started their own blog.

        Johnathan Pritchett

        It appears he didn’t get the memo, he is not doing the very thing he said the others were, and doing what he’s glad the others aren’t doing while being snotty about it.

        But since he put his snide comments in the form of a question, I will answer it:

        If abclay is typical of their ranks, then no, they aren’t. They are making snide comments on blogs like, “It couldn’t be they are taking the high road by not engaging in this folly and instead spending their energies for the advancement of the Kingdom and sharing the gospel?” instead of actually doing it.

      Norm Miller

      ABC: To characterize Dr. Allen’s world class scholarship and superlative theological acumen as “folly” is folly in its most starkly evident form. — Norm

      Robert

      abclay wrote:

      “Yes…I’m certain Calvinists are shaking in their boots at the thought of debating Dr. Allen (or anyone) because their beliefs are so un-biblical. “

      Interesting, in my experience, calvinists are not afraid of debating anyone and everyone.

      They are in fact, some of the most argumentative folks you will ever encounter.

      “Winning” an argument at any cost, appears to take priority over relationships with many of them. This is seen in the fact that they have no qualms about calling other genuine believers in Jesus Christ: “heretics”, “Pelagians” “semi-Pelagians” “man centered” “will worshippers”, etc. etc. etc.

      “It couldn’t be they are taking the high road by not engaging in this folly and instead spending their energies for the advancement of the Kingdom and sharing the gospel?”

      Sharing ***which*** gospel???

      The gospel/good news that claims that:

      “Calvinism **is** the gospel”???

      And speaking of “taking the high road by not engaging in this folly,” apparently abclay is not even following his own advice: since he is not “taking the high road” himself.

      Instead, he is himself engaging in “this folly” by posting his sarcastic remarks here.

      Robert

Steve Martin

The Scriptures are holding the cue…and the Calvinists dare to pick one up, also…but they are trounced by the truth that “Christ died for the whole world”.

“Excuse me sir, did you know that Christ might have died for you?”

Game over. Our Lord has run the table and the Calvinists are standing there, protesting that it isn’t fair. That is doesn’t make sense.

Welcome to God’s world.

    Rick Patrick

    Steve,

    Here’s a link portraying a Calvinist evangelistic encounter. I suppose it must sound something like this:

      Steve Martin

      That was very funny, Rick!

      And true! (if you go by Calvinist doctrine)

      Notice (and this is not funny) that they turn you inward for any assurance of your salvation?

      That’s not salvation…but damnation.

    Ben Simpson

    Rick,

    Was that very gracious video? Was that a “respectful” thing to you do your Calvinistic Southern Baptist brethren?

      Lydia

      Ben,

      Was it “respectful” for your leader to say that some Trads must be marginalized? We are still waiting to hear who he was referring to. Or that his peers who signed the trad document did not know what they were signing? Or the continued insistence from many NC that trad beliefs are a form of heresy even from the person who presented a “unity” resolution to the convention?

      Respect seems to flow one way with the NC. Can you not see the cognative dissonance (and hypocrisy) in the behavior and words coming from the NC movement in the SBC?

      Ben Simpson

      Let the comment stream take note of a textbook example unwittingly provided by Lydia of the tu quoque fallacy.

        Lydia

        “Let the comment stream take note of a textbook example unwittingly provided by Lydia of the tu quoque fallacy.”

        I take umbrage at “unwittingly”. It was premeditated. :o)

        It cannot be a tu quoque fallacy because my example is based on continual problem that Trads/Calvinists are operating under different definitions for the same words. We can start with what each side thinks is “respectful” means. :o)

Ben Simpson

Dr Ascol’s chapter 9 in WHW was most excellent! He does a superb job showing how the doctrines of grace and evangelism go hand in hand, showing the utter silliness of those who claim that a Calvinistic soteriology hinders evangelism. It’s one that every person who’s interested in the debate should read because it sets one of the biggest strawmen of the debate ablaze.

As for Dr Allen’s review, I appreciated how he started off disagreeing with Estep’s ridiculous declaration that Calvinism is anti-missionary. That was very fair and balanced (Have I been watching too much FoxNews?) of him and dare I say, utterly truthful. It’s good to see the polemics set aside so that an actual conversation can be had. One might not agree with the Calvinistic soteriology, but one might not mischaracterize it as is often done when one tries the polemic that it’s anti-missionary.

To my dismay though, Dr Allen took two steps forward and then one step back as he continued on. In fact, in the “But let’s dig a little deeper” paragraph, he begins to talk out of the other side of his mouth. In the beginning, he was agreeing that Calvinism is not anti-missionary but then seeks to connect evangelical Calvinism with the heresy of Hyper-Calvinism. (This is a term that is constantly misunderstood. Even today I heard a pastor talking about hyper-Calvinism who was referencing regular 5-point Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism is NOT simply 5-point Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism is a heretical corruption of 5-point Calvinism that says that evangelism is unnecessary.) Dr Allen knows very well that evangelical Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism but seems to push the correlation to poison the well against evangelical Calvinism. This attempt would be akin to somebody trying to make the correlation between Universalism and nonCalvinism: Jesus died for everybody and God loves everybody the same, so don’t really worry about evangelizing because everybody will be heaven.

Dr Allen takes the talking out of the other side of his mouth to another level when he tries to rationalize Estep’s declaration in the “Second, what may lurk behind Estep’s ‘exercise in futility’ comment” paragraph. He actually has the audacity to say that Calvinists believe that the elect will be saved regardless of what we do in missions and evangelism and that nothing any Christian does or does not do in evangelism and missions can alter the outcome of election one whit. It’s an unfortunate lack of scholarship on Dr Allen’s part to supply no citation to the place where Dr Ascol made such a claim on Calvinists’ behalf. Perhaps the reason is that Dr Ascol made no such claim! In fact, he made the opposite claim:

“Since ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17) it is absolutely essential that those who have the word of Christ declare it to those who need to hear and believe. Anyone who believes that the doctrine of election undermines the necessity or passion for evangelism is not thinking biblically. Consider Paul’s logical argument for evangelism and missions: ‘How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14,15). The elect will be saved. They will not be saved apart from believing the gospel. Therefore the gospel must be preached throughout the world. And it can be preached confidently, knowing that God has chosen people who will believe and be saved,” (WSW, 279) (You can find similar statements on page 274 with the paragraph beginning “This wonderful assurance…” and page 277 with the paragraph beginning “Far from being…”).

Friends, evangelical Calvinism stands firmly with evangelical nonCalvinism in saying that nobody will be saved unless they hear the gospel and believe and that all who want to be saved will be saved. It’s time that evangelical nonCalvinism stop painting evangelical Calvinism otherwise!

There’s more that could be said toward Dr Allen’s review, but from there forward he picks up again the tired fight over terminology saying again that he’s neither Arminian nor Calvinist but rather a “Traditionalist” (whatever!) and then just ends with a bunch of questions that are supposed to make Dr Ascol look unclear, which befuddles me because unclearness is certainly not a weakness of Dr Ascol’s chapter. And then sadly once again Dr Allen tries to tie evangelical Calvinism in with hyper-Calvinism when he tries to bring up hyper-Calvinist David Engelsma and his book Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. Sorry, Dr Allen: they are not the same thing, and you know it!!

    Rick Patrick

    Ben,

    I’m a “whatever” too. Please use the term Traditionalist respectfully. I may disagree with Calvinism, but I don’t write “whatever” after the label every time it is used.

    Thanks,
    Rick

    Ben Simpson

    Rick,

    With all due respect, I had no intentions of hurting your “Traditionalist” feelings. BTW, is it okay to use quotation marks around “Traditionalist”? I’m just tired of the argument over your self-imposed label. The label itself is nothing more than a polemic against your Southern Baptist brethren. I’ll stick to the historical categories, thank you. Is there a more historical label that could be put to your position? I know there have been a few suggested for it. ;o)

      Rick Patrick

      Well, Arminian doesn’t work, and neither does Non-Calvinist. If you promise not to mention Pelagius, then I won’t mention that your view is named after a murderer.

      Please know that my label references the Traditional Statement and, as such, is quite accurate historically in pointing to the document that best articulates the viewpoint.

      As for those who claim it is inaccurate, please consider that our nation is named after the feminized form of the first name of an Italian cartographer who never set foot on what is now US soil.

      So if you do not feel compelled to write “America” (whatever!) then feel free just to write Traditionalist.

      Ben Simpson

      Rick,

      Labels… WHATEVER! indeed!! It’s interesting that you call Calvin a “murderer.” Is President Obama a murderer for ordering drones to put enemies of America to death in the Middle East? I think not. He’s simply wielding the power of the state, which is what Calvin did in his day when church and state were not separate. Surely you are not that ignorant of history.

      But regardless of the label you put on Calvin, your “guilt by association” tactic has no teeth. Dr Ascol very nicely pointed out by quoting Spurgeon, “We only use the term ‘Calvinism’ for shortness. That doctrine which is called ‘Calvinism’ did not spring from Calvin; we believe it sprang from the great founder of all truth. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine. Augustine obtained his views, without doubt, through the Holy Spirit of God, from diligent study of the writings of Paul, and Paul received them from the Holy Ghost and from Jesus Christ, the great founder of the Christian Church. We use the term then, not because we impute an extraordinary importance to Calvin’s having taught these doctrines. We would be just as willing to call them any other name, if we could find one which would be better understood, and which on the whole would be consistent with the fact,” (WHW, 271).

      Perhaps the Calvinistic Southern Baptists should take a lesson from the “Traditionalists” and begin a PR campaign to change their label and insist that everybody use it and get offended (or at least play like it) when people don’t. God bless America!!

        Daniel Wilcox

        Wait a minute Ben,

        You say,
        “Is President Obama a murderer for ordering drones to put enemies of America to death in the Middle East? I think not.”

        But this analogy doesn’t fit at all.
        President Obama ordered drones down on the killers of innocent civilians! and American soldiers trying to help the Afghans, etc.
        IN CONTRAST,
        The Reformers such as Calvin and the rulers of Geneva!
        killed other Christians over questions of theology including infant baptism!

        When did believing in infant baptism become the same as killing innocent civilians?

        Then you say,
        “He’s simply wielding the power of the state, which is what Calvin did in his day when church and state were not separate. Surely you are not that ignorant of history.”
        The question is how did Calvin think he knew about God’s hidden foreordination of humans to damnation before the beginning of time,
        but
        yet he didn’t know of Jesus attitude toward others in the Gospels?

        When did Jesus or the disciples ever kill anyone? Ever order anyone burned at the stake for disagreeing on theology?
        Because they didn’t know about separation of church and state? Jesus even corrected the disciples when they wanted to kill others.

        Then you say, “Dr Ascol very nicely pointed out by
        quoting Spurgeon,
        “We only use the term ‘Calvinism’ for shortness. That doctrine which is called ‘Calvinism’ did not spring from Calvin; we believe it sprang from the great founder of all truth. ”

        Remember Spurgeon in most of his writing (though he is at times inconsistent) denied evangelism to most of the lost world! Consider his statement here: “Another says, “I want to know about the rest of the people. May I go out and tell them—Jesus Christ died for every one of you? May I say—there is righteousness for everyone of you, there is life for every one of you?” No; you may not.”
        Then
        [in reference unconditional election and particular redemption] as explained before, Spurgeon goes
        onto to say: ”
        You may say—there is life for every man that comes.
        [But, according to Spurgeon only the UE and the PR individuals can come!]
        But if you say there is life for one of those that do not believe, you utter a dangerous lie. If you tell them Jesus Christ was punished for their sins, and yet they will be lost, you tell a wilful falsehood. To think that God could punish Christ and then punish them—I wonder at your daring to have the impudence to say so!”

        I thank God that we don’t know any such false gospel as Spurgeon declares there.

        In contrast, we can in all sincerity tell everyone, every single human being, that God loves them, that Jesus died for “everyone” of them, that there is life for everyone of them.

        As Billy Graham says, let everyone make a decision, responding to the Spirit of God. For God loves all.

        That is the Good News–the unlimited atonement of Jesus Christ!

        Daniel

        Rick Patrick

        Ben,

        You quoted Ascol: “We only use the term ‘Calvinism’ for shortness.”

        Fine. Then you must logically have no problem with our use of the term “Traditionalism” for shortness as well.

        Blessings,

        Rick

        Ben Simpson

        Rick,

        Call yourselves WHATEVER! you’d like.

        Lydia

        “He’s simply wielding the power of the state, which is what Calvin did in his day when church and state were not separate. Surely you are not that ignorant of history”

        Ben, that only proves that Calvin was not quite as brilliant as some insist. There were others during that era who recognized that a state church and wielding such power to murder for doctrinal disagreement was not biblical and gave their lives for that truth. Calvin enjoyed the power and tried to maintain it was biblical.
        .

Johnathan Pritchett

Dearest Ben,

Perhaps it isn’t a tired old fight about terminology after all…what, with you picking on Dr. Allen for Calvinist/Hyper-Calvinist distinctions and correlations and then whining about the “tired” terminology fight about Arminianism and Traditionalism. “Whatever” indeed.

Talk about speaking from both sides of the mouth…Dr. Ascol knows full well there aren’t correlations and that there are distinctions between those two positions in the “non-Calvinist” side of things. And you know it too.

God Bless,
Johnathan Pritchett

P.S. If there is one thing that I can say about both Dr. Allen and Ben, its that both open up with gracious comments before punching their opponent in the mouth. This goes on all the time in evangelical circles between opponents when debates occur, and I think it is as unnecessary as it is a wee bit unconvincing. “I truly respect and admire so-and-so, and his work on such-and-such has greatly impacted this-and-that…yada, yada, yada…BUT…*punch-punch-kick-punch-kick-kick-punch*.” And so it goes…

Perhaps we should drop the pretense fellas, we all know there’s love somewhere in there (or should be at least), so just spare us the prefaces (and pretenses)…even if they are genuine, and I am sure they are on some level, they don’t make anyone look better before the scraping starts, and in some cases, they make a person look worse because of the aforementioned unconvincing manner in which they come off by the end of the tussle.

Just saying…

:D

    Ben Simpson

    Johnathan,

    Could it be that “Traditionalist” is such a new label (only been in use since May 30, 2012) that it wasn’t even in use when Ascol wrote the piece or when Barrett & Nettles edited the book? Even then, I’m not sure Ascol would have used the new label in town. Maybe when the 2nd edition comes out, they’ll make the change to “Traditionalist,” that is if the label sticks.

    BTW, there’s a big difference between tying Calvinists to Hyper-Calvinists and Traditionalists to Arminians. Last time I checked, Arminians are not heretical while Hyper-Calvinists are in that they make faith in Christ unessential for salvation and evangelism unnecessary. Would you argree?

      Johnathan Pritchett

      I don’t agree with either tying Calvinism to Hyper-Calvinism or Traditionalism to Arminianism. I let people define their views and respect the labels they wish to give themselves, unless their content demonstrates that the self-ascribed label doesn’t fit. Regardless of when the term traditionalism came into use, Ascol and the others knew that the people they were directly addressing did not identify themselves as Arminians.

      That is the main point on that.

      As for me personally, I actually think this portion of the discussion is pointless. Trying to make Calvinism appear anti-evangelical, or foster anti-evangelical attitudes based on the theology taken in the abstract is a meaningless undertaking in my opinion.

      The real issue is actual evangelism, and there are both Calvinists and non-Calvinists who evangelize, and both who don’t. We need more evangelism period, and looking at a theoretical influence that a theological system may have on evangelism is a crapshoot in my opinion, since even if other theological systems didn’t impact evangelism efforts negatively in theoretical consideration, then the only excuse people affirming other systems have is laziness and disobedience.

      Either way, our churches aren’t as evangelizing as they need to be. That is the real issue, and since you and I both agree that even in theory Calvinist soteriology does not (or should not) the way other systems do not (or should not) have a negative impact on spreading the Gospel, the conversation is purely academic, and a person’s soteriological view (notable anti-evangelical theological systems aside), whichever it may be, isn’t at the heart of the problem when it comes to evangelical laziness.

      The real issue, in my opinion, is we need more actual evangelism from everyone, period.

      Ben Simpson

      That’s a good word, Johnathan!!

Ron Hale

Ben,

You said,

“BTW, there’s a big difference between tying Calvinists to Hyper-Calvinists and Traditionalists to Arminians. Last time I checked, Arminians are not heretical while Hyper-Calvinists are in that they make faith in Christ unessential for salvation and evangelism unnecessary. Would you argree?”

Well … back in June, Dr. Mohler declared to the SBC Editors that, “The Baptist Faith and Message excludes Arminianism.” And he said, “the SBCs founders identified Arminianism as a heresy they sought to confront.”

    Ben Simpson

    Ron,

    Okay, if Dr Mohler is right, then why are there so many 4-point Arminians in the SBC?

    Ben Simpson

    Also Ron,

    I would agree with Dr Mohler that 5-point Arminians are excluded from the SBC, but I would not call that position a heresy in the narrow sense. Would you?

David L. Allen

Ben,

Let me see if I can clarify what I wrote in this post by my response to your comments above.

I don’t seek to connect evangelical Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism. I do understand the difference. My point is two-fold: 1) Hyper-Calvinists like Engelsma still consider themselves Calvinists (even though you and I would agree that he is indeed a hyper-Calvinist); and 2) Dr. Ascol acknowledges that some “believers of Calvinistic persuasion” are less than evangelistic. You and he may consider all such Calvinists to fall in the hyper-Calvinist camp. I do not. Some of them certainly fall into that camp. But some who are not hyper-Calvinists are afflicted with occasional tendencies toward hyper-Calvinism. I have observed this on numerous occasions throughout my ministry. My thinking here will become clearer I hope in some of the upcoming parts of my evaluation.

Second, I do indeed have the audacity to say that the elect are going to be saved and that there is nothing that can be done or not done to alter that fact. This is precisely what Calvinism teaches by unconditional election. Nothing can increase or diminish the number of the elect. The Westminster Confession makes this clear in chapter III, section iv: “These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed: and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”

I clearly acknowledge the importance of means in the process, as does the Westminster Confession. You and I are agreed on that fact. But according to Calvinism, whether you or I do our part in obeying the Great Commission or not, the elect are going to be saved. God will see to that. My assumption here, which I left unstated in the post, is that not all Christians will be derelict in their duty of missions and evangelism. But those who are derelict will not change the outcome for the elect one whit. This knowledge sometimes leads to lethargy among some Calvinists. That is my point.

Furthermore, I never said that Dr. Ascol makes such a claim [that the elect will be saved and nothing can alter that fact, even lethargy and apathy on the part of some Calvinists with respect to evangelism]. I merely maintain that my claim is accurate. In a subsequent post, I will quote a respected Calvinist or two who do make such a claim.

Third, I did not paint Calvinists as disagreeing with your statement “that nobody will be saved unless they hear the gospel and believe and that all who want to be saved will be saved.” I know Calvinists believe this just as non-Calvinists do. This is not in dispute.

I hope this helps to clarify things, even if we end up disagreeing.

    Ben Simpson

    Dr Allen,

    Thanks for responding to my critique of your critique.

    I’m glad that we agree that evangelical Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism are not the same and should not be connected. You seem to making much ado about David Engelsma. I have to admit that I’m a bit ignorant of him and his writings. Is he an actual proponent of Hyper-Calvinism? What Southern Baptist church or Southern Baptist seminary or college does he teach in? Is there anybody in the Southern Baptist debate over soteriology using Engelsma as an authority to support their position?

    Indeed, Dr Ascol does acknowledge that some “believers of Calvinistic persuasion” are less than evangelistic, but he also points out that that’s true of some believers of an Arminianistic persuasion. In fact, he says, “Though it is easy to find examples of believers of Calvinistic persuasion whose evangelistic engagement is shameful in its anemia, that task does not become more difficult when one examines the more Arminian regions of evangelicalism,” (WHW, 269). In other words, both camps struggle in part to evangelize faithfully. Perhaps it’s not then a doctrinal problem, but instead a heart problem, a discipleship problem.

    Dr Allen, I’m glad that you admitted to leaving out an important part when you said that Calvinists believe that the elect will be saved regardless of what we do in missions and evangelism and that nothing any Christian does or does not do in evangelism and missions can alter the outcome of election one whit. You said in your comment back to me, “My assumption here, which I left unstated in the post, is that not all Christians will be derelict in their duty of missions and evangelism.” That’s an important part to leave out because in your original article, it seemed like you were saying that missions and evangelism from a Calvinistic viewpoint are unnecessary to the salvation of the elect. The truth is that unless a person hears the gospel and believes it, they will not be saved, and they will never hear it unless we tell them. Calvinists believe this as well. So, from the Calvinistic point of view, what we do in missions and evangelism makes a great difference in eternity.

    You said, “This knowledge [of the certain salvation of the elect] sometimes leads to lethargy among some Calvinists.” If any Calvinist ever said, “Ah, I don’t have to share the gospel. God’ll save the elect through somebody else,” then that would be wickedness. But what Calvinist reasons like that? In Dr Ascol’s ch9 of WHW, there’s absolutely no room for this sort of thinking, which you admit when you said to me, “Furthermore, I never said that Dr. Ascol makes such a claim [that the elect will be saved and nothing can alter that fact, even lethargy and apathy on the part of some Calvinists with respect to evangelism].” As I said earlier, there’s apathy and lethargy in both camps. Indeed, you very well might be making a false correlation between Calvinistic soteriology and lethargy/apathy since it exists just as much in the other camp. If not, why does it exist in the more Arminianistic camp?

    I’m glad that we agree that both Calvinistic Southern Baptists and nonCalvinistic Southern Baptists maintain that nobody will be saved unless they hear the gospel and believe and that all who want to be saved will be saved. Let’s get to it together then!!

    Thanks for interacting with me on this!

Bob Hadley

Ben,

I want to ask you a question about the following statement: ” that missions and evangelism from a Calvinistic viewpoint are unnecessary to the salvation of the elect. The truth is that unless a person hears the gospel and believes it, they will not be saved, and they will never hear it unless we tell them. Calvinists believe this as well. So, from the Calvinistic point of view, what we do in missions and evangelism makes a great difference in eternity.”

The problem I have with YOUR STATEMENT here is simple. First of all, missions and evangelism are unnecessary to the salvation of the elect because it is God’s decree and His efficacious call that bring about salvation. If Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the elect, (as calvinism posits) then the elect are bought and paid for, period… or am I missing something here.

Now as to the argument that missions and evangelism are the means God uses to bring about conversion, as demonstrated in your own words, “The truth is that unless a person hears the gospel and believes it, they will not be saved,” is a bit much for a consistent calvinist… here is why; for the calvinist, God and God alone is solely responsible for those “who believe”.

Given this predisposition, evangelism and the hearing of the gospel CANNOT be the means God uses to bring about regeneration BECAUSE according to reformed theology, regeneration MUST take place FIRST so that a dead person can believe! For the calvinist, the gospel is not the power of God unto salvation BECAUSE prior to regeneration, those words fall on deaf ears and dead hearts…

In all fairness, for the calvinist, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the elect… those whom God has raised from the dead… regenerated… and THEN moved by the good news in sanctification… NOT CONVERSION.

Because this is true, I maintain calvinism is fatally flawed and is unscriptural and needs to be abandoned.

><>”

    Ben Simpson

    Bob,

    You know good and well that you are missing something. You said, “missions and evangelism are unnecessary to the salvation of the elect because it is God’s decree and His efficacious call that bring about salvation. If Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the elect, (as calvinism posits) then the elect are bought and paid for, period.” You are confusing Hyper-Calvinism with actual Calvinism, biblical Calvinism, evangelical Calvinism. Lots of folks make the same mistake you are making, but as a Chancellor of a Bible college and seminary, I’m surprised that you would do so.

    What you are missing is that nobody is saved unless they hear the gospel and believe. As Ascol says, “This wonderful assurance that comes from the doctrine of election does not mean that election in and of itself saves. Election is not salvation. It is to salvation,” (WHW, 274). Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus to all who will believe for both the Calvinist and the “Traditionalist.”

    Honestly, I don’t understand why you make such a big deal about the Calvinist viewpoint that there must be a work of God (regeneration) in the person post hearing the gospel and prior to believing unto salvation. I thought you guys tried to escape the Semi-Pelagian label by saying that you all believe that there must be a work of God (drawing by the Holy Spirit) in the person post hearing the gospel and prior to believing unto salvation. I thought you guys said that nobody is saved unless the Holy Spirit draws them. Is that right? Could I say of you guys: evangelism and the hearing of the gospel CANNOT be the means God uses to bring about salvation BECAUSE according to “Traditionalist” theology, the drawing of the Holy Spirit MUST take place FIRST so that a dead person can believe!”?

    Bob Hadley

    Ben,

    You completely missed the boat sir. You do not like the statement, ” If Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the elect, (as calvinism posits) then the elect are bought and paid for, period.” I understand that you do not like that statement, but it is nonetheless accurate for the Biblical, consistent calvinist. It is one of the foundations calvinism rests upon.

    Here is another statement you failed to acknowledge, “BECAUSE according to reformed theology, regeneration MUST take place FIRST so that a dead person can believe! For the calvinist, the gospel is not the power of God unto salvation BECAUSE prior to regeneration, those words fall on deaf ears and dead hearts…

    Either TD/TI is accurate from EVERY POSITION or it is not. You cannot use it one moment and then step away from it at other times. Either the gospel falls on deaf ears or it does not; it either falls on dead hearts or it does not; apparently you believe it does or there would be no need for regeneration (which calvinism is based upon) to give the gospel its power.

    To me, for the calvinist, the gospel is like oxygen. It is absolutely essential for life to the one who is alive; it cannot and does not give life to that which is dead. This is the problem I have with calvinism. You are correct in that I believe the Holy Spirit brings conviction through the sharing of the gospel that allows the lost person to see his need for a Savior. This is absolutely essential for conversion/salvation to take place.

    So for the record, your following statement could not be further from the truth, “What you are missing is that nobody is saved unless they hear the gospel and believe.” What you are missing is that my position is that YOU cannot affirm this statement and remain consistent to the DOG… because unless and until they are regenerated, hearing the gospel for them is like a dead man being engulfed in oxygen; he is still dead.

    ><>”

    Ben Simpson

    Bob,

    Sorry I missed the boat. I didn’t want to ride with you anyways! ;o)

    You keep pushing the idea that “If Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the elect, (as calvinism posits) then the elect are bought and paid for, period.” Indeed, the elect are bought and paid for, but that purchase must still be applied by grace through faith in Jesus to that person’s life. Nobody is saved apart from hearing of and believing on Jesus!

    I didn’t ignored the statement you said I ignored. I turned it back on you. You thought you’d struck gold, but it was only pyrite. Remember, I said back to you, “evangelism and the hearing of the gospel CANNOT be the means God uses to bring about salvation BECAUSE according to ‘Traditionalist’ theology, the drawing of the Holy Spirit MUST take place FIRST so that a dead person can believe!” You still have a sovereign act of God that is between hearing and believing just like the Calvinist does!

    You said to me, “What you are missing is that my position is that YOU cannot affirm [that nobody is saved unless they hear the gospel and believe] and remain consistent to the DOG.” In your mind, perhaps I can’t, but I assure you I affirm that nobody is saved unless they hear the gospel and believe while remaining perfectly consistent to the Doctrines of Grace.

      Bob Hadley

      Ben,

      Thanks for your response. Unfortunately we are not even on the same page here so I will step out of this dialogue. Your statement that the Traditionalist sees salvation the same way you say you do unfortunately does not answer my objection concerning conversion in the calvinist system.

      I understand and am thankful that “you affirm that nobody is saved unless they hear the gospel and believe “… I am NOT challenging that at all. My point is that this position is not consistent with what calvinism actually posits… I fully understand that you can call yourself a calvinist and affirm anything you choose as a calvinist however your affirmation does not have anything to do with the consistency of the theological system you espouse.

      Dead is dead. Dead people do not respond to the gospel and therefore God must regenerate them FIRST before the gospel can have any effect on the lost person; that is calvinism 101.

      If God does not regenerate someone, what kind of salvific effect does the gospel have on that individual? It is the effectual call of God that brings about conversion and THEN the gospel is effectual in that person’s life.

      ><>”

      dr. james willingham

      Ben, Bob, is now aware that calvinists believe the means are ordained as well as the ends. Our problem is that he is getting closer and closer to the doctrines of grace all the time. He just simply does not know it right now. Do as Rolfe Barnard would advise, “leave him to stew for a while under the terrible convicting power of the Holy Spirit” or as Barnard actually did say, “leave that girl in Hell for a while.” The female in view was under conviction, and like Paul she was in real misery, kicking at every jab of the ox goad. Bob is like that, Ben. Wait until he finds out that the DOG gotten right will turn a believer into a dynamo of attraction for lost souls, but that believer has got to let God do the saving as one brother indicated above. O by the way Rolfe was desired by W.T. Conner to become his replacement in theology at SWBTS, so I understand.

    wingedfooted1

    Hi Bob.

    For the calvinist, regeneration is the initial step in the salvation process.

    So suffice it to say that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” only for those who are already involved in the salvation process. The gospel has no “power” on the spiritually dead. I find it ironic that, according to calvinism, man’s deadness is greater than God’s sovereignty (or power). God can’t “get thru” to the spiritually dead so He has to first grant them spiritual life. In Calvin-land, certain unbelievers are granted spiritual life regardless of what our Lord says in John 3:36.

    God bless.

    wingedfooted1

      Ben Simpson

      WF1,

      You said, “I find it ironic that, according to calvinism, man’s deadness is greater than God’s sovereignty (or power). God can’t ‘get thru’ to the spiritually dead so He has to first grant them spiritual life.”

      What is ironic is that Dr Ascol speaks to your assertion in the chapter Dr Allen’s review is addressing. Ascol said, “The inability of a lost person to repent and believe the gospel while in an unregenerate state is no barrier to evangelism because of the power of God’s Word and Spirit. Jesus said, ‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,’ (John 6:63). God’s Spirit uses His Word to enable a spiritually blind person to see the kingdom and a spiritually dead person to enter the kingdom. The inability of the one who needs to see and enter is overcome by the sovereign work of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word,” (WHW, 273).

      So, in complete contradiction what you said, man’s deadness is NOT greater than God’s sovereignty according to Calvinism.

      Bob Hadley

      Ben,

      I agree with you on this one… “man’s deadness is NOT greater than God’s sovereignty according to Calvinism.”

      Just thought I would toss that in… I do attempt to be fair to everyone’s relative positions.

      ><>”

        dr. james willingham

        Bob, I had been thinking for sometime that you are getting closer to calvinism. Just hope you don’t become one who rides it into the extremes, but I pray that you will not. Cb. is another who is likely to come closer. After all, his mentor, Paige, is beginning to admit the possibility of Unconditional Election, like the founder of his Seminary, B.H.Carroll who left no doubt about his views on Unconditional Election. Could be Paige is listening to Dr. Mohler and reading Carroll’s writings and rethinking J.D. Dagg and maybe even Boyce and P.H. Mell (the man who served more terms as President of the SBC than anyone else).

      wingedfooted1

      Ben,

      Ascol’s comments only support my assertion. He states “the inability of the one who needs to see and enter is overcome by the sovereign work of the Spirit thru the ministry of the Word.”

      This “overcome by the work of the Spirit” is referring to regeneration, or the impartation of spiritual life (please correct me if I am wrong). Again, according to calvinism, God can’t “get thru” to the spiritual dead. He must first change them (impart spiritual life) which then enables them to respond favorably to His Word.

      Calvinists consistently twist John 6:63 to fit their theology. The KJV provides a better understanding of what our Lord is saying to these particular Jews.

      “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

      Jesus is not saying that one has to be granted spiritual life in order to believe. These Jews were following Him for the wrong reason (John 6:26). They were seeking more food. He is merely telling these Jews that His teachings, or words, are for their spiritual benefit, not their physical benefit. It is by believing his message that one obtains spiritual life.

      I agree completely that God draws, or enables, men to come to faith in His Son thru divine instruction (John 6:45), but no where in John 6, much less the complete Word of God, does it teach that “regeneration precedes faith”.

      God bless.

      wingedfooted1

        dr. james willingham

        Wingfoot, Jesus showed how, when He said, Jn.5:25, “The hour is come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” When He stood before Lazarus tomb and said, “Lazarus, come forth,” He was giving a good picture of the saving of the Lost, the spiritual dead in trespasses and sins. O, and as to the inability, the fellow in Mk.9:33=24 pleaded his very inability to believe as a reason for Jesus’ help. That’s like the fellow in the OT who pleaded for God to forgive his sins, because they were great. Sinners under real conviction say and do funny and happy things.

      Ben Simpson

      WF1,

      Your comment that “God can’t ‘get thru’ to the spiritually dead so He has to first grant them spiritual life,” is nonsensical. The “getting thru” IS regeneration of the dead person unto salvation by grace through faith in Jesus through the preaching of the gospel!

      wingedfooted1

      Ben,

      Biblical examples such as Cornelius (Acts 2:10) and Lydia (Acts 16:14) are scriptural proof that the unregenerate can live in a loving relationship with God the Father. Sergio Paulus (Acts 13:7) is even a biblical example of an unregenerate desiring to hear the word of God. All impossibilities according to calvinism.

      What is “nonsensical” (and unbiblical) is that one must be “born again” in order to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

      God bless.

      wingedfooted1

Calvin S.

Since you are discussing my namesake, I thought I might join in the conversation:

Mr. Allen writes: “My point is…. Dr. Ascol acknowledges that some ‘believers of Calvinistic persuasion’ are less than evangelistic.”

I can assure you that I was not always a Calvinist. I was very much a “Traditionalist” in my first few years as a believer. My parents might as well have named me after “Calvin and Hobbes”, rather than the Reformer. But I can testify as one who has always been evangelistic ever since I came to Christ. I thought if God can save me, He can save anyone. And so I went right to work sharing my faith with everyone I could. I did this for years. But so often I would come home and kick myself inwardly saying “Why didn’t I say this…?” “If only I had said that…” The pressure and burden was too much.

It was as if the salvation of people depended on me. It wasn’t until I became a Calvinist that the burden of peoples’ salvation was lifted from my shoulders, and I was freed to share the Gospel even more! Calvinist caused me to become more evangelistic–not less evangelistic. Because I finally realized that peoples’ salvation did not depend on me. I merely needed to be faithful to share the Gospel with people and watch God work in their lives. So I can tell you from my own personal experience that Calvinism made me much more evangelistic, not less evangelistic. That’s the truth.

The point I’m trying to make is that Mr. Allen’s accusation can be turned around on him: “Some ‘believers of non-Calvinistic persuasion’ are less than evangelistic.” I’m sure if anyone here looks at the statistical information on how many believers actually share their faith, no one could deny this.

Not only can Calvinistic doctrine make some people less evangelistic, but “Traditionalist” doctrine can also make people less evangelistic. If you come at evangelism thinking that peoples’ salvation depends on you, the pressure can really be too much and you may want to give up. Now, you may say that they have misunderstood Traditionalism if they think men’s salvation depends on them. But it is equally true that people have misunderstood Calvinism if they think Calvinism should cause people to be less evangelistic. It’s not true.

That’s my 3 cents worth.
Cal

    Dan Calkins

    Thanks for the good word, Cal!

    Sure there are Calvinists who do not have the zeal for evangelism as they should. Even more true, there are many Christians who do not have the zeal for spreading the gospel as they should, no matter the theological persuasion.

    And you’re also right that it is God who saves, not man. We only tell the good news.

      Calvin S.

      Amen brother.

Chiana

You’ve hit the ball out the park! Inrcedblie!

dr. james willingham

Don’t forget, it was the calvinists in the 1700s and early 1800s who were zealous, when the Arminian General Baptists were not. The calvinists (I still prefer the Sovereign Grace folks) prayed for and got revivals that were called the First and Second Great Awakenings, and they launched the Great Century of Missions. We are going to have a Third Great Awakening, hopefully beginning in this generation and winning every soul on earth by persuasion (not manipulation or force) and continuing for a 1000 generations and reaching millions of planets, if man gets to go to the stars (and I think he will, if he has not already)(after all, I figured we tried in the early 50s and a fellow in intelligence work said, when I asked what happened, “Something went wrong.” Later, another fellow said, “They did know there was a gravity warp between the earth and the moon, so they don’t know where that ship went.” Hmmm!).

dr. james willingham

O! And the theology that produces Great Awakenings is coming back. It is just taking us time to digest it and get it in the proper perspective. By the way, it makes a person balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. That theology is Sovereign Grace, derived from the fact that Grace reigns even over sin (Roms.5) just like Jesus voice can raise the dead physically and spiritually. Supernatural stuff, no?

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