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.
What was the tipping point in your life that caused your trek away from Calvinism? Did you have a sense of breaking new ground, or that you were returning to teachings, sermons, etc., that you had known in your earliest Christian experience?
No, I did not return to earlier beliefs, it was brand new ground for me, scary, and very disconcerting. But I have, by God’s grace, always awakened every day wanting to know God more, both cognitively and experientially.
I am an expositor and I seek to read broadly. These two practices, over a period of time, caused me to continue to see problems and/or inconsistencies between Calvinism and the simple -- not simplistic or non-systematic -- study of the Scripture. I kept a record of questions, problems, anomalies that I kept seeing. So it was a long process. At first the anomalies were fewer than the answers provided by Calvinism, but through time they began to rival the number and substance of answers provided by Calvinism.
Can you describe what happened in your heart and mind at the apex of this decision?
There was no epiphanic moment wherein one moment I was a Calvinist and then the next moment I was not. Rather, I became less Calvinistic, but still donned the Calvinist label simply because I had no suitable alternative. Then I actually began to believe that Calvinism was wrong with regard to a growing number of things, e.g., the love of God for the lost, the nature of God, God desiring the vast majority of His creation to go to hell, Lamb’s book of Life, God’s complicity in the “good faith offer” and the inadequacy of overloading verses like John 6:37 (all that the father gives will come) with more than is there and concomitantly forgetting what is required, but is not there -- Christ dying so not just a transaction. The simple reading of Scripture seemed to diverge from the tenets of Calvinism if I would let it do so. I knew I did not arrive at this recognition because of reading Arminians, but from Calvinist commentators who interpret verses inconsistent with their own Calvinism, e.g., tragedy people reject Christ, God’s love for the lost, etc., which to me was and is double-talk.
I committed to just the simple reading of Scripture. This left me with an inchoate soteriology, but I accepted that to walk the path of simple -- not simplistic -- exposition, which was very unsettling to me.
I learned the either/or fallacy, and saw that committed often.
I preached a series on this issue and wrote some blogs reflective of my new understanding of certain Scriptures and doctrines. 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.
Actually, the book began as a pamphlet for my church with about ten chapters. However, during the process of writing it is when I worked through many of my questions concerning my non-Arminian, non-Calvinist position. It is one thing to deconstruct someone else’s view, but it is quite another to offer a viable alternative, and that is what I tried to do -- at first for me, and then my church.
Since coming to a rejection of Calvinism, would you say your devotional life and preaching ministry have become more powerful, or about the same?
This is one of the richest blessings. I was a happy devoted Calvinist. I was secure in the system. I loved God deeply and relished in learning more about Him every day. My pilgrimage out of Calvinism was lonely and disconcerting, and my discarded answers with no replacements left a disturbing cavernous vacuum in my thinking and explanatory power -- I knew when answering questions that I was not satisfied with my answers. Now that I have answered the questions to my satisfaction far more congruently with Scripture, knowing that I have much still to learn, it is not only a blessing but it is liberating. My prayers, love for and worship of God, love for all people, preaching, conversing and witnessing are freer, clearer and I certainly believe more consistent with Scripture.
How have your Calvinistic friends reacted to you hence?
They seem to still love me as I do them, but for the most part, they rarely if ever engage me or comment to me regarding soteriology. Some have shared that they no longer claim to be Calvinists, or they have become a “minor Calvinist” after reading my book. Although I am sure it is coming, I have yet to receive a serious response to my book or my challenges from a Calvinist. We have Calvinists in our church who seem contented to remain a Calvinist, and some who are sharing their struggles and questioning their Calvinism.
What would you hope to see in terms of the discussions and outcome regarding the panel Dr. Frank Page will be appointing? Also, do you think the SBC can continue to exist in its current state? Do you think traditional Southern Baptists and Calvinistic Southern Baptists can co-exist in the same denomination?
The Panel: 1. Leaders who are committed to model disagreement without pejorative name calling, disrespectfully disregarding or summarily dismissing an alternative approach to the complexities of infinitude and time that are within the framework of inerrancy. 2. Possibly suggest and model some guidelines on what it means to defend a position without disparaging a brother or sister in Christ, which is both modeled and encouraged by them. 3. Seek to and encourage others to rightly understand the position of the one they disagree with so we don’t unnecessarily hurt one another or the heart of God with our bonfires fueled by straw men.
Coexist: I do think that we have and can coexist. I do not think that we will, in a Christ honoring way and gospel spreading way without toning down the unhelpful rhetoric. If we disagree rightly, with orthodox views, we can give more serious thought and time to respectfully and graciously probing beyond the pat refrains and double-talk. To wit, avoid the system defense and evaluate whether positions are biblically defensible, e.g., orthodox, and if so disagree with grace and love.
What would be your advice to anyone such as a pastor or a church member who is questioning the validity and veracity of Calvinistic soteriology?