Strawman Monday: Some Thoughts as a Baptist Looks at Calvinism

22 Oct

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

 

“Surely the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) are not all doctrines with which we disagree.  Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Seems like we agree completely on total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Unconditional election is pretty hard to dispute by anyone who believes Jeremiah 17:9 about the heart’s deceitfulness.  There is nothing to recommend us to salvation except the fact that God loves us.  So . . . we get stuck on the limited atonement issue.  And fight so fiercely about it that you might think that Calvinist doctrine was more of an obstacle to Baptists than are the cults, or the Eastern religions, or the atheists.”

 

The above quote is from my first post on Calvinism, several months ago (see the category “Calvinism” to pull it up).

 

Remembering that a strawman argument occurs when we write down what we think someone believes, and then argue against that, instead of taking the time to learn someone’s true beliefs and then say why we disagree with them, I am going to try to deconstruct the anti-Calvinist reaction that many of us Baptists have.

 

It does not really go back to Arminianism, I have found (and I will write about Arminianism later, just not now).  It really, truly goes back to the era when Baptists were known as “four-pointers” (General Baptists or those who believe in a general atonement) and “five-pointers” (Particular Baptists or those who believe in particular atonement or, as Calvinists say “limited atonement).

 

Baptists have pretty much never gone to the extremes of Arminianism that other denominations have.  And it’s a good thing.  You see, I have seen an extreme reaction to the election doctrine among some of my Episcopal/Anglican friends.  These particular friends are born again, I am sure of it.  But they are teaching that, since they don’t believe in election, God not only doesn’t elect anyone for salvation but He doesn’t even know yet who will and who will not be saved.

 

How do you make a case for God’s sovereignty if you believe that?  I believe the doctrine is called “the open-ended universe.”  In that belief system, God doesn’t determine a lot of the outcomes in His creation.  And He doesn’t know about them till after they happen, as though God could be constrained by time, as we humans are.

 

No, we Baptists are left, along with the Calvinists, to try to explain in our systematic theology how we can reconcile a God who is sovereign and knows everything before it happens with a world in which we have choices.

The Calvinists choose an explanation of that which we Baptists would consider extreme, saying that the Holy Spirit engages in the salvation process in a much stronger way than we Baptists traditionally believe.  We all agree that the Holy Spirit starts the salvation process.  If He didn’t woo us, then we would never come to Christ.  We differ on what happens after that.

 

That, my friends, seems to be the area where Calvinists and Baptists differ.  Right there.  The Holy Spirit’s role in the process of salvation.

 

We Baptists are not Arminians, at least not unless we are Free Will Baptists who believe that you can lose your salvation.  See, that doctrine is part of Arminianism, too.

 

So . . . if we are very close to being “four pointer” Calvinists or even “five pointer” Calvinists as Baptists, it is important for us to listen carefully to each other, so as not to make strawmen arguments out of each other’s doctrines.  We are talking fine points of doctrine here, not differences that are like chasms between us.  And it is hard to understand fine points of doctrine if we are in attack mode.

 

It is only meet and comely to listen and to treat each other with mutual respect.  After all, we will have to share heaven together for eternity.

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