Tag Archives: Apologetics/Deep Study of the Scriptures

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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What Matters Most?

14 Sep

A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity

“In every generation, the church is commanded to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” That is no easy task, and it is complicated by the multiple attacks upon Christian truth that mark our contemporary age. Assaults upon the Christian faith are no longer directed only at isolated doctrines. The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack by those who would subvert Christianity’s theological integrity.

Today’s Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.”

Personally, I found this to be very helpful. I hope you do too.

After the Koran is Burned . . .

7 Aug

Galatians 3:13:  “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us:  for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” 

 

I recently found out that the Muslim religion is different than the Christian religion in what is seen as an appropriate penalty for the American soldiers who burned several Korans in an incinerator, being unaware that they were Korans.

 

The American military justice system, under which, fortunately, these men fall, is willing to educate them about appropriate responses to Muslim customs, and to let it go at that.

 

The Muslim system, on the other hand, regards this as a capital offense and will settle for nothing less than imprisonment for the men who did it, however unintentionally.  There are even those who would call for their death. 

 

One Muslim theologian explained that desecrating a Koran is an unforgivable sin to a Muslim.  Intent has nothing to do with it.  A Koran got desecrated, so someone must be punished.

 

The Christian religion differs in that we have a Sinbearer.  We have Someone outside of ourselves to both intercede for us with God when we do something wrong and to take our guilt away.  Christ is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist called Him when He was on earth.

 

Not only does He take away our unintentional sin, things like the burning of the Korans in our story above, but He also gloriously takes away our intentional sin, once we confess it to Him.  And, amazingly, we find as we continue to live and move and have our being in Him, that He truly takes away all our sin, even that which we don’t confess due to our own stubbornness.  If He did not, no one would go to heaven, for none of us is righteous enough to make it there, if we only have a partial forgiveness of sin.

 

Truly Christ bore all our sin in His death on the cross and He will forever cover it all by His righteousness, once we have been saved.  Praise His Name!

 

Now, how do we Christians behave toward each other when a wrong has been done?  Do we treat something a brother or sister has done to us as though it were a Koran that has been burned, and vow that there will never be any forgiveness for that person?  Do we act as though we had no Sinbearer in our faith?  We tell Muslims that the difference between our faith and theirs is that we believe a Sinbearer came to obtain forgiveness for the human race, but do we live as though we believe that?

 

Do we realize that, as Christ died to procure my forgiveness of sins, so He died to procure my brother’s?  Do we set our brother or sister free from any grudge we might hold after that person has wronged us?  Do we forgive from the heart, as we have been forgiven?

 

You see, it is hypocritical of us to point out that Muslims call the burning of the Koran an unforgivable sin if we too have a pet list of things we consider unforgivable sins.  We Christians have a Sinbearer who shed His precious blood to obtain our forgiveness.  Holding  a brother or sister in an everlasting grudge only shows that we don’t believe the blood of Christ holds much power over sin. 

 

Oh, my precious friend, let’s not undervalue the blood of our Lord like that.  Let us forgive one another from the heart!

 

P.S.  The Bible also teaches that Christ was the Sinbearer for the entire world.  That would include Muslims.  So we need to be prepared to lovingly share the good news with Muslims, too, that a Sinbearer has come for us all . . . If you should happen to be Muslim and be reading this, my fondest hope would be that you would read the Bible and see for yourself whether Christ is the Sinbearer for the human race.  If we Christians are right about that, then Christ didn’t just come for Christians, but also for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and everyone else.  We all have sinned and we all need someone to free us from ourselves and our sins. 

What is a nice Baptist Girl Doing Speaking of Calvinism?

31 Jul

I John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not [his] brother abideth in death.”

 

My best friend is Calvinist, a Presbyterian.  She has not always been so, but went through a period of intense reading and study in which she came to the conclusion that the Calvinist doctrine most closely matches the Bible.  I have similarly studied my Baptist faith very intently and have made the same conclusion about my faith matching the Bible.

 

When we get together, we have wonderful conversations and Bible studies, as we have always done since we were college roommates.  The places where we differ, we fill with grace toward each other and move on.

 

Thus it has always bemused me to see the attitude that some of my fellow Baptists exhibit toward Calvinism and our Calvinist brethren.  Sometimes the word “Calvinist” is spoken as an accusation against someone.  Sometimes, it almost seems to be thrown out there like a curse word.  Why is that?

 

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.

 

And, truly, it is only the hypercalvinists who say that limited atonement means Christ only came to die for those who would eventually be saved (the elect).  The rest of them phrase it that His death was “sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.”  Put that way, it doesn’t sound too very far from the position most Baptists take about Christ’s death.  

 

I am going to suggest that the answer to the animosity many Baptists exhibit toward their Calvinist brethren lies in our mutual history.  

 

One place where Baptist theology showed a distinct departure from Calvinism was during the ministry of Charles Finney during the Second Great Awakening.  Finney himself started life as a Presbyterian pastor and later rejected Calvinism.  Perhaps some of the Baptist antipathy toward Calvinism is inherited from that era.  Although Finney took appropriate stands for inclusion of women in worship (short of pastoring) and against slavery (Oberlin College, where he served as president, was one of the first institutions to educate blacks and women alongside white men), he may have played a disproportionately large role in the development of distaste for Calvinism among Baptists. 

 

Prior to Finney, Baptists were often classified as Five Point or Particular Baptists who held to Five Point Calvinism and Four Point or General Baptists, who held to all of the points of Calvinism except for Limited Atonement. 

 

Nowadays, a Baptist expressing belief in either a Five Point or a Four Point position might be seen as guilty of heresy, and in some Baptist seminaries, might face school discipline. 

 

It is my belief that we humans often overreact to things we don’t understand, out of fear, mostly.  Seminaries that let people know that they can only think certain thoughts about God without facing discipline probably don’t produce the caliber of thought, analysis, and writing that they would wish to have.  How much better to tell seminarians that they are free to explore the whole counsel of God’s Word and to write about it, as long as they can support what they are saying from His Word and not just from a man’s systematic theology!

 

That is enough for a first look at this topic.  I will no doubt be writing more about it as the months go by because it seems that some of my fellow Baptists truly have an irrational fear of Calvinism and, thereby, of our Calvinist brethren.  I want to take the tenets of our faith, and theirs, to the Word of God one by one and see what I find therein.  For surely we must be willing to abandon any of our pet beliefs if we are shown that they are inconsistent with God’s Word.

 

I will also look at the five tenets of Arminianism.  I have no set schedule for all of the above and I don’t plan to get legalistic about covering everything in a given amount of time.  All I can say is “stay tuned . . .” 

 

I doubt anyone will change their systematic theology as a result of the discussion here, but I hope it will help us exercise charity toward our brothers and sisters as we explore some things together.

 

I believe that one discovery we may make is that there is a not a great chasm between Calvinism and Baptist theology.  Based on the good fellowship I have with my best friend (and several other Calvinist sisters), I believe we are closer in our beliefs than we think . . .  In other words, I believe we are all pretty Biblical, with some fine points on which we disagree.  Let’s look at God’s Word together and see . . .

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