Friday, July 20, 2012

Calvinist Plot to Take Over SBC

"Okay. CH, you grab the pulpit and start preaching on election. Cal, you pull all the response cards out of their bulletins. Jonathan, you assign them something to bring to the pot-luck instead of giving them a choice..."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Prayer of Faith

The Sinner's Prayer is the subject of an article in Christianity Today by J. D. Greear. It is a topic that has attracted lots of attention lately and Greear's approach is thoughtfully balanced. A resolution was passed affirming the "Sinner's Prayer" as an expression of repentance and faith at the SBC convention in June after some back-and-forth in the preceeding days about the issue.

Greear does an admirable job of expressing the concerns of those who expressed concerns while also confirming that there are Biblical ways to guide the use of the Sinner's Prayer, even pointing out that Spurgeon and Whitefield made use of it and Bunyan depicts it in a scene in The Pilgrim's Progress. He correctly indicates that genuine saving faith and repentance can be present without the implementation of the Sinners Prayer and can also be expressed through the Sinner's Prayer.

There are a number of factors to consider, and it is an issue requiring balance. Whatever method of evangelism is used, we know there are those who respond to the gospel and those who reject it. We also know that among those who respond will be those whose faith is genuine and those who merely profess to believe but do not genuinely believe (Matthew 13: 3-30). In some cases those who profess but do not truly believe may even deceive themselves, at least for a time.

So we must be careful to proclaim the gospel with accuracy, and to point out that when Jesus commands, "Follow Me," that is exactly what He means. But even then, there will be tares among the wheat.

I think at least part of the way to resolve the matter is to recognize that an affirmative outward reponse to the gospel message may indicate a true conversion or may simply represent a "sparked interest", as it were. Thus, the believers who are involved with the new convert should continue to proclaim and teach the gospel as they disciple the novice in the faith. This helps the new believer become more mature, and if the apparent convert does not yet have a fully formed true faith,  it may help them, as they continue to learn, to develop one.

Even then, some will turn out not to have been genuine in their faith. But we still, as "...ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us "(2 Cor 5:20 NASB) beg people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Tradition of Being Non-Traditional Continues...

Approximately equal numbers of SBC pastors either consider their congregations as having a predominately Calvinistic/Reformed theology or define their churches as holding to a Wesleyan/Arminian position. This is what a new survey from LifeWay Research indicates. Survey results show about 30% for each category.

This data from the recent poll is interesting in light of the claims made in what has become known as the "Traditional Statement", or "TS", but is more formally known as  "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation". The Introduction to the non-Calvinist/non-Arminian statement  promotes it as a  "suggested statement of what Southern Baptists believe..." and again repeats, "We believe that it does reflect what most Southern Baptists believe..."

Furthermore, the Preamble of the TS asserts, "We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called 'Traditional' Southern Baptist soteriology." After describing this so-called "Traditional" Southern Baptist soteriology the Preamble then concludes, "Below is what we believe to be the essence of  'A Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation.' "

So the self-described "Traditional" view, advanced as neither Calvinistic nor Arminian (indeed, proponents insist they are "off that grid") is apparently, contrary to its speculative propositions in the Introduction and Preamble, not the majority view either. This conclusion seems logical since 60 percent in the survey classify as either Calvinistic or Arminian.

And the "Traditionalists" insist they are neither. Note the words of one of the TS signers, Dr. Adam Harwood, in a blogpost at SBC Today titled "Roger Olson is Correct; 'Traditional' Southern Baptists are NOT Arminians"-- Harwood writes:
The reason, once again, is that we are not Arminians. We refuse to accept the premise that we must evaluate doctrinal statements through the lens of a borrowed and unnecessary Calvinistic-Arminian philosophical-theological framework.
The point is that the survey results from LifeWay indicate Calvinism, while not a majority view, has substantial  representation among a variety of viewpoints with no particular view being predominant. This would appear to disclose the true Southern Baptist tradition--anything but a monolithic landscape, but rather a combination of Calvinists, Arminians, Calminians, those who come from the perspective of the signers of the TS, those who are undecided, those who don't know, and those who don't want to be labeled. In fact, on one point of doctrine emphatically rejected in the TS, the LifeWay poll shows that roughly 50 percent of SBC pastors hold to some version of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, the I in the TULIP acronym of Calvinist soteriology.

So it looks like Calvinists are well-represented in the SBC and like no group has the majority. Since no one is in the majority, maybe it is time to get back to a tradition that has been part of SBC history:

Let's cooperate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What About Handel's Messiah?

And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

--Revelation 19: 16 (NASB)

Kurt Willems is concerned. He's concerned about the words to a popular worship song written by Chris Tomlin. The troubling (to Willems) portion of the song, "Our God is Greater", sung in many churches of various denominations, goes like this:

"Our God is greater, our God is stronger,
 God you are higher, than any other,
Our God is Healer, Awesome and power,
Our God, our God,

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?"
Willems says he has no problem with the theology of this. Apparently he just doesn't think the theology should be applied to...worship. Because that's what these words are; they are words of worship. And people who sing them (often with their eyes closed and hands raised) are worshipping. They are worshipping our God Who is greater, stronger, and higher than any other, and Who deserves our worhip and praise. It is unclear what Willems sees as the purpose of theology, if not to impact worship as one of its primary designs.

In his post Willems gives a number of lame excuses reasons why he finds the words unsettling. As is often the case when someone doesn't have a real good argument, especially someone trying to combine a postmodern construct with evangelical Christianity, it is difficult to understand his rationale. But apparently he thinks some will equate religion with nationalism or something like that even though there is no hint of that in the song. And like any good postmodernist, he frets that Christians singing their God is greater than any other just doesn't demonstrate enough humility in one's epistemology. But equivocating on one's faith is not humility, it's being double-minded (James1: 6-8).

So I have to disagree with his concerns. Because our God rules the universe. He rules all of creation. He rules all the nations. There is none like Him. Because He is greater, stronger, and higher than any other.

And that is worth singing about.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


SBC Convention time is near, and there is high drama afoot. Last year must have been too quiet because this year the excitement is already building as a group of non-Calvinists have decided to draft a Statement called "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation." According to those who crafted the piece, "The Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding" is, you guessed it, non-Calvinistic. And they want you to know it. So they wrote a Statement. And many people signed that Statement, and lots of people blogged about that Statement. And lots more people commented on those blogs about that Statement. And so I feel it is fitting about the Statement.

In the Preamble, those who put forth the Statement tell us why it is so important they put forth this Statement right NOW and also get people to sign it. It is because, they say:

The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.
Cue Aunt Pittypat (I'm not sure if she has signed the Statement yet):

I don't know who these New Calvinists are who want to take over the convention, but if I ever meet one of these legendary (I would say "mythical" but I suppose it is within the realm of possibility that there are a couple or so of them out there) folk I think I'd say something like this: "Dude. You're like, way outnumbered in the SBC, so if you feel the need for Calvinism to be the central position, why not just join the Reformed Baptist denomination where Calvinism is the  central position, and leave the SBC to remain a fascinating mix of Calvinists, Arminians, non-Calvinists (I think they are calling themselves 'Traditionalists' now), and people (probably the majority) who don't know what they are, or don't want to be labeled.?" Then maybe the need for this Statement wouldn't be so urgent. Right now. Right before the Convention.

The Preamble also charges Calvinism with "certain unacceptable conclusions" (Surprise! Non-Calvinists think Calvinism has unacceptable conclusions! Who'da thunk?) and also somewhat patronizingly admonishes Calvinists to be humble and circumspect about the "weaknesses" in their system. The Preamble also appears to indicate these non-Calvinists are designating themselves with the moniker of "Traditionalists". I don't necessarily agree the description is accurate, but previously the designation of "Biblicists" was floated, implying Calvinists weren't Biblicists. So at least they seem to have dropped that idea, and "Traditionalists" may just have to do.

The Statement consists of a series of ten articles, in the format of affirmations and denials. Some of the material Calvinists would agree with, some of it is standard Arminian or non-Calvinistic fare, but there are some parts of the Statement which are problematic.

And those parts are cause for concern.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bet I Can Guess Where You're Gonna Be

A Baptist Press article refers to a Lifeway Research survey which indicates Mother's Day is the third-ranked Sunday for high attendance at church, trailing only Easter and Christmas. So it looks like even on the day when it's all about Mom, she's still looking out for your best interests by calling in a special favor that hopefully will actually benefit YOU: she's getting you into church. While the apparent correlation between increased church attendance and Mother's Day is an apt representation of the influence moms have on family and culture, the Lifeway poll also includes another eyebrow-raising stat. Of the seven specific days mentioned, Father's Day came in last for high attendance, behind even Fourth of July and Friend Day. Now this doesn't mean that Father's Day is lowest in attendance; it just means that most in the poll didn't rank it highest.

But still. Beaten by Friend Day?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fed Head

The federal headship of Adam is a typology which finds its counter-effect in the grace of Jesus Christ. Adam's sin was imputed to the entire human race because of his representative role. Christ, as our Substitute,  paid the sin-debt of all of us who have saving faith. Romans 5: 12-21 and 1 Cor 15: 45 point to the parallel roles (albeit with entirely different outcomes) of Adam and Christ. Jesus provides the remedy for the disaster caused by Adam.

Romans 5: 12 asserts that sin entered the world through one man (Adam). He was the representative and the gatekeeper, and once he fell, sin, along with its consequences, came in. Adam's federal role is immediately obvious because, while Adam was not the first human to sin (Eve disobeyed God first), it was Adam's sin by which sin entered the world. And the first consequence is that death entered the world, not through the first sin (Eve's), but through the sin of Adam, the federal head of natural humanity. Verse 12 finishes with the phrase "...because all sinned--"(NASB), not would sin, not eventually started to sin, not sinned on an ongoing basis, although all these facts are true, but sinned--the aorist tense in the Greek is used, meaning that the verb refers to a specific point in time. It points to the time all humans sinned in Adam, when he sinned.

Verse 15 of Romans 5 states that the many (Adam's descendants) died because of Adam's transgression, which is another indication of the imputation of Adam's guilt. Verse 16 says judgment arose from the one transgression. Verse 17 says death reigned by the one transgression. Verse 18 says condemnation to all men was the result of the one transgression. The good news is believers are rescued from this condemnation in Christ. Finally, verse 18 says by the one man's disobedience, the many were made sinners, a clear and emphatic expression of the federal headship of Adam.

Throughout the passage Paul distinguishes between the sin of Adam and the obedience of Christ, having stated in verse 14 that Adam is a "type" of Christ. Since Adam was a sinner and Jesus was perfectly righteous, this typology refers to the imputation of Adam's demerits to his progeny and the imputation of Christ's meritorious righteousness to believers. It also refers to Adam's one sin causing judgment and calamity to all while Christ's atonement removes the many sins and rescues the saints from judgment.

Adam's sin brought death, but for believers, Christ's work on the cross brings eternal life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Human Nature -- Part II

The Bible expresses the total depravity, or total spiritual helplessness of the natural human condition in a number of ways.  Ephesians 2: 1 and Colossians 2: 13 describe our pre-conversion state as spiritually "dead". Dead is pretty helpless. Romans 8 makes a number of statements about the unredeemed, or those who live "according to the flesh": verse 6 echoes Eph 2:1 and Col 2:13: "For to be carnally minded is death;" and verse 7 points out that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Not ambivalent, not curious, not seeking, not hostile to God some of the time, but hostile to God period. It also points out that this hostile mind 1)does not, and 2) cannot subject itself to God's law.

 So all bases in the depravity spectrum are covered: the unbeliever does not serve God, does not want to serve God, and cannot serve God. In case you're still wondering, verse 8 adds that those in the flesh cannot please God. It's a matter of both volition and capacity. Earlier, in Romans 3: 9-18 a very complete description of the unregenerate sinner's condition is provided. The conclusion in verse 18 says, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Not insufficient or intermittent fear of God. No fear of God. Because to fear God would please God and they cannot (Rom 8: 6) please God.

The good news is that God, in His mercy and grace, gives life and salvation through faith (Ephesians 2: 5-9) to those who believe. Those who don't believe remain in a helpless spiritual state.


Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Human Nature -- Part I

An undertanding of the nature of humanity requires an understanding of what happened as a result of Adam's sin. There are a number of views on this. Some understand correctly that Adam's first offense resulted in the total depravity of the human race, a doctrinal term alternately understood as the total inability or total helplessness, spiritually, of unredeemed humans. Another way to view it is that the unregenerate are spritually dead (Ephesians 2: 1). They are unable to respond to the gospel message and to receive God's grace and forgiveness unless God's grace acts upon them to enable their response.

At the other extreme is the view that Adam's sin had no effect in the essential nature of his progeny. Those who hold this view believe each human is born without a sin nature and is capable of perfect obedience to God, but that while it is hypothetically possible for someone to live a sinless life, no one does because of the bad example set by Adam and other human ancestors, and because of the environment of sin established by the population. Adherents of this view believe that even after a person has fallen into sin they are capable of repentance without God's assistance and are able, in their own fortititude, to begin to obey God's commands and set themselves right. A variation of this view holds that a few people, though not many, have actually lived a perfectly sinless life.

A third general category sort of splits the difference. They believe humans have a sin nature, but the idea of total depravity bothers them, as does the idea that mortals cannot respond to the gospel message unless God first does a gracious work in their heart to facilitate the response. These view Adam's descendants as damaged goods, but not spiritually helpless. They hold that humankind retains a spark of goodness sufficient at some level to allow one to understand spiritual truth and respond to God. In this view humans are, like the hero in Princess Bride, "mostly dead", but not "all dead" (spiritually).

Interestingly, the adherents of the second and third viewpoints have a similar logic concerning why they hold that individuals have the ability to repent and believe without irresistible or prevenient grace. Since people are commanded to repent and believe, the rationale is that therefore folks must have the ability to do so. Those who see mortals as a "scratch and dent" model rather than totally depraved understand the Bible says we are all sinners, but still want to leave enough wiggle room to insist it is entirely up to a person, apart from God's work in their heart, to respond to God's call to repentance and faith.

But they put themselves in a tough spot, logically, with their logic. Because once they admit that Adam's sin has impaired the moral nature of his descendants, even before those descendants are born, then they have already accepted a consequence of Adam's sin that was out of the control of those born later (except One), which caused them to be at a disadvantage in spiritual ability. Whether humans are severely hampered or completely helpless, either way a negative result has been assigned to them because of what Adam did before they were born. So objecting to the total depravity of Federal Headship or of Natural Headship with a  doctrinal anthropology of Partial Depravity in an  attempt to make salvation dependent on the will of man
doesn't seem any more defensible than accepting the imputation of Adam's guilt, yet they have a problem with the imputation of Adam's guilt.

But those who accept the doctrine of Total Depravity can explain that salvation is dependent on a holy and gracious God, not on sinful man.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not a "No Comment" Guy

The third installment of Eric Hankins' four-part series (see my previous post below) is up at the SBC Today website. The comment box has been very active on that post and to Hankins' credit, he has been willing to engage extensively with commenters. He unequivocally rejects the doctrine that Adam's guilt was imputed to unredeemed humanity, but on the issue of the effect of Adam's sin on the nature of humanity, he is a little fuzzy. I have posed the following question to him in the post comments:
Just to clarify, do you believe Adam’s kids had in their essential nature (ontologically, not just because of his example or their environment) less capacity to obey God than Adam had, and that this was a consequence of his original disobedience?

He has taken a considerable amount of time responding to other comments, so at some point he may have to move on in terms of the comment thread on that particular post, but hopefully he will have time to answer on that thread or in the comments of the fourth installment of the series.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Roadblocks in the Detour

A series by Eric Hankins which appears in the SBC Today blog purports to resolve the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate by proposing what Hankins insists is a kind of "third way" approach which eschews both sides of the disputation. Hankins claims his alternate route conforms more with Baptist tradition. The series is to consist of four installations and thus far two of the four have appeared in the blog. But in perhaps an apt display of the concept of foreknowledge the reader can see where Hankins is going since the posts are excerpted  from his paper in the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry entitled "Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology". And it looks like what is yet ahead in this series runs far afield of traditional Baptist thought.

Hankins begins by indicating he will challenge four presuppositions, as he terms them, of the Calvinism/Arminianism discussion. He is more accurately challenging four doctrines, and this is not entirely the same thing as four presuppositions. One may argue that all presuppositions are doctrines but not all doctrines are presuppositions.  In the case of the first two tenets he seeks to score, he simply takes the Arminian side but for perhaps different reasons than many other Arminians do. On the last two principles he unabashedly jumps the shark, adopting a position that not only most Calvinists, Arminians, and Baptists (whether Calvinistic, Arminian, or undecided) would likely disagree with, but probably also most evangelicals as well.

Hankins is certainly not the first to try the "none of the above" tactic in deliberating this or other doctrinal issues, or to claim to be assembling their own entree apart from the choices provided on the menu. Others, like Chuck Smith and Norman Geisler tried it previously, taking neither side at the outset of their polemic, then revealing an Arminian position, with perhaps a wrinkle here and there, as their refutation unfolded. Hankins' solution does not match theirs (indeed, theirs probably finds more orthodoxy than his, certainly on the last 2 points of his paper) but in the end he is still defending, with some interesting dramatic twists, the Arminian doctrines of volitional liberty (free will) and synergism. He borrows a couple of Pelagian notions that would not please Calvin or Arminius in denying the imputation of Adam's sin to all unredeemed humanity, and in denying the doctrine of Total Depravity or Total Inability stemming from the fall of Adam. He disputes the idea that Adam was designed to live in sinless moral perfection in the Garden of Eden or that Adam's fall was the inception of the general human need for grace and redemption. He thus maps out a semi-Pelagian course that would make many Arminians uncomfortable. But his general position still falls within their camp, if on the fringe of the Pelagian border.

A full understanding of the gospel requires an understanding of the sinner's helplessness and inability to respond to it apart from God's grace. On this Calvinists and Arminians agree. An understanding of the Fall, Original Sin, and the imputation of Adam's guilt to his progeny are also part of historic evangelical tradition and Baptist thought. Hankins' attempt to jettison these doctrines is indeed problematic.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hard Proof

The Gospel accounts of events in the Garden of Gethsemane underscore the fact that what took place on the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice which was payment in full of the penalty for our sins. Those who attempt to argue that the cross was something different are refuted throughout the pages of Scripture, and in a particularly dramatic way by the narrative which describes the agony in the garden just prior to the arrest of Jesus. What happens there shatters any erroneous notion that would aim to deny substitutionary atonement.

If Jesus was only a martyr or an example in His crucifixion and nothing more, then the Garden of Gethsemane makes no sense. No amount of physical pain and torture that humanity could dole out to Him would cause Him to pray that "this cup pass from Me." Even though His human body would feel the pain as any human would feel it, this is not what caused Him to be "deeply grieved, to the point of death." This is not what made His sweat become like drops of blood. That dismay and distress has only one satisfactory explanation. And it is that on the cross, Jesus Christ suffered the Father's full and just wrath for the sins of those He came to save. He paid our sin-debt in full.

Jesus was fully aware of what the cross meant. The Garden of Gethsemane proves it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

No Proofreader Necessary

One thing Baptists, and for that matter, all evangelicals, should agree on is the inerrancy of Scripture. To that end, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was produced in 1978 by hundreds of evangelical scholars and leaders of various denominations. It affirms that the Bible is God's revelation and is infallible, without error or fault, and authoritative.

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 also states that the Bible is "without any mixture of error...totally true and trustworthy." The words of Scripture reveal God's communication to us with such reliable veracity that the apostle Peter referred to the Word as superior even to first-hand experience for teaching truth (2 Peter 1: 19).

The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is a vital presupposition for supporting spiritual and doctrinal truths. Those who attempt to defend a position which imagines an imperfect Scriptural thread containing both truth and error set up for themselves a process for being lured from the path of truth.  They deem themselves magnanimous in acknowledging the Bible contains God's word, while maintaining a facsimile of presumed enlightenment which insists that they can't expect it all to be inspired. And in the arbitrary process of deciding what is inspired truth and what is called into question, it seems those politically incorrect or culturally anachronistic verses always seem to be found unsupportable by the postmodern editor's adjudication.

But Scripture is not for us to judge; rather, it judges us. If someone decides they will merely exclude those sections of the Bible they find unpalatable, then they lose any foundational support for objective spiritual truth.

And that is a sure way to begin to sink.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


It wasn't until he asked to "meet the flock" that Bill realized the men he met outside the country church were not from the Pastor Search Committee after all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sabbath Shadows

The New Testament grants considerable liberty where the Sabbath is concerned.  But in an article in Christianity Today it is not clear that Kevin Emmert appreciates that liberty.

It is difficult to determine whether  the focus of Emmert's piece is Sabbath observance or the concept of rest as a spiritual practice, because, while he moves back and forth between the two topics and clearly ties the concepts, he does not clarify their relationship to each other.

On the subject of "rest" he has many thoughful things to say, although I think his approach to spiritual rest is much more passive than Scripture intends. For example, he states, "Sanctification, we assume, involves work and effort on our part." Well, we assume it because, for example, in Philippians 2:12 believers are commanded to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Emmert correctly states "We can do nothing to earn our salvation", then makes the assertion that "most of us imagine we must play an active role in our sanctification..." But following the command of Scripture is not imagining, it is obeying. Yes, we rely on the grace of God and the power of God for our sanctification (Philippans 2: 13, 4:13), but we are also commanded to actively cooperate (Philippians 2:12, 1 Peter 1: 13). Salvation is a gift by grace through faith, while sanctification involves our outworking as we rely on God's grace working in us.

Then Emmert appears to equate Sabbath observance with spiritual rest and seems to be making the case that Sabbath observance = spiritual rest = means of sanctification. He states, "...the Sabbath may be the most important 'discipline'." In reference to the command in Exodus 31: 12-13 to Israel, concerning the keeping of the Sabbaths, he insists, "This is the most important one!" And he clearly means that in reference to applying the command to believers today.

But we know the most important commandment; it is stated by the Lord Himself in Matthew 22: 36-37. We also know the second greatest commandment, found in Matthew 22: 39. We also know a few things about the Old Testament commandment to the nation of Israel concerning Sabbath observance.  What we know, based on Romans 14: 5-6 and Colossians 2: 16 is that in the New Testament Christians are not required to keep the Old Testament Sabbath observance. In fact, Colssians 2: 17 explains the Old Testament Sabbath-keeping was a mere shadow-- by implication, of an eternal fulfillment. The fulfillment is God's eternal rest described in Hebrews 4: 1-11. Rather than impose an extra-Biblical requirement on saints today, it would be better to reiterate and follow the exhortation and commandment of Hebrews 4: 11 to "be diligent to enter that rest..." (NASB).

Emmert's article finishes with a confusing juxtaposition of encouraging "rest" on the one hand with a legalistic Sabbatarian regulatory mandate on the other. In the end the reader is unsure of exactly what is being said, except some sort of allusion to the notion that  keeping the Old Testament Sabbath requirements given to Israel is a condition binding on Christians today.

And that is not what the Bible says.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

...And am Persuaded That He is Able...

In the third part of a four-part series on eternal security, Dr. Steve Lemke continues with an excellent defense of the doctrine that a believer who has been genuinely born again will not utterly abandon his faith but will remain saved. The reason is because the protection of the believer's salvation does not depend upon the believer, but on God. Dr. Lemke states,
If salvation were put in our fallible human hands, we would inevitably lose it, ...(b)ut we can join with Peter in praising God that it is His omnipotent hand that protects our salvation. And no one can take away that which God holds and protects! Believing that we cannot lose our salvation is in no way confidence in ourselves or our own righteousness. It is based only in our confidence in God!
Dr. Lemke's thorough investigation of the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer contrasts in an interesting way with a post at the same blog a few days earlier in which Dr. Lemke offered a comment. What makes the contrast interesting is Dr. Lemke is essentially defending the "P" in TULIP, or doctrine of perseverance of the saints, and he is doing so in a manner consistent with historical Baptist teaching and with the Baptist Faith and Message.

 However, in some ways the Arminian who believes in eternal security must contradict his own reasoning in disagreeing with the "I" in TULIP, or irresistible grace. Consider a post by Matt O'Reilly, a United Methodist pastor,defending the Wesleyan Arminian view of prevenient grace over irresistible grace.  Dr. Lemke insists in the meta that Calvinists such as James White claim the doctrine of irresistible grace means the elect are drawn to Christ against their will. James White issued a corrective  response from his blog, while a very interesting discussion ensues in the comments of Matt O'Reilly's post. O'Reilly advocates for the Arminian position on the issue, contending that even if the Calvinist view is more accurately described as God changing the elect sinner's heart and making them want to come to Christ,  that is supposedly still just like forcing them to come against their will. After all, the argument goes, God imposed His own will on the sinner and changed their heart.


This line of reasoning creates a problem for those who would deny irresistible grace but defend eternal security. And the fact that the inconsistent argumentation of those holding these two views appears on the blogpost of a United Methodist pastor lends greater irony to the situation. While I am not familiar with Matt O'Reilly's personal view of the doctrine that the true believer cannot lose their salvation, if he holds to the traditional United Methodist/Wesleyan Arminian view, he does not hold to the doctrine of eternal security as detailed in Dr. Lemke's posts. Thus, when he argues against irresistible grace, his argument can also be applied to the Arminian view that claims it is possible to fall from grace. But Dr. Lemke would disagree that a true believer could fall from grace. Matt O'Reilly states in his own comment that,
It is difficult for Wesleyans to understand, though, how unilaterally overcoming a person's resistance is different from doing something against a person's will.
He can as easily use this same argument from his comments in the meta to oppose either the "P" in TULIP or the "I". The same holds true for a statement in the post itself:
It is difficult to conceive how an irresistible relationship, one that must be had against the will of one party, can be a relationship of mutual self-giving love. A relationship of love is one in which both parties freely desire to engage.
Stipulating as we have previously that Calvinists do not affirm that faith is exercised "against the will" but rather that the heart, and thus the will, is changed so that it comes to have faith, I would suggest, (and have done so before) that it is very difficult to apply this "not changing a person's will" logic to deny irresistible grace but ignore it when the subject of eternal security comes up. And it would not suprise me if O'Reilly agreed (although I don't know whether he would) even though he holds to an Arminian soteriology and I hold to a Calvinistic one.To claim that God does not overrule the sinner's proclivity and does not actually, "unilaterally" change their will in drawing them to Himself, but that on the other hand He does sovereignly impose His will on the believer's heart in causing the believer to remain in the faith is a course which brings us into non sequitur land.

Now many adherents of eternal security will argue, as Dr. Lemke has so effectively, that God has saved and God has justified and God sanctifies and God has willed and thus the believer will remain saved because it is up to God and not up to the believer. And what's more, the believer's heart has been changed so that they will ultimately want, will, desire, etc to remain saved. Because God has sovereignly acted upon the will of the believer so that the believer will continue in the faith. And I'm guessing the Weleyan Arminian then comes along and says "Well then what is the difference between God imposing His will on the believer to cause them to continue in the faith, and God imposing His will on the elect sinner in causing them to come to Christ?" And one who holds to the doctrine of irresistible grace simply responds:


But the one who says eternal security is up to God but conversion is up to man has a difficult argument to make.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Danger, Will Robinson

What is the biggest problem facing the SBC? Is it the threat of those who don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture? The danger of a different gospel than the true gospel gaining acceptance? The potential for lethargy, distractions or fear causing Baptists not to evangelize like they should?

No, according to Bill Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, the biggest danger is.....CALVINISM! Says Pastor Harrell,

"For a number of years there has been a plan to raise up an 'army' of Calvinists in an effort to capture the SBC for the Reformed position."

Somebody warn Aunt Pittypat! Why, next thing you know those Calvinists will want to have some input! Gracious, one of them might even run for SBC President!

Wouldn't it be nice if the greatest "threat" the SBC faced was that some Baptists who shared the theology of C. H. Spurgeon might gain some influence in the convention? Maybe then our Arminian brothers would realize the Reformers have been there all along, and have even had influence all along. It's a big convention. There's plenty of room for those who hold to a Calvinistic soteriology.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

You Say "Stop," I Say "Go, go, go"

The publisher of the NIV took a mulligan on the release of the 2005 TNIV and came out with a do-over NIV revision in form of the NIV 2011. Said publisher's marketing folk astutely dropped the TNIV moniker and the less-than-stellar pub that went with it and retained the better NIV reputation of the 1984-named version.

But this isn't really about that. Sort of, but not really. This is more about SBC polity, with the NIV 2011 issue providing an example. Because the messengers at the last convention weren't too impressed with the do-over effort. I do have a partially-formed, but not yet fully formed opinion about the NIV 2011. I may even blog about it at some point.

But the SBC messengers knew what they thought, or at least enough of them did, to pass the resolution titled "On the Gender-Neutral 2011 New International Version". Certainly it is acceptable for delegates to the convention of a major Protestant denomination to weigh in on a recent Bible translation release. The resolution encourages pastors to "make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV" and "respectfully request(s)" that LifeWay not sell the NIV 2011 in their bookstores.

And this is where ya gotta love SBC polity. Because LifeWay's response was to essentially say thanks but no thanks, they are still making the NIV 2011 available. A LifeWay article points out the resolution is non-binding and acknowledges it requests that LifeWay "consider not selling" the NIV 2011 in their stores, although that phrase contains a little spin. The resolution itself does not say anything about consider, it basically asks please don't do it guys (attn NIV 2011 translators: I'm using "guys" in the gender-neutral sense to include both genders. Now back to the blogpost). LifeWay did its own research and concluded that while they were not endorsing the NIV 2011, the issues raised did not warrant its removal from the shelves. Since none of the gender-neutral wording in the text was applied to the names of God, they felt okay to continue to offer the version. The trustee executive committee unanimously approved the decision of LifeWay to keep carrying the translation. For good measure LifeWay obtained the concurrence of SBC heavyweights Al Mohler, Jimmy Draper, Russell Moore, and others.

All of this, while perhaps confusing, is entirely within the realm of acceptable SBC procedure. The convention delegates can make their request known through the resolution process, but the resolution is not binding on LifeWay or on any SBC churches or their members. It appears LifeWay gave a respectful analysis of the concerns expressed in the resolution, appeared to agree with some of the concerns, but did not feel the translation's shortcomings reached a degree that required they not include the NIV 2011 among their available products. While they should show respect to the convention delegates, and it appears they did, the ultimate decision about LifeWay products rests with LifeWay and the trustee executive committee, not with the convention delegates. Still, it may be interesting to see if a response is issued at the upcoming SBC annual meeting.

Meanwhile, outside the SBC, it appears that John MacArthur has decided to release another MacArthur Study Bible , this time with the NIV 2011 text.

I wonder if it will be available in LifeWay bookstores.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Nick?

A Baptist Press article dated Feb. 24 announces an upcoming vote at the June 2012 convention on whether Southern Baptists will change their name...sort of. The actual task force recommendation which the Executive Committee approved would not change the legal name, but instead would permit using a non-legal descriptor. A nickname, if you will. Furthermore, its use would be entirely voluntary (sometimes it is amazing how many rules we SBC folk have amassed when you consider how much of it is "voluntary"). Therefore if your church wants to stick with the descriptor "Southern Baptist" (or "Southren Babdist" as they say in some parts), you can go for it.

Why the prospective name change? Well, it seems it's a little more challenging to do church plants in, say, New York or Greenland, with a geographical reference like Southern in your name. The thought is people may tend to regard your denomination as being limited to a certain area of the country. Not sure why that is. After all, in a country where the Dallas Cowboys can be in the NFC East division and Texas A&M, a former Southwest Conference team (back when the Southwest Conference still existed) can join another former Southwest Conference team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, in the Southeast Conference, it would appear that at least in the football world directional cues are not such a big deal. Maybe it's different in the Protestant denominational world.

Whatever the reason, it looks like the SBC may soon be called something else. The task force which recommended the change had asked for suggestions and received 1151 suggested new names according to the Baptist Press. Many of these, such as the top suggestion (Global Baptist Convention), appear sensitive to avoiding limiting the denomination name to a particular geographical area. The International Baptist Convention, at number two on the list, World Baptist Convention at number nine, Worldwide Baptist Convention at number ten, and Global Baptist Convention at number fourteen all seem geared toward recognizing that the SBC does church all over the world. I did not see that the suggestion Heavens and the Earth Baptist Convention made the list, perhaps that would be thought a little grandiloquent. However, Universal Baptist Convention did come in number twenty, according to the Baptist Press.

Some suggestions did maintain a little geography, with North American Baptist Convention coming in at number six and American Baptist Convention and Baptist Convention of America coming in at numbers eight and twelve, respectively. Perhaps those voters figured the Anglicans put churches all over the world but held on to a national reference in their name, so why not?

And you gotta appreciate the simplicity of numbers seven and eleven: The Baptist Convention and Baptist Convention. Amazing that a simple definite article can account for a four-place jump in the rankings.

Looks like most are agreed we want to keep the name Baptist in our name, and that's probably good, because, well, we are Baptists. John the Baptist was one, you know. Well, okay, he was a baptist, not a Baptist, but it sure impressed me when I was a little kid, before I was a Baptist.

Oh, and the name that was picked by the task force? Great Commission Baptists. Yeah, it's a couple more syllables, but I think we might get used to it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Decisions decisions

This post by Bobby Jamieson presents some interesting propositions about the issue of voluntary resignation from a church. While I agree with a lot of things the 9Marks organization promotes, and even see a few valid points in this particular article, I also have to take issue with some of Mr. Jamieson's conclusions.

Yes, it is good for the pastor and the leadership of a church to perform some due diligence when a member resigns. It is good to see if the resigning member is actually asking for help or for a listening ear, or if something in the church needs correction or modification. Every case is different, but certainly there can be those times when the leadership might urge the resigning member to reconsider.

But ultimately, if a member decides to leave that church, they can do so. Jamieson writes,

A member cannot unilaterally resign.
It would be a scary statement if it were true. This is not 16th-century Europe after all. Heck, it's not even 17th-century Massachusetts. A member can, in fact, unilaterally resign. He can even resign without giving the church a reason for doing so. Continuing to serve with a particular local church body is a voluntary decision on the part of the individual member.

Jamieson also quotes from the constitution of his own church:

"The church shall have authority to refuse a member's voluntary resignation or transfer of membership...for any...reason the church deems necessary or prudent."
Well, that is a very bold claim, but you can't just name it and claim it. The focus of Jamieson's article, that of drawing the attention of church leaders and pastors to the issue of losing members through the proverbial back door, is something to be concerned about. But the solution is not authoritarian overreach or unrealistic assertions of power. It is a humble servant-attitude, sound teaching and a loving, edifying environment. Even then, some members will choose to resign.

They can.