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.

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