Thursday, January 24, 2008

Without God I am nothing. I am the tool by which He works His will.

I'm sharing with you (first) a "Letter to the Editor" type letter I wrote that appears in this week's SBTexan (1/21/2008), "the Newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention."

It is in response to recent coverage of the "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism" conference (audio). However, they also printed a letter expressing sentiment much different than my own in the same issue. I'll share it (second) as well as a few comments in response.

I want to commend the SBTexan on publishing more than one perspective on this issue.

Calvinism coverage helpful

Thanks so much for your recent articles about the conference dealing with the question of Calvinism in the SBC (Dec 24 TEXAN). In an era of divisiveness theological hostility, it’s encouraging to see my beloved SBC lovingly discussion a topic such as Calvinism.

Although Spurgeon labeled it a “nickname” for the Gospel, Calvinism is often caricatured and vehemently attacked. Calvinists are not allowed define Calvinism and attackers often display a lack of openness to some of the more “difficult” passages.

Some will be concerned that the percentage of those embracing Reformed theology has been increasing for decades (particularly among younger pastors), but others (myself included) see this as a natural outgrowth of the diligence done in the past to herald the authority of the Bible, it’s inerrancy and sufficiency.

Add to this the affection for expository preaching and new generations are trying to let the text speak for itself, even passages that don’t readily fit into our way of seeing things (e.g., Gen 50:20; 1 Sam 2:25; Prov 21:1; John 6:44; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Eph 1:3-12; etc.).

Historically, we’ve had both the Reformed and the more Revivalistic within the SBC. I don’t expect that to change, but a conference like this helps us all to honestly approach those with whom we disagree without resorting to vitriolic rhetoric or labels of heresy.

Thanks for helping us better understand each other as both strive to honor Christ through the evangelization of the planet.

Eric “Gunny” Hartman, Pastor
Providence Church, Garland

Calvinism false doctrine

When it comes to false doctrines, what difference does the history of the SBC make? History, associations and friendships have nothing to do with it.

If the doctrine of 'Total Depravity' means that we are just as sinful as Satan can get us to be, I agree with it. If it means we cannot act toward God, it is refuted by Isaiah 45:22, which says, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else."

The doctrine of unconditional election is refuted by Jesus' attempt to get through to even Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray him, at the Last Supper.

Limited atonement is also refuted by Isaiah 45:22, as well as 2 Peter 3:9.

Stephen refuted the doctrine of irresistible grace when he told the elders, scribes, the high priest and his accusers, "... ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye."

Preservation of the saints is the only doctrine that the Calvinists have gotten right.

Now there is one more question to be answered. "Can two walk together expect they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). My question is: why do we even want to walk together with proponents of false doctrines.

Joseph Regel, pastor
FBC Laneville

Since I have written previously on the issues of Calvinism & Hyper-Calvinism and the T.U.L.I.P., I defer to those treatments for extensive coverage. I will try to limit my response to Pastor Regel's thoughts.

I appreciate Pastor Regel's attempt to use Scripture as his basis for not liking Calvinism; that isn't always the case. However, I would assert that his selections don't do for him what he might think.

First, Isaiah 45:22 (or any other verse like it) does not refute "Total Depravity." Just because we ought to do something, doesn't mean we are able to do it. That's his assumption, but he neglects the texts that explicitly assert we "cannot act toward God" apart from divine aid (e.g., John 6:44, 65). After the fall, humans lost not the obligation to love God with their entire being and others as themselves, but they lost the desire to do so, thanks to a heart that is desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). They can't because they don't want to, and that is the nature of the freedom/bondage of the will.

For further elaboration of the rationalistic assumption, I refer you to a nice tidbit about the deviations of Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism based on rational assumption. I also give you the following words of wisdom:
"To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect."
-John Owen

Second, with regard to Judas and unconditional election, this is where I'd love for him to elaborate. I don't see Jesus "attempt to get through to Judas Iscariot," but rather Jesus provides us with the harsh reality that Judas is beyond saving--he's destined for destruction, in order to fulfill Scripture (John 17:12).

Besides, Pastor Regel seems here to be arguing against election in general, not merely unconditional election in particular. The Arminian believes in election as well, and would believe that Jesus would already know the destiny of each individual, including Judas. The difference is that the Arminian believes God made that choice before the person was born, but with a view to what the person would do in the future with regard to Christ. In other words, it's conditional on how he/she would respond. The Calvinist believes the same, but that the choice is not conditioned on something in the person or that the person will do. Instead, it's God's prerogative that enables the person to respond to the Gospel, which He does for His elect.

Third, "limited atonement" is generally the highest hurdle with regard to acceptance of the so-called "5 Points," and there are admittedly some passages that don't seem to fit in that regard, at least not at a first glance. That being said, Isaiah 45:22 does not contribute much to this discussion, if anything. In fact, none of the "whosoever will" passages do.

The Bible is true. Whoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Calvinists wouldn't/shouldn't deny that. The reality is, however, that the only ones who will come are those who have been chosen by the Father, as Christ's sheep. They are the only ones who will know His voice and answer that call (John 10:2-5). That's why He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). That's why Christ died for His bride, the church (Eph 5:25).

The lingo "limited atonement" is not as helpful as it could be, for all except universalists "limit" the atonement in some form or fashion, in what it accomplishes and/or for whom it was accomplished. The Arminian limits the atonement in that Jesus didn't save anyone, but merely made possible the salvation of those who have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and will respond appropriately. In that sense, none could have been saved or some could have, but nothing is certain. One might also make the case that the Arminian also limits the atonement in that Christ did not die for all the sins of everyone, for the sin of unbelief is not atoned for. If a person does not believe, then that person's sins are not forgiven and the person must pay for them in hell. Consequently, those same sins are punished twice, once on the cross by Jesus and again by the person in hell.

The Calvinist limits the atonement in number also, but not in effectiveness. That is, it secured the salvation of the elect, the sheep, the church. In that sense, Jesus accomplished exactly what He set out to do, to redeem those given to Him by the Father.

More could be said on the doctrine of the extent of the atonement, but for the sake of brevity I will defer to J. I. Packer's accessible Introduction to John Owen's Death of Death in the Death of Christ (which also deals with this issue).

With regard to 2 Peter 3:9 I will just say that there are many questions that need to be asked before we assume the meaning. First, who are the "you" being addressed that section? If it's Christians or the elect, then you have no issues. Also, does this text mean that people perish and God can't stop it (cf. Job 42:2; Ps 115:3), if He's not willing that any should? Lastly, what promise (singular) is in view? God has promised salvation only to those who believe, so that is the group being addressed and the group for whom God will be faithful.

Honestly, this passage could get its own post, so I'll leave it at that, but would be happy to dialog further in the comments section or direct you to other resources.

Fourth, this leads us to "irresistible grace," which I think Pastor Regel doesn't quite understand. But, in all fairness to him, the nomenclature doesn't help, which is why I'm not a fan of some of the verbiage and have suggested alternatives.

Irresistible grace does not mean that no one can or will resist the Spirit. What it simply means is that God's elect will come to Christ, in His way and in His timing. This is because he predestined them and will subsequently (effectually) call them and then justify them, etc. (cf. Rom 8:29-30). I might put it simply in the words of Jesus: "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37).

Fifth, I'm glad we agree on something (i.e., preservation of the saints). But, I would probably muddy the waters by mentioning that eternal security is not the same thing as the "Perseverence/Preservation of the Saints."

Finally, there are Calvinistic folks who ask the same question about the Arminians in the SBC, why would we want to keep them around? Why would Calvinists want to "walk together with proponents of false doctrines"?

I guess I'm one of those deluded enough to think that both can co-exist with mutual love and respect, but with an openness and willingness to be corrected when & where necessary, according to the Scriptures.

I don't believe that the Calvinists in the SBC want to eliminate Arminians or non-Calvinists ... okay, at least not all of the Calvinists anyway.

But, I do believe the Calvinists in the SBC want to be treated with respect and not have their view caricatured with straw men and ad hominem arguments.

I'm not campaigning, necessarily, for some Rodney King theology ("Why can't we all just get along?"), as much as I am for Christian communication about theology. By Christian I mean in manner of presentation (i.e., irenic) as well as material used in argumentation (i.e., the Scriptures).

To that end I recommend Roger Nicole's Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us.

As for my theology ... Without God I am nothing. I am the tool by which He works His will.



At 24 January, 2008 03:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Jesus died for all sins EXCEPT unbelief, who can be saved? Everyone, including those who now believe, has committed the sin of unbelief. If Jesus did not die to make atonement for that sin, then everyone must be punished by an eternity in hell if only for that one sin.

I think it was Owen that stated that there are only three posssibilities:
1) Jesus died for ALL of the sins of ALL people - which makes for universalism.
2) Jesus died for SOME of the sins of ALL people - which means that all people will be punished for the sin(s) for which Jesus did not die and that punishment will be hell.
3) Jesus died for ALL of the sins of SOME people.

If we believe that some people, not all, will be saved, we must believe proposition three. It is the only thing that makes sense logically and Biblically.

In regards to unconditional election, I have not ever heard someone say that Jesus was still trying to "get through" to Judas Iscariot at the last supper. If Judas could have been persuaded not to betray Christ, the prophecy would have failed and God would then be a liar. BUT, since we know that God CAN NOT lie, the prophecy HAD to be fulfilled, and Jesus would not have been working against it.

I also agree with you Gunny, that we can get along to some extent with our Arminian brothers, after all, I was once an Arminian before God opened my eyes to the truth.

At 24 January, 2008 07:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am quite befuddled at this pastor's notion that Jesus "tried to get through to Judas."


With statements like that, it is no wonder we're seeing a resurgence of Calvinism among young preachers.

I think we're growing weary of a Jesus who is helpless, calling "softly and tenderly," just hoping that we'll have the strength to do what He is helpless to do.


At 24 January, 2008 08:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree that both groups can continue in the SBC if there is mutual respect and agreement on the "major" issues. What I don't understand is: when do you decide it's time to go? Lately I have been aware of public, false, and disrespectful (even venomous, in some cases) attacks against reformed theology (and those who subscribe to it) coming from high profile SBC pastors. Will there come a time when enough is enough? Will we know when it’s time? I look at some reformed-minded people that have continued with the Episcopal denomination and wonder how in the world they can still be in fellowship with that group, based on the decisions of the denomination as a whole. As an outsider, at least to me, it is clear that they have surpassed the point of enough being enough. As Baptists, will we be able to recognize that point?

~M K

At 24 January, 2008 14:19, Anonymous Lionel Woods said...

As you know I have been church searching for a while. I have been looking for diverse or peredominately black churches (diverse means at least one black person LOL). I was talking with a pastor with a MDiv from Southwest he looked at the site and the first question he asked me was "Since you are a Calvinist do you evangelize"? I was a bit frustrated with the pastor and needless to say, I didn't visit because of such statements.

I have heard the worse of statements, it is funny that after talking to me a while people find out I am Reformed, and then they realize that all people can't be put in a box and I realize the lack of understanding or the misconceptions people have about our theological position.

I will say that I have heard some weak arguments against those who have a more Arminian perspective also. I think we Calvinist have to also be careful not to say things like "Arminians don't believe God is all powerful" or "they don't believe God is sovereign". Now I will admit I believe their soteriological position is wrong, but I also understand that there are some hard scriptures that I have to be willing to deal with also.

BTW Pastor Gunny, your CD's were put in the mail today at lunch. Made you two. Let me know if you need an artist list. God bless. I also have a co-worker I am trying to get to visit your church. She lives in Garland. God bless.

At 24 January, 2008 14:32, Blogger GUNNY said...


One other thing I might add to your appreciated cautions is that we shouldn't assume that a non-Calvinist (or an anti-Calvinist) is an Arminian. At least, they don't always like to be given that label.

Looking forward to the CDs, brother!

Your co-worker ... send her over.

Incidentally, based on your definition ... Providence Church is VERY diverse.


At 24 January, 2008 16:01, Blogger Jade said...

Gunny wrote:
I don’t expect that to change, but a conference like this helps us all to honestly approach those with whom we disagree without resorting to vitriolic rhetoric or labels of heresy.
Gunny do you think that was accomplished in light of Yarnell's lecture?

At 24 January, 2008 22:55, Anonymous mark t said...

I thank the Lord He had me sit next to you all those years ago at Insurance Depot, when we were in seminary. You were the vehicle through which all this stuff began to make sense.

At 25 January, 2008 08:25, Blogger Timothy said...

Excellent post and a good reminder the battle is still there. In the PCA, our battle lines are over things like Federal Vision, etc. Since we all agree on Calvinism, we have to come up with new ways to argue. (It's really not that bad, just a few.)

I remember when I was preaching at Trinity Baptist in Dallas, one of the ladies came up to me afterwards and told me I needed to quit preaching that Dallas doctrine. What she meant was Calvinism. I was a Calvinist before I even understood the term. I eventually stepped down from that church, and they eventually close. It was a rough ministry.

Mark T,
Would you say you were Reformed in your leanings at this point?

At 25 January, 2008 14:13, Anonymous mark t said...

Hi Timothy:

I am Reformed in my leanings, in a Calvinistic sense. TULIP makes a lot of sense to me, except that, regarding limited atonement, I simply say that His death is sufficient for all, efficient for some, and leave it at that. I do distinguish between the church and Israel, and interpret the Bible starting with its literal meaning, and holding to that unless there is some obvious reason (often apparent in the context), why something other than this was intended. I favor a literal millenial reign. I'm not big on multiple dispensations, and hard lines between them, and also not big on creating a dispensation between the early church and ourselves. In a lot of ways, it seems that our spiritual life ought to resemble theirs (though admittedly it often doesn't). Although I don't like labels, and really consider myself just a Christian, probably I'm close to a calvinistic progressive dispensationalist who is mildy charismatic.

At 25 January, 2008 22:21, Blogger John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Calvinistic site

At 26 January, 2008 14:32, Blogger Rev. said...

Nice job, bro.

At 28 January, 2008 14:35, Blogger GUNNY said...

M.K. wrote: "As Baptists, will we be able to recognize that point?"

That's a GREAT question. One that SBC pastor types kick around quick often, at least among my generation.

In the recent Mondays post, there's a link dealing with that as well.

Lionel wrote: "I was talking with a pastor with a MDiv from Southwest he looked at the site and the first question he asked me was "Since you are a Calvinist do you evangelize"? I was a bit frustrated with the pastor and needless to say, I didn't visit because of such statements."

I hate that non sequitor most of all. True, Calvinists may not do evangelism as the non-Calvinist or anti-Calvinist does evangelism (i.e., not using the same methodology), but that doesn't mean they're not evangelistic.

In fact, one of the great ironies in SBC life is the altar call which is merely an unexplained call to Jesus or to the front that passes for evangelism.

There's no explanation of who Jesus was or what He did or why one needs to be saved, but just a "come to Jesus and get saved."

Success is seen if someone comes to the front, but that may or may not have anything to do with a sinner repenting of sin(fulness) and turning in faith to the God-Man who died and was resurrected as payment for the penalty for sin.

Popular opinion seems to be that Dr. Yarnell was not interested in making friends or building bridges. However, I've not heard his talk yet, so I can't say too much on that.

I have met Dr. Yarnell, first at Oxford as he taught me Baptist history over many cups of tea.

He's sharp as a tack, but is definitely a "I call 'em as I see 'em" type.

He's the type of guy you love to have on your side, but hate to have on the opposition, whatever the issue may be.


Mark T,
Those were great times, brother, and you know my theology well enough to know that I am more than blessed to have been used by God to assist you in any way He deemed appropriate.

Thanks for your kind words.

I too was Reformed before I know anything about Calvinism or any of that. That's why I get so tender when anti-Calvinists accuse Reformed people of just subscribing to some system of thought or just getting their theology from Calvin.

I was a biblicist who got my slooge from the Bible and the Bible alone. I sure didn't get it from the non-Calvinists and anti-Calvinists whose teaching I was under in my formative years.

My 2 college pastors were an anti-nomian dispensationalist and a SBC moderate/liberal like you've never known.

Neither would have a kind word to say about Calvinism.

Incidentally, I find it ironic that your parishioner would label "Calvinism" as Dallas doctrine. I actually found DTS somewhat anti-Calvinistic, some professors more than others, of course.

At 28 January, 2008 14:37, Blogger GUNNY said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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