Archive for January, 2012

Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention: Code RED

“There is no attempt to Calvinize the SBC.” If I had a dollar for every time I had heard that statement made in the last year, I could retire. Why on earth would anyone make such a claim? Let me answer that question. Things are FAR worse than I realized until this morning. I have been seeing numerous “red flags” waving opposing this statement. Understand that when I use the term “red flag,” I am not including the fact that many seminary professors, many college professors and administrators like Al Mohler are already in the lime light because of their open proliferation of the Reformed Theological Platform. While it was a “red flag” in my mind, it has not appeared to be a “red flag” to many others. And in addition to this, I am not including stories of churches that have split over the issue of Calvinism because Calvinist individuals were called to pastor non-Calvinist churches without truthfully revealing their theological differences in an attempt to correct the theological position of the non-Calvinist church they were called to pastor as they sought to lead them to be more “Biblically or Gospel centered.” I knew Calvinism was a major issue; I did not realize how MUCH of an issue it has already become.

Read the rest of this post HERE…

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Arminianism or Calvinism: Which Comes First?

This morning I read an argument about Which comes first, Arminianism or Calvinism? Kind of reminded me of the age old question: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg!” Let’s examine the question, “Which came first, Arminianism or Calvinism?” The first article I read was a comment on William Birch’s Arminian blog, which I read quite frequently. I appreciate William’s demeanor even when he desagrees, he does it with as much class as anyone I have read. His blog post can be found HERE…

Birch is writing a response to Peter Pike, who I have never read and his article can be found HERE… The article is titled, “Conversions and Deconversions.” The title itself was interesting enough for me to read both. Here are my thoughts on the discussion.

Pike begins his discussion of conversions and deconversions with the following comment: “I have read comments from some of the Arminians at SEA who have said that any new convert to Christianity who reads the Bible will automatically find Arminianism. Arminianism can be read in Scripture, they say, while Calvinism must be taught.

I have certainly heard the argument that MOST Calvinists began their Christian experience as Arminians. I would add, this would seem to me to be especially true of Southern Baptists and most non-Presbyterian denominations. I do know that most Calvinists that I have met and talked with and read,tell that they began their Christian walk as non-Calvinists. Somewhere along the road of Christian growth, they “found Calvinism.” Birch argues, as do many Arminians, that when one reads the Bible, they will have an Arminian view of the Scripture and the only way for one to adopt the Calvinist system is to be introduced to it outside the Bible. It is interesting to note Pikes retort to that argument.

Pike writes, note the parenthesis” “(I would counter by asking why it is that we trust those who are least experienced in Christ, who have followed Him for only a short time and who have not developed a long relationship with Him, would have some kind of inside knowledge about Him that those who have travelled the path of sanctification for many years would somehow lack. That is, why trust the immature Christian to show us the truth as opposed to the elders in the Lord?)”

If one understands his argument here, it is really “eye-opening”. Pike’s argument is basically, Arminians claim that “new born Christians” are Arminian when they begin their journey in the Bible. Calvinists are the more mature Christians, so why argue following the “baby Christians” as opposed to the more mature Christians. That is an interesting come back for the argument that reading the Bible makes one an Arminian. It is a very interesting comment indeed!

Here is why I say this. Pike is saying in essence, reading the Bible is not enough. This is why Birch convincingly concludes, “when merely reading the text of Scripture — do not conclude with any semblance of Calvinism when they study their Bibles. Birch makes note of Pike’s contention that, “there is an admission that Calvinism must be taught; i.e., Calvinism is not the result of a plain reading of the text.” This is a difficult argument for the Calvinist to overcome for most who began their Christian walk as Arminians admit that the later “found” Calvinism. I agree with Birch’s contention that Calvinism must be taught; it is not caught in the Bible, itself. That in and of itself is troubling to me.

If I must be “taught” Calvinism by “elders in the faith”, as Pike suggests, then I am not sure I want it. If I cannot find it in the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit is not able to bring me to that end, then I do not see the significance of reading or listening to Piper, Sproul, Dricsoll, Boyce, Keller, Mohler and so on as the list may go on. It really does not matter if 95% of Christians are Calvinist; if it cannot be “caught in the Bible” without first being taught by someone else, then “thank you but no thank you” is my preference.

Pike continues his article by building another non-Biblical case for adopting Calvinism. He points out that “Calvinism is the most consistent form of Christianity” and he backs up that assertion with the “fact that most convert from Arminianism to Calvinism and not the other way around.” He continues saying, since Arminians are Christian, even though barely, as they mature MOST convert to Calvinism.

Pike offers the following statement:

1. Calvinism is a more consistent form of Christianity.
2. Those who reject the more consistent form a Christianity have nowhere more consistent within Christianity to go toward.
3. Therefore, it is more likely that to reject the more consistent form of Christianity, one will reject Christianity as a whole.

Pike introduces another argument. Those who reject Calvinism rarely go back to Arminianism, which Birch has done; they most often reject Christianity as a whole. Pike writes, “This does seem, at least to me, to make sense. To abandon the more consistent form of Christianity results in the desire to abandon Christianity as a whole. One would not logically expect many to step back to a more inconsistent form of Christianity if they have trouble with Christian beliefs. And if you couple this with the belief that Christian sanctification will result in Christians becoming more consistent, we have two facts that seem to lead inexorably (or, dare I say, irresistibly) toward Calvinism.”

One thing is crystal clear to me: if the “Conversion and Deconversion” argument is a basis for me to conclude that Calvinism is the best logical path to “consistent Christianity, then “Thank you very much, but I must pass.”

Grateful to be in His Grip!

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The Gospel Project

Please read the following two articles at SBC Issues concerning The Gospel Project.

A Response to Trevin Wax’s Remarks Concerning The Gospel Project by Lifeway.

An Open Letter to Drs. Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Trustees

As expected, two things are already happening with respect to the announcement of “The Gospel Project.” There are cries from those who see the CLEAR Calvinist leaning group that is responsible for the project and then there are those who are asking, “What is the big deal? Just because they are Calvinist, that does not mean the project is not well written and worthy of being promoted to Southern Baptist Churches as a great Bible Study.” Ok.

In all fairness, it ought to be clearly understood that these writers are going to write from the depths of their hearts concerning what they believe the Bible teaches about what the TRUE GOSPEL is! To simply pass this project off as a Great Bible Study that is not going to deal with the issues that THESE Calvinists consider strictly Biblical is a slap in the faces of those who have invested themselves in this project. It is as if the Calvinist response is, “let’s all live and let live; let’s all get together and sing “kumbayah “ and be one big happy family. This Bible Study will be a big blessing to the people in your church. What is the “BIG DEAL?”

To read the rest of the article HERE…

Total Depravity or Separation

Total Depravity focuses on man’s sin. The statement is often made, “Man sins because he is a sinner and man is a sinner because he sins. The Doctrine of Total Depravity does not really allow that statement. Total Depravity says man sins because he is depraved; he is not depraved because he sins. The latter part of this statement must be true because a man who is totally depraved cannot become more depraved because of his own sin. According to the Doctrine of Total Depravity, man is born in this totally depraved state. He cannot not sin.

Here are some statements from John Piper at monergism.com dealing with Total Depravity. He writes,

“When we speak of man’s depravity we mean man’s natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man.”

“Romans 14:23 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This is a radical indictment of all natural “virtue” that does not flow from a heart humbly relying on God’s grace.”

“Man’s depravity is total in at least four senses.

(1) Our rebellion against God is total. Apart from the grace of God there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God.
(2) In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
(3) Man’s inability to submit to God and do good is total.
(4) Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.”

“Ephesians 2:3 goes on to say that in our deadness we were “children of wrath.” That is, we were under God’s wrath because of the corruption of our hearts that made us as good as dead before God.” To view Pipers article, click HERE.

Much of what Piper says in the abbreviated statements quoted above is all correct, when taken on their own. The problem with total depravity comes into play when one takes the aforementioned statements and begins to use them to draw conclusions. Here is a perfect example of that. Take Piper’s final statement man’s depravity is total in man’s rebellion being “totally deserving of eternal punishment.” This is the basis for total depravity. Piper basically confirms the statement made earlier, that man is condemned and deserves death because he is totally depraved or in a state of rebellion against God.
Note the following quotes.

“But it was not true that all men had actually committed sinful actions at the time that Paul was writing, because some had not even been born yet, and many others had died in infancy before committing any conscious acts of sin. So Paul must be meaning that when Adam sinned, God considered true that all men sinned in Adam.” (Grudem, Wayne; Systematic Theology, Zondervan publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Page 494.)

“The federal headship view considers Adam, the first man, as the representative of the human race that generated from him. As the representative of all humans, Adam’s act of sin was considered by God to be the act of all people and his penalty of death was judicially made the penalty of everybody.” (Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.), 1983, 1985.)

“The federal headship of Adam presupposes and rests upon his natural headship. He was our natural head before he was our federal head. He was doubtless made our federal representative because he was our natural progenitor, and was so conditioned that his agency must affect our destinies, and because our very nature was on trial (typically if not essentially) in him. Whatever, therefore, of virtue in this explanation the natural headship of Adam may be supposed to contain the federal theory retains.”( Hodge, A. A., Outlines of Theology, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group), 1999.)

Adam represented man and when he fell, man fell. This is the basis for Total Depravity.
If the wages of sin is death and death is the plight of those who are totally depraved because of Adam’s sin, then there remains no punishment for the individual’s sin itself. Since men are condemned because of Adam’s sin, (#4 in Piper’s list) then all are condemned to death because all are totally depraved. The totally depraved person cannot be punished for his depraved position and then be additionally punished for his own personal sin if the punishment for the former is death or eternal separation.

Consider Piper’s initial stament quoted above, ““When we speak of man’s depravity we mean man’s natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man. Romans 14:23 says, ‘Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.’ This is a radical indictment of all natural ‘virtue’ that does not flow from a heart humbly relying on God’s grace.” Here Piper is saying “man’s problem is one of position”.

If man’s depravity is seen relative to his position in God, then it may be said that man is depraved, not because he sins, but because he is separated from God. Now it is understood that sin is what separates man from God. There are two aspects of sin. There is the individual aspect of sin and then there is the corporate aspect. If one looks at the corporate aspect, it is easy to conclude, “In Adam all have sinned” because man is without question a product of his own environment.

In this light, it is fair to say that man sins (individually) because he is a sinner (corporately) and/or because he is influenced by his environment. Man is also a sinner in the respect that he has God given needs that must be filled and because he is separated from God, his only means of satisfying those needs is to seek to satisfy them on his own. Because man is born separated from God, he is depraved. He is not depraved because of his sin; he is depraved because of his position inherited from Adam. Since his position is not in God, his actions will always fall short of the Glory of God and that is God’s definition of sin.

This is the reason the Bible says it is impossible for men to ever appear “righteous” in God’s eyes. The only way to ever have a right standing before God, men must be reconciled to God and the only way to be reconciled to Him is through the cross. The cross corrects the separation problem. This is why Jesus became a man. In the incarnation, God conquered the “separation problem”. The Creator became the created. In His death, Jesus did not just conquer sin; He conquered what the Bible calls the “final enemy” which is death itself. Death is the final separation of man and God.

Man is depraved because he is separated from God at birth. He is fully human. He cannot not sin. He is lost and is completely unable to find his own way. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross paid the penalty for sin for anyone who will come to Him in repentance and saving faith, believing that God is everything He says He is and He will do everything He says He will do. It is at this point that the Holy Spirit takes up residency in the “new born person’s heart” and new life begins.

Next Post will deal with the question:
Could Jesus Have Sinned? Stay Tuned!

Grateful to be in His Grip!

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Post at SBC ISSUES Concerning New “Gospel Project” by Lifeway

Today’s Baptist Press features an article introducing a New “ongoing Bible study series for children, students and adults under one theme.

For two separate articles on The Gospel Project, see the following:

Please read the following two articles at SBC Issues concerning The Gospel Project.

A Response to Trevin Wax’s Remarks Concerning The Gospel Project by Lifeway.

An Open Letter to Drs. Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Trustees

The Gospel Project is an in-depth and Gospel-centered Bible study designed to help participants examine the deeper theological and missional concepts in the text. It is slated for preorder in June and features a three-year study plan with 13-week units. Each unit uses an age-appropriate voice, depth and course of study.”

This sounds great! Finally an indepth “Gospel Centered Study” from Lifeway that Southern Baptists can trust or can they?

Grateful to be in His Grip!

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The Major Problem in Theological Discussions

I am convinced the landscape of theological discussion has been dominated by the wrong foundation. The major problem that I am seeing with theological discussions is Total Depravity. If all discussions begin there, then it is almost as if Calvinism IS the most logical conclusion. In most conversations regarding regeneration, when one understands man’s plight in a total depravity framework, he cannot view man in any other light but dead and in need of regeneration in order to be able to believe. This concept is I believe really better defined in the following way.

The correct way to understand man’s plight for me is as follows… Man is depraved. What does that mean? To say he is dead is not really correct because while it is true that dead mean cannot respond to God, it must also be true that they cannot sin, which is a common retort from non-Calvinists. The Calvinist knows that is not true so he bends dead to be “spiritually dead” but most cannot really explain what that means… they just throw it out there and use it and ignore any attempts to force them to define it. I would define being spiritually dead by saying, “the unregenerate man can only sin. He cannot do anything pleasing to God and Romans 3:23 defines sin as “falling sort of the glory of God.” So, since man can only sin and he cannot not sin on his own, his heart has to be transformed in order to not sin.” I actually am working through the implications of this statement and working it into my statement that man is totally lost as opposed to totally depraved.

Now the question becomes, HOW DOES GOD CHANGE MAN’S SINFUL DISPOSITION FROM ONE OF NOT BEING ABLE TO NOT SIN TO BEING ABLE TO BE BORN AGAIN? I maintain that revelation or the Irrefutable Gospel which is the message that God so loved the world, (UNCONDITIONAL LOVE) that the whosoever will’s may come is what opens the door of man’s hearts brought about by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit which allows faith to exercised. This is basically what the Calvinist and Arminian are arguing is what takes place in their posits of irresistible grace (Calvinist) and Prevenient Grace (Arminian) . I do not believe a man can just wake up on his own and become a Christian, which is what Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians maintain. Man left to himself cannot please God on his own apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and the reconciliatory work of God in a person’s heart. Again, the difference between what I believe takes place and what the Calvinist and Arminian posit, is really rooted in the tenets of Total Depravity more so than anywhere else. In order to break the argument, total depravity must be the focal point, not what happens later; it is like arguing Dallas is west. If you are in Memphis that is correct. However, if you are in Los Angeles that is not correct and that is a good way to illustrate the problem as I see it. Actually there does seem to be a lot more commonality in what is being debated than most think. The difference in most discussion seems to me to be rooted in the dynamics of total depravity and how that is understood and the ramifications of how that actually plays out.

So the challenge is to lay out the problem of sin in a differnt manner than what total depravity does. I am really seeing this in its most basic sense, as a struggle between pride and obedience. God has created us in His image which to me means we have the ability to be in control of our own destinies. God gave us the choice to choose; we had no choice in that. We also had no choice in choosing the consequences of our choices. God did that. He created us with certain needs and desires. His intention is to meet those needs and desires.

2He does that in what I am calling, His perpetual presence. Where God’s presence is, there is His power and His provisions are. That is what gives us life. When we choose any other path, pride becomes the antithesis of God’s will and way and that is sin and sin separates us from God, which is death. God makes provisions available to us that give us life and ironically they are ALL associated with His perpetual presence. That is really the basis of covenant in both the Old and New Testaments; God saying, I want to be your God and I want you to be My people. This is the basis I believe for the incarnation itself. God’s perpetual presence is now with us in the person of Christ Jesus. I also believe this has a lot to do with a bodily resurrection: Spirit and flesh united forever. Notice what defines “new birth”; it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the new born believer. God’s perpetual presence is now with us, forever.

If we are successful in establishing some common ground away from the notion of total depravity then I believe there maybe hope that new ground can be laid that will lessen the divide in this whole argument. If that cannot be done, then the divide will only grow deeper. I pray for the former.

Grateful to be in His Grip!

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A Much Needed Apology

I have been vocally opposed to the degree of influence that Calvinism has garnered in the recent months in the SBC and to the fact that it continues to be so. My position there has not changed nor has my position changed with respect to the theological posits of Calvinism.

My apology is in the area of practical applications of what I have associated as inconsistencies in Calvinism with the preaching and presenting the message by Calvinists to a lost world. While I have not been one to jump on the band wagon that Calvinists are not evangelistic, I have been critical of the inconsistencies in presenting the gospel through the lens of Calvinism in the pulpit as being inconsistent with what Calvinism actually suggests. Let me explain.

I have been critical of the Calvinist preacher who stands in the pulpit and says to the congregation, “if you are here this morning and are lost and without Christ, then you need to repent and in faith come to Christ, trusting Him and Him alone for salvation.” I saw that as inconsistent with the Calvinist position of total depravity, where those listening individuals are not even able to make that kind of commitment, in and of themselves and no invitation from a preacher is going to change that.

Unconditional election says, God choses who will and will not respond; not the individual in the pew and certainly not the preacher behind the pulpit. Limited Atonement gets even more precise in that Jesus only died for certain ones and only THOSE hearers will respond and their response is not specifically to the message, but to God’s efficacious call. Add to that, Irresistible Grace; it is God and God who alone pulls lost individuals out of the throws of judgment and when He speaks to the lost individual, that individual will respond positively. This is how I see the framework of Calvinism shaping any invitation given by a Calvinist preacher.

Even though I do not agree with the above concepts, I also do not agree that preaching to lost men to repent and come to Christ is inconsistent with the posits presented above because it is true that no preacher (Calvinist or non-Calvinist) knows who is and who is not to be saved in that setting. I was wrong in concluding that a Calvinist preacher should say, “If God wants you to be saved, you will be saved and if He does not you will not be saved.” While I agree that the aforementioned statement may be accurate, it is unfair to state that this ought to be the position of the Calvinist preacher. I have been unduly critical and wrong in that assessment and I apologize for that.

Grateful to be in His Grip!

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