Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Have Problems With the New Traditionalists

The blogosphere associated with the SBC is consumed with the recent “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”. I’m not going to go in-depth about it because of this. There are a few observations I want to make. And I make the observations I make because I read supporters of this document who write that the document isn’t meant to be divisive or claim to speak for all Southern Baptists.

But that’s not what it says. And if supporters claim that the intent is other than what it says, then we learn something about their capacity to correctly parse what they read. This speaks to their ability to understand the Bible well.

The title:

1.    “…Traditional Southern Baptist…”

The presumption is that what will be presented is THE traditional understanding. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In the Preamble:

2.    “Every generation of Southern Baptists has the duty to articulate the truths of its faith…

The presumption is that the truth of Southern Baptist faith will be articulated. Therefore, the insinuation is that Reformed theology is not true – or at least not truly Southern Baptist. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In the first statement

3.    “The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists.”

If the precipitating issue is the rise of a movement, then how does the statement in my #2 observation above fit? Does every generation need to make a statement against “New Calvinism”? The preamble goes on to identify what the authors believe “New Calvinism” is. Without going into detail, there is nothing new about “New Calvinism”. It’s the same Reformed theology that has been present all along with the understanding that there are, and always have been, varieties of Calvinism. But even these varieties have been around. I’ll say more about this in a few points, I’m sure.

4.    “This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation…”

The use of the word “exclusively” is false. Calvinists want to teach Calvinism. I’ve never had a class on Calvinism, and I’ve had a few, where the Calvinistic professor didn’t also positively present a typical opposing view. I’ve always had it presented also where the respectable theologians who hold the view were treated honorably. I’ve heard many lessons given by non-Calvinists where respectable Calvinist theologians were treated dishonorably. In my experience, therefore, it’s the non-Calvinists who desire to be exclusive – not the Calvinists.

5.    “…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.”

And indeed, the use of the term “aggressive” is a characterization that is shared by non-Calvinists, in my experience. The purpose by the authors of this statement is to vilify Calvinists while ignoring their own sin. It’s written that we should not think too highly of ourselves. The authors have demonstrated that they have disobeyed this admonition.

6.    “…Calvinists have been present in Southern Baptist life from its earliest days…”

This acknowledgment is important. Compare this to my observation #1. There’s still more about this to come.

7.    “Even the minority of Southern Baptists who have identified themselves as Calvinists generally modify its teachings in order to mitigate certain unacceptable conclusions (e.g., anti-missionism, hyper-Calvinism, double predestination, limited atonement, etc.).”

This is an utter lie. The conclusions stated have never been held by mainstream Calvinism, with one exception: Limited Atonement.

8.    “The very fact that there is a plurality of views on Calvinism designed to deal with these weaknesses (variously described as “3-point,” “4-point,” “moderate,” etc.) would seem to call for circumspection and humility with respect to the system and to those who disagree with it.”

The fact that the non-Calvinists want to distinguish themselves from Arminians by not assuming another moniker, “Traditional”, indicates that their position is not particularly monolithic. The fact that some people accept some aspects of Calvinism and some aspects of non-Calvinism indicate that there is probably some spectrum of belief we all fall on with regards to soteriology in the SBC. So it’s disingenuous to say that Calvinists are diverse because their position is weak and non-Calvinists are monolithic because our position is strong. It’s an attempt to mischaracterize everyone’s position in order to make the non-Calvinists appear to have the high road.

9.    “For the most part, Southern Baptists have been glad to relegate disagreements over Calvinism to secondary status along with other important but “non-essential” theological matters. The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself. And, to their credit, most Southern Baptist Calvinists have not demanded the adoption of their view as the standard. We would be fine if this consensus continued, but some New Calvinists seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of this long-standing arrangement.”

Which is a statement made by someone who demands the adoption of their view (non-Calvinistic) as the standard. It’s interesting that these New Calvinists have not been identified.

10.    ‘We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology. Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is articulated in a general way in the Baptist Faith and Message, “Article IV.”’

Read Article IV. It is consistent with 5-point Calvinism. What is proposed in this new “Traditional” statement goes far beyond Article IV. Who is pushing for the adoption of their position? Let’s look at the next statement:

11.    “While some earlier Baptist confessions were shaped by Calvinism, the clear trajectory of the BF&M since 1925 is away from Calvinism.”

And they call their position “Traditional”? If anything, by this admission they are the New Non-Calvinists.

12.    “Without ascribing to Calvinism, Southern Baptists have reached around the world with the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.”

Apparently, Southern Baptists have done it by ascribing to Calvinism as well, even more so in the past according to the statement I answered in #11.

13.    “Baptists have been well-served by a straightforward soteriology rooted in the fact that Christ is willing and able to save any and every sinner.”

That’s debatable. There has been some decline in baptisms since 1925 and some wonder if it’s not because the soteriology has drifted toward non-Calvinism.

14.    “While we are not insisting that every Southern Baptist affirm the soteriological statement below in order to have a place in the Southern Baptist family, we are asserting that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life. We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology.”

So the admission is that Calvinism has been waning, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of Calvinism – hence the moniker “New Calvinism” – and it makes non-Calvinists worried that the balance will return to a more Calvinistic soteriology. So they want to get away from Calvinism altogether in order to make this less likely. This contradicts what they said in my #10: ‘“Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology.’ But their goal, as I indicated in #9, is to redefine (or at least clarify) Baptist soteriology as non-Calvinistic. They are the ones pushing their agenda – not Calvinists.

That’s from the preamble. What follows in the document are the articles of Affirmation and Denial. It’s interesting that they want to specifically define themselves over and against Calvinism where they said they need to “move beyond Calvinism as a reference point”.

I won’t go into much of what they say in the articles for one exception. This exception has already been pointed out by others, but I believe it to be a dangerous statement that was made. It’s certainly a non-Calvinistic statement to make, but it’s also a non-Arminian statement to make. In fact it’s downright non-orthodox Christianity:

15.    “We deny that Adam’s sin… rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”

Now, to be fair, go to the document and read it in context. They do affirm that “because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin.” However adding that no one is guilty before they have personally sinned effectively guts the doctrine of Original Sin. It also denies the truth of such passages as Rom 5:12 and Eph 2:3.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Does Science Tell Us How To Interpret the Bible?

Here is a great impromptu panel debate on a TBN program, Praise the Lord. I'm not typically a watcher of TBN. It's Christianity "light" and open to all sorts of ministerial lunacy. This seems to be one instance where they accidentally let in a couple of people who knew the Bible and were willing to stick up for it.

Young Earther, Ken Ham, sticks it to Old Earther, Dr. Hugh Ross, with interaction by such names as Ray Comfort, Dr John Bloom, Sean McDowell, and Eric Hovind. It's worth watching and thinking about.

BTW, I'm a Young Earther. I believe it's possible for the rest of the heavenly bodies to be older than the earth and have been created after the earth and for the light to make it to earth. I think God could pull this off easily and that it could even happen without breaking the laws of physics. I don't think the current understanding of physics is particularly well advanced. We'll get there if physicists can set aside some of the unrelated philosophical presuppositions that they are using as models for proposing cosmological theories.

The debate boils down to the nature of revelation. For Ken Ham, The Bible is authoritative as the revelation of God. For Dr. Ross, natural revelation is equal to the Bible as authoritative. I agree with Ken Ham. Sola Scriptura.

ht: Answers in Genesis