Thursday, August 30, 2007

Friday photo--early training for motherhood


These sisters are children of John and Cindy Swaska, fellow members of Grace Baptist Church. Anne is learning early how to multi-task, getting a jump on preparing for motherhood.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 5

In another of his articles in the Alabama Baptist, Dr. Garrett asks, "Have Baptists always been Dortian Calvinists in their confesions of faith?" The answer, indisputably, is no. General (Arminian) Baptists and Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists have published their own confessions of faith throughout the modern history of Baptists. Dr. Garett gives a helpful overview of some of the more prominent of those confessions, including the decidedly Calvinistic Second London Confession of 1677 (published in 1689).

This confession, through its adoption by the Philadelphia Association (with 2 additional articles) and the Charleston Association became the most influential doctrinal statement among Baptists in the South in the 18th and most of the 19th centuries. Leon McBeth notes the adoption of this confession by the Philadelphia Association in 1742 with these words:
It fixed for generations the doctrinal character of Baptists in this country as evangelical Calvinism, providing a bulwark against both the Arminianism of the Freewills and the determinism of the Hardshells" (The Baptist Heritage, 241).
After commenting on other confessions produced by Baptists in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the Abstract of Principles (1858) and the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963, 2000), Dr. Garrett offers this conclusion:
Those Baptists framing confessions in England and America who were on the Calvinistic side of the Calvinistic-Arminian divide generally adhered to some of the "five points" of the Synod of Dort, but such was not generally true of those on the Arminian side, and progressively those on the Calvinistic side modified or muted their adherence to Dort so that by the 20th century, only the affirmation of perseverance remained.
He does not mean that by the 20th century that Baptists only affirmed the last of the so-called five points of Calvinism. That would be much too broad of a statement. Rather, he presumably means that the confessions of faith produced by Baptists in the 20th century affirm only perseverance out of the Dortian 5 points.

I think he almost asserts too much at this point. Some might conclude that all of the other points of Calvinism have been denied by 20th century Baptist confessions. Even the Baptist Faith and Message can be cited to demonstrate that this is not the case. And I grant that a failure to deny is not necessarily an affirmation, therefore, in that sense, Dr. Garrett's point is well taken. He most certainly is correct that the 20th century witnessed a loss of an earlier commitment to the doctrines of grace among Baptists--especially Southern Baptists.

Still, it is interesting to note the language of the BFM on a few of the other points. In the 1925 version the following statement is made about man's bondage in sin:
He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
While I would affirm more than this, the statement hardly seems like a repudiation of total depravity (for a fun and frightening treatment of our move away from the biblical doctrine of sin, read Mark Coppenger's "The Ascent of Lost Man in Southern Baptist Preaching").

But there is more. The BFM 2000 affirms election in terms that view it as fixed and unchangeable:
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
Again, I would affirm much more but how can election be the gracious purpose of God that is unchangeable while at the same time being the basis on which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies sinners unless it is eternal? I suppose one could be a universalist and believe that statement but can one honestly believe that election is both conditioned on anything in the creature and at the same time be the "gracious purpose of God" which is "unchangeable?" I agree with Dr. Garrett that this is certainly a "muted" statement of unconditional election, but I would not be willing to say that it does not therefore affirm that point of doctrine.

If some want to debate me on the above two points, I will readily concede that the language is ambiguous and not as clear as one would hope from a document that is supposed to help us confess our faith. Nevertheless, those two statements do at least allow for a Dortian view of sin and election.

My final example is not so linguistically ambiguous. At least it isn't to English teachers and those who are accustomed to taking grammar seriously. Article 4 of the BFM 2000 says,
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
This statement declares that regeneration is "a change of heart...to which the sinner responds in repentance and faith." I have heard the arguments against reading the statement this way but still contend that this is the simplest reading of the text.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is Hollywood slipping? "Expelled" is coming

I am not a movie buff. In fact, "buff" is not a word that would ever be forced into service to describe me. But I digress. I take my wife to see a movie two or three times a year. Even on those occasions I confess that I am more interested in being with her than watching the big screen. Thus, I was clueless when I saw Joe Thorn's Slusho shot and read his comments about his "most highly anticipated movie of 2008" (I had never heard of the movie, but I am intrigued by viral marketing, so I was interested).

So, when a fellow church member, Dan Phillips (not the pyromaniac), emailed me about a movie coming out in February 2008, I was not initially very interested. Until I read about it. Then I wondered if it was a joke--an urban legend. It passed the Snopes test, so I looked into it further and must say, I am pleasantly surprised to learn that something like "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" could be coming out of 21st century Hollywood. Ben Stein chronicles the experiences of scientists who have been blackballed by the academy for questioning the ideologies of Darwinism, global warming and the like. Stories about such leftwing fundamentalism have been accumulating through the years, but no one has ever attempted to weave them all together and portray them on the big screen. Evidently, that is exactly what "Expelled" attempts to do. It ought to be fascinating to watch antics of those who, while screaming for academic freedom and ideological pluralism, militantly cut off dissident voices that dare question current scientific dogma.

If this project is successful, Stein and everyone else involved in it, will have successfully hoisted the radical left on their own petard.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

AP and MTV on the Happiness of Young People

In what is being hailed as a "landmark" study, MTV and the Associate Press are reporting that both family and faith have a significant impact on the happiness of 13-24 year olds.

The two entities collaborated on a 7 month, in-depth study of how sex, money, race, faith, family and technology affect the happiness of American young people.

Here is part of the reported findings:
Religion and spirituality are an integral part of happiness for most American youngpeople. 44 percent say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, with more than one in ten reporting the latter. And those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier. 80 percent of those who say spirituality is the most important thing in life say they are happy with life in general, compared with 60 percent of those who say that spirituality is not an important part of life at all.
Complete findings from this study are available here and here.

Though it has often been clouded over and misrepresented in various contemporary expressions of the Christian faith, God is very concerned with our happiness. Not the cheap and fleeting varieties that come in quick thrills that dissipate faster than they arrive. But the kind of joy and gladness that go deep and give life. The kind that David sang about in Psalms 16 and 36:
"In Your presence is fulness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (16:11)

7 "How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. 8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. 9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light" (36:7-9)
The Westminister Divines understood this as they framed the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism.
What is the chief of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Note that it is not two chief ends (plural) but one end (singular). This is why John Piper says that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." God's glory and our joy are bound together.

C.S. Lewis' oft-quoted words from The Weight of Glory are very appropriate to help us think clearly about how serious God is about our happiness:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Those of us who are experiencing this joy in God through faith in Christ must do two things. One, we must not settle with whatever degree of joy we have already attained. Since it is "unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8) we must keep pressing on to know more of it--to drink more deeply from those rivers of pleasure that God has for us in Christ--throughout our lives.

Second, we must become increasingly promiscuous in telling others about this joy and helping them discover it through the good news of Jesus Christ. The fact that studies are indicating that young people are discovering happiness through "religion and spirituality" does not necessarily validate Christianity, since all kinds of beliefs and nonbeliefs can fall under that heading. But it does provide a point of contact for communicating what the Creator of joy has to say about the path to it. If we are walking that path, then let's joyfully persuade others to join us for God's glory and their happiness.

Founders Study Center Fall Schedule

The Founders Online Study Center continues to have a growing ministry of providing outstanding teaching to pastors and church leaders around the world. Using the internet, textbooks, study guides and mentors, the Study Center offers another stellar lineup of classes for the Fall semester. Dr. Ken Puls, who directs the center, has provided a wonderful service to churches of our day.

Baptist Identity
Taught by one of the foremost Baptist historians of our day, Tom Nettles. Dr. Nettles has written more extensively on Baptist identity than any other scholar of our day. His lectures on this subject are outstanding.
Introduction to the Puritans
J.I. Packer and Mark Dever represent two generations of Gospel ministers who have studied, benefited from and taught the biblical insights of the Puritans. Both men are experts in this field.
Worship
Bruce Leafblad is a former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His insights on God-centered worship are greatly needed in our day. Balanced, theological and practical, these lectures address one of the most contentious issues facing churches today.
Systematic Theology I
Roger Nicole is a founding member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Among evangelical theologians he has long been esteemed as a great systematic theologian. His lectures are profound, comprehensive and imminently biblical.
Registration is now open. Check out the Study Center and if you like what you see, help us recommend it pastors, church leaders and those aspiring to pastoral ministry.

One of the most beneficial dimensions of this ministry is the mentor relationships that it facilitates. No student is left on his own to pursue the course work. Countless testimonies have come to us about the ways God has used the mentoring relationships to strengthen both the one who mentored and the one who was mentored. If you are a pastor with at least 10 years of pastoral experience, consider becoming a mentor for students in the study center. More information is available via the link.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 4

Dr. Garrett helpfully distinguishes the internal, effectual call of God from the external, general call. Many less thoughtful critics of Calvinism fail to recognize this distinction and, consequently, often wind up dismissing a straw man in their critique of "irresistible grace." Garrett writes,
Dortian Calvinists normally differentiate the external, or outward, call of God from the internal, or special, call of God to salvation. The external call includes the public preaching of the gospel. It can be rejected. In fact, we are told that it is uniformly rejected by nonelect human beings.

The internal call, on the contrary, cannot be rejected and always results in conversion because the Holy Spirit is at work. Neither the new birth (John 3:8) nor the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) nor "God's workmanship" (Eph. 2:10) can be resisted, according to Edwin H. Palmer in "The Five Points of Calvinism." Furthermore David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas in "The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented" cite as proof-texts for irresistible grace numerous texts that specify God's internal call: Romans 1:67, 8:30, 9:2324; 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2, 9, 2331; Galatians 1:1516; Ephesians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:15, 2:9, 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1; and Revelation 17:14.

However, these allusions to God's effectual internal calling apply only to the irresistible grace that relates to internal calling. They do not invalidate the rejection of the outward call and indeed of the gospel of Christ by those who persist in unbelief (John 3:18, 5:47, 6:64; Rom. 11:23; Heb. 3:19).
I don't disagree with Dr. Garrett in his treatment of this point. His final comments on it, however, leave me wondering why he included them. Again, he writes,
We should never tell an unbeliever who scorns the message of the gospel that he or she can never be saved. Remember how the unbelieving, persecuting Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle!
No Calvinist would disagree. And no non-Calvinist would disagree. It may be that Dr. Garrett felt compelled to include this statement in case some might tempted to entertain the notion that rejection of the Gospel at any point means the forfeiture of any hope of ever being saved. With him, I renounce any such thought.

In his treatment of "unconditional election" Dr. Garrett makes the following helpful observation when commenting on Romans 8:29-30,
Dortian Calvinists are probably correct in interpreting "foreknew" as "loved beforehand" rather than "knew beforehand."
Furthermore, he observes,
The standard Arminian answer to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is to posit that God knew beforehand who would repent and believe and hence chose such persons to be the elect. As noted, such a position may rest on a faulty understanding of the biblical term "foreknew."
His main point of critique comes when he questions whether "the Augustinian-Calvinist tradition has over-individualized the doctrine of election and downplayed the corporate or collective aspect of the doctrine." While that may be demonstrable in certain writers, it is certainly true that belief in both is not mutually exclusive.

Dr. Garrett does not address perservance of the saints because, he says, "most Southern Baptists hold to this doctrine."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rainer's Plea for Civil Discourse (Amen!)

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, has issued a clear, humble plea for civility in the way we publicly address issues within the Christian family. He reveals his own heart and holds out a vision to which all who love Christ should aspire when he writes,
My passionate desire is to be a bridge builder in the Southern Baptist Convention. Not to compromise biblically. Not to be soft in my theology. I desire true collaboration with those of uncompromising biblical certitude to reach a lost world with the gospel of our Savior. My prayer is that the conservative resurgence will now grow into a Great Commission resurgence.
I love that spirit! It is not born of weakness or of any desire to avoid dealing with substantive issues (as he states elsewhere in the article). Rather, it grows out of the recognition that the God who instructs us to buy the truth and never sell it (Proverbs 23:23) also tells us to love one another earnestly from a pure heart and to do nothing from rivalry or conceit (1 Peter 1:22), but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 1:3).

It is impossible to commend our Savior with any authenticity when our words and actions so obviously contradict His spirit and teachings.

Dr. Rainer has issued an appropriate call. Let's work hard to heed it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Integrity in Church Membership Gaining Momemtum

Christianity Today refers to my failed resolution calling for integrity in church membership in its August issue. So does the Missouri Baptist Pathway in its current issue. The CT editorial is appropriately entitled, "Statistical Shell Game" and contains very insightful observations, including this one:
The failed resolution's statement on statistical accuracy, at least, ought to attract widespread support. Since World War II, leading evangelicals have regarded statistics as a matter of gospel integrity. That's because revivalists in the early 20th century often exaggerated the size of their flocks. The statistical shell game may work in the short term, but eventually someone uncovers the truth.
And this sober, prophetic warning:
A fate worse than insignificance awaits us if we fail to be honest. The numbers trap tempts evangelicals to implement programs that will boost the bottom line, regardless of their biblical warrant. "What works?" begins to replace, "What does God's Word teach us?" Such programs may appear to succeed for a time. But Jesus told a parable about what happens when we do not build on the foundation of his Word. The rains will come, the floodwaters will rise, and the winds will blow against that house. Sooner or later, the house will fall. And great will be that fall, Jesus warned (Matt. 7:24-27).

One day, the elements will test what we have built in our churches, crusades, and mercy ministries. The greater the exaggeration, the greater the fall.
Amen. The Pathway annonces that the 2008 Pastors' Conference will address the issue of regenerate church membership by having Mark Dever and two staff members from Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC speak on the theme, "Building Gospel Centered Churches" in each of the 6 sessions. This is the brainchild of Pastor Joe Braden, who serves as the President of the MO Pastors' Conference this year.

The Pathway gives some background to the upcoming conference:
A resolution on integrity in church membership was brought to the floor after having been rejected by the Resolutions Committee. It ultimately failed on a floor vote that required a 2/3 majority to bring it to life. Some observers felt it may have pulled as much as 51 percent in the losing effort.

Shortly after the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Interim Executive Director David Tolliver communicated that he took seriously “the reminder … concerning more accurate and honest reporting of numbers.” Both Tolliver and MBC President Mike Green agreed that rather than continuing to refer to the MBC as being comprised of about 600,000 total members, the more accurate number would be about 400,000.
I predict that the Missouri Pastors' Conference will be a smashing success, much like the national pastors' conference before the SBC in 2006. Pray that more Associational and State Convention leaders will have the wisdom and boldness of Tolliver and Braden in addressing this issue forthrightly. If they do, we will have reason to praise God for the spread of reformation and to pray that it will not be deterred in the face of any opposition that might arise.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 3

In his article, "Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?, " Dr. Garrett appropriately raises the issue of the biblical basis for the five points of Calvinism. He writes,
One may be inclined to say, relative to the teachings of Dortian Calvinism, that such a system should claim the allegiance of present-day Baptists only if its teachings can be clearly validated by and found to be grounded in the teachings of the Old and the New Testaments. Tradition, however important, must bow to the higher authority of the canonical Scriptures. Hence we need to inquire as to whether the tenets of Dortian Calvinism are indeed supported by the prevailing teachings of the Bible.
This approach should be applauded by all Christians, regardless of what one thinks of of the doctrines of grace. The final question is, what does the Word of God say?

Dr. Garrett asserts, "Those who teach limited atonement are prone to cite five New Testament passages in support of their position." He then quotes from those verses: Matthew 1:21, John 10:15b, John, 15:13, Acts 20:28c and Ephesians 5:25). Though I am not familiar with arguments for particular redemption based on the third of these references, the other four do help establish that position. However, I would be quick to add that those who teach particular redemption, or definite atonement, do not limit themselves to five verses only. Dr. Garrett would not disagree with this and I note it only for those who might be tempted to take his words to suggest otherwise.

Here is a secret that we Calvinists need to make known more broadly: everyone who is not a universalist limits the atonement at some point. Either you limit it in its design or you limit it in its application. That is, unless you believe that Jesus' death actually does save every person who has ever lived or will ever live.

The case for particular redemption rests on the Bible's teaching about the nature of the atonement, the intent of it and what it secured. What actually took place in the death of Jesus? Was the atoning work accomplished there objective, or subjective? Was it an actual atonement or a potential one? Did Jesus actually save sinners or merely make them savable? It is in the searching of biblical answers to these questions that the case for particular redemption is made.

Unfortunately, after citing the 5 verses above, Dr. Garrett does not attempt any exegesis of them. No doubt the limitations of space as well as the context of the article inhibited that. The lack of any examination of these verses in their contexts blunts the force of his summary concusion:
The accumulated references to "His people," "the sheep," "his friends" and "the church" are said to show that the intention of Jesus in His death was to die only for elect humans.
From this, Dr. Garrett launches into the citation of three kinds of biblical texts that that believes support general atonement: the "all" texts, the "many" texts, and the "world" texts. Unfortunately, none of the seventeen verses that he cites are engaged or interpreted. They are merely quoted. Again, I will concede the limitations of that format but it is regrettable that we are denied the serious exposition of these texts by one as capable as Dr. Garrett. Mere citation of verses does not advance theological discourse and tends to give the false perspective that there are some "Calvinistic" verses and some "Arminian" verses in the Bible.

After citing five New Testament verses that use the word "all" in relation to salvation, this observation is inserted:
Augustine of Hippo interpreted the "all" and "all men" to mean all classes and types of human beings, and thus he could retain limited atonement.
One could feasibly accuse Augustine of arbitrarily assigning that meaning to the word all, though Dr. Garrett is perhaps citing him as an example of one who recognizes that the little word "all" cannot be simplistically be taken as a universally inclusive word each time in appears in Holy Scripture. As Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains,
In particular one may speak of a summative, implicative and distributive signification of πας [the Greek word for "all"] as the term embraces either a totality or sum as an independent entitity (summative), an inclusion of all individual parts or representatives of a concept (implicative),or extension to relatively independent particulars (distributive). If the reference is to the attainment of the supreme height or breadth of a concept, we have an elative (or amplificative) significance (Vol. 5, p. 887).
Even without the technicalities of Kittel's analysis anyone who reads the New Testament carefully recognizes that the oft-quoted adage that "all means all and that's all that all means" may get lots of Fundamentalists laughing and shouting "amen," but it hardly sheds light on how that word is used in the Bible. I will limit myself to one example: "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him" (Matthew 3:5).

The problem that we Calvinists have with citing the "all" texts as if they prove a general atonement is this: for that case to be made, the nature of the atonement must be altered, usually away from an objective reality to a potential one. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:14, that Dr. Garrett cites. “One died for all, and therefore all died” If this teaches general atonement (One died for all who have ever lived or ever will live), then we must infer that all who have ever lived or who ever will live have in fact died with Christ. But no orthodox believer thinks that all mankind has spiritually died to their sin. The proponent of general atonement responds that Paul is speaking "potentially" or conditionally here--all those who trust in Christ spiritually die to their sin. But, that is not what the text says, and if that is what it means, then in order for the parallel between the two deaths to stand, the death that One died for all must likewise be only potential. Thus the atonement is drained of its objectivity and definiteness.

The "many" texts might just as easily be cited as supporting a limited perspective as a universal perspective since many is by definition less than the totality.

The "world" passages fall under the same critique as the "all" passages. If they are interpreted to mean "every person without exception" then the nature of the atonement must be altered. What happens if we interpret "kosmos" in John 1:29 in this way? "The lamb of God takes away the sin of the world [every person without exception]." If Jesus' death actually does this then no one will have any sin to bear and thus everyone will be saved.

Granted, our brothers and sisters who believe a general atonement do not believe this. But our argument with them is "why not?" How can the atonement of Christ be general and universalism be avoided without the nature of the atonement being somehow deobjectified? The answers offered to that question are less compelling to me than the answers offered by the Calvinistic understanding of the death of Christ.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 2

In his article entitled, "Calvinism: What does it mean?," Dr. Garrett makes the following comment on hyper-Calvinism:
A third meaning, no longer in common use, takes Calvinism to be the professed teaching of certain 18th-century English Congregationalists and Particular Baptists, a group believing that only the "elect" could be saved. These teachings we now properly label "Hyper-Calvinism." Five distinctive teachings of Hyper-Calvinism can be identified:

- God's decree from eternity to elect some human beings for salvation and reprobate (or eternally damn) others as being logically the first of God's decrees (a teaching known as supralapsarianism);

- an eternal covenant among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the redemption of elect humans through the Son (covenant of redemption);

- the eternal justification of the elect without the requisite faith on the part of the elect in history (eternal justification);

- the discouragement of the preacher's "offering of grace" indiscriminately to his hearers (no offers of grace) and

- Christians as not obligated to obey the moral law of the Old Testament (antinomianism).
Before offering my own thoughts I want to point you to other responses that are worth reading. Michael Haykin has responded to Dr. Garrett in his typical, irenic and careful way, taking exception to Dr. Garrett at several points. Timmy Brister, in his typical, balanced and comprehensive way, has already posted 4 of his multi-part responses with more to come (1, 2, 3, 4). Both of these men are worth reading.

To call these five points "distinctive" teachings of hyper-Calvinism suggests that those who hold to any of them are advocating, at least partially, hyper-Calvinism. While that case can be made for the last three of those teachings, it cannot be made for the first two. The first two of Garrett's points are held by many Calvinists who are decidedly against the deadly error or hyperism. John Bunyan was a supralapsarian and the Philadelpia Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes a covenant of redemption, stating that the covenant of grace "is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect" (chapter 7, para. 3).

While nearly all hyper-Calvinists affirm the covenant of redemption and are supralapsarian, not all who hold those points of theology are hyper-Calvinistic. Had Garrett limited his "distinctive" teachings to the last three on his list, I would have no reason to take exception.

In an excellent article on hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson provides this helpful definition by Peter Toon:
1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .
2. It is that school of supralapsarian 'five-point' Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word "offer" in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, "Hyper-Calvinism," New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]
I find this definition far less problematic than Dr. Garrett's "five distinctive teachings" approach.

Dr. Garrett makes the following claim later in this article:
Total depravity may not have been a key difference between the men of Dort and the Remonstrates. The interpretation of faith and repentance by Dort as gifts from God and by the Remonstrates as human duties may have been a leading difference, for the third article in the Remonstrant confession of faith refers to "saving faith."
Evangelical Calvinism does not believe that the claim that repentance and faith are gifts of grace and the claim that they are universal duties are mutually exclusive. The Bible teaches both. At Mars Hill Paul said, "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30). Repentance is clearly a duty required. But it is also the gift of God. As Peter puts it, ""He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31; cf. Acts 11:18).

It is also the duty of people to believe the Gospel. Paul and Silas commanded the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31; cf. Matthew 11:28). But faith is also the gift of God. As Paul puts it, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake , not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).

The Canons of Dort recognize that faith and repentance are obligations. They state, "By this ministry [preaching of the Gospel] people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified" (1.3). Further, those who do not believe are to be blamed for the cause lies in them and "not at all in God" (1.5). As the New Hampshire Confession puts it, "We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God" (8).

Indeed, it is at just this point where the real biblical strength of evangelical Calvinism is seen most clearly. It willingly integrates those teachings of the Bible that tend to make the rational mind think they cannot be believed at the same time; ie. that faith is both a gift and a duty, or that man is both depraved and responsible. The Bible teaches both. True Calvinism recognizes this and affirms both.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 1

I have been swamped the last several days and have not had time to post my promised evaluations of Dr. Garrett's articles before today. In the meantime, several commenters have expressed many of my own views about them. I will offer only some summary thoughts in a several-part response.

I write as one who is grateful for Dr. Garrett's influence in my life. The Lord used him to help keep me in the PhD program at Southwestern at time when I was so discouraged I was ready to quit. His example as a Christian scholar has been one to which I have pointed many times when discussing theological education with students and pastors.

First, three preliminary notes:

1. I refuse to question Dr. Garrett's motives and would admonish all who are tempted to do so to resist such temptation. I suspect he wrote in response to a specific invitation and I have no reason to believe that his motivation was anything other than an accurate and fair assessment. I do not think that he achieved accuracy or fairness at every point, but not because he intentionally tried to spin the material. There is nothing in my knowledge of or experience with Dr. Garrett that would lead me to believe otherwise. In fact, I have many reasons (besides the biblical teaching that love hopes all things) to believe the way I do about this. Motives belong to God. No one can discern them infallibly. We are to deal with arguments and evidence.

2. As I disagree with many of his arguments and claims, I hope to do so in a gracious manner because I owe him that. This is a discussion among brothers and not a war between enemies. Those of us who believe the doctrines of grace must press each other to remember that it is never enough to be right. We must also be loving. Even to our enemies. And Dr. Garrett is far from an enemy. He is a brother--an elder brother who deserves to be treated with the utmost respect even as what he has written is scrutinized with the utmost care.

3. Dr. Garrett is a serious student of the Bible, theology and history and would want his writings on these subjects to be taken seriously. When I had him for classes and seminars, he was never offended at a student's disagreement with his own views. What he demanded, however, was careful research, argumentation and documentation of one's position. Some of the critiques offered in by commenters over the last week have done just that. Others, however, have not risen to that level.

I have discussed Dr. Garrett's articles with various friends and have been the beneficiary of their insights. My response integrates those insights at many points.

***

Dr. Garrett implies that the Canons of Dort deemphasize human responsibility in their defense of divine sovereignty when he writes that, "Dort and the Arminians provided very specific answers--Dort in the direction of divine sovereignty and the Arminians in the direction of human accountability." Yet, consider a sample of what Dort actually says about man's responsibility (the first number refers to the "Head of Doctrine," the second to the specific article under that head; thus "1.1" refers to First Head of Doctrine, article 1). The bold emphases are mine.

"Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)" (1.1).

"The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man" (1.5).

Concerning those not elected for salvation, God chose "to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves" (1.15).

God's "justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body." (2.1)

"However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault" (2.6).

"Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts." (3/4.1)

"The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13)" (3/4.9).

"However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back" (3/4.16).

"This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints" (5.12).
Do these words suggest that Dort in any way slights man's responsibility before God? Hardly. Dr. Garrett does not specifically make that claim, but his words do leave that impression. One of the great misconceptions about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the former emphasizes God's sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility and the latter emphasizes human responsibility to the neglect of God's sovereignty.

But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish human responsibility at all. Granted, hyper-Calvinism does this, but it has always been regarded as an error by true Calvinists (as Spurgeon or Andrew Fuller). The point of departure comes because historic Calvinism does not make human responsibility depend on moral ability as Arminianism does. Calvinism teaches that, in the fall, man lost his moral ability to choose righteousness and carry out the duties of faith and repentance. Thus, these duties must be worked in a person by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (thereby making them gifts as well as duties).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

China: No reincarnating without a license

Being a living Buddha is not as easy as it used to be. From the Timesonline:
Tibet's living Buddhas have been banned from reincarnation without permission from China's atheist leaders. (read the rest of the story)
HT: Andrew N

Friday, August 03, 2007

Alabama Baptist Stories on Calvinism

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bob Terry, editor of the Alabama Baptist, has published 6 articles by Dr. James Leo Garrett on Calvinim. The articles are now available online. I am linking to them so that they may be more widely accessible to those outside of Alabama.

My quick prereading of them suggests that they are indeed marked by Dr. Garrett's scholarly precision when it comes to research, affirmations and conclusions. He typically nuances his statements very carefully so as not to misrepresent a person or position. I greatly appreciate that, even though I had to read a couple of sentences more than once to make sure that he was not actually saying what the drift of his argument seems to suggest. For example, note carefully what these two sentences say:
A third meaning, no longer in common use, takes Calvinism to be the professed teaching of certain 18th-century English Congregationalists and Particular Baptists, a group believing that only the "elect" could be saved. These teachings we now properly label "Hyper-Calvinism."
Is Dr. Garrett suggesting that the 18th century Particular Baptists were guilty of Hyper-Calvinism? One could easily get that impression. Though, what he actually--and very carefully--said is that some take Calvinism to be the "professed" teaching of "certain" Particular Baptists. That is certainly true, though it is equally true that not all Particular Baptists--all of whom believed that only the elect will be saved--were guilty of Hyper-Calvinism.

Dr. Garrett is writing at the invitation of the Alabama Baptist. He has obviously been made aware of certain scenarios where Calvinism has been cited as an issue in church problems and disruptions in the state. Some of his descriptions of such problems seem to be pointed to specific cases, though, unless I missed it, he does not refer to any such case by name or location.

I intend to interact with some of his points next week, as I have time. For now let me simply make a few general observations. First, I reiterate my encouragement to see a state Baptist newspaper taking up an important theological issue in such a significant way. Six articles by a respected and capable theologian on an important doctrinal issue is to be applauded.

Second, Dr. Garrett's historical treatment of men and movements is trustworthy. He is not a Calvinist. In fact, if I am accurately remembering conversations from years ago, he has serious problems with certain aspects of Calvinism. Yet, he is a Christian scholar who seeks to represent any subject he treats accurately and fairly. I anticipate nothing less from these articles.

Third, I already recognize one significant disagreement I have with the methodology informing Dr. Garrett's reasoning when he examines the fruit of the revival of Calvinism in the SBC. There seem to be certain unwarranted assumptions about the nature of the churches he envisions being detrimentally effected by Calvinistic ministries. I will try to address this in my interaction with his writings next week.

Until then, here are the articles.

A question facing Baptist churches

Calvinism: What does it mean?

Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?

Have Baptists always been Dortian Calvinists in their confessions of faith?

How prominent Baptists stack up

What are the alternatives to Dortian Calvinism?

The Alabama Baptist on Calvinism

Wyman Richardson and Timmy Brister have informed me that the August 2 issue of the Alabama Baptist contains 6 articles on Calvinism written by Dr. James Leo Garrett, Distinguished Professor of Theology Emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am trying to access the articles, but thus far, have been unsuccessful.

Bob Terry, the editor of the paper, explains why he is providing this much attention to this issue in his editorial:
This effort is not an attempt to persuade readers whether this viewpoint is right or wrong. Instead we present a series of articles designed to inform readers about Calvinism. We examine the definition of Calvinism. We explore what the Scriptures say about key teachings. We look at history through examinations of both confessions of faith and Baptist theologians. Alternatives are considered.

...............

Calvinism is an important issue in Baptist life. On the national level, there is what amounts to a pro-Calvinism caucus known as Founders Ministries. The organization sponsors a Web site listing churches in each state that affirm the doctrines of Calvinism. Several Alabama Baptist churches are on that list. Unofficially this Calvinist group also has sponsored candidates for election to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) offices.
He is mostly right. Though I would never describe Founders Ministries as a "caucus," we do have a website and churches are listed on it. He is simply wrong when he says that Founders has "sponsored candidates" for SBC offices. The closest Founders ever came to anything remotely close to that was last year when I--personally, not as Mr. Founders--along with others encouraged Mark Dever to allow his name to be placed into nomination for 2nd VP. He would have won, too, if Southern Baptist Calvinists didn't all get hungry at the same time. :-)

I commend Bob Terry and the Alabama Baptist staff for dealing with the issue of Calvinism so directly. This is simply further confirmation that the timing is right for the Building Bridges conference I announced yesterday. Southern Baptists are talking about Calvinism. Why not talk about it as carefully and helpfully as possible? That is what this conference promises to do.

I look forward to reading Dr. Garrett's articles. He is one of the finest professors I have ever had. I expect that his treatment will be noted by his characteristic scholarly care and Christian humility. When I get the articles. I will post my thoughts.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism Press Release

The formal announcement for the upcoming conference at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, November 26-28, 2007 is now available at the LifeWay website. Registration information is available there, as well. Speakers include Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Tom Nettles, David Dockery, Sam Waldron, Ken Keathley, Nathan Finn, Malcolm Yarnell, Greg Welty, Thom Rainer, James Merritt, Charles Lawless, David Nelson, JD Greear and Voddie Baucham.

The conference is being sponsored by Founders Ministries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. LifeWay is hosting the event.

I am personally very encouraged at the prospect of this conference. The Lord has worked in wonderful ways already in the planning. It is time for Southern Baptists to quit talking past one another on important theological issues. The issue of Calvinism has become increasing prevalent in the minds of many over the last several years. Brother and sisters in Christ ought to be able to discuss such an important topic like this without condemning those with whom we disagree.

This conference will provide a forum for just such a dialogue. We have a significant lineup of excellent theologians and expositors who represent what Scripture means when it says iron sharpens iron. This conference is an opportunity for Southern Baptists to experience the kind of theological sharpening that takes place when brothers and sisters come together to learn from one another and to challenge each other to follow our Savior more faithfully.

I hope there will be a wide cross-section of Southern Baptist life represented by those who come and participate in this conference. It promises to be a historic gathering. Please join me in praying that the Lord will use it in a mighty way to encourage and strengthen pastors, leaders and churches throughout the SBC and beyond.

Winslow on pastors' weaknesses and needs

Octavius Winslow's Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts are two of my favorite devotional books. His August 1 and August 2 morning readings are good reminders of how much pastors need the prayers of their people. I have often thought that if my people really knew how weak I am they would desperately pray for me more than they do--and I am quite confident that most of them pray regularly for me now.

Consider this sample of Winslow's insights:
Who are ministers of Christ? Are they angels? Are they superhuman beings? Are they inspired? No, they are men in all respects like others. They partake of like infirmities, are the subjects of like assaults, and are estranged from nothing that is human. As the heart knows its own bitterness, so they only are truly aware of the existence and incessant operation of those many and clinging weaknesses of which they partake in sympathy with others. And yet God has devolved upon them a work which would crush an angel's powers, if left to his self-sustaining energy.
If you are a pastor, read Winslow and be reminded of your weakness. If you have a pastor, read Winslow and remember to pray for those who are charged with the responsibility to care for your souls.

You can find the readings for the whole month of August here at the Grace Gems website.