Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Brief Response to David Allen's Explanations and Rejoinder

Drs. Malcolm Yarnell, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and David Allen, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, and Dean of the School of Theology, both serving at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have each recently deemed words written by me on this blog worthy of public "responses." Dr. Yarnell's is basically an amped up version of his final comment in the meta of this post. It so is rife with innuendo and misrepresentation that I will not take time to respond to it.

Dr. Allen's comments, however, are worthy of a response. It is refreshing to read comments from a denominational employee who has not forgotten that the seminary where he works is "owned and operate[d], through the trustee system, by the churches of the SBC." It is also encouraging to read these words from him:
Dr. Ascol and I not only differ and disagree on the subject of Calvinism, but in fact, our disagreement in certain areas is quite strong. However, for the record, let it be known that I do not view Dr. Ascol’s critique of my words as an attack on me personally.
My critique of Dr. Allen's review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, was never intended to be personal and, for the record, I do not take his criticisms of me and my views personally, either. I acknowledge him as a brother who is seeking to honor our common Lord and who deserves both my love and respect, which he has. My further interaction with some of his public comments is for the purpose of promoting understanding, accurate representation of the views we hold and mutual accountability--things that I sense Dr. Allen values as much as I.

I am grateful that Dr. Allen has willingly altered his manuscript to remove some of the condescending language he employed when describing Tom Nettles and Nathan Finn.

I am sorry to see Dr. Allen continue to defend his accusation of James White being a hyper-Calvinist. What I originally wrote has been largely vindicated. Thinking people are not impressed. The juxtaposition of the two following sentences by Dr. Allen does not help his case:
Incidentally, the attempts of Phil Johnson and James White at parsing words, nuancing or otherwise skirting the main issue at hand, have failed to show my initial statement concerning White to be false, in my opinion. I am willing to concede Johnson’s point that his Primer does not state what I interpreted it to state.
Dr. Allen concedes that he has misinterpreted Johnson's primer on hyper-Calvinism, which misinterpretation is the basis on which he leveled the charge against Dr. White. To acknowledge that one's premise is false while refusing to admit that the conclusion built upon it is in any way affected does not make sense. Here is the way that it comes across to me.

Original argument:
  1. According to Phil, anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist
  2. James is bald
  3. Therefore, James is a hyper-Calvinist
After Phil debunks the assertion that he has stated that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist:
  1. I admit that Phil has proven that he never said that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist and that when I said that he said that, I was wrong
  2. Nevertheless, this does not prove that my conclusion about James White is false
What is it that makes one want to maintain the conclusion that is admittedly built on a faulty premise? The rationale escapes me.

On November 24, under a heading that says, "Why I said James White is a Hyper-Calvinist," Dr. Allen wrote,
My main point, which seems to have been lost on so many people, was not to focus on James White and his hyper-Calvinism. My point was to show the unwisdom on the part of Tom Ascol in his willingness to team up with James White to debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. Many non-Calvinists within our convention are concerned not only about Calvinism, but about some hyper-Calvinistic tendencies in the convention.
Anyone who knows me well can vouch for my "unwisdom" in various areas. Dr. Allen could have chosen any number of ways to highlight it, had he wished. I am glad that he pointed out that this was his "main point" because I also was among the "many people" that missed it. Of course, if, as has been sufficiently demonstrated by Phil Johnson and James White and asserted by me, James White is NOT a hyper-Calvinist, then Dr. Allen's main point is not only hard to recognize it is without merit.

This sheds light on why Dr. Allen thinks that I continue to miss the point. He writes,
Apparently Ascol is either 1) unaware of this difference between White and himself, or 2) does not believe there is a difference between his own views and White on this subject, or 3) is unwilling to conclude that such a difference makes White a hyper-Calvinist, or some combination of the three.
I am fairly aware of what James White believes. He speaks and writes very clearly. He and I do not significantly disagree on this subject. We might state things a little differently, but we both agree that God's will must be seen in terms of decree and precept and we both agree that God will not be frustrated at the end of history. Dr. Allen simply does not understand James White's views nor, it appears, the theology of hyper-Calvinism.

Furthermore, Dr. Allen writes, "Can anyone say that Steve Camp does not meet Phil Johnson's criteria on hyper-Calvinism?" Yes. I can. Dr. Allen has conceded that he misunderstood and therefore misrepresented Phil Johnson's criteria. Thus, once again, the conclusion which derives from the faulty premise also falls.

The brotherly thing for Dr. Allen to do is to retract his statements, apologize to these men for bearing false witness against them and continue studying hyper-Calvinism.

Dr. Allen transcribes his comments from the John 3:16 conference with the following:
Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don't need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It's fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism.
I find this admonition incredible. Founders Ministries has been decrying hyper-Calvinism longer and louder than ANYONE in the Southern Baptist Convention. Anyone who has ten minutes and knows how to use the search engine on our website could learn that. Let me just set the record straight on this.
  1. In 1996, the Founders Journal published a letter I wrote to a father whose son was caught up in real hyper-Calvinism, trying to counsel him on how to help and evangelize his son. In that same issue, an excerpt from a small book I wrote was included under the title, "Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism: Issues Shaping Our Identity as Southern Baptists."
  2. In 1996, Founders Ministries gave away 2000 copies of Iain Murray's book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. We were ridiculed, chastised and questioned by friend and foe alike for "stirring up trouble when there is none." We pressed on with this effort because, as students of history, we know that hyper-Calvinism is a parasite and it only emerges where true Calvinism lives. Because we saw the danger of what might attend the resurgence of true Calvinism, we sought to educate as many people as we could about the issues.
  3. We have, on this blog and elsewhere, repeatedly addressed the error of hyper-Calvinism, calling it pernicious, damnable, and unbiblical.
When I read Dr. Allen's words that "it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism" I want to laugh and say, "Welcome to the party, I am sorry it took you so long to get here."

In his review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, Dr. Allen raises concerns about my involvement, and Founders Ministries' involvement, in the Building Bridges Conference and raises a question about "two Southern Baptist entities (LifeWay and Southeastern Seminary) partnering with a non-Southern Baptist entity (Founders Ministries) for this kind of conference." He writes,
My concern is with the involvement of the Founders Ministries. For them to be a co-sponsor legitimizes their agenda within the convention, an agenda which is counter productive in my judgment. For SBC entities to partner with any non-SBC group that is polarizing and that represents a small fragment of the convention is problematic.
In response to this, I made the following points: 1) Why then would he tolerate his own seminary's partnership with a non-lordship salvation group like Grace Evangelical Fellowship by hosting them on campus? 2) Why would he support and participate in the John 3:16 conference, sponsored by 3 "Southern Baptist entities" in partnership with Jerry Vines Ministires, a "non-Southern Baptist entity?"

Here is Dr. Allen's rejoinder to this:
First, Dr. Jerry Vines is a Southern Baptist with every right to express his theological disagreement with Calvinism through his own ministry.
Amen. No one is questioning this point. The same is true of me and Founders Ministries.
Second, there is a significant difference in Founders Ministries partnering with SBC entities for a bi-partisan conference, and SBC entities co-sponsoring a partisan conference.
Let me get this straight. If SEBTS and LifeWay had partnered with Founders to sponsor a partisan conference (let's call it, the "Acts 13:48 conference" :-) ), then Dr. Allen would have us believe that he would have had no problem with that? That strikes me as unlikely.

It gets even more confusing. He continues:
Furthermore, since non-partisan SBC entities partnered with partisan Founders Ministries for the Building Bridges Conference, it would seem to me Dr. Ascol would have no grounds to question non-partisan SBC entities partnering with partisan Jerry Vines ministries on this or any subject.
I didn't question him on this. I used his actions (participating in the J316 conference) as an example of doing the very thing that he protested about the Building Bridges Conference. For him to suggest that I was the one who raised this question is convoluted.

I am grateful to read of Dr. Allen describe himself as "one of those who genuinely want to bridge our doctrinal divides and live together with my Calvinist brothers and sisters in true unity and love." I believe him. My critique of what he has written and said do not address the question of his motives. Motives belong to God. I have simply tried to point out that much of what he has written and said has been detrimental to his own stated desire.

I have been informed that an open forum on Calvinism is being hosted tomorrow by Dr. Allen for students and interested parties in the Truett Conference Room on Southwestern's campus. This seems to me to be a good step and I will pray that it will go a long way to clearing up confusion and building more bridges. I recommend that you read Quincy Jones' admonitions at the link above if you plan to attend.


Jerry said...

Dr. Allen states:

"Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don't need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It's fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism. "

Do which i would reply:

"Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don't need to be teaming up with Pelagians. It's fine for non-Calvinists to get together and have debates with Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for non-Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about Pelagianism."

J.D. Rector said...

Seaking of "... whatever we do in Baptist life...", I find it interesting that within the last 10years a few of my young seminary brothers that I know personally who were being interviewed by an SBC entity for employment were "grilled" over whether they were "calvinists" or "not". As if "not" was the safe position to hold, it troubles me that these young men were questioned this way.

Why is it that we can have differing views from presidents of our some of our SBC seminaries concerning the Doctrines of Grace, but that is not acceptable within some other entities of our denomination?

Press on Tom!


Andrew said...

I pray that Dr. Allen would see the error he has made in identifying James White and Steve Camp as hypercalvinists and that he really would commit himself to studying hypercalvinism further.

This would be very encouraging and would further validate the attempt to hold a debate on the sovereignty of God in salvation issue with men such as James White. He's a High Calvinist but he is obviously not hyper by Murray, Spurgeon, Johnson, or Daniels definition. Or any historical definition.

Allen is confused about the word "desire" and doesn't want to "parse words" to be accurate. But we are talking about real people here! You must take the time to be accurate or else risk slandering a man of God (which I believe Dr. Allen has done).

It's a good response Dr. Ascol. I like how you took time first to highlight all the good things Dr. Allen said before turning to the oversights.

James Hunt said...

I'm just flabbergasted on how men and women obviously much more intellectually gifted than me can read the same scriptures I do and come to a completely different understanding of the truth plainly taught therein.

Yes, I'm willing to ascribe the discernment of motives to God - good reminder, Tom - however, I've for my entire involvement in SBC life (since about '91) been sickened by the obfuscations, creative biblical interpretations, and, yes, even inversion of meaning of biblical passages by some biblical "giants" within our convention that claim to have a grasp on soteriology.

Tom - press on!

Now then...I'll go confess my pride and crawl back into my corner.

donsands said...

I asked Dr. James White why Jesus would weep over Jerusalem, and he stated that Jesus wasn't weeping for all the Jews, but just His children.
I have to disagree here.

How do you see this?

I don't believe Dr. White is hyper, but he certainly has a more hard stance, don't you think?

BTW, I have been incredibly edified with James Whites teaching, videos, debates, and books.

Tom said...

Though James and I have not discussed this issue at length, I am convinced that we are in basic agreement, based on what he has written. We would probably say some things differently. Phil Johnson calls him somewhat "stiffer" in his views than some. My main concern is that he has been slandered by the accusation that he is a hyper-Calvinist. He most definitely is not.

Strong Tower said...


What else did he say about it? James White has explained the context repeatedly when arguing against those who deny irresistable grace. And I would imagine that if he said this it was in context of those who the Jewish leaders had prevented from coming to a true knowledge of God. He explains His children as those who God would have gathered. Now, I don't know if he meant the elect by designating them His children. But, from other things he has said, it would follow that Jesus is weeping over the travesty of the Scribes and Pharisees in putting stumbling blocks before the children of Israel of which Jerusalem is a type.

I think there are other things that Jesus is also lamenting over. He follows with his conversation of the fate of Jerusalem which would overtake everyone if they did not heed his warning. He may also be lamenting simply the effects of sin.

If JW was meaning only the elect, then I think I would have to disagree also. Until he has spoken upon that aspect I wouldn't know. I don't remember having heard him make that distinction in any of his exegesis on these passages, though he may have. Still, it is no great error.

JW is stiff. But he explains why. He is an apologetics expert and "scientific" accuracy is his primary goal in defense of the Gospel. As he explains, he would not go out and do what he does if he was as ill prepared as his accussors. Frankly, I find him humorous and enlightening even in his inflexible tact even when I disagree.

This is the thing. There are major errors and divergence of doctrines, right or wrong, and minutia clogs the conduits of discourse too often. I am interested in the Bridge Building, however, it really matters what is held by both camps, defined and accessable to the understanding of the membership of the SBC. Full disclosure and wide open dialogue should rule according to the BFM; education is a mandate in its missiology. We can cooperate only on the basis of truth. If cooperation is to be effected each party can't deny themselves, rather each must be enabled to stand on equal footing, both sides free to label with explanation the other. But, both must be fully capable of defense. Irrational and irresponsible exegesis of Scripture moves us no where and JW would call it a Pulpit Crime.

That being said, we cannot both claim the truth and claim the Bible inerrent and authoritative if we do not agree as to it contents. What we will have to do is clearly mark out the boundary of acceptable and established doctrine and clearly explain it to the world what we mean as establihsed and what we mean by that which is not. Otherwise we will lose all credibililty in our defense of Scripture and by consequence lose the GC.

Big Red Machine said...

I believe Dr. Allen is sounding so convoluted because he is trying to defend a position for which he does not have facts to support it. In other words, the only alternative is to say "I apologize, I was wrong," which does not seem to be forthcoming. So, since the facts are not on his side, send in the obfuscation. It is similar to having a discussion on a sola with a Roman Catholic.

johnMark said...

Bro. Tom,

I appreciate this post and its tone. If you don't mind, a couple days ago made a post showing other places where SBCer's partner with other denominations. Even with Roman Catholics which...I just won't go there!

Read it here. While not extensive, I believe the documentation makes the point that SBCer's do partner with others. It seems to go unnoticed except when it comes to Calvinism.


Tom said...


Thanks for the link. The issue clearly isn't partnering with other groups, as you have pointed out and as the convoluted explanation Dr. Allen offered makes plain. Something else is driving their agenda. Perhaps you are correct.


donsands said...


I think James White was saying since Jesus had just then sternly and with righteous anger, rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, that He was in no way weeping for them.

I think he said Jesus was weeping for the others.

It seems Jesus was lamenting over Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is a name for the people of God; priests, prophets, Levities, scribes and Pharisees.

That's how I take it from Luke 19. But I may have to take some time with this passage. There's Luke 13, Matt. 23, and Luke 19 to be studied.

But the bottom line with Dr. White is that he is a fine pastor-teacher, and a wonderful Reformed brother in Christ.
I gain much from his giftedness and wisdom of the Scriptures. And I am humbled by his always gracious and humble demeanor.

One Salient Oversight said...

It sounds like a clear-cut, universally agreed definition of the term "hyper-Calvinism" needs to be worked out.

Darby Livingston said...

"It sounds like a clear-cut, universally agreed definition of the term "hyper-Calvinism" needs to be worked out."

Judging by the size of the eye in your username photo, I'd say you should see clearly enough to get something on paper. :)

Rev. said...

I am not a hyper-Calvinist. Hair is for the weak. ;)

Knowing some things about David Allen, I also believe he genuinely desires to live in peace with his Reformed SBC brethren. The more we can discuss these types of things together, the better.

Morris Brooks said...


Down right pithy for a New Mexican.


Kenneth M. Fryer said...

Tom, I love the idea of an Acts 13:48 conference!! It's obvious that you are feeling better!


David said...

whew. i must say that I'm glad that I am no longer in the SBC. Having been a part of a Founder's friendly church at one time I must confess that for me personally, I am glad to rather be in a denomination (and church) that see's eye to eye on main points of doctrine.

While I respect all Founder's friendly folk in the SBC, I do have to question the wisdom of staying within the SBC. No need to respond. I don't have a dog in this fight anymore. Just my thoughts.