Friday, June 08, 2012

Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation, Part 7

[Part 1 of this series]
[Part 2 of this series]
[Part 3 of this series]
Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?
[Part 4 of this series]
[Part 5 of this series]
[Part 6 of this series]

Article Four: The Grace of God

We affirm that grace is God's generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.
Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 3:34; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 19:16-30, 23:37; Luke 10:1-12; Acts 15:11; 20:24; Romans 3:24, 27-28; 5:6, 8, 15-21; Galatians 1:6; 2:21; 5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:2-9; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 4:16; 9:28; 1 John 4:19
I find the statements in this article more confusing than theologically problematic. Given the accomplishments and prominence of the authors and promoters of this document I readily admit that the confusion could be completely due to my inability to keep up with their biblical and theological thinking. Regardless of where the fault lies, I, for one, would greatly benefit from some exegetical explanation of this affirmation and denial. Carefully reading through the proof texts cited did not help me understand this article which they supposedly support.

If I take the affirmation as generically affirming the grace of God in providing salvation then I can say a hearty, "Amen." It is when I read the affirmation slowly, and focus on the clauses and their connections (something that a public statement like this deserves) that the fog starts rising in my understanding.

My understanding of grace has been shaped by those biblical passages that speak of it in terms of God's activity and provision. I can't recall the Bible speaking of it as his "decision" (though certainly if God acts or provides, it is because he decided to act or provide). This is how I read Ephesians 2:8, "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." The grace by which we have been saved is God's saving work in Christ. It has come to us undeserved and without our effort and is personified in Jesus Himself, who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

I am not suggesting that the authors' and signers of this statement would disagree with any of this. They just didn't state it. What they do state is that grace is God's "decision to provide salvation to any person by taking all of the initiative" in three specific areas: 1) "in providing atonement," 2) "in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit," 3) "in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith."

Consider what each of these clauses asserts.
  1. Though the first of these assertions strikes me as an awkward way to say it and perhaps stops short of saying enough, who can question God's initiative "in providing atonement?" He certainly took "all the initiative" in providing atonement by sending Jesus into the world.
  2. The second assertion is more difficult to understand. Where in the Bible do we read of God taking initiative "in freely offering the gospel?" Believers are called to proclaim the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) and the New Testament certainly records examples of first century Christians doing just that "in the power of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:1-41; 4:8-12; 7:1-60, etc.). Perhaps 2 Corinthians 5:20 might lend some credence to this language, but Paul there speaks of God using Christians as his ambassadors, making an appeal through them as they themselves implore unbelievers to be reconciled to God. Besides, the authors obviously did not have this verse in mind since it is not included in their proof texts for this article. To speak of God offering the gospel "in the power of the Holy Spirit" may not be contrary to Scripture, but it strikes me as an odd affirmation to make on a such thin exegetical foundation.
  3. The third clause is much more understandable and, though I could quibble over a simpler way to say it, the Bible certainly teaches that God takes all of the initiative in uniting believers to Christ. It also clearly teaches that such union comes through faith and only by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
 The denial seems to be aimed at the unfortunate phrase, "irresistible grace," that is represented by the fourth letter in the acrostic TULIP. Some people have misunderstood that point as teaching that Calvinists see God's grace operating in such a way that people are dragged, kicking and screaming, into a saving relationship with Christ. Of course, that is hardly the case and no respected Calvinistic teacher has ever advocated God's grace operating in such a manner. Since the real issue at stake is better addressed in terms of God's effectual call, I will reserve further comments for my response to article eight, which denies the existence of effectual calling.

The final sentence of the denial is a statement that strikes me as eminently biblical and I am grateful to see the idea that faith is a meritorious work rejected so plainly.


Brent Hobbs said...

"I find the statements in this article more confusing than theologically problematic. "

Very well stated. Bullet point #2 is right on the money as well.

Prophet Among Them said...

Tom - The following phrase is what I have hammered you with for years. When will we abandon the fruitless exercise of attempting to find "polemics" to be the horse we ride to understanding and harmony. That will NEVER happen. You said it will in the following phrase:

"greatly benefit from some exegetical explanation"

On Dr. Vines BLOG he appealed for a conversation on this matter. But, when you attempt to posy a comment on that BLOG you get a message that says "COMMENTS CLOSED".

I once more appeal for a forum in which thes issues are systematically, line upon line & precept upon precept, treated exegetically.

The Law of Non-Contradiction makes it clear that two parties CANNOT come to a passage of Scripture, reach contradictory conclusions and both be correct. Both may be incorrect. One may be correct and the other incorrect. But because TRUTH is absolute and unchanging both cannot be correct.

Let me know the date/place/time for this Forum. I will gladly participate and contribute.

THANKS for your great, substantive and truly irenic discourse on this matter.

Billy said...


I think it might help us as we seek to continue discussion together if we recognize that what we mean when we say "Gospel" and what they mean when they say "Gospel" are two completely different things. As I read their reactions to Dr. Mohler's response, one thing is becoming very clear: they will not affirm any presentation of the gospel that does not have man's free choice at the center of it.

Especially when you read the end of Hankins' response to Mohler's post, you see that they actually believe that we do not even preach the one true gospel. They are upset that we call them semi-Pelagians, because they think by it we mean heretics. In the same breath, they argue that we are preaching a different gospel, something Paul clearly marks out as heresy (Galatians 1).

All that said, I think the hinge upon which the entire statement swings is article one in which they make clear that free will is the cornerstone of their gospel. Take out man's free will, according to these people, and the entire foundation falls. With that understand, reread this article and see if you are still confused.

Billy said...

This is the last paragraph from Dr. Hankins' response to Dr. Mohler:

"I conclude by returning to the question at the center of this entire discussion. Dr. Mohler states that he “rejoices in its statement that ‘the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation.’” I would like to know how such an affirmation comports with his self-avowed Calvinism. It is likely that he means salvation is for any person who has been pre-temporally chosen out of the mass of humanity, the rest of whom will be passed over for salvation, never to be granted the ability to respond to the Gospel, no matter what. This is not what we mean. We mean that every person who hears the Gospel has the opportunity to respond in repentance and faith, and we will continue to insist that this is what most Southern Baptists believe."

Basically, what I see is Dr. Mohler offering the right hand of fellowship and Dr. Hankins slapping it away. It seems as though the statement may have simply been drafted to draw Calvinists out of our holes so that the witch hunt might be conducted more effortlessly. These men (Dr. Vines, Dr. Hankins, and the Vice Presidents at Truett-McConnell College), in their response to Dr. Mohler, are behaving more like a hungry pack of wolves attacking a wounded lamb than men of God. I certainly hope this is not a taste of things to come as we approach the convention in New Orleans.

Lasaro Flores said...

Brother Tom, God's grace and wisdom be with you in endeavoring to present the Truth of the Gospel of the Grace of God in these series of articles with respect to this subject. It is my prayer that our God will pleased to shine His Light upon the Darkness that is now so prevalent on the SBC. As we all have seen, apostasy is all around us; and the SBC is not exempt. I personally years ago had resigned my pastorate from a SBC church, because as I became a Sovereign Grace preacher by the grace of God, I felt I could not could not as pastor because my doctrines were distinctly different from the usual teaching in those years. But later, in my continued studies, I found out that the SBC was actually "Calvinistic" from its beginnings. So in a sense, I was more a true Southern Baptist, than most of them. But I found that as I continued in my ministry and pastoring, there was much resistance to the Doctrines of Grace. At one point, I was ask to resign because supposedly I wasn't a Southern Baptist. Although I'm not pastoring at the present, I have web pages in both English and Spanish; as also I send out a newsletter via email to quite a few people. All Praise and Glory to my God who still has use for me in His Work of the Gospel.
My prayers are with you, my dear brother, as you stand fast in "announcing the whole counsel of God." Amen.

B Nettles said...

Tom, you said:
The final sentence of the denial is a statement that strikes me as eminently biblical and I am grateful to see the idea that faith is a meritorious work rejected so plainly.

I admire your non-contrarian response. I suspect, nonetheless, that you and the modernists agree because of antithetical reasons. Here is a possible scenario:
One party sees faith as a necessary contribution from man to complete the transaction of acquiring redemption, but, like many coupons state, has no "cash" value, i.e., it is non-meritorious. Another party sees faith as something wrought by God in a person's life and freely expressed as it is given. It is non-meritorious because it does not arise from man's scramble to appease God, but comes from God.

I understand the former as a teaching coming from a 1950's and 1960's perspective, but certainly is not the majority view of traditional Southern Baptists. The latter certainly strikes at my pride and individual competence.

DoGLover said...

We cannot praise God for that which we accomplish ourselves. Whatever I contribute to my salvation is mine to give. Therefore, I cannot thank God for it. The extent to which I earn something, I deserve credit for it. I can thank a waiter for serving my meal, but not for my being able to pay for it. We cannot both give praise and take credit for the same thing.

Personally, I'm grateful that Jesus accomplished all that was necessary for my salvation. I rejoice in his overwhelming grace.

By grace,

Tom said...

I am confident that your observations are correct.


coramdeo said...

The epitome of double speak is this A & D.

Gena said...

There's is not a link to go to part 8 at the end of the article...(like it is in previous articles.)