This is the last post in this series, and concludes my attempt to provide a compelling articulation for the middle ground on which so many Southern Baptists stand—holding that God is the ultimate Determiner of destinies and that men have free will in the matter (but without going to the lengths of Calvinism or Traditionalism).
An important question, which goes to the heart of the Calvinism debate, was asked by Dr. Eric Hankins, at the 2017 Connect 316 Banquet:
On Calvinist principles, God could have foreordained the salvation of all just as easily, just as righteously, as He foreordained the salvation of only some. What else can such an act be called except “evil”? This is not a misrepresentation of Calvinism. I see no way around this implication. If there is one, Southern Baptists are going to need to hear it.
There is a Biblical solution to this supposed implication, but it’s found only in the middle view. As we’ve already seen in this series, in issue after issue, Calvinists and Traditionalists have chosen a divisive simplicity over a deeper complexity. Any time that a doctrine is stripped of an inherent complexity by two opposing arguments, the dispute will not end until the complexity is restored. This issue is no different. Continue reading →
The posts in this series are not in any particular order; but it may be helpful, before reading this one, to read the following posts: “The 3rd Rail: Inability of the Will is Never Literal,” and, “The 3rd Rail: The Fallacy of a Restrictive Foreknowledge.”
As we have seen in previous posts in this series, God’s knowledge of all events from outside of time does not in any way restrict man’s freedom to freely act—that, in fact, we retroactively write God’s foreknowledge with every decision we make. Many may balk at this because it sounds so foreign to our linear, temporal thinking; but we cannot expect a timeless God to interact with our world in ways that we comfortably understand. If we dare to ask tough questions, then we ought not to be satisfied with pat answers, but should strive beyond comfort to glimpse the truth, even if it be unexpected. But this is not to say that God is not in control. Middlers affirm that God determines the destinies of men—we simply deny that He does this against or in spite of their free will. Continue reading →
One fallacy in the debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists is the idea that God’s foreknowledge makes all events necessary. Such logic insists that, since God already knows what you will decide on a certain occasion, then it “would be impossible” for you to decide otherwise (since it is “impossible” for God’s foreknowledge to fail). Like most arguments provided by either side of this debate, it is overly simplistic and fails to consider the full reality.
God & Time
Time, like space, is part of the world that is transcended by its Creator. God is outside time—beyond its limitations and in full knowledge of events throughout the past and future. God created this world to be both temporal and spatial. Each moment is its own exclusive reality, but inseparable from the order and progression of events. In other words, the now of any moment is reality, past moments are no longer reality and future moments are not yet reality. Continue reading →
It is possible to put so much emphasis on one Biblical principle that another equally important Biblical principle becomes obscured in the shadow, and eventually rejected. Baptist Centrists going all the way back to Andrew Fuller have recognized this problem in the teachings of our Necessarian (Calvinist) and Libertarian (Traditionalist & Arminian) brothers. This unbalanced emphasis is evident in how either side presents their support from Scripture. Fuller stated it well:
If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency; for, on the same ground, another person might embrace that which I reject, and reject that which I embrace, and have equal Scriptural authority for his faith as I have for mine. Yet in this manner many have acted on both sides: some, taking the general precepts and invitations of Scripture for their standard, have rejected the doctrine of discriminating grace; others, taking the declarations of salvation as being a fruit of electing love for their standard, deny that sinners without distinction are called upon to believe for the salvation of their souls. Hence it is that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that it is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us […]
We in the middle watch with dismay as justification for the extremes of one side is claimed to be based on the extremes of the other (in the ongoing Calvinism/Traditionalism debate). Why ignore the middle position? There are more than two choices here. In fact, both sides can actually come to near agreement on some issues, with a few minor adjustments—adjustments that bring them more in line with sound, Biblical truth. The issue of the inability of sinners is one in desperate need of common sense and Biblical clarity, which will provide some common ground for both sides—that is, for those who are willing to open their eyes and consider what the middle has to offer. Continue reading →
The idea that God, in eternity past, elected certain individuals to salvation is a fundamental tenet of Calvinism and Arminianism. The interpretation of this biblical concept needs to be revised. Quite simply, when the Bible speaks of election in the context of God’s saving action, it is always referring to corporate election, God’s decision to have a people for Himself. When the election of individuals is raised in Scripture, it is always election to a purpose or calling within God’s plans for His people as a whole. In the OT, the writers understood election to be God’s choice of Israel, yet they also clearly taught that the benefits of corporate election could only be experienced by the individual Israelite (or the particular generation of Israelites) who responded faithfully to the covenant that had been offered to the whole nation. This trajectory within the OT is unassailable. It is reinforced in the intertestamental literature and is the basis for the way election is treated in the NT. The Bible, therefore, does not speak of God’s choice of certain individuals and not others for salvation. When the Bible does speak of the salvation of individuals, its central concept is “faith,” never “election.”
Imagine how sinners would react if the gospel offered no promise of eternal life to those who believe. If there were no amazing grace, no opportunity for forgiveness, no loving heavenly Father to welcome us into His family, no Savior who gave His life to save us, but only a proclamation that God ought to be worshipped for who He is, and that sin must be punished, would anyone come to God in faith? If only hell awaited—even for believers—would any be willing to pray, “Not my will but Thine be done?” No one would come.
Calvinists and Traditionalists have been arguing, with varying degrees of amity and enmity, since the SBC was formed. But between these two (with slight overlap of both) is a less argumentative and more cooperative middle view. Because this middle view has commonalities with both Calvinism and Traditionalism, this group has little problem working with pastors and supporting missionaries from either end of the spectrum. However, this ability to cooperate leaves the middle position “out of sight and out of mind,” since we (I count myself among them) usually have little use for “in-house” theological debate*. When we encounter Calvinists who demand that God is the ultimate determiner of the destinies of men, we give a hearty, “Amen!”–and Continue reading →
Throughout the Old Testament, a spotless animal was permitted to die in place of the sinner. Sin required death—either the death of the sinner or the death of an allowed substitute. No person in the Old Testament was qualified to be a sin sacrifice, as Jesus was, so animals were used as pictures to teach about the future Christ. These animals were, in various ways, pictured as being made one with the sinners in order to point to Christ being made one with believers. The first sacrifice was when God made clothing of animal skin to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve, whose sin incurred their nakedness and need of clothing. This was such a beautiful picture of substitutionary sacrifice! Imagine them wearing the skin of this animal, which gave its life to pay for their sin. What a picture of union between sinner and sacrifice. The skin from the animal’s back was now on their back—they were walking around in its skin as if they had become the animal; while it had died for their sin as if it had become them. Continue reading →
John Murray’s treatment of sanctification, particularly his essay, “The Agency in Definitive Sanctification,” makes some surprising inroads toward grasping the believer’s retroactive, realistic identification with Christ. He does not go as far as to acknowledge that the reality of the spiritual union of Christ in the believer brings a title to all that Christ accomplished just as if the believer had accomplished it. Instead, he prefers to call it a mysterious “divine constitution.” But he does recognize the “tension” between the historical objectivity of Christ dying and rising again, and the fact of the believer subjectively dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ—and that the two are often spoken of in the New Testament as if they were one and the same events. The believer did not die to sin until coming to Christ in faith; and yet, the power of that dying to sin is firmly grounded in the once-and-for-all quality of Christ’s death—as if the historically objective death of Christ somehow became an historically objective fact of the believer’s life once he came to Christ. Continue reading →
The Winter 2017 issue of The Founders Journal contains a brief, informative article on Original Sin, by Steve Farish, entitled, “The Fall Brought Condemnation and Corruption.” To his credit, he does not present only the representationist “party line,” but also tries to present the realist side and its problems. This is commendable. But as a realist, I would like to engage Mr. Farish on some of his points. The realist perspective has much more to offer than he has presented.
From the start, Mr. Farish defines the realistic view in a way that no realist would: “The Realistic View […] understands Paul in Romans 5:12 to mean that all human beings were physically present seminally in Adam at the time of his sin […], so that when Adam sinned, all human beings literally and physically sinned in him.” The terms, “physically present,” and, “physically sinned,” utterly miss the point of the realistic view. Continue reading →
Recently, I came across a paper in the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry, written by Dr. Kenneth Keathley in 2013, entitled, “Confessions of a Disappointed Young-Earther.” The piece is well done and gives an informative summary of the various arguments and supposed problems of the Young-Earth Creationism movement. After reading it, I must say that I’m just as disappointed as Dr. Keathley, but for different reasons. I’m disappointed that the enemy, who is delegitimizing the truth-claims of Christianity by undermining the authority of Scripture, is often met with so little resistance and so much well-meant, reasonable-sounding cooperation. I’m disappointed that not even the best among us are immune from a skeptical evidentialism. And I’m disappointed that one so capable of competent reason would falter in thinking that evidence has bearing on the question of a recent miraculous creation. Continue reading →
In the ongoing debate over the Genesis creation account, one supposed problem that seems particularly troublesome for many is the question of the length of a day prior to the creation of the sun (on Day 4). Since the sun is the means by which a day is usually measured, then it is objected by Old-Earthers that we are left without any sure understanding of what God might possibly mean by the term, “day,” when it is used to describe the first three days of creation. Here’s the text:
Genesis 1 ESV 1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Continue reading →
There’s something insincere about any repentant admission that says, “Yes, I’m guilty—and so are you.” I do not admit to being a racist, and neither do I think most Americans—white or otherwise—are. Many are racists, but most—or even, all? Contrary to the popular Evangelical party line these days, that cannot be established. It is not enough to point out that racism is sin, and as such, it comes from the fall of man, which affects us all. All are sinners, but not all are racists.
Some good Christian black leader, whose article I’ve since lost track of, has explained that black people view things from a racial/ethnic solidarity—that when one is unjustly treated, all feel the pain. This, I think, illuminates the differences in thinking and explains why most white people just don’t get it when it comes to racial reconciliation. Continue reading →
The theology of Andrew Fuller, as set out in his greatest work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, is centrally located between those Calvinists who see sinners as walking corpses—no more able to believe than a dead body is able to raise itself from the dead—and those of the other side who see sinners as fully enabled by God’s grace to choose (their will being the determining factor). To Fuller, men are able to believe, but will nonetheless remain unwilling until God does a supernatural work of grace to reverse their unwillingness.
Regeneration only causes a man to do what he otherwise could have and should have done but refused. This puts the feet of the universal gospel offer on much more Biblical ground, and removes much of the repugnance of the Calvinist doctrine. The gospel is to be preached to all men because all men do have the ability—and the warrant—to embrace it; and that gospel would save any who do—even the unelect if they would but be willing. Continue reading →
The Wise Men are part of most nativity scenes, and many people assume that they arrived while Jesus was still in the manger, soon after His birth. Many others, seeking a more accurate chronology, note that Herod killed baby boys who were two years old and under (according to the time that the wise men had told him), and conclude that they arrived two years after the birth of Jesus. I suggest a different approach. If we let the two gospel accounts, in Matthew and Luke, speak for themselves without any assumed contradictions, we can arrive at a precise, Biblical timeline of events. This will require that we assume that the accounts in Matthew and Luke fit together, each supplying information that the other leaves out. Let’s look at the Scripture. Continue reading →
Also posted at SBC Open Forum.
By Ken Hamrick
Was your soul newly created for you by God, or was it passed down to you from the previous generations, much like your DNA was, and originally came from Adam? This may seem an obscure question, but it is actually foundational to most of theology. Whether or not you have ever considered the question before, the theology that you hold has built much of its doctrinal understanding upon an assumed answer to this question—and most have assumed that the soul is newly created by God in every case. The paper that follows is an excerpt of the current draft of a much larger work in progress, entitled, Mechanics of Atonement: Restoring Reality to Imputation. There is heavy emphasis on Turretin, since I have not found a more thorough argument than his. [Note: Although early theologians, such as Turretin, refer to the “soul,” it is in a dichotomistic way that is interchangeable with “spirit.” Early tradition used the term, “soul,” almost exclusively to refer to the immaterial component of a man, reserving the term, “spirit,” for the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this was to avoid confusion between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit. The Bible does use “spirit” as well as “soul” when referring to man’s immaterial component or nature (the inner man as opposed to the outer man). Both words are used interchangeably throughout this paper, except where otherwise specified.]
[20,000 words] The spirit is what make us most like God, and makes us everlasting beings. Continue reading →
As soon as homosexual marriage becomes legalized and common-place in all fifty states, you can bet that challenges to anti-polygamy laws will shortly follow. Riding the momentum of the moral revolution, polygamy will be easier to legalize than homosexual marriage. Evangelicals, such as Southern Baptists, should take the time now to sort through this issue and be prepared. What would you say to a repentant, believing man at your altar, asking Christ to save him—and who just happens to have three wives (all by legal marriage)?
The common knee-jerk reaction is to tell him to divorce all but the first wife. But is that counsel Biblically sound? Continue reading →
Instead of arguing for or against the scientific evidence, or arguing the merits of possible exegetical ways to reconcile Scripture with a billions-of-years chronology, I propose that—for the sake of argument-–we eliminate the evidence question all together. We can do this by accepting all the scientific claims at face value, and still insisting on a recent supernatural creation out of nothing. In other words, we would not posit a young earth, but an old earth that was recently created by divine fiat. When God creates out of nothing, He is not limited to creating things “new.” God created Adam and Eve as physically mature adults and not as infants. He created mature, fruit-bearing trees for immediate food. “He made the stars also”—and made a universe with mature light-trails already existing so that the stars were already visible. All of these imply a time-consuming natural process that was well under way at the first moment of creation. God chose to create not at the beginning of these natural processes, but somewhere in the middle—as if these processes had been going on long before the moment of creation.
Why would God create the world in such a way as to leave no scientific evidence whatsoever of His creating, but leave plenty of evidence that natural processes predated the recent creation found in the natural reading of the Biblical account? Quite simply, God created in such a way that He would not be found by scientific evidence, but only by faith. This is not to say that the created world does not point to God and reveal a Creator to those who are willing to believe, but only that God and His creating cannot be established by any materialistic evidence. There are no “miracle particles” that science can measure to determine that creation by fiat occurred. Any unbelievers who insist on scientific evidence for God’s existence or His creating will find only natural processes. God requires faith. Continue reading →
Also published at SBC Open Forum.
An Addendum, incorporating the Rejoinder, was added, 11-25-2014.
by Ken Hamrick
[13,200 words…] The focus of the debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists returns ever more often to Andrew Fuller. His theology is ideally suited to bringing the two closer together—not merely by a spirit of cooperation, but closer in doctrinal view—the usual argument over his meaning notwithstanding. There is indeed a middle ground, and it is more Biblical than either side alone. It simply needs to be well articulated, and Fuller is as articulate as they come. It is true that Fuller thought of himself as a standard Calvinist; but his arguments go well beyond Calvinism and toward the center with a Biblical depth and penetrating clarity that has given his writings great value across the last two centuries. Of course, Calvinists want to proudly include this bright light in their number, since he defeated the Hyper-Calvinism of his day and was instrumental in founding the Baptist Missionary Society. But to do so, they must paint over those differences in which he shined the brightest.
Dr. Tom Nettles, a Calvinist and professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted a series of articles on Fuller, at the Founders Ministries blog. Having “taught on Fuller for three decades,” Dr. Nettles seems to have been prompted to post these latest articles by the prospect, offered by Traditionalists, that Fuller’s teachings can be used as a bridge by which Calvinists can become Non-Calvinists. As a Baptist Centrist (one who holds to both unconditional election and the freedom of men to “choose otherwise”), I see Fuller as a bridge by which both sides can gain a better understanding. Continue reading →
Also posted at SBC Open Forum and at SBC Voices.
By Ken Hamrick
Heb. 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil…” (NKJV)
Col. 1:27, “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (NKJV)
1 Cor. 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (NKJV)
To hear that someone we thought of as a brother in the Lord—a pastor, a teacher of sound doctrine and a contender for the faith—has now renounced his faith… well, it weighs on my soul, as I’m sure it does with many of you. So we bring this burden before the Lord, praying for this man’s salvation. But we can’t help asking with exasperation, how could this happen?!Continue reading →
What you will find below is neither an argument for the Calvinist view nor one for the Traditionalist view of atonement. Both ends of the spectrum have been asking the wrong questions, and the best perspective transcends that old debate. By emphasizing that Christ stood in our place, the debate has perpetually turned on the question of whose place Christ stood in—all or only some? But what has been missed by such an emphasis is that Christ stands in us—and until He stands within a sinner through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, nothing that He did is considered to have been in that sinner’s place. Christ’s death was not an immediate transaction of atonement regarding the sins of those for whom His death was intended to atone, but is instead a universally suitable, one-for-one substitution that must be applied through spiritual union with Him by faith. Continue reading →
“Young Earth” creationism (YEC), as part of the Christian faith, stands on certain presuppositions, such as the existence of God and the divine, verbal inspiration of Scripture. The kind of apologetic argument that acknowledges that such presuppositions are assumed, and does not attempt to prove them, is presuppositional apologetics. Continue reading →
Immanence is mostly forgotten as an attribute of God and a method by which He works in the world. Calvinists and Traditionalists argue over the limits of God’s transcendent acts of grace and the limits of men without such transcendent grace. Both sides, it seems, have a presupposed agreement to frame the debate around a transcendent grace, while the solution sits dust-covered in the theological closet. Continue reading →
Ordinarily, I would avoid topics such as this, which are a kind of “tabloid theology” for those obsessed with such things. But this particular issue has grown in such popularity and its speculative errors are propagated with such tenacious authority that a voice of reason is desperately needed. Continue reading →
Adam Harwood spoke at the 2013 John 3:16 Conference, and the paper he presented there is available on the conference e-book at SBC Today. Like Dr. Harwood, I deny that anyone is born condemned for Adam’s sin; but unlike Dr. Harwood, I find in Scripture such a real union of mankind in Adam as to justify the inheriting of all the temporal penalties for Adam’s sin, including the spiritual death and depravity that all are born into Continue reading →
The meaning of the word, justification, is clearly forensic (legal). But the deeper question remains: is that forensic verdict an accurate and true assessment of the believer when united to Christ, or is it a nominal and putative designation of a recategorization within God’s mind alone? The answer is found in our union with Christ. Continue reading →
The Baptist doctrine of Eternal Security is often confused with the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, especially since there are many Calvinist Baptists. While the two doctrines are similar and share the same end result, there are important differences. Eternal Security is the doctrine that affirms that once a sinner comes to genuine, repentant faith in Christ, God responds to that faith by doing that which irrevocably saves that one. God justifies the believer, and then seals the believer by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, indissolubly uniting the believer to Christ and forever identifying him with Christ’s righteous life and atoning death. While such irrevocable salvation does not depend on continuing works of righteousness and limitations on how far the believer may fall into sin, the reality of Christ within the believer will inevitably result in continuing good works and limitations on how far the believer will fall into sin.
The chart is intended to represent the spectrum, with those doctrines that are least likely to be held by Calvinists at the top, and those least likely to be held by Traditionalists at the bottom, but with incremental steps toward the middle mapped out. Continue reading →
The answer to the question of why we die is one of fundamental importance to Christianity. Death can only be correctly understood when traced to the first sin of man in the garden of Eden. Continue reading →
It’s not as simple as God choosing men based on His foreknowledge of their choice to accept His grace and gospel. God’s foreknowledge of men’s choices and actions cannot be divorced from His own planned actions. Continue reading →
Any nation begun by Christians as a Christian nation — even if founded firmly on “Christian” principles — will inevitably fall away from that Christian foundation and cease being a Christian nation within but a few generations. Continue reading →
There is a subtle error, found in many believers — and often zealously defended as if it were a test of orthodoxy. It is the belief that Christ did not have the same kind of mortal body that we have, but instead, had an immortal body even from birth Continue reading →
Revised 12/24/2012 to include an exegesis of Romans 5:12-21
Traditionally, the Baptist idea of an age of accountability has been denigrated as solely based on emotion and held in contradiction to the supposedly insurmountable scriptural evidence for inherited condemnation. While I will not add anything, in the pages below, as to exactly how God redeems these little ones, my goal is to show the error of the audacious claim that Scripture is silent and devoid of any support for their salvation, and defeat the false claim that Scripture teaches their condemnation. It is surprising how much Scripture does have to say. Continue reading →