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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 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 →