I often hear claims in various contexts that particular theological positions on salvation (soteriology) or understandings of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) necessarily lead to either so-called “conservative” or “progressive” music or worship philosophies. What I would like to do in this essay is to demonstrate that such positions do not, in fact, automatically lead one to hold a particular worship or music philosophy.
First, I think it is important to define each of these positions. It is often a misunderstanding of what these teachings imply that leads to the mistaken conclusions that such positions include a worship or music philosophy.
Generally speaking, soteriological positions fall into one of two categories that describe God’s and man’s role in salvation.
Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and his followers rejected the prevalent Reformation conviction that God had ultimate sovereignty over who would submit to Him in faith and repentance. In 1610, they formulated five “articles of remonstrance” to articulate their positions. In sum, they argued that election is conditioned upon an individual’s faith in Christ, that Christ died “for all men and every man,” that man cannot save himself without the grace of God but that he can resist God’s grace, and that the preservation of believers is dependent upon his remaining in Christ. The Arminian argues that the ability to place one’s faith in Christ is given by God to every individual through prevenient grace. In other words, Arminians affirm that people are conceived totally corrupt, but they argue that God gives special grace to every individual, enabling every individual to respond freely to the call of the gospel.
Historically, John and Charles Wesley and their followers, the Methodists, were among the most prominent promoters of Arminian theology. Even today you will find that Wesleyans and Methodists are theological Arminians. Today you will also find some Baptists, Lutherans, and others who hold to soteriological positions reflecting the teachings of Arminius.
Although pure Arminianism logically teaches that just as man can freely choose Christ, he can also freely choose to reject Christ later in life, thus losing his salvation, many who emphasize the other points of Arminianism today nonetheless defend eternal security. Still, such people who emphasize the unaided freedom of man in salvation, even though they defend eternal security, can be rightly described as Arminian in their view of salvation.
More extreme forms of this thought include Pelagianism and Open-Theism, both of which are extreme conclusions of Arminian thought, but are nonetheless outside the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy. Pelagianism teaches that people are conceived, not totally corrupt, but only partially corrupt, and that every individual has innate ability to choose God apart from any work of grace. In other words, according to Pelagianism, individuals are sinners because they sin, while orthodox Christians (both Arminians and Calvinists) believe that individuals sin because they are born sinners. Open-Theism takes logical steps from Arminian thought and argues that the only way to preserve true freedom for mankind is to insist that God does not know the future with certainty. This belief, too, runs outside the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy. Orthodox Christians (both Arminians and Calvinists) have always affirmed the exhaustive foreknowledge of God.
In response to the five-point claims of Arminians, followers of the Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) formulated five points of their own. At the Council of Dort (1618) they articulated what are known today as the “Five Points of Calvinism.” Instead of emphasizing the unaided free will of man in salvation, Calvinists claim that the will of man is in complete bondage to sin, and only an effectual work of God’s grace will free a man from that depravity and enable him to respond freely in faith and repentance. Once such a work of grace is performed upon the human heart, that individual will inevitably and immediately turn to Christ, and God chooses to do this miraculous work in the heart of individuals whom He elects based on the good pleasure of His will alone. This act naturally leads, then, to the conclusion that those whom God chooses, once they have come to faith in Christ, will persevere to the end. Historically Presbyterians, Particular Baptists, and others hold to Calvinistic positions regarding salvation.
Pure Calvinists hold to all five of the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism,” but some Calvinists choose to reject the third point, “Particular Redemption” (sometimes called “Limited Atonement”). These Calvinists are more correctly called Amyraldians, but such a “Four-Point Calvinist” still falls within the greater category of Calvinistic understanding of salvation.
An extreme form of Calvinism, commonly known as Hyper-Calvinism, teaches that since God is entirely sovereign over the salvation of men, Christians have no responsibility to pray or evangelize. Further, some Hyper-Calvinists insist that one can never really be sure he is one of the elect until he dies. These views characterize a very small minority of Calvinists. Traditionally, Calvinists have always been fervent evangelists and prayers. Some of the greatest evangelists of the past have been Calvinists, including Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards.
Neither Arminianism nor Calvinism is merely a “system of man.” They are simply articulations of alternate ways of interpreting biblical information regarding salvation. Both positions fall well within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. Both positions affirm the depravity of man and the need for God’s intervention in man’s problems. Both positions affirm the vicarious, substitutionary death of Christ on man’s behalf, and the need for faith and repentance in order to secure forgiveness from sin.
There are many shades and varieties of both positions, but generally speaking all believers fall into one category or another. Where one falls in regard to these two categories basically comes down to one’s understanding of election. If someone believes that God chose a select group of individuals before the foundation of the world, not based upon any choice of the individuals (foreseen or otherwise), he is Calvinistic in his understanding of salvation. He may reject particular redemption or qualify irresistible grace, but if he believes in unconditional election, he is some form of a Calvinist. On the other hand, if someone believes every individual has equal ability to choose Christ and that election is based upon the free choice of man (foreseen or in time), he is Arminian in his understanding of salvation. He may defend eternal security or strongly emphasize man’s depravity, but if he believes in conditional election, he is some form of an Arminian. Some individuals claim that they are neither Calvinists nor Arminians, but rather “Biblicists,” relying on the Bible for their theology instead of men’s systems. Kevin Bauder puts this claim to rest:
Nevertheless, the term Biblicist seems to have only limited usefulness in this debate. Which of us does not try to start with Scripture and to draw conclusions by studying the text? Which of us wishes to set aside any of the Bible in favor of a human system? No, we are all Biblicists here.
Hermeneutical positions articulate various conceptual overviews and interpretive frameworks for understanding the flow of the Bible and history. Again, although there are many shades and variances of hermeneutical positions, evangelical Christians generally fall into one of two polar categories.
Covenant theology views the history of God’s plan for mankind within a framework of three overarching covenants—the covenants of redemption, works, and grace. Covenant theologians emphasize continuity in the plan of God for man. Although they do see points of discontinuity between the way God has dealt with mankind during different economies, at some level they see the church and Israel as one people of God, the church inheriting the promises made to Israel in the covenants of the Old Testament. These blessings are not literal and physical but spiritual, the promises and prophesies of the Old Testament having deeper meaning as interpreted by New Testament revelation. 
Covenant theology’s equation between Israel and the church usually leads to certain views of baptism and eschatology. Covenant theologians usually equate New Testament baptism with Old Testament circumcision. Many covenant theologians are paedo-baptists, but not all. Many Reformed Baptists and even Presbyterians are credo-baptists, and some are even immersionists. No evangelical paedo-baptist ascribes any saving benefit to the child’s baptism, but rather views it as a rite for entrance into the “covenant community,” similar to how circumcision functioned for Israel. And while most covenant theologians are post-millenialists or amillenialists, some are premillenialists. In other words, covenant theology does not necessitate a particular position on baptism or eschatology.
Dispensationalism views the history of God’s plan for mankind within a framework of successive administrations or “dispensations,” each of which highlights the progressive nature of God’s revelation to man. Dispensationalists emphasize discontinuity in the plan of God. They certainly recognize an overarching continuity in the sovereign plan of God, but they see Israel and the church as distinct peoples with distinct beginnings and futures. They practice an essentially normal hermeneutic, interpreting biblical promises and prophesies as literal. Most dispensationalists, believing the promises and prophesies to Israel to be literal, are premillenialists.
A point that needs to be made here centers on the relationship between these positions on soteriology and hermeneutics. Since John Calvin was one of the earliest, most prominent formulators of both an unconditional view of election and an understanding of the history of God’s work under a framework of covenants, many Christians are both Calvinists in their soteriology and covenant theologians in their hermeneutic. This combination of beliefs, however, is not necessarily the case. As Feinberg notes,
Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism is at the essence of Dispensationalism… . This matter is not at the essence of Dispensationalism, because Calvinism and Arminianism are very important in regard to the concepts of God, man, sin, and salvation. Dispensationalism becomes very important in regard to ecclesiology and eschatology, but is really not about those other areas.
Calvinism, most specifically, refers to a soteriological position. Those who hold to Calvinism and covenant theology are more properly described as “Reformed.” It is certainly possible to be both a Calvinist and a dispensationalist or theoretically an Arminian and covenant theologian, although the latter combination is much more rare. A few examples will suffice: Michael Barrett, president of Geneva Reformed Seminary, is both a Calvinist and a covenant theologian. Barrett could be described as Reformed. Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis is both a Calvinist (more specifically, an Amyraldian) and a dispensationalist (as is Dave Doran, president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary). Ron Comfort, president of Ambassador Baptist College is both an Arminian and a dispensationalist. The Wesleys and Arminius himself were covenant theologians, although modern Arminian covenant theologians are much more difficult to find. The point is that none of these positions necessitate another, although some are more commonly connected today.
Our first step toward determining whether certain soteriological or hermeneutical positions necessarily lead to a particular philosophy of worship and music has been to correctly define each position. In Part Two, I will quickly define each side of the worship or music debate and then examine whether either has a necessarily connection to one of the theological positions explained above.
1. Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Revised. (Baker Books, 1984), 1: 517-519.?
2. See William W. Combs, “Does the Bible Teach Prevenient Grace?” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 10 (2005), 3-18.
3. Schaff, Creeds, 1: 520-523.?
4. The term “Hyper-Calvinist” is sometimes used by Arminians as a pejorative term for regular Calvnists, but this is an inaccurate use of the term.
5. Kevin Bauder, “Calvinism, Arminianism, and Biblicism,” In the Nick of Time (April 25, 2008). By “we all,” Bauder means Calvinists and Arminians.
6. See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 515-522.
7. See John S. Feinburg, “Systems of Discontinuity” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988), 63-88.
8. See Willem VanGemeran, “Systems of Continuity” in Continuity and Discontinuity, 37-62.
9. Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” 70.
10. Some use the term Calvinist to describe both a soteriological position and a hermeneutical position, but in more common use today, the term more specifically refers to the soteriological view described above.
11. The term Reformed can be and has been used to signify several different groups. Generally, all churches that grew from the sixteenth-century revolt against the Roman Catholic Church can be called “Reformed.” More narrowed, the term Reformed specifically designates that branch of the Reformation of the Western church originally characterized by a distinctively non-Lutheran, Augustinian sacramental theology with a high ecclesiology but little regard for ecclesiatical tradition that is not traceable to the Scriptures or the earliest church. However, the most narrow, perhaps more common use of “Reformed,” refers to the theological combination of Calvinism and covenant theology. Note “Reformed Faith, Reformed Theology” in Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Greenville, SC: Amassador-Emerald, 1998), 303.
|Scott Aniol received a bachelor’s degree in Church Music at Bob Jones University and a master’s degree in Musicology at Northern Illinois University. He has taken seminary classes at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and did graduate work in choral conducting and church music history at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. As the executive director of Religious Affections Ministries, Scott speaks on the subjects of music and worship at various churches and conferences. His most recent speaking engagements include the Great Lakes Conference on Theology, Central Seminary’s Foundations Conference, International Baptist College, and Bob Jones Seminary. Scott’s book, Worship in Song, was recently released by BMH Books. Check out his Web site at Religious Affections Ministries.|