Conservative Evangelicals Acting Like Fundamentalists

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During the half century that I have been connected with fundamentalism, crusading anti-Calvinism has been a recurring phenomenon. The first episode that I distinctly remember occurred within the Regular Baptist movement during the 1970s. An evangelist went on a tear against a proposal that would have inserted a mildly Calvinistic statement into the GARBC confession of faith. A few years later an independent Baptist evangelist published a small book about why he disagreed with all five points of Calvinism. Unfortunately, he defined Calvinism so badly that even Calvin would have disagreed with all five points.

Crusading anti-Calvinism still pops up every now and then. About a decade ago a Baptist association in Illinois passed a couple of resolutions that misrepresented Calvinism in terms that can only be called slanderous. Then about five years ago a couple of preachers used platforms provided by the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship to deliver dire warnings against Calvinism. Crusading anti-Calvinism is alive and well within fundamentalism.

To be fair, so is irascible Calvinism. For example, the aforementioned evangelist in the GARBC reacted so shrilly because the proposed addition to the doctrinal statement could have disenfranchised the less Calvinistic churches of the Regular Baptist fellowship. His concerns were underlined by the appearance of a book that questioned the Baptist standing of non-Calvinists. While his responses were certainly excessive, they were not groundless.

Some Calvinists treat the doctrines of grace as if they are the sum and substance of the faith. They seem to believe that a denial of any of the five points constitutes a denial of the gospel itself. They love to throw around epithets like “semi-Pelagianism” and to depict their non-Calvinistic interlocutors as either incompetent or nearly heretical.

The problem is not that one person advocates Calvinism while another person opposes it. All Christians have a duty to believe what they think Scripture teaches. All have a right to explain their point of view and to persuade others to it. They even have a right to structure occasions to dwell upon their unique theologies, encouraging one another in the doctrines that they take to be scriptural.

The problem is that none of the usual sides (there are more than two) in the argument over Calvinism has the right to question the Christian bona fides of those on the other side. None of the standard positions within fundamentalism results in a denial of the gospel. None of the standard positions necessarily truncates zeal for evangelism or missions. None of the standard positions necessarily denies the sovereignty of God or the completeness of grace in salvation. Most fellowships of fundamentalists have framed their confessional statements in rather general terms when it comes to this issue. Fundamentalists have not usually thought that the differences among Calvinists and their opponents were grounds for separation.

The dispute between Calvinists and anti-Calvinists has erupted again. This time, however, fundamentalists are not the ones who are bickering. The spat is taking place among conservative evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists.

Calvinists have been in the vanguard of the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. They have been among the foremost proponents of the inerrancy of Scripture. They have led the way in cleansing institutions of liberals and so-called moderates.

Of course, they have not done this work alone. They worked in company with other prominent conservatives, and some of those have now begun to object to Calvinism. As the liberals and moderates have been pushed out, these anti-Calvinists have become increasingly concerned about the influence of Calvinism within the convention. Their concerns have finally spilled out in a document entitled “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”

The “Statement” is as extreme as anything that fundamentalists have produced. It essentially accuses Calvinists of plotting to take over the Southern Baptist Convention. It reacts against Calvinism, not merely by denying limited atonement, unconditional election, and irresistible grace, but even by denying total depravity and (as it is usually understood) original sin. While the signatories acknowledge that each person inherits a “nature and environment inclined toward sin,” they deny that “Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.” All people who are capable of moral action do indeed sin, but they do not actually become guilty until they personally decide to sin.

Such assertions go much further than traditional Arminianism. They represent a kind of hyper-Arminian approach to anti-Calvinism that can hardly avoid provoking a response. Predictably, some Calvinists have begun to accuse the signatories of semi-Pelagianism. Also predictably, the signatories and their defenders have reacted indignantly. They are not semi-Pelagians, they insist—but even if they were (they ask), is semi-Pelagianism such a bad thing?

Some of the most interesting observations have come from Roger Olson of Baylor University, who is decidedly not in sympathy with convention conservatives. Olson has written extensively in defense of Arminianism. One of his recent books is entitled Against Calvinism, so there is little doubt about Olson’s own views. Yet he has irritated some signatories and their defenders by admitting that some of the assertions in the “Statement” actually are semi-Pelagian.

One of the most irenic evaluations has come from Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary. Mohler is a strong Calvinist who disagrees with the “Statement.” Nevertheless, he points out that the Southern Baptist Convention has been committed to a good bit of latitude on questions about Calvinism. Mohler believes that it is possible to address these questions theologically without making them into a political issue.

Fundamentalism has seen periodic eruptions both of crusading anti-Calvinism and of irascible Calvinism. As the current fracas within the SBC shows, however, these spats are not the sole provenance of fighting fundamentalists. It should be interesting to observe whether conservative evangelicals can avoid turning this dispute into a gutter brawl. Early signs are not promising, but voices like Mohler’s may yet bring sobriety to the discussion.

The Son of God Goes Forth to War
Reginald Heber (1783-1826)

The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar:
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears his cross below,
He follows in His train.

The martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave,
Who saw his Master in the sky,
And called on Him to save;
Like Him, with pardon on his tongue
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong:
Who follows in his train?

A glorious band, the chosen few
On whom the Spirit came,
Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
And mocked the cross and flame:
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,
The lion’s gory mane;
They bowed their necks the death to feel:
Who follows in their train?

A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Saviour’s throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed:
They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n
Through peril, toil and pain:
O God, to us may grace be giv’n
To follow in their train.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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Charlie's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
No. The point is Wesely still saw a man as totally depraved and helpless without prevenient grace. The Pelagian sees man as partially able to respond without any help - totally responsible because he totally chose. I have never been entirely clear on the distinction between p and semi-p, so that may be where Wesely falls - in which case you would be right.

Full-blown Pelagianism (which may be more Pelagian than Pelagius) is the idea that man can fulfill the moral commandments laid out by God on the basis of his natural powers. "Grace" as in help from God is not the "efficient" or "operative" grace that Augustine taught. It consists merely in God making clear his moral demands and in the moral example (and perhaps also liberating death) of Jesus. I believe Pelagians also accepted that baptism infused a grace that helps people obey the commandments. In other words, God is gracious just to make an offer of eternal life, make the rules clear, and give us a fair chance at obtaining it.

Semi-Pelagians accepted Augustine's teaching that our good works are preceded by God's inward, operative grace, but they believed that the first steps toward faith were made by the unaided human will, which was then met by God's grace to bring it to completion. Perhaps the best text to see Augustine dealing with Semi-Pelagian ideas is "Rebuke and Grace" (De correptione et gratia). Really, Semi-Pelagian is a harsh term when applied to some ancient figures, for they were mostly Augustinian, but confused about some issues.

Wesley taught, unlike the Semi-P., that man needed prevenient grace to come to God. However, he also taught that this prevenient grace was universally given by virtue of the death of Christ. So, Wesley is technically not Semi-P., even though the doctrine, in my opinion, winds up at functionally the same place.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Thanks Charlie.

One point of clarification on semi-p. I don't understand how they accept a preceding, inward, operative grace but believed the first steps were humanly originated. Is it that man must make the initial attempt as far as he can, then be met by grace to complete what he could not finish on his own? This would clarify the difference between p and semi-p for me if it accurate.

Totally agree with your analysis and conclusion regarding Wesley.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Charlie's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Thanks Charlie.

One point of clarification on semi-p. I don't understand how they accept a preceding, inward, operative grace but believed the first steps were humanly originated. Is it that man must make the initial attempt as far as he can, then be met by grace to complete what he could not finish on his own? This would clarify the difference between p and semi-p for me if it accurate.

Totally agree with your analysis and conclusion regarding Wesley.

One way to get an idea of Semi-P. theology is to read the canons of the 2nd council of orange. They are designed explicitly to refute it, along with Pelagianism.

One important thing to remember is that nobody in this conversation - Pel. Semi-P., Aug. - has a modern Protestant idea of "getting saved." They all believed that those who go to heaven are those who die in a state of moral uprightness (faith working by love), and that it was possible for believers to fall away from that uprightness. (The mature) Augustine believed that ALL steps on the road to heaven are preceded by operative grace, so that at no point can man claim to have made an independent contribution. Semi-Pelagians believed that MOST of the steps along the way were paved by operative grace, but that man had the capacity to bring about his own initial movement toward God. (Augustine believed something like this early in his career. He said that unaided human will could desire to do good, but could not fulfill the desire; grace enables men with good wills to carry out the good that they will. Lots of discussion of Romans 7.) So, a person could, for instance, before receiving any operative grace from God, desire to be converted and pray to God for saving faith, and God would respond by granting faith. (The mature Augustine would say that even the prayer and the desire were the fruits of operative grace.) A full-bore Pelagian would assume that his natural capacities were given to him by God, and so must be sufficient to perform whatever God required, thus moving grace to an auxiliary role to help when I slip up rather than a central role that plows the way.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ron Bean's picture

"Would God tell you to do something that it is impossible?" (The following are real answers.)

Dr. A. says, "No. Everyone has the ability to repent, believe and exercise faith."

Dr. B says, "No. Because God has given to everyone the ability to repent, believe and exercise faith."

Are these positions acceptable?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jay's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
"Would God tell you to do something that it is impossible?" (The following are real answers.)

Dr. A. says, "No. Everyone has the ability to repent, believe and exercise faith."

Dr. B says, "No. Because God has given to everyone the ability to repent, believe and exercise faith."

Are these positions acceptable?


This may seem crazy if you compare it to some of my other posts on SI, but I'd be concerned about Dr. A's statement. Are we saying that everyone has the ability in and of themselves to repent, or is Dr. A. assuming that God has already given the ability with his written answer.

If Dr. A is basing the ability to repent and believe based on what a man does (and aside from some kind of intervening grace), then I would have a problem with it.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

I have concern with both statements. God saves whom He will. He chooses us; we do not choose Him.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Ron Bean's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
"Would God tell you to do something that it is impossible?" (The following are real answers.)

Dr. A. says, "No. Everyone has the ability to repent, believe and exercise faith."

Dr. B says, "No. Because God has given to everyone the ability to repent, believe and exercise faith."

Are these positions acceptable?


I have heard variations of both statements from pastors and laymen alike.
"A" would include comments like "man just needs to exercise his will" or "all men have enough faith to repent and believe" without any qualifiers.
"B" would hold more to a type of prevenient grace that makes man responsible for "casting his vote" for God.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

James K's picture

For all intents and purposes, labels are becoming meaningless. Pelagian, semipelagian, arminian, Calvinist, even those who hold to the same belief can't define them all the same. Calvinist on Calvinist crime exists too. It is amusing to watch Calvinists try to out Calvin the other.

Even in this thread it is obvious people don't know what semipelagian really even means. What is the point then? Stick to an explanation of Scripture.

The portion of the statement that has received so much attention about being semipelagian is in perfect harmony with the BFM2000. Felluz, Al Mohler signs off on that.

Notice he didn't get into too much detail with his blog post. I know some calvinist fanboys were wanting it, but don't hold your breath.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Charlie's picture

James K wrote:
For all intents and purposes, labels are becoming meaningless. Pelagian, semipelagian, arminian, Calvinist, even those who hold to the same belief can't define them all the same. Calvinist on Calvinist crime exists too. It is amusing to watch Calvinists try to out Calvin the other.

Even in this thread it is obvious people don't know what semipelagian really even means. What is the point then? Stick to an explanation of Scripture.

The portion of the statement that has received so much attention about being semipelagian is in perfect harmony with the BFM2000. Felluz, Al Mohler signs off on that.

Notice he didn't get into too much detail with his blog post. I know some calvinist fanboys were wanting it, but don't hold your breath.

Actually, what this thread has shown is that there is abundant literature discussing the Semi-Pelagian controversy available to anyone who cares to peruse it. Also, the issues involved in the Semi-Pelagian controversy are no more complex than those in any major theological controversy, and are generally agreed upon by church historians. If there is any difficulty, it is in assessing to what degree subsequent positions resemble the historical position.

Theology has always been carried out with the help of historical perspective. Even the Protestant Reformation was not preached merely as a return to the Bible, but as a return to the authentic traditions of the ancient church. Protestant soteriology, while ultimately justified by appeal to Scripture, was formulated, expressed, and defended in explicitly Augustinian terms. So, placing a modern formulation in relation to other historic formulations with which interpreters are already familiar is a legitimate and useful task.

If it is true that some people in this thread don't know what Pelagianism, Semipelagianism, and Augustinianism mean, then perhaps the answer is to learn more, not dismiss the labels.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ron Bean's picture

In my life I have met people who don't know (or don't care to know) the terms we use. That's why I'd just ask people like James simple questions.

Can sinners exercise faith and repentance without the grace of God?

If they need God's grace, when is that grace given?

Do all people have this grace?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ron Bean's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
I am interested un learning what is explicitly in view with the expression "God's gace" in this case.

Simple answer. God doing for you what you can't do for yourself.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Alex Guggenheim's picture

No one, regardless of their theology woukd disagree with so general a definition so your initial question would not yield the discovery it sought which is why I was asking its explicit meaning. So I will be more orecise and as explicitly what is it in believing the Gospel that God does which I cannot do myself? The elements which make up this divine intervention differ with people. What are you asserting to be the elements which make up God's grace in believing the Gospel.?

Jay's picture

Alex, the answer to your question is very simple. Repentance leading to faith is something that only God can do or give to us. To believe that repentance is something a person does all by themselves is heterodox.

Some Scripture:

John 6:43-51 wrote:
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

John 12:27-43:

Quote:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The Unbelief of the People
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Jay wrote:
Alex, the answer to your question is very simple. Repentance leading to faith is something that only God can do or give to us. To believe that repentance is something a person does all by themselves is heterodox.


While I will not assume your response represents Ron Bean's I do have a few questions and comments, meanwhile maybe Mr. Bean can calculate a response to my inquiry and explicate.

1. What is "repentance"? What are its element? It is defined in various ways within orthodoxy.

2. You answered that repentance is something that "only God can do or give". God doing it and God giving it are not the same thing since "give" and "do" are not synonyms. Which is it or can it be either and the distinction does not matter and its implications may be ignored?

3. And if God does, indeed, do it, then how is it that he tells us to do it with the Greek active voice which means we perform the action of the verb and not the passive voice which means another agent (God in this case) performs the action of the verb to us?

4. Am I to understand that it is repentance which God does or gives and then the faith, which this repentance leads to, that isn't given or done by God? Or is it now both repentance and faith God either does or gives?

5. Do you subscribe to the view that the only way to define repentance involving God is him "doing" or "giving" it and that there is no other legitimate way to understand or view God involved in the process of repentance which removes him from "doing" or "giving" it but yet, still involves God?

6. You seem to be saying anything outside your definition is heterodoxy. I find your definition quite narrow with respect to orthodoxy's historical tolerance on the understanding of repentance. That is, you give a definition and then state "To believe that repentance is something a person does all by themselves is heterodox" as if this is an either/or case and any view outside of the one you stated is de facto one which views repentance as something a person does all by themselves. I will encourage you to become familiar with the broad range of nuanced understandings of repentance in Christian orthodoxy which views God participating but simply not identical as you describe.

7. I appreciate the citations but no interpretation and application was given, it appears you assumed a universal view or interpretation and application of the texts.

Ron Bean's picture

Dear Alex,

My life is too short and my time is too precious to play the "I'll answer your questions if you'll answer mine" game. I asked some questions...you responded by asking questions about my questions. We've both exercised our right of free speech. I will now exercise my right of silence other than to say that Jay response was pretty good.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ed Vasicek's picture

Charlie wrote:

Actually, what this thread has shown is that there is abundant literature discussing the Semi-Pelagian controversy available to anyone who cares to peruse it. Also, the issues involved in the Semi-Pelagian controversy are no more complex than those in any major theological controversy, and are generally agreed upon by church historians. If there is any difficulty, it is in assessing to what degree subsequent positions resemble the historical position.

Theology has always been carried out with the help of historical perspective. Even the Protestant Reformation was not preached merely as a return to the Bible, but as a return to the authentic traditions of the ancient church. Protestant soteriology, while ultimately justified by appeal to Scripture, was formulated, expressed, and defended in explicitly Augustinian terms. So, placing a modern formulation in relation to other historic formulations with which interpreters are already familiar is a legitimate and useful task.

If it is true that some people in this thread don't know what Pelagianism, Semipelagianism, and Augustinianism mean, then perhaps the answer is to learn more, not dismiss the labels.

Here is my thinking, Charlie. You are a great resource to us, so you and others, please affirm or tell me otherwise on these points:

1. Most of the people who would define themselves as "fundamental" have come from an Anabaptist background (which was not so historically concerned) influenced by others, including Calvin and Wesley.

2. Some, although rejecting many of Wesley's unique doctrines, have essentially embraced his emphasis on instant conversion and the idea that "whosoever will," the fruit of the doctrine of prevenient grace (not necessarily directly from semi-pelagianism, but as you and I both pointed out, the effect regarding a natural man's ability to believe is essentially the same).

3. This forms the foundational origin of fundamentalism, and it is perceived by some who hold this view (whether true or not) that now some in the Southern Baptist convention are trying to somehow hold the entire denomination to a Calvinistic rubric, one which has always been tolerated but one which has not defined the Southern Baptists since the era of Particular and Freewill Baptists.

I am off target in my theory?

"The Midrash Detective"

Charlie's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Here is my thinking, Charlie. You are a great resource to us, so you and others, please affirm or tell me otherwise on these points:

1. Most of the people who would define themselves as "fundamental" have come from an Anabaptist background (which was not so historically concerned) influenced by others, including Calvin and Wesley.

I'm pretty sure this is largely false. Genetically speaking, Baptists in the English-speaking world have less to do with Anabaptism than with currents in English separatism. For example, some of the earliest Baptist churches in England crafted the London Confessions, one of which was explicitly modeled after the WCF and reflects a thoroughly Calvinist soteriology. There were, of course, Baptists who took an Arminian stance as well. In North America, the earliest Baptist churches had nothing to do with Anabaptism. The truly Anabaptist groups in North America tend to be ethnically and culturally distinct, such as the Amish and Mennonites.

Fundamentalism seems to have been originally a conglomeration of various Protestant groups (Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Brethren) that all shared a common history in 19th-century revivalism. Influences include Reformed orthodoxy, Wesleyanism, and Finneyism. The influence of Charles Finney, a clear Pelagian, cannot be ignored. Although few evangelicals accepted his systematic theology (including a denial of penal substitutionary atonement) wholesale, his writings on revivalism, which contained the practical applications of his theology, were very influential.

So, I don't think there was ever any consensus in early Fundamentalism about soteriology. I imagine everything from 5-point Calvinism to virtual Pelagianism was evident, since the cornerstone of American revivalism is the personal appropriation of Christ's atoning death, not a theory about how grace works.

Ed Vasicek wrote:

2. Some, although rejecting many of Wesley's unique doctrines, have essentially embraced his emphasis on instant conversion and the idea that "whosoever will," the fruit of the doctrine of prevenient grace (not necessarily directly from semi-pelagianism, but as you and I both pointed out, the effect regarding a natural man's ability to believe is essentially the same).

Well, this is tricky. Many Baptists today would claim, with justification, that they are neither Calvinist nor Arminian. As far as I can tell, none of them are outright Pelagians. If they hold that man simply has some kind of "free will" by which they can believe, they are Semi-Pelagian. If they believe that the death of Christ has somehow granted an extra prevenient grace to allow all men to believe, they are not semi-Pelagian but Wesleyan (on this point).

The unique thing about many North American Baptists is this doctrine of "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved." That is, they don't believe in individual, unconditional election; but they also don't believe that a true believer can fall away from salvation. Frankly, I don't know where or when this belief originated, but I would be surprised if it were earlier than the late 19th century. Ironically, I believe this is the position that some SBC personalities are denoting "Traditional."

In sum, it's hard to tell whether Wesley, Finney, or some other figure is most responsible for the beliefs of modern non-C and non-A

Ed Vasicek wrote:

3. This forms the foundational origin of fundamentalism, and it is perceived by some who hold this view (whether true or not) that now some in the Southern Baptist convention are trying to somehow hold the entire denomination to a Calvinistic rubric, one which has always been tolerated but one which has not defined the Southern Baptists since the era of Particular and Freewill Baptists.

Well, if you're saying that some people, perhaps principally Calvinists, are applying false dichotomies to soteriology, I would agree. It's obvious that Calvinist and Arminian can't be the only two options, because that doesn't begin to touch Lutherans, Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox Christians. So, it's possible that it can't be used perfectly to describe all Baptist beliefs either.

That's why I've tried to talk in terms of Augustinianism, which is a broader rubric that can apply to any Western Christians. Calling someone a Semi-Pelagian is broader than calling them an Arminian. There are many different ways that one could articulate a Semi-Pelagian belief. In my opinion, many Baptists who are not Arminian are in fact Semi-Pelagian. This is not just my own opinion either. If you look up the book Four Views on Eternal Security, you can read Norman Geisler articulate a view that he calls "moderate Calvinism." I think his view is basically the same as what others are calling "traditional" and represents many Baptists' approach to the issue. The other contributers to the book are Michael Horton (Reformed Orthodoxy), Stephen Ashby (Remonstrant Arminianism), and J. Stephen Harper (Wesleyan Arminianism). The interesting thing is that the 2 ARMINIANS called Geisler a Semi-Pelagian! So, I think there's some serious lack of historical awareness among many Baptist theologians. They're not aware of how controversial some of their statements on human ability and free will actually are.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

James K's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
In my life I have met people who don't know (or don't care to know) the terms we use. That's why I'd just ask people like James simple questions.

Can sinners exercise faith and repentance without the grace of God?

If they need God's grace, when is that grace given?

Do all people have this grace?

The simple questions are asked in such a way as to trap within a certain framework you have built or agreed with. I may or may not agree with your definitions of those words and terms.

My point has been this: the statement in question is in line with the BFM2000. If the New or Old Calvinists can sign the BFM2000, then they can't complain about statement 2 with any seriousness without betraying their own misunderstanding.

Mohler responded probably because he felt he had to to appease other calvinists, but then he uses the term semipelagian in a newer way than is historically accurate. Others on here fell for it as well.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Thank you, Charlie, for a thoughtful and complete answer!

I do know that many people in the independent Bible church movement have been influenced by Methodism. For example, Harry Ironside was reached by the Salvation army. Although he rejected sinless perfection, he also rejected election and its source, the inability of man to believe apart from election. Yet he believed in security. I have long considered the Bible church movement and the Baptist church movement as similar, but perhaps I have erred in this.

I do think, though, that to the Southern Baptist, a 19th century belief is a traditional perspective. The Southern Baptist movement competed heavily with Methodism during this time.

As for me, I consider the ancient Jewish perspectives the truly traditional ones, as you might guess!

"The Midrash Detective"

Rob Fall's picture

A good source on antebellum Baptist (Northern and Southern) beliefs is Francis Wayland's Principles and practices of Baptist Churches.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Shaynus's picture

Thanks Charlie for your comments in this thread. They were informative, well-written, and grace-filled.

I read the entire City of God a few years ago, and I remember coming away with the idea that 1. Augustine really was a Christian I could relate to but 2. he was in an entirely different context. I also have the sense that everything goes back to Augustine. We seem to repeat controversy throughout history and Augustine happened to be in a formative time that forced him to talk about many different controversies.

Jay's picture

Since we're on the subject of Augustine, does anyone have a biography they'd recommend on him? I finished Metaxas' book on Bonhoeffer a few days ago (which was an excellent book, even if he didn't get into Bonhoeffer's theology all that much), and am working my way through his work Amazing Grace now. Augustine is someone I'd like to learn a little more about, esp. since his name keeps cropping up lately on this site.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Charlie's picture

Jay wrote:
Since we're on the subject of Augustine, does anyone have a biography they'd recommend on him? I finished Metaxas' book on Bonhoeffer a few days ago (which was an excellent book, even if he didn't get into Bonhoeffer's theology all that much), and am working my way through his work Amazing Grace now. Augustine is someone I'd like to learn a little more about, esp. since his name keeps cropping up lately on this site.

How good of you to ask. Smile

The most celebrated biography of Augustine in the English language is Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. It's a goodie. There is a 2nd edition, but the only changes are two chapters at the end discussing some reflections and some newly discovered sermons and lectures. So, it's not that important which edition you get.

There are actually several very good quick intros to Augustine, not full biographies. One that comes to mind is Henry Chadwick, Augustine of Hippo: A Life.

For an intro to Augustine's thought, try James Wetzel, Augustine: A Guide for the Perplexed. (Wetzel is also a colleague of mine at Villanova.)

For very well-chosen selected excerpts of Augustine's works arranged topically, see William Harmless, Augustine in His Own Words.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Shaynus's picture

Heard a quote by Carl Truman just now quoting B. B. Warfield: "The Reformation is the triumph of Augustine's view of grace over Augustine's view of the church."

Jay's picture

Charlie -

Thanks for the tips; I looked them up in the library, and all copies are in house use only :(. How about St. Augustine in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern or On Augustine by Sharon Kaye? I've already requested both books.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Charlie's picture

Jay wrote:
Charlie -

Thanks for the tips; I looked them up in the library, and all copies are in house use only :(. How about St. Augustine in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern or On Augustine by Sharon Kaye? I've already requested both books.

I'm not particularly familiar with either of those authors (and I know most of the important authors), but from my quick skim, I'm a bit skeptical. There is a longstanding tendency to treat Augustine as a philosopher, rather than as a Christian, theologian, and pastor. Some modern scholars really only care about Augustine as the author of Confessions and City of God, and particularly how those books interact with non-Christian philosophy. Both those books seem likely to continue that kind of analysis.

You might try the inter-library loan section at your library. Normally they can get you just about whatever you need in a few days. I find it odd that they would keep them on reserve, it's not as if they're reference books.

I would recommend reading Confessions, too. It's an absolutely classic piece of literature, not only for Christians, but for the whole Western world. I recommend the Oxford World's Classics edition edited by Henry Chadwick, but there are other good ones as well. Get a contemporary translation, though, not a 19th-century one.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

JNoël's picture

Charlie wrote:
The unique thing about many North American Baptists is this doctrine of "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved." That is, they don't believe in individual, unconditional election; but they also don't believe that a true believer can fall away from salvation. Frankly, I don't know where or when this belief originated, but I would be surprised if it were earlier than the late 19th century. Ironically, I believe this is the position that some SBC personalities are denoting "Traditional."

Would anyone care to discuss that statement for the average listening world? Maybe http://sharperiron.org/users/paul-henebury ]Doctor Henebury could do a http://sharperiron.org/tags/series-affinity ]Rules of Affinity analysis for us. I think that'd be fascinating.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Rob Fall's picture

I'd say OSAS comes out of the majority's Peculiar Baptist heritage. TRhat would put mit back to the 17th century.

JNoël wrote:
Charlie wrote:
The unique thing about many North American Baptists is this doctrine of "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved." That is, they don't believe in individual, unconditional election; but they also don't believe that a true believer can fall away from salvation. Frankly, I don't know where or when this belief originated, but I would be surprised if it were earlier than the late 19th century. Ironically, I believe this is the position that some SBC personalities are denoting "Traditional."

Would anyone care to discuss that statement for the average listening world? Maybe http://sharperiron.org/users/paul-henebury ]Doctor Henebury could do a http://sharperiron.org/tags/series-affinity ]Rules of Affinity analysis for us. I think that'd be fascinating.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Charlie's picture

Rob Fall wrote:
I'd say OSAS comes out of the majority's Peculiar Baptist heritage. TRhat would put mit back to the 17th century.
JNoël wrote:
Charlie wrote:
The unique thing about many North American Baptists is this doctrine of "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved." That is, they don't believe in individual, unconditional election; but they also don't believe that a true believer can fall away from salvation. Frankly, I don't know where or when this belief originated, but I would be surprised if it were earlier than the late 19th century. Ironically, I believe this is the position that some SBC personalities are denoting "Traditional."

Would anyone care to discuss that statement for the average listening world? Maybe http://sharperiron.org/users/paul-henebury ]Doctor Henebury could do a http://sharperiron.org/tags/series-affinity ]Rules of Affinity analysis for us. I think that'd be fascinating.

I'm not familiar with Peculiar Baptists (ok, I've known a lot of peculiar Baptists!). Maybe you meant Particular Baptists? In any case, Particular Baptists didn't/don't believe in "eternal security" as I defined it. They believed in the perseverance of the saints.

Again, "eternal security" refers to the belief that a Christian cannot lose his or her salvation, but without any reference to an overall predestinarian scheme and sometimes without even a belief that Christians persevere in faith to the end of their lives. For example, Charles Stanley says in his book Eternal Security that a true Christian could stop believing in Christ and still go to heaven, because belief (in salvation) is a one-time act. Similar ideas were expressed by Zane Hodges. These formulations take us far afield from traditional Calvinist notions of the security of the believer.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

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