JD Greear: Don't Split Over Calvinism, Bicker About Theology 'When People Are Lost, Going to Hell'

"Our disagreement on finer points of theology should not tear apart our unity in the Gospel," Greear said. "Calvinism is never an issue to me.... I can assure you that what is not biblical is sitting around bickering about finer points of theology when people are lost and going to Hell." - CPost

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate what he's trying to do, but unity is not going to be achieved in SBC by telling Calvinists that their beliefs are trivial. Ideas have consequences, even for "people who are lost and going to Hell."

TylerR's picture

Editor

The SBC has a big theological tent. The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is derived from the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith and it clearly has a Reformed-ish soteriology. Punting on this won't help anybody. However, this is undoubtedly a tricky path for a leader to walk in the SBC.

If the divisions are serious enough (and I'm not quite foolish enough to equate social media with real life), then perhaps the "traditionalists" (a misnomer if there ever was one!) and the Founders folks could issue a joint statement about what they do agree on with regards to soteriology, have a public hug fest, and hopefully begin to move forward.

Greer said this:

"I agree with (former SBC president) Johnny Hunt. I do not know all there is to know about the particulars of Calvinism," he added, "but what I do know is that the more I go and share Christ, the more people seem to keep getting elected."

This is a good statement!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here's one example of a good, middle of the road statement that lovingly tries to straddle the fence on soteriology and appeal to both sides (except for atonement; the statement takes a stand on this):

The Bible faculty are committed to teaching a biblically balanced soteriology. We believe in the divine source of salvation, that all of salvation flows from God’s free and unmerited grace. We also affirm the responsibility of all people to repent of their sins and believe the gospel. We recognize that good men have differed throughout church history regarding the difficult questions of election and predestination. While believing that it is essential that every student of the Word work through the numerous passages that touch on these difficult issues, we grant both our faculty and students the liberty to investigate the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man in various ways.

We reject theology that denies the responsibility of all people to repent and believe, or the responsibility of all believers to evangelize everyone they can. We do not support positions that attribute the source of evil to God or that limit the extent of Christ’s atonement to the elect. We also reject man-centered theologies that depreciate human depravity, emphasizing free will to the extent that they depend upon methodologies and strategies as the crucial components in evangelism and revival. We uphold the biblical doctrine of eternal security.

The Bible faculty believe that carelessly disparaging men as Calvinists or Arminians is unhelpful and intellectually chilling. At Maranatha the great doctrines relating to God’s gracious work are treated with reverence and respect and believers are evaluated according to their obedience and faithfulness to the Word regardless of the labels men ascribe to them. Both scholarship and truth require accuracy and grace when evaluating men and ministries. We believe professors and students ought to be able to interact thoughtfully and respectfully on this issue, bringing all of their theological formulations to the bar of careful biblical exegesis.

This is from Maranatha. Of course it is; because all things noble and theologically astute come from Watertown!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I like it, mostly.

There are ways to accommodate different views on a question without saying/implying the question is unimportant.

Isn't it a sign of maturity when we have enough confidence in our beliefs and their basis that we're inclined to listen generously to opposing views? Correct beliefs only get stronger if we go to the trouble to understand​ the views we're rejecting. 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is a bit off the beaten path, but during my time at Maranatha Seminary I remember Dr. Fred Moritz's kind and balanced approach to soteriology (in the only module class I actually went on campus for!). He presented both sides fairly and honestly, and it was very refreshing to me, because I'd never been exposed to anything like Calvinism before.

And, in another example, I'll always remember Dr. Andrew Hudson patiently spending two days of class time fielding questions from students about textual criticism during his NT Intro course. He advocated the NA28, but patiently and calmly handled honest questions from students who'd grown up their whole lives living and breathing the TR. He even recommended a book from a TR advocate, even while pointing out where he felt the author was wrong, and was extraordinarily gracious.

There is a way to be gracious, state and defend a position, and still be cordial. This principle of basic fairness and kindness in the midst of disagreement is why I believe Millard Erickson's systematic theology is probably the best systematic Baptist pastor can own.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JohnBrian's picture

...not sure which, someone state that most of the folks he encountered, who claimed to be opposed to particular redemption. were actually opposed to conditional election, rather than particular redemption. 

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, John, for a thought-provoking statement.  I'm still thinking it through.  Not sure I'm quite where you are yet on this one, but I may be before the day's over.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

I hate to try to add to what Tyler noted, but it strikes me that one thing I've noticed about most theological arguments about the doctrines of grace are done by people who have read little, if anything, by Calvin and Arminius.  I don't know that you need to read and comprehend all 46 volumes, as Spurgeon famously joked, but one has to wonder what would happen if disputants were told "why don't you read the Institutes?"  (and whatever Arminus wrote)

It also strikes me that a plea for unity is timely, as I'm at least under the impression that a LOT of fundagelicals, especially those in the SBC, are being increasingly tempted to join with Reformed Baptists, and not just the "oatmeal stout" wing. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JohnBrian's picture

I left out the UN in my original post. It should have read:

"...actually opposed to UN-conditional election..."

that's what I get for typing too fast and not proof-reading!

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

TOvermiller's picture

TylerR wrote:

Dr. Fred Moritz's kind and balanced approach to soteriology ... Dr. Andrew Hudson patiently ... fielding questions from students ... There is a way to be gracious, state and defend a position, and still be cordial.

I also have benefited from the teaching ministry of both these men.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

G. N. Barkman's picture

John, thanks for the correction.  Now it makes sense, and I think I agree with you, at least as it relates to many people.  However, I have encountered a good many who believe in unconditional election, yet hold tightly to universal atonement.  It seems a bit strange, but that is the case.  I've concluded, after observing many such over the years, that they fall into two categories.  Four point Calvinists who are leaning toward three, and four pointers who are leaning toward five.  The latter category often end up as five pointers eventually.  The first group can hardly be distinguished from Arminians in their philosophy and methods of ministry.  Doctrine does make a difference.

G. N. Barkman

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, Tyler.  I hope to  read Hammett at some point.  Without having read him, I don't know what he means by "multi-intentional", but I have always believed in a multi-intentional view in the sense of redeeming the entire cursed universe back to God.  That is a second purpose for the atonement beyond the redemption of sinners to eternal life.  That, however, is not the same as providing an atoning sacrifice for sinners to secure their eternal redemption.  I cannot accept a view of the atonement that posits God's intention to potentially save everyone from Hell.  If He intended to save everyone, then everyone will be saved.  (which contradicts Scripture)  If He intended to save the elect, then He accomplished exactly what He intended to do.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

To be honest, the multi-intentioned view makes the most sense to me. I agree with the remorseless logic of the limited view, but I strongly believe (based on passages like Jn 15:22 and the context; I love the KJV's rendering here!) that Christ's atonement serves as the final "nail in the coffin" for those who reject Him. It's the final, damning bit of evidence against them. The multi-intentioned view makes the best sense of all the evidence, I believe.

If I hadn't run across this view, I'd likely embrace a tepid view of limited atonement.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

I can appreciate much of what brother Barkman is saying:

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I have always believed in a multi-intentional view in the sense of redeeming the entire cursed universe back to God.  That is a second purpose for the atonement beyond the redemption of sinners to eternal life.  That, however, is not the same as providing an atoning sacrifice for sinners to secure their eternal redemption.  I cannot accept a view of the atonement that posits God's intention to potentially save everyone from Hell.  If He intended to save everyone, then everyone will be saved.  (which contradicts Scripture)  If He intended to save the elect, then He accomplished exactly what He intended to do.

But in my view of atonement, I would phrase the first purpose not as "redemption of sinners to eternal life," but rather "redemption of sinners from sin's penalty of death, so that believers will have eternal life." In this way, Christ's substitutionary sacrifice is correctly (in my understanding of Scripture) seen as universal (1 Jn 2:2, 1 Tim 2:6), purchasing everyone's resurrection to immortality (as God does indeed intend "to save everyone" from sin's penalty of physical death), while also working particularly "to secure their [believing sinners] eternal redemption" by their being cleansed and viewed righteous through their faith, which is "exactly what [God] intended to do." Believers, being viewed as righteous (and I would argue at the resurrection, completed in being remade righteous, since then their bodies and spirits are "sin-free"), they are not cast into the second death, the lake of fire (they are especially saved, 1 Tim 4:10[b]). But all the unbelieving sinners are cast into it—in their "saved" from the first death, immortal, resurrected bodies (for Christ is the savior of all men in some lesser sense than believers, 1 Tim 4:10[a])—for they still have an uncleansed spirit, and are still attempting to stand in their own righteousness before God. Not being in a right relation to God, these unbelievers are rejected for not being what they should be as made in the likeness of God, for they failed to do what was needed to regain that likeness. Being in immortal bodies, the lake of fire does not consume them, and so their torment is eternal.

Since all people are being resurrected because of Christ's work, there is a "potential" that any person might be saved (and God has already made a move purely of grace for that to occur by Christ's sacrifice paying for the resurrection, and so all people ought to believe God's ), but God only ever has intended to "save" (from second death) believers.

Now whether one views that faith through which believers are saved as (1) being given by God unconditionally to a preselected group of people that God guarantees will hear His gospel calling, or (2) being given by God unconditionally to a foreknown group of people who would eventually (in time) fall under the influence of His gospel calling as His followers faithfully obeyed, or (3) being elicited by God as a gift in His gospel calling, but conditionally accepted or rejected by an individual, makes no difference with this view of atonement. God has paid for and will resurrect all people because of Christ's atoning work. God will save all who believe, applying the needed cleansing and righteousness. How and why that faith comes about internally in an individual by the gospel call is a whole separate factor from the extent of the atoning work (but not the fact of it, since it is that work that is in this age the primary content of the gospel call). The extent of the atonement and the nature of election are two distinct issues, but related in the overall plan to save believers as a people for God's own self.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

G. N. Barkman's picture

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "remorseless logic," but I am happy to trumpet the relentless logic of particular redemption.  It's inescapably logical because its true.  I'm confident that all truth is logical, but admit that some spiritual truth seems beyond the grasp of  human logic in our present condition.  In Heaven, I believe it will all be perfectly logical.  How encouraging to understand the logic of much truth now.  For me particular redemption falls into that category.

But, I fail to see how John 15:22 mitigates against limited atonement.  Do you  believe in Unconditional Election?  Assuming the answer is yes, do you believe anyone will successfully claim, before God, that they could not come to Christ because they were not elect?  Nor can anyone claim they could  not come to Christ because Christ did not die for them.  Nobody can possibly know these things while living.  Those who are not saved did not come to Christ because they loved their sins more than Christ.  Case closed.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I meant "remorseless logic" in a good way. The limited position makes sense, but I don't believe it squares with the standard passages that suggest otherwise. I don't want to debate the passages, and I know the arguments. They're good arguments, but they're just not convincing to me. I've read all the standard books and systematics, and (as a bonus) I've listened to James White for years, and read his book The Potter's Freedom before. It's very representative of a High Calvinist view. I know the arguments. They seem desperate, to me.  

However, other passages clearly suggest a limitation of intent (e.g John 6).

I absolutely believe in unconditional election, and my church's doctrinal statement is pretty clear on that.

I'll try to briefly explain my point with John 15:22:

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Fair enough. Jesus warns the disciples they should expect persecution. The world hates the light of the Gospel, and its messengers.

20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

People will persecute them because they represent Christ. Because they hate Christ, they also don't know and hate God. Jesus elaborates on this tragic state of affairs:

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.

Jesus' ministry is condemnatory for unbelievers. He's speaking as if His ministry si already done and over with. Because, for all purposes, it is. He goes on (vv.26-27) to speak of what He'll do after His ascension. In this statement, Jesus is speaking of His ministry as if it's a completed event (life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension).

What does Jesus say? He says that, if He hadn't come and spoken to Gospel to them, they'd be able to (in some sense) claim ignorance. Now, there is no more cloak for sin (KJV's rendering). All excuses are gone. His ministry is the nail in the coffin; the smoking gun of evidence against all unbelievers. In short - Jesus' ministry in its totality is, in some real way, efficacious for unbelievers because their ignoring it is condemnatory.  

23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also.

Got it.

24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.

What are the works? Is it just the miracles? Or, is Jesus speaking of the totality (life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension) of His first advent? I think the latter, which ties into what He just said about people having no more cloak for their sin in light of His ministry.

25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

Jesus did nothing wrong, and brought the words of life, but they hated Him without a cause. That'll be brought forth on the day of judgment. That'll be presented as evidence. Jesus did something efficacious for them, and they threw it away.

My own variation of the multi-intentioned view is that Jesus' death has many purposes, depending on who you are:

  • For the elect, it's the basis of their salvation and justification, etc. The Father chose, the Son atoned for their specific sins, and the Spirit applies. I also think Chafer was quite right (3:190ff) to note that the point of discrimination isn't the atonement; it's the sovereign application of that atonement to the elect by the Holy Spirit, in accordance with unconditional, single election to salvation. Too many people overlook this, and Chafer's soteriology is simply the best thing I've ever read. Too many people overlook him. They ought not to.
  • For the non-elect, it's the basis for their condemnation. They hate God, and the proof is that they rejected what He provided for them. Election has no bearing on the fact they rejected Jesus; compatibalism is real.
  • For creation; Jesus' death is what gave Him victory over Satan and will serve as the basis for the new and better creation.

To be blunt, this position makes better sense to me because it allows me to say that Jesus actually died for unbelievers (which I believe Scripture supports in some places), and it also allows me to say He intended to die efficaciously only for the elect (which other passages strongly support). It also takes into account the effect of Jesus' ministry on creation, and the coming new creation.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Tyler, thanks for the explanation.  I think I understand what you are driving at.  However, it seems like dancing on the head of a pin to try to make a distinction between Christ dying for unbelievers, but dying intentionally and efficaciously only for the elect, and offering that as support for rejecting limited atonement.  As a five point Calvinist, I have no problem with your statement.  I do have a problem with your denying that what you stated is not limited atonement, because it is.  If Christ "intended to die efficaciously only for the elect," His atonement was savingly limited to the elect.  In talking about limited atonement, the question is, "For whom did Christ die savingly?"  Did He intend for His death to save everyone without exception (universalism), or to offer to save everyone potentially but no one certainly (universal atonement), or to effectively and certainly secure the salvation of the elect (definite atonement).

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

Hey, I like the ability to speak out of both sides of my mouth. It makes life easier!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

I agree with Brother Barkman that Tyler's position

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Seems like dancing on the head of a pin to try to make a distinction between Christ dying for unbelievers, but dying intentionally and efficaciously only for the elect.

That is why I believe it is important to convey in what way Christ's death is intentional and efficacious toward the saving of all people (unbelievers and believers alike) by His purchasing of our resurrection from the death penalty of sin. And then of course to also convey in what way it is further intentional and efficacious toward the saving of believers from second death. 

So my answer to the question "For whom did Christ die savingly?" is that He died intentionally to certainly save everyone without exception from death (sin's legal penalty), and certainly save only the elect from second death (sin's relational consequence [people not measuring up to God's standard of righteousness]). There are then both universal and particular salvific aspects related to His atoning sacrifice that are intended and effectual.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture

Editor

To be clear, I didn't invent this position! Hammett, for starters, advocates it. I also think folks should read Chafer's discussion on this.

The larger issue is whether a denomination like the SBC can and should tap-dance on core theological issues like this. The 2000 BFM seems pretty clear!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

Tyler, I know you did not invent the multi-intentioned view. I've studied the position of advocates of that view. I can agree with them on a number of points, but do believe they have the same issue many advocates for universal atonement have, they speak of only potential, not actual, effects for a substitutionary atonement. A positive aspect of the view is that they tend to recognize generally the resurrection as an outcome of atonement, but fail (in my mind) to make a clear connection of that resurrection being

  1. a salvific aspect of the atonement (i.e. a salvific part that is necessary for the saving of anyone) and
  2. an atoned for aspect of that salvation (that the reason resurrection can righteously reverse God's legal decree of the death penalty for sin is because He has paid the legal penalty for all people, so He is free to take them out of that death penalty),

and so fail to emphasize that there is something intentional and effectual toward the salvation of all people that God has done in the work of Christ, not just something theoretically potential. There is a lot more basis in a gospel message for one to come to faith (and, as you pointed out, something that adds to one's condemnation when they do not believe) when it declares that God has already done something real* for you, so believe that He can and will save you to the uttermost if you will believe in Him (Heb 7:25).

* He has become the ransom and propitiation for your sins actually, not potentially—that's the "dancing on the head of a pin" part that I feel is still a failure of the view.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture

Editor

Is it healthy or prudent for a denomination to tap-dance on the finer points of soteriology? I don't think it is. It's fine for a Seminary to do it. But, a denomination? I'm not so sure. I think it's helpful to be precise. But, given that we live in the real world and the SBC is a big-tent denomination, is it prudent to make an issue out of this going forward? If I were Greear, I'd likely appeal to both sides and focus on what we do agree on. The 2000 BFM appears deliberately vague on these matters. It's watered down from the 1833 NHCF.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

TylerR wrote:

Is it healthy or prudent for a denomination to tap-dance on the finer points of soteriology? 

The Baptist denomination holds to some core principles that allow for a level of freedom in belief:

  • Autonomy of the Local Church
  • Priesthood of the Individual Believer
  • Individual Soul Liberty

So while individual Baptists and/or Baptist churches do not always treat their members, other believers, or other churches as if they really follow these principles (else they would not be quite so vehement in their discussions with one another), the implications of those beliefs is that a certain amount of "tap-dancing" on almost any doctrine* may need to be required for any association of a Baptist group.

Is it healthy? Well, yes and no. IMO, the healthiest thing is to unite on truth; but when what is true is being debated, then the healthiest thing is to be civil in allowing for that debate to be conducted with civility, so that some unity remains.

*I think Baptists would not fudge on certain core fundamentals, considering those non-negotiable based on the "Biblical Authority" principle they hold (which is also where they find themselves arguing over points, based on each one's understanding of what the Bible has to say on a subject).

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture

Editor

I don't think it's useful to label Baptists as a "denomination" that coalesces around a set or core doctrinal beliefs. All Baptists generally agree on is ecclesiology. Everything else is up for grabs. EVERYTHING ELSE. This is why you have Free Will Baptists, 7th Day Baptists, and Reformed Baptists! This is what makes Baptists different.

In my remarks, I was specifically referring to the SBC or any identified denomination or association. Baptists aren't a "denomination" in the sense that you're referring to!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

I used the term "denomination" simply because you had :-). I do not really consider Baptists a denomination either (though they are often referred to as such), yet neither do I consider the SBC a denomination (since it is made up of an association of autonomous churches; to me, to be a denomination requires their to be a governing body that has authority over the branch churches).

I'm not sure ecclesiology is even all that agreed on (i.e. congregational churches, deacon run, elder run, lone pastor run, and mixes of those). My main point was that most Baptists (including the SBC) hold to those three principles I noted, which three principles make for a need to "dance" around issues at times for the unity of the larger body.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Bert Perry's picture

...might be casseroles and potlucks, and perhaps on the mode of immersion?  :^)  Sorry, I'm having trouble figuring out a lot more unifying principles that unite everyone called "Baptist", even allowing for the involuntary expulsion of fanatics like Westboro.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.