Two Common Confusions about Calvinism in Baptist History

careyA few weeks ago, I enumerated the greatest misunderstanding many have with evangelical Calvinism—namely that Calvinism kills evangelism and missions. Today, I want to pick up two more objections that were often raised at my last church, but which have little basis in historical fact.

1. Five-Point Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists

One of the largest confusions in the discussion about Calvinism is the term “Hyper-Calvinism.” Historically-speaking, “Hyper-Calvinism” is different than Five-Point Calvinism. The former has minimized or denied the universal offer of the gospel, the latter has not. The former denies duty-faith—the idea that all are commanded to repent and believer—the latter affirms the universal nature of the gospel call and the duty of every man to repent and belief. Thus, the former has neglected evangelism, missions, and sharing the gospel with all men. The latter, has never minimized the evangelistic work of the Great Commission and its corollary endeavors.

In fact, many Calvinists (e.g., William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and Charles Spurgeon) have argued against Hyper-Calvinism. For instance, William Carey (1761–1834), largely started the modern missions movement when he preached his sermon “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.” In this sermon, preached to a gathering of particular Baptists in England (1792), he outlined how and why “means” were necessary to the advancement of the gospel. He compared the Christian mission to that of a trading company and challenged his comrades to support such an endeavor. With his appeal, he contested the notions of Hyper-Calvinism, which were prevalent at that time, and he soon became the first foreign missionary sent these Baptist churches. Carey was a Baptist and a Calvinist, one who strongly rejected Hyper-Calvinism.

Andrew Fuller is another Calvinistic Baptist who argued vehemently against Hyper-Calvinism. Coming out of a Hyper-Calvinistic background, Fuller took to task those preachers who denied a universal offer of the gospel. At that time, many were following the sentiment that claimed that one needed to observe grace before they would pronounce the gospel. It required the minister to have a kind of omniscient clairvoyance. Yet, with his forceful pen, Andrew Fuller rejected the Hyper-Calvinism in his classic work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. In this work, he articulated a view of the gospel that commended limited atonement and yet declared that the gospel was to be proclaimed to all men.

Significantly, at this time, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists all suffered from the “Modern Question” (Nettles, The Baptists, 1:248), which proposed that a man was never responsible for that which he could not do. In the case of those with Calvinistic leanings, this meant that if a man was unable to believe in the gospel (due to his spiritually dead and depraved standing), then he was not culpable. Hence, many falsely taught that the gospel need not go to all men, but only the elect. The folly in this is assuming one could discern who those were. Ironically, Pelagians/Semi-Pelagians/Arminians fall prey to the same confusion when they argue that men, in and of themselves, are capable of responding to the gospel because God would not give a command that man was incapable obeying.

Finally, Charles Spurgeon is another Calvinist who rejected Hyper-Calvinism. Iain Murray has treated this in his book, Spurgeon and Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 1995). In the book Murray, writes why this book is important,

Hyper-Calvinism only arises whenever and wherever the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is firmly believed. The reason why Spurgeon’s first controversy has been so little thought of in these last hundred years is not that the subject is insignificant. It is rather that doctrinal Christianity as a whole has been too largely ignored. At the present time, when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger of Hyper-Calvinism is once more a possibility and the lessons to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant.

Spurgeon’s reasoning against Hyper-Calvinism coheres with Andrew Fuller—the Hyper-Calvinists deny “duty-faith,” Spurgeon rightly affirms it. Consequently, Spurgeon is a trustworthy preacher of the gospel, who calls all men to faith in Christ.

Anyone who mislabels Five-Pointers with Hyper-Calvinism must redefine their terms, or do their homework in history. The two are not the same.

2. Calvinism is Incompatible with Baptist Doctrine

In church history, Presbyterians and Reformed (the denomination, that is) have been predominately Calvinistic. In the last century, mainline Presbyterians in the Presbyterian Church-USA have become liberal and are not constrained by the Bible at all. This denomination is vastly different from the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The former questions the Bible and mutes the gospel; the latter defends the Bible and cherishes the gospel. The former is Calvinistic in tradition only; the latter adheres to a covenantal theology that leads to infant baptism. In this, they fail to understand the difference of the New Covenant and they important many Old Testament notions for being God’s people. They would do well to see the Old Testament symbol of circumcision as a type fulfilled in Christ, not a type that has been transferred into paedo-baptism.

As far as Baptists go, there have always been Calvinistic Baptists and Non-Calvinistic Baptists. Sometimes the first group has been called separate or particular or reformed Baptists; the latter group has been called general or regular Baptists. Some of the most significant figures in the early centuries of Baptist life were Calvinistic. For instance, British Baptists Benjamin Keach (1640–1704), John Gill (1697–1771), Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), and William Carey (1761–1834) were all Calvinistic in their doctrinal stance. In America Isaac Backus and John Leland (who was the pastor in conversation with Thomas Jefferson concerning the separation of church and state[1]), Richard Furman from which Furman College gets its name, Shubal Stearns[2], Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice[3], and the founders of Southern Seminary (James P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr., William Williams) were all Calvinistic in their doctrine. Moreover, when the Southern Baptist Convention was begun (1845), every representative at the first convention came from churches that held to Calvinistic confessions of faith. One in particular was P.H. Mell. Mell served as SBC President for more than fifteen years (1863–71, 1880-87). Of the five points of Calvinism, he wrote, “These doctrines [are] the basis of all our pulpit ministrations.”[4]

In most recent years—from the mid-twentieth century until the turn of the century—the SBC has been decidedly Non-Calvinistic. During most of those years, liberalism and modernism pervaded the seminaries (until the 1990’s)[5], and Calvinism was virtually unheard of, except in a few rare exceptions.

Systematically, there is nothing in the belief system of Baptists that must deny Calvinist thinking. Many of the first Baptist confessions are Calvinistic (e.g., 2nd London [1689], Philadelphia). Today, the Baptist Faith and Message is a document that has a historic trail to these earlier confessions. In 1833, the New Hampshire Confession was drafted, modifying the staunchly Calvinistic confessions with a much more moderate Calvinism. The article concerning the “Purposes of Grace” is agreeable to Calvinist and Non-Calvinists. While Calvinists would say more, this document permits Calvinist and Non-Calvinist to retain gospel-centered fellowship in Baptist life (churches, missions, denomination).

In the end, the statement that Baptists are not Calvinistic is short-sighted. It may be the experience of many today, but historically there have been many Baptists of the Calvinistic stream. In fact, some of the most influential apparently” non-Calvinists” are also surprisingly committed to the doctrines of grace—I have in mind here the interview John Piper had with Rick Warren.

Of course, Calvinism is not proved by clarifying its historical moorings. However, if we are going to rightly talk about such doctrinal matters and historical terms, it is vital clarify that Calvinism is not the same thing as Hyper-Calvinism and that Calvinism has held a long and faithful position in the history of Baptists. For those engaged in such discussions, let’s remember our history as we formulate theology in the present.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

________________

[1]The original intent of Jefferson and Leland was the assurance that the state could not interfere with the church, not the reverse as it has been misused today.

[2]Stearns is the founder Sandy Creek association which makes up one of two importants streams flowing into Southern Baptist life. While Sandy Creek has usually been associated with revivalistic preachers and churches, a feature that has sometimes excluded Calvinistic doctrine, Tom Nettles shows that Stearns has Calvinistic-leanings (The Baptists, 2:162-73).

[3]Judson was converted to Baptist belief on the boat ride to his missionary outpost. Luther Rice was another missionary who believed in the doctrines of grace.

[4]Quoted in Nettles, The Baptists, 2:342. There is room for debate about how the five-points of Calvinism relate to preaching; however, the point is clear, the SBC began with a large influence from Calvinists.

[5]Southwestern being the exception. It was never as bad as the other seminaries.

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism means different things to different people. Even to those who might call themselves “Calvinist,” what they mean by the term is not always the same. Typically, as a shorthand expression for what I believe about salvation, I am comfortable to call myself a Calvinist. And yet, because that label is so often misused, misunderstood, and misapplied, I am equally desirous to avoid it altogether.

Nevertheless, the question remains: What is Calvinism?

The answer to that question takes more than just two sentence, simple answer. Because it is a term that has historical, theological, and worldview meanings, it takes time to get a handle on it. Therefore, for those who have an interest and an ear to hear, let me give you a five-fold answer to that question: Calvinism is (1) a shorthand expression for the doctrines of grace, (2) a biblical-theological system, (3) an historical phenomenon, (4) a biblical worldview, and (5) an attitude of worship. As always, let me know what you think.  Continue reading

Why Should You Study Church History?

chIn the introduction of his book, Christian History Made Easy, Timothy Paul Jones gives a compelling answer to that question. Let me quote him at length.

In a classic Peanuts comic strip, Sally carefully labels her paper, “Church History.” As Charlie Brown glances over her shoulder, Sally considers her subject.

“When writing about church history,” Sally scrawls, “we have to go back to the very beginning. Our pastor was born in 1930.

Charles Schulz’s comic strip may be amusing, but it isn’t too far from the truth. In sermons and devotional books, Christians encounter names like Augustine and Calvin, Spurgeon and Moody. Their stories are interesting. Truth be told, though, most church members have a tough time fitting these stories together. The typical individual’s knowledge of church history ends with the apostles and doesn’t find its footings again until sometime in the twentieth century.

Still, the story of Christianity deeply affects every believer in Jesus Christ. The history of the Christian faith affects how we read the Bible. It affects how we view our government. It affects how we worship. Simply put, the church’s history is our family history. Past Christians are our mothers and fathers in the faith, our aunts and uncles, our in-laws and –in a few cases—our outlaws!

When a child in Sunday School asks, “How could Jesus be God and still be like me?” she’s not asking a new question. She is grappling with an issue that, in AD 325, three hundred church leaders discussed in a little village named Nicaea [ni-SEE-ah], now the city of Iznik in the nation of Turkey. Even if you’ve never heard of Iznik or Nicaea, what those leaders decided will influence the way that you frame your response to the child’s question.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why are there so many different churches?” the answer is woven somewhere within two millennia of political struggles and personal skirmishes. When you read words like “predestined” or “justified” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, it isn’t only Paul and your pastor who affect how you respond. Even if you don’t realize it, Christian thinkers such as Augustine and John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards also influence how you understand these words.

So, if the history of Christianity affects so much of what we do, what’s the problem? Why isn’t everyone excited about this story? Simply this: A few pages into many history books, and the story of Christianity can suddenly seem like a vast and dreary landscape, littered with a few interesting anecdotes and a lot of dull dates.

Despite history’s profound effect on our daily lives, most church members will never read Justo Gonzalez’s thousand-page The Story of Christianity. Only the most committed students will wade through all 1,552 pages of Ken Latourette’s A History of Christianity. Fewer still will learn to apply church history to their lives. And so, when trendy novels and over-hyped television documentaries attempt to reconstruct the history of Christianity, thousands of believers find themselves unable to offer intelligent answers to friends and family members.

What we don’t seem to recognize is that church history is a story. It’s an exciting story about ordinary people that God has used in extraordinary ways. What’s more, it’s a story that every Christian ought to know. (Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones, pp. 6–7: Book and DVD)

Do you believe that? I hope you do. Continue reading

Saint Patrick: Separating Missionary Fact from Fictitious Malarkey

What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Leprechauns.  Ireland.  Wearing green.  Or drinking green beer.  If that is it, you may want to re-read the record books.  

A few years back, Russell Moore gave a brief history lesson on the real Patrick that should make every missionally-minded Christian sit up and take notice.  Drawing on the Philip Freeman’s 2007 book, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, Moore summarizes Freeman’s work:

Freeman helpfully retells Patrick’s conversion story, one of a mocking young hedonist to a repentant evangelist. The story sounds remarkably similar to that of Augustine—and, in the most significant of ways, both mirror the first-century conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Freeman helpfully reconstructs the context of local religion as a “business relationship” in which sacrifice to pagan gods was seen as a transaction for the material prosperity of the worshippers. Against this, Patrick’s conversion to Christianity was noticed quickly, when his prayers of devotion—then almost always articulated out loud—were overheard by his neighbors.

The rest of the narrative demonstrates the ways in which Patrick carried the Christian mission into the frontiers of the British Isles—confronting a hostile culture and institutionalized heresy along the way. With this the case, the life of Patrick is a testimony to Great Commission fervor, not to the Irish nationalism most often associated with the saint. As a matter of fact, Freeman points out that Patrick’s love for the Irish was an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love enemies and to pray for persecutors.

Likewise, Kevin DeYoung, also from the archives (ca. 2011), provides a brief missionary biography of Patrick.  He says,

Here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.”  For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

According to one historian (again I am citing DeYoung’s research) “[Patrick] was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally” (Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity86)  meaning that he was the first person to take the Great Commission as a command.  Rightly, Patrick read Matthew 28:19 as a calling for him, and so he left home to take the gospel to pagans of Ireland. 

This literal and personal reading of disciple-making needs to be reissued today, because some still think Jesus’ words are for someone else. Tragically, they relegate Jesus’ missionary imperative to a bygone era or for some special class of people.  Yet, as Patrick’s life and labors show, when men take seriously the call to be a disciple-making disciple, God will bring great blessings.  Fifteen centuries later we have much to learn from Patrick.

I encourage you to read the rest of Moore’s blogpost (What evangelicals can learn from Saint Patrick) and DeYoung’s foray into history (Who was Saint Patrick?).  Together these two brief posts will help you determine fact from fiction.  They will give you many reasons to thank God for the missions-minded Brit who brought the light of the gospel to the whole nation of Ireland.

May Patrick’s brave example spur us on to share the gospel with our own pagan nation and hostile neighbors. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Read the Bible with the Church: A Wise Word from Charles Hodge

Protestant Christians have always believed in Sola Scriptura, but they have also read the Bible with the Church.  Until recently (since the American Revolution and the Enlightenment), the idea of “Me and My Bible” Christianity, or Solo Scripturahas not been advocated.  Like the Jews who plugged their ears and stoned Stephen, when we read the Bible without listening to the men who have gone before us, we endanger ourselves of committing many errors and foolishly rehashing untold biblical-theological arguments.

In this vein–reading the Bible with the light of Church History–is helpfully represented by American theologian, Charles Hodge.

Protestants admit that as there has been an uninterrupted tradition of truth from the protevangelium [Genesis 3:15] to the close of the Apocalypse [Revelation 21-22], so there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian Church from the day of Pentecost to the present time. This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true. Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed. They constitute one body, having one common creed. Rejecting that creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints, or membership in the body of Christ. In other words, Protestants admit that there is a common faith of the Church, which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:113–14).

To learn more about the value of Charles Hodge for today, read my review of  Paul Gutjahr’s recent biography, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American OrthodoxyAnother fresh biography on Charles Hodge is Andrew Hoffecker’s Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: J.T. English)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day :: Green Means Go!

What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Leprechauns.  Ireland.  A pot of gold.  Wearing green or drinking green beer.  If that is it, your understanding of this celebrated day is divorced from history and the real Patrick of Ireland.

Today on Moore to the Point, Dr. Russell Moore gives a brief history lesson on the real St Patrick that should make every missionally-minded Christian sit up and take notice.  Drawing on the Philip Freeman’s 2007 book, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, Moore summarizes:

Any evangelical seeking to kindle a love for missions among the people of God will benefit from this volume’s demonstration that the Great Commission did not lie dormant between the apostle Paul and William Carey. Patrick’s love and zeal for the Irish may also inspire American evangelicals to repent of our hopelessness for the conversion of, say, the radical Islamic world—which is, after all, no more “hopeless” than the Irish barbarians of Patrick’s era.

I encourage you to read the rest of Moore’s blogpostWhat evangelicals can learn from Saint Patrick, and to give thanks for this obedient servant of Christ.  May his brave example spur us on to share the gospel with our own pagan nation and hostile neighbors. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Irenaeus of Lyons: A Faithful Church Father

A Man Worthy of Consideration and Imitation (Heb. 13:7)

After surveying Irenaeus Against Heresies it is evident that the Bishop of Lyons is a man committed to Scriptures and thus worthy of emulation in many ways. His vehement opposition to Gnostic heresies, his unwavering commitment to the Word of God as authoritative, inerrant, and sufficient, and his robust biblical theology are examples worthy of ponder and imitate. In his grasp of the Bible and in his bold proclamation thereof, Irenaeus incarnates Titus 1:9 admonition to elders, “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

Nevertheless, there are things that Irenaeus did in his exposition of Scripture that modern expositors should be cautious to repeat. First, Irenaeus’ habit of allegorizing details within narrative passages is not a legitimate hermeneutic procedure. Finding more than three allegorical meanings to the ax head in Elisha narrative, and comparing the three spies sent to Jericho to the Trinity[1] are spurious interpretations at best and potentially harmful.

Second, his pattern of making typology fit the most intricate detail of the event is problematic (i.e. Lazarus’ clothes, clean and unclean animals). Though Irenaeus was constrained from major error because of a strong apostolic doctrine, those who have weak doctrine and strong imaginations will be the next generation of Gnostics, or liberals, or postmoderns. Patience, humility to admit we don’t know everything,[2] and increasing textual evidence based on ongoing exegesis must be required for all typological interpretations.

Finally, there is wisdom in focusing on the main details of the Gospel and not on peripheral non-essentials. In a handful of instances, Irenaeus taught peculiar doctrines (i.e. Christ living to the age of 50; six days of creation correspondent to six millennia) by defining one passage of Scripture with another, that in all likelihood should not have been combined. The causes of this are manifold, but the principle lesson is that doctrinal formulation should be founded on the clearest and most abundant biblical evidence. Such Scriptural data must recognize the unfolding nature of progressive revelation and form its doctrines in accordance with the canonical shape of the Bible.

Today, the church stands on the shoulders of men like Irenaeus, and benefits from his stalwart commitment to the truth and the right interpretation of Scripture. Yet, there is one other aspect of his theological enterprise that should not go unnoticed. At the end of Books III and IV, Irenaeus prays for his opponents. He was not cold theologian, but a doctrinally-committed pastor whose theology shaped his prayer and his polemics.  This too, and perhaps, this most is worthy of emulation.  I fear too much pugilism and too little prayer is offered today in debates that surround interpretation of the Bible.

So, as we close our evaluation of Irenaeus of Lyons, may we give thanks to God for this faithful saint and consider his life and imitate his biblical faith.[3]

Sola Deo Gloria, dss


[1] Ibid., 4.20.12.

[2] Something that Irenaeus demonstrated in his own position of ecclesial authority (see. Adversus haereses 2.28.3).

[3] For the Gnostics, Irenaeus prays, “We do indeed pray that these men may not remain in the pit which they themselves have dug, but separate themselves from a Mother of this nature, and depart from Bythus, and stand away from the void, and relinquish the shadow; and that they, being converted to the Church of God, may be lawfully begotten, and that Christ maybe formed in them, and that they may know the Framer and Maker of this universe, the only true God and Lord of all. We pray for these things on their behalf, loving them better than they seem to love themselves” (Adversus haereses 3.25.7).

Distraction, Devotion, and Destruction: A Reflection from Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Rule”

Reading Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Rule,” a document addressing Christian shepherds and their pastoral roles, I came across this quote.  Ponder it with me.

Secular employments, therefore, though they may sometimes be endured out of compassion, should never be sought after out of affection for the things themselves; lest, while they weigh down the mind of him who loves them, they sink it, overcome by its own burden, from heavenly places to the lowest (Gregory the Great, “The Pastoral Rule,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, p. 18).

Gregory’s comment illustrates numerous biblical exhortations for pastors and leaders in ministry.  Consider three:

2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:20-21, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful for the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

1 Peter 5:2-3, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God whould have you; not for shameful gain…”

In a world filled with distractions…Television.  Radio.  Video Games.  Internet.  Telephone.  Cell Phone.  Email.  Blogging.  Facebook.  Twitter.  The list goes on… Where was I?  Oh yeah, distracting secular employments!  In a world filled with distractions, Gregory’s warning is a timeless reminder that one of Satan’s ploys is to take our eyes, our minds, our affections off what really matters and to fill them with worldly goods (Read: Luke 14:16-24). 

More so than ever, our enemy has an avalanche of options to force us off the straight and narrow path.  He may not tempt us to be bad but to be busy with banality.  For none of the things listed above are intrinsically evil, but they become instruments of destruction when they hinder our worship, deter our mission, promote lethargy, or increase vain curiosity.

I don’t say this as a disenchanted technophobe, but as someone who regularly utilizes the modern amenities afforded by technology.  Nevertheless, I feel their effects.  Gregory’s words rachet me back to Jesus’ pre-modern call to pick up my cross and follow Him.  I confess that too many times, I am distracted in this pursuit, and so I appreciate his exhortation.  I pray for spiritual renewal in my life and a return to a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).  I pray for others too that we will together fix our eyes on Jesus running with endurance the race set out for us, and that to do this well we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  In this I pray, that we will learn how to use mass media not for purposes of distraction, but for purposes of spiritual destruction–“destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5)

Father in Heaven, Undistracted Deity: Give your people the wisdom to see the ways in which worldly distractions keep them from following you as loyal soldiers, clean vessels, and willing shepherds.  Spirit of Truth, lead us to repent and turn from our futile pursuits and to utilize all creation, technology included, for your glory.  Protect us from the world’s all-consuming efffects.  Lord Jesus, glorify yourself in your church, liberating your people to be wholly committed to loving and serving you.  And may the world watch in wonder and follow in obedience to you as your church turns from distraction to devotion!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss