Hyper-Calvinism is Not Calvinism

Hyper-Calvinism is not the same as an excited Calvinist. Too often these two things are confused and it takes a bit of time to explain the difference.

On that note, Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church (Cape Coral, FL) , has written a helpful piece on the difference between soteriological Calvinism (i.e., Calvinism as it relates to the doctrine of salvation) and hyper-Calvinism. He makes the clarification based on the recent and lamentable confusion by President of Louisiana College, Joe Aguillard, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston (see the video here).

Ascol makes the interesting and important point that hyper-Calvinists and Arminians are closer in theology than they might perceive themselves to be. He describes how Arminians and hyper-Calvinists both demand that man’s responsibility is coextensive with his ability.  In other words, if a man can’t than he doesn’t have to.  To this error in judgment, Ascol observes, Continue reading

Encouraged by the Convention’s Consensus: Highlights from the SBC

For two days earlier this week (June 11-12), 5,100 Southern Baptist messengers filled the halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.  For those two days, plus the preceding days of the Pastor’s Conference, pastors, convention leaders, and other missions-minded Baptists heard reports and discussed numerous issues ranging from the Boy Scouts, to church planting, to finding ways to work together to reach the lost with the message of the gospel.

As Dave Miller, Second Vice President of this year’s SBC, has observed there was a sweet, unified Spirit.  Few were the public disagreements; plenty were the calls for prayer, Great Commission advancement, strategic use of finances, and the willingness to work together for the sake of the lost.

As always, it was a joy to visit with old friends and to meet new ones.  Still the thing that was most outstanding during these days was the unified spirit expressed by Calvinism Advisory Committee. Leading up to the convention much speculation was offered concerning what this nineteen-person committee  would report to the SBC. It is with great joy to see the consensus statement,  Truth, Trust, Testimony in a Time of Tension, issued a few weeks ago. At the convention, this optimism was furthered by watching the way that these “alpha males” (Frank Page’s words, not mine) and one lady worked together with charity and passion for the gospel.

Therefore, as I lay out some of the highlights from the convention, please excuse the focus on this report and its effects. It was to me, and others I spoke with, a great source of encouragement. To see Eric Hankins and Paige Patterson working with Mark Dever and Albert Mohler is a model for the rest of us. I pray that the effect of their statement and Houston’s convention may bear lasting fruit for the sake of the gospel.  Accordingly, we list their Q & A first and follow with the other highlights.

  • Just before lunch on Monday, twelve of the nineteen members of the Calvinism Advisory Team met for a Q & A. During this time, the audience was invited to ask questions, and over the course of an hour, it was evident that the very diverse group had a genuine care for each other and desire to see soteriological Calvinists and Traditionalists (non-Calvinists) work together for the advancement of the gospel. To date there is not an audio of that event, but there is a Baptist Press article that nicely summarizes a number of the key responses.
  • Contrast this diversified but unified group with the Baptist Twenty-One interview conducted with President of Louisana College (LC), Joe Aguillard. At the request of this embroiled President, John Akin spent close to an hour asking some hard-hitting questions about the hiring practices and firing decisions at LC. He discussed the sufficiency of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, who has the right to determine its interpretation, and the nature of hyper-Calvinism. If you are looking for clear answers to each question, you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking to find out why the school is experiencing such trouble with Calvinism,  the interview will make it plain. Fortunately, the negative and often unintelligible sentiments expressed by President Aguillard were drowned out by the clearer and more charitable sentiments of men like Eric Hankins and Albert Mohler.
  • Another point of great cooperation and consensus was found in the Baptist 21 luncheon. In this panel discussion between R. Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, David Platt, and Matt Carter, my friend Jedidiah Coppenger asked questions ranging from the challenges of ‘gay marriage’ and the recent decision of the Boy Scouts to disciple-making in the local church. He also handled the subject of Calvinism in the SBC, where Dr. Mohler gave an impassioned articulation that hyper-Calvinism has no place in the SBC. He clarified that hyper-Calvinism is not the same an over-zealous brand of Calvinism (‘hyper’ Calvinism). Rather, hyper-Calvinism, historical defined, is a person who refuses to make a universal offer of the gospel. As Danny Akin would later say in his SBC sermon, unwillingness to share the gospel is the result of aberrant theology—regardless if it is Calvinistic or Traditionalist. Therefore, in this panel discussion there was real engagement with some challenges facing Baptists, and a unanimous commitment to sharing the gospel. (Baptist 21 hopes to have the video of this luncheon up next week; stay tuned here).
  • This spirit of cooperation was evidenced in the convention, but it was also evidenced by individuals who signed the statement. For instance, Tom Ascol gives four reasons why he is encouraged by the statement. Likewise, Albert Mohler penned this reflections and hope for this statement.  In the convention itself, President Fred Luter was extremely gracious (just remember how he handled an impassioned mega-church pastor from Arkansas), and Frank Page’s posture towards the Calvinism discussion was exemplary.  Truth be told, I am so encouraged by the way that he has led this group. His desire for a unity and cooperation was evident in the discussion on Monday and on the platform when he announced the results of the Advisory Committee (to see that presentation go the SBC Convention page, select Tuesday Afternoon, look for Frank Page’s session, scroll to 13:13-21:00). Southern Baptists have great reason to give thanks for our “Chief Encouragement Officer.”
  • Still, the top report—in my opinion—was that of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (ERLC). The report came in two parts. First, retiring ERLC president, Richard Land, reflected on his years of service. This was followed by a video montage that wonderfully captured the effect of this man’s twenty-five year service. This was only exceeded by Russell Moore’s opening report as the newly-appointed president of the ERLC. This message, coupled with his Q & A on Tuesday night, gives me great hope for the cultural engagement that Southern Baptists will embark upon in the next twenty-five years.  As an aside, you can witness Moore’s even-handed approach to religious liberty and the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in his article, “Why Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) Can Unite for Religious Liberty.”
  • Finally, Danny Akin’s message, “Six Marks of a Great Commission People,” reinforced the week’s theme: We must be unified in our passion for the gospel and the communication of this gospel to all people—especially those with no access to the gospel. This message closed the convention, and fittingly it gave all the messengers a clear call to go and make disciples of all nations. As always, this is why Southern Baptists unite. We are a Great Commission people, and I pray that the meetings, messages, and appointments that filled this week will serve to advance the gospel in the next 365 days.

All in all, the week was filled with highlights. I am sure I left some out. Next year’s convention is in Baltimore, and it is already on my calendar. I hope you will check out some of these highlights listed above and plan to join us next June.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (7.14.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.

BIBLE & THEOLOGY

The Danger of Pragmatism.  Jared Wilson, “Gospel-centered” blogger, pastor, and author, provides a helpful look at pragmatism and its deletrious effect on biblical truth and faithful ministry.

Pastor Wilson lists six symptoms of pragmatism and seven ways churches and pastors can regain a biblical ministry.

Six Symptoms of Pragmatism

  1. Pastors increasingly hired for their management skills or rhetorical ability over and above their biblical wisdom or their meeting of the biblical qualifications for eldership.
  2. The equation of “worship” with a creative portion of a weekly worship service.
  3. The prevalent eisogesis in classes and small groups.
  4. The vast gulf between the theological academy and the church.
  5. Biblical illiteracy.
  6. A theologically lazy and methodologically consumeristic/sensationalistic approach to the sacraments.

Seven Ways  to Fight Pragmatism

  1. Pastors must study and read, and read and study.
  2. Expository preaching.
  3. Pastors must bridge that gulf between the theological academy and the church.
  4. Churches should identify those with the spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership and make sure they are both discipled and discipling, mentored and mentoring.
  5. Impress upon every minister of the church the need for doctrinal soundness, especially those planning and leading “worship.”
  6. Recapture a vision for truth that makes the goal of theology a deeper relationship with God and greater affection for Christ.
  7. Recover the centrality of the Gospel.

Let me encourage you to read the whole blogpost and ask the question: Are you being shaped more by the pragmatic culture around you, or are you being shaped more by God’s truth?

Continue reading

For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy’; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A History Lesson on Hyper-Calvinism

In 2006, Ergun Caner preached a message called “Why I am Predestined not to be a Hyper-Calvinist!”  His message at the Thomas Road Baptist Church confused the differences between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism, and finished with a deplorable illustration where Caner suggested that in heaven he would stand up and declare the rightness of his views.

For the record, in heaven, Calvinist-Arminian debates will be over and only One Person who will be standing, and it won’t be Ergun Caner.  Everyone, including Liberty’s former dean, will be bowing to the One who is the Lamb that was slain for peoples from all nations, and Christians from all soteriological persuasions.

Nevertheless, Caner’s polemical message is just one of many places where Hyper-Calvinism is confused with Calvinism, a term that Carl Truman has more recently suggested is “profoundly unhelpful” (see his article on the subject, “Calvin and Calvinism“).  It seems that more often than not, when someone denigrates Calvinism, they do so by confusing it with many of the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism.

A bit of historical clarification is in order–especially, if we care about the Golden Rule and loving others enough to understand their position.

Thus, enter Kevin DeYoung and Peter Toon. This week, DeYoung, a Michigan pastor, has proffered a brief explanation of the difference between Hyper-Calvinists and those who take seriously the Reformed doctrines of grace.  He points to Peter Toon’s book,  The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity 1689-1765, as a helpful though dense book on the matter, and he shows a number of ways that well-intentioned but errant men slipped from the warm, evangelical Reformed Orthodoxy to the anti-evangelistic notions of Hyper-Calvinism.

DeYoung quotes Toon at length to spell out the greatest differences:

[Hyper-Calvinism] was a system of theology, or a system of the doctrines of God, man and grace, which was framed to exalt and honour and glory of God and did so at the expense of minimising the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners to God. It places excessive emphasis on the immanent acts of God–eternal justification, eternal adoption and the eternal covenant of grace. In practice, this meant that “Christ and Him crucified”, the central message of the apostles, was obscured.

It also often made no distinction between the secret and the revealed will of God, and tried to deduce the duty of men from what it taught concerning the secret, eternal decrees of God.

Excessive emphasis was also placed on the doctrine of irresistible grace with the tendency to state that an elect man is not only passive in regeneration but also in conversion as well. The absorbing interest in the eternal, immanent acts of God and in irresistible grace led to the notion that grace must only be offered to those for whom it was intended.

Finally, a valid assurance of salvation was seen as consisting in an inner feeling and conviction of being eternally elected by God. So Hyper-Calvinism led its adherents to hold that evangelism was not necessary and to place much emphasis on introspection in order to discover whether or not one was elect. (144-45)

According to such views, most Reformed thinkers today are far, far removed from Hyper-Calvinism.  In fact, the most articulate defenders of the doctrines of grace are often the greatest champions for biblical missions and evangelism–just read Let the Nations Be Glad.  

For those who have thought much on this matter, or read blogs or books on the subject, it is often the case that there is more heat than light, and that often titles and terms are misused.  Toon’s explanation and DeYoung’s synthesis, however, provide a helpful distinction between these two historical movements in Church History.

For believers on both sides of the theological fence, rightly understanding the difference between Reformed Theology and Hyper-Calvinism is imperative for rightly dividing the Word of Truth and protecting the church from unnecessary division caused by pejorative labels and misrepresentation.

For those who have ears to hear, DeYoung’s thoughtful blog post, “The What and Why of Hyper-Calvinism” provides much help in discerning truth from error, and recognizing the difference between Hyper-Calvinists and the seriously Reformed.   It is vital reading for anyone thinking on these things.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss