Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Divine Predestination: A Southern Baptist Teaching

The first SBTS classroom, formerly the Greenville First
Baptist Church. (Photo courtesy: SBTS official website)
It's really sad when self-professed "Bible-believing" Christians reject God's truth revealed in Scripture in exchange for man-made ideas that the world would deem more logical and palatable. About a week ago, I had a nice intellectual discussion with a good friend concerning the doctrine of predestination. This godly lady, a fellow Southern Baptist whom I have known for quite some time now, claimed that if my interpretation of Romans 9 is correct, then it is pointless to go and preach the gospel to all nation. If God "has mercy on whomever he wills" (Rom. 9:18) and in fact chooses to show mercy only to some with regard to salvation (Rom. 9:18-24; i.e. Matt. 13:11; Luk. 10:22; Jn. 6:63-65) and that none of those whom God has chosen will finally perish (Jn. 6:39-40, 44-45), whatever change would it make whether or not we fulfill Christ's Great Commission? I had anticipated this kind of objection from her, and I have responded by saying that as far as my personal experience is concerned, this glorious doctrine of election never killed my passion for reaching the lost, but instead rekindled it. The doctrine of predestination should not be regarded as a strange doctrine that Christians should fear or avoid. Aside from its being clearly taught in Scripture, it has been in fact a Southern Baptist teaching ever since (though neglected by many Southern Baptists today). Unfortunately very few Southern Baptists are aware of their theological heritage that used to be "reformed." Even for the most part of today's Christianity, the humanistic (and erroneous) notions of Pelagianism (i.e. that man should first turn to God before God can do any move) is widely embraced.

In this paper I will try by the help of God's grace to provide a brief presentation of the fact that the doctrine of Predestination is indeed a Southern Baptist teaching. May God use this simple work for His own purposes.

Predestination in the SBTS Abstract of Principles (1858)

I won't be citing very long references here, but would focus only on a single old document from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary archive. The name of the document is Abstract of Principles formulated in 1858 before the official founding of the SBTS a year later. The intent of the document was to maintain doctrinal purity among the teachers and leaders of the seminary, and to oppose all kinds of false teaching and doctrines. Affirming all the doctrines stated in the document was mandatory to all Southern Baptist scholars who would want to assume professorship in the seminary. In its introduction, we read (emphasis mine):
Every professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist church; and all persons accepting professorships in this seminary shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his part shall be considered grounds for his resignation or removal by the Trustees, to wit:
So, what's so special about the Abstract of Principles? It is the fact that the document is essentially Calvinistic in its anthropology and soteriology. For example, concerning the fall of man it states (emphasis mine):
God originally created Man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
This is perfectly in agreement with what the Scripture says about the man's fallen nature being "hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8; see also Rom. 3:9-12, 1 Cor. 2:14, 2 Cor. 4:4, & Eph. 2:1-3). Being spiritually dead in Sin, the fallen man is not able to fulfill any spiritual duty accompanying salvation (i.e. faith & repentance) unless he is first quickened by God monergisitcally. This means we are spiritually regenerated by God, not in response to our faith, but in order that we may be drawn to saving faith in Christ. The Abstract of Principles agrees with this teaching, and I quote (emphasis mine):
Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness. It is a work of God’s free and special grace alone.
Again, this is in total agreement with Scripture which says: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pe. 1:3). Note the verse didn't say, "we first had our living hope (saving faith) and then God made us born again," but rather, "he has caused us to be born again *TO* a living hope." Thus, our conversion (i.e. saving faith & repentance) is not our own doing. It is God's gift of grace, and this humbling truth is affirmed in the next two articles in the Abstract of Principles (emphasis mine):
Repentance is an evangelical grace, wherein a person being led by the Holy Spirit, made sensible of the manifold evil of his sin, humbleth himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence, with a purpose and endeavor to walk before God so as to please Him in all things. 
Saving faith is the belief, on God’s authority, of whatsoever is revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving graces, and leads to a life of holiness.
The Bible says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (Jn. 6:29). Again, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Php. 1:26). Again, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Mat. 13:11). Again, "And they glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life'" (Ac. 11:18). And again, "...correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:25-26). Clearly, we have nothing to boast of our own conversion because it was God who has granted us this gift according to His gracious predestination (1 Cor. 1:28-31; Eph. 1:3-5, 11). The Abstract of Principles states clearly (emphasis mine),
Election is God’s eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life-not because of foreseen merit in them, but of His mere mercy in Christ-in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified.
By "foreseen merits," the AoP refers to all kinds of human worth. Merits always means worth, and anything given according to worth cannot be properly called grace (Rom. 4:4, 11:5-6). Thus, when the Bible says God predestined us "for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace" (Eph. 1:5-6), it actually denies all kinds of human worth as basis for its attainment. In other words, it is unconditional. "For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:15-16). Moreover, this choice is not merely a divine initiative in an attempt to save sinners, but it is the basis upon which the saving benefits of Christ's work is communicated effectually to those chosen of God:
[29]For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30]And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [31]What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32]He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:29-32)
Hence, none of those whom God has chosen for Salvation will totally fall away and perish. All true Christians, being chosen of God from eternity past and preserved by God through His grace, will persevere in the faith unto the end and finally attain to final glorification (Jud. 1:24). The 13th article of the Abstract of Principles reads,
Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they may fall through neglect and temptation, into sin, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the Church, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Paul expressed the same confidence in his words: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Php. 1:6). And again, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).

Does this mean men have no freedom of choice? Nope. Back in the third (3rd) article of the Abstract of Principles, we read (emphasis mine):
God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.
In other words, God's sovereign kingship over all His creation is perfectly compatible with man's free agency and responsibility (Prov. 19:21). When a sinner is drawn by God to saving faith in Christ (according to His eternal decree of predestination), the sinner freely chooses Christ and attains salvation (Psa. 65:4; Jn. 6:37, 44-45; Ac. 16:14). But when a sinner is passed over by God to be left on his own sinful nature (i.e. not by infusing evil in his heart, but by permitting him to do just whatever he pleases according to the inmost desires of his naturally sinful heart - Jer. 13:23, 17:9; Mat. 12:33), the sinner freely rebels against God and deservedly ends up in hell because of his own sins (Rom. 1:21-26, 3:9-12, 8:7-8). All of these come to pass "according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11; cf. Rom. 11:35).

Predestination and Evangelism

Now let's turn to the question whether the doctrine of predestination kills the Christian's passion for evangelism. Does it? Perhaps, if you malign or pervert the doctrine. Misinformed people often think of predestination as God's decreeing all the end (outcome) without also decreeing the means to accomplish those end. Thus, they conclude that predestination makes evangelism (and all Christian virtues) completely superfluous. Such is a perverted view of the biblical doctrine of predestination and must be clarified by those who know the truth. The Baptist Faith & Message, Southern Baptist Convention's official statement of beliefs, is clear enough concerning this matter:
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. 
God's decree of election (i.e. predestination unto Salvation), according to the BF&M, "comprehends all the means in connection with the end." Evangelism is one of the means through which God calls His elect unto salvation (Ac. 13:48l Jas. 1:18), hence the necessity for preaching the Gospel to all men since we don't know who the elect are (Mat. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). In his book Christian Theology, the basic textbook we used back when I was still studying at the Southern Baptist School of Theology (Makati), Dr. Millard J. Erickson stated:
Predestination does not nullify incentive for evangelism and missions. We do not know who the elect and the nonelect are, so we must continue to spread the Word. Our evangelistic efforts are God's means to bring the elect to salvationGod's ordaining of the end includes the ordaining of the means to that end as well. The knowledge that missions are God's means is a strong motive for the endeavor and gives us confidence that it will prove successful. (Christian Theology, Unabridged one-volume edition, pp. 927-928 under Chapter 43)
The thought that God never fails to bring His elect unto Salvation (when He calls them inwardly by His Word) should be, to a Christian, a ground for motivation to go out into the world to preach the Gospel to the lost, not a license to be idle and unproductive. The doctrine of predestination comforts us whenever our message is rejected by sinners because we are reminded that it isn't our job to convert them; it is God's, and so when we have done our best, we can leave the matter to Him. Jesus Himself didn't win all His hearers (Jn. 6:64), but He found comfort in the fact that all those whom the Father gives Him will surely come to Him (Jn. 6:37, 44-45, 10:3-5, 26-29).


The biblical doctrine of predestination held by Calvinists, as shown in the SBTS Abstract of Principles (1858), is a Southern Baptist teaching. In fact, even before the founding of the SBC, it has already been a Baptist teaching tracing back to the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), and ultimately, to Scriptures. This doctrine does not kill evangelism but mobilizes it. Many godly men thorough the history of Christendom held to the glorious doctrine of predestination, and are proved to be ardent preachers of God's Word to the lost. I am talking about men like Martin Luther, C.H. Spurgeon, Adrew Fuller, William Carey, John Gill, John Piper, and John Calvin himself, just to name a few.

Again, the main purpose of this paper is not for any Calvinistic triumphalism, but to present a historical truth, namely, that the Southern Baptist Convention is Calvinistic in its theological roots. I'm not saying that one cannot be Southern Baptist if he/she refuses to subscribe to the tenets of Calvinism. The SBC allows for both Calvinists and non-Calvinists to remain in the convention, and neither any of them should pass condemnation to another. My point here is that Calvinism should not be considered heresy by Southern Baptist people. Otherwise, we should be willing to accept that the SBC was born of heretical roots (since it can be proven from history that most of its founding fathers are outspoken Calvinists).

To God alone be the glory!


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