Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Response to “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

John Calvin and Jacobos Arminius
Much has been said about the controversial document that has been drafted recently and used by non-Calvinist Southern Baptists for their campaign against the rise of the "New Calvinism" within the SBC. The strategy is simple: Ignore the historical facts and condition the minds of the people by making Calvinism appear strange and alien to the SBC tradition. Of course this would mean painting caricatures (gross misrepresentations) about the reformed soteriology. For example, in the "denial" portion of the ninth article of the document, it states (emphasis mine):
We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.
Interesting. Now I want to know where on earth did these people get the idea that Calvinists teach that faith is not a human response but solely an act of God as if it is God who does the believing in our stead? I have yet to meet a Calvinist who believes so. What Calvinists believe, on the contrary, is that faith is both a human act and a divine gift. To borrow St. Augustine's words: "It is we that act when we act, but it is [God] who causes us to act." This is clearly taught in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." The coming is our own act, but it is God's drawing that causes sinners to come.

I can quote many other portions in the TSBUGP-document in which the Calvinist position is grossly misrepresented, but that's not my main intention here. Their rejection of Calvinism and their divisive campaigns against its rise in the SBC is not what really alarms me. What concerns me, however, is the document's apparent crossing over the bounds of doctrinal orthodoxy. Specifically speaking, I believe the document is heading towards a heresy known as semi-Pelagianism, and this is quite dangerous.

First I want to define what I mean by semi-Pelagianism. When I asserted elsewhere that those who signed the document are not Arminians but semi-Pelagians, a supporter of the document responded by insisting that they do not hold to works-salvation, and for this reason, should not be reckoned as semi-Pelagians. Certainly, this is not what I meant when I labeled their position as such. In the first place, explicit adherence to works-salvation is not what essentially makes up a semi-Pelagian. It is the denial of the absolute necessity of the internal, enabling work of God's grace for the execution any saving good (i.e. faith & repentance) which makes one either a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. Let me explain further.
Pelagianism maintains that Adam's sin did not affect his moral liberty in any way. The consequences and guilt of his sin is his alone. All men are born with the same nature as that of Adam when he was created, so there's no need for any internal working of God's grace for the execution of godly virtues (i.e. faith, repentance, good works, etc). The only "grace" necessary for us to fulfill our duty is the knowledge of the Gospel / law.  
Semi-Pelagianism, on the other hand, affirms that Adam's sin has brought corruption of nature to himself and his posterity, but it did not totally destroy his moral liberty. Man's fallen nature, although corruptly bias towards sin, still has the moral capacity to seek God on his own and make the first step of faith apart from the divine enablement. All humanity shares this condition.
These ideas were condemned by the early Church as heresy, aberrant, and beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. Even classical (orthodox) Arminians would treat these doctrines as serious errors that should be guarded against by the faithful. However, the TSBUGP-document has apparently taken the road towards the second error; namely, that of heresy of semi-Pelagianism (if not pure Pelagianism). This is clearly seen in the second article of the document which reads:
Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man 
We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell. 
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel. (emphasis added)
This denial of original sin and total depravity is tantamount to saying that conversion isn't a gift from God (Jn. 3:27, 6:65; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 1:30, 4:7; Php. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25-26); an idea that is devilishly opposed to what the Bible says concerning the vast effects of the fall (Gen. 6:5; Jn. 8:34; Rom. 3:9-12, 5:12, 18, 6:20, 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:4) and the necessity of a prevenient enabling work of God's grace for conversion (Jn. 6:44, 15:5). The document claims this is the "traditional" Southern Baptist position, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The real traditional Southern Baptist view of biblical anthropology is found in the SBTS Abstract of Principles (1858) which states:
VI. The Fall of Man. 
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. (emphasis added)
Notice it doesn't just say we have a corrupt nature, but that we have inherited a nature "corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law" and are "under condemnation." This is another way of saying that we are born condemned / under God's wrath (Psa. 51:5; Eph. 2:3) and dead in our trespasses and Sin (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1), that whatever good thing we have which pertains to our relationship with God does not have its origin from ourselves, but from God as a gift (1 Cor. 4:7; Jas. 1:17). In other words, Southern Baptists have always held that the divine enabling work of grace is absolutely necessary for the execution of all godly virtues (Deut. 30:6; Eze. 36:26-27; Php. 2:13). This is one article of our Christian faith—along with the doctrine of justification by grace, the holy Trinity, hypostatic union, the virgin birth, sinless perfection, death and ressurection of Christ, etc.—to which the Church stands or falls. It is plain heresy to say that Adam's fall did not result in the incapacitaton of his and his posterity's moral liberty (indicating that we can make the first step of faith towards Christ without being first moved or enabled by God from within).

Again, I wouldn't have any problem with any anti-Calvinistic campaigns within the SBC so long as there is no deliberate move to drive us out of the convention, and that no heretical teachings are advanced by those who oppose our soteriological convictions (and this must go both ways). Unfortunately, we've clearly seen how the divisive, recently-drafted document of the non-Calvinist Southern Baptists had crossed the line. Thus, I believe the campaign should be denied of any support by every discerning Southern Baptists, not simply because it is against Calvinism, but because it is outrightly heretical and certainly not Southern Baptist.



  1. A very quick response Jeph! Thanks. - Kit

  2. Quite so. This statement is a joke. They are criticising a position of their own imagination.


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