Debating…Calvinism

By Nathan White

Well, at this point it appears as if Baptistfire.com has ridden off into the sunset. Or better yet, it appears as if they packed their things and skipped town during the middle of the night. Consistent with their reputation, there has been no attempt at dialogue. There has been no attempt to clear the air regarding their vile attacks on any and everything reformed. We have not received any feedback from them, any concern over our critiques of their material, any desire to respond to us, etc. This silence is somewhat disappointing, but it does not come as a surprise. As the Proverb says: “the wicked run when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” There might be a slight pursuit here, but the cowardliness is as clear as day.

However, I do find this turn of events intriguing as I consider what BF have written in the past. Now, as you know, I cannot link to the article, but I do have many complete and unedited BF articles saved on my computer –which I am considering posting here in the future (and if anyone has any saved cache of Baptistfire articles or discussions, please email them to us). But consider this quote from Baptistfire:

“Thank God for the Caners! As more SBC leaders come out strongly against Calvinism, the spread of Calvinism will slow. Hopefully, Calvinism will wane significantly in the SBC over the next several years.”

Baptistfire folks who are reading, why have you chosen to run and hide if the spread of Calvinism will slow with some ‘coming out strongly’? It appears as though, according to your position, that being bold as a lion would not only be an act of integrity, but it would slow the spread of a ‘dangerous’ theology in the SBC. In light of this, can you please explain why the ‘run and hide’ approach has been taken? Maybe I am speaking to soon, but it appears as if BF is gone for good (praise God!).

Perhaps their position is hinged on this type of logic from their site:

The Aftermath — A Debate Challenge:
The Caners’ remarks hit a nerve. A debate challenge was issued by the Calvinists (who are the only group to our knowledge to surpass Campbellites, commonly known as the “Church of Christ,” with their love for debating).”

Now I can certainly understand the perception that many Calvinists actively seek interaction on these topics. In fact, in the comment section of a recent post here, Steve Grose said: “We sometimes exhibit a fervour for the debate, rather than a fervour for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself”, which rightly hits on the popular perception that Calvinists are debaters. But the fact that Calvinists seek interaction is not a point that many would deny, and I am thankful for Steve’s concern here. There is a desire to debate these issues, particularly when certain high-profile leaders openly and vigorously attack the reformed position. But for the most part, I believe that using the phrase ‘love for debating’ is a little strong, and that ‘dialogue’ and ‘interaction’ are probably more accurate terms to describe our desire to seek and proclaim the truth.

Here are a few reasons why I believe Calvinists are so outspoken on what they believe, and why a desire for a discussion is very prominent among us:

1) The Calvinist sees that Arminianism is everywhere
It does not take long for a Calvinist to realize that everybody, everywhere, on every talk show, in almost every sermon, all incessantly emphasize the free-will of man –despite the clear teaching of scripture. Let us go down the list of protestant denominations and Catholic circles, and we will find that the overwhelming majority of theology is some form of Arminianism. Even the false religions and cults of our world teach the libertarian freedom of man and the necessity to ‘do something’ in order to get right with God. These things are troubling to see from the perspective of seeing the scriptures emphasize God’s freedom in all things according to the council of His own will. Dialogue is sought because the opposing view is extremely popular.

2) The Calvinists sees that the arguments for free-will are largely fallacious
Another reason why Calvinists are active in seeking dialogue is because they can see how the scriptures clearly and emphatically teach the sovereignty of God in all things. The Calvinist reads passages such as Ephesians 1, Romans 9, John 6, 2 Thessalonians 2, Acts 13 etc., and he cannot understand why an Arminian rejects such clear and precise language. Armianism, on the other hand, is a philosophical position that is largely dependant on presuppositions of God’s love, fairness, and how He holds His creatures accountable. The Calvinist sees that the Arminian argument is based on implications such as ‘God commanded it, we must be able to perform it’, and incorrect secularistic presuppositions such as ‘but that’s not fair’, and ‘a loving God wouldn’t do that’. These arguments only heighten the desire for dialogue because the Calvinist understands that his position is rooted in the actual words of scripture themselves, and are thus irrefutable. They seek dialogue because the Arminian position is quite easily refuted when the scriptures are held up as the final rule of authority.

3) The Calvinist can see that this doctrine has very serious implications
Before understanding the doctrines of grace, the Calvinist didn’t see the cause and effect of this doctrine. But having his world rocked by an understanding of God’s supreme rule over all things (He is a king, right?), he can see the many dangerous pitfalls in this area. It is clear to see that wherever one turns on this doctrine will lead to serious implications one way or another –despite the efforts of some to deny this. Unfortunately, Arminians, who know they cannot adequately defend their view with scripture, often times express post-modern types of desires to ‘overlook differences’ and to ‘agree to disagree’ in order to keep some form of peace (or, if you’re the Caner’s, you seek to intimidate and bully your opponent into submission). The Calvinist, again seeing that free-will is absolutely everywhere, and that a consistent view of Arminianism leads to such things as: Open Theism, Roman Catholicism, man-centeredness, Universalism, the seeker-sensitive movement, and the complete undermining of salvation by faith apart from works, can no longer in good conscience overlook what seemed before as ‘small differences’. The Calvinist can see the terrible dangers that lie ahead, and thus earnestly seeks dialogue in the scriptures with his brother or sister in Christ. True love seeks the highest good in others –even when it is unpopular and potentially offensive to others. If consistent Arminianism leads to danger, steps must be taken to warn those who are heading down that path. Dialogue on these issues is sought because the stakes are so extremely high.

If you are unfamiliar in discussing these issues, please note that:

It is not wrong for a Calvinist to clearly believe he is right and all free-will arguments are wrong
Please do not mistake this confidence with pride –it most certainly is not pride. Do you believe the Trinity? Does that all-important doctrine have a ‘proof text’? Do you feel 100% confident in the truth of it despite not having a proof text? Now maybe you understand the Calvinist position a little better.

It is not wrong for a Calvinist to want to always talk about these issues
The issues are serious, and free-will is everywhere. They need to be discussed and hammered out from the scriptures. The effect of going one way or another is too drastic. The stakes are too high.

It is not wrong for a Calvinist to vigorously defend his beliefs
This is actually a sign of spiritual health. Anyone willing to place his opinion firmly on the table and say ‘show me my error from scripture’ is opening himself up for correction, and opening himself up for embarrassment if he is wrong. People who just want to ‘agree to disagree’ are walking on thin ice spiritually. Debate and confrontation are healthy for ‘iron sharpening iron’, please do not misunderstand that. It is not wrong for a Calvinist to openly and publicly disagree with an Arminian. Of course all interaction must be done in a spirit of love and grace, but to disagree in public with an Arminian is often viewed as inappropriate given that the issue has been debated for over a thousand years. However, once again, the Calvinist is held captive by what he reads in God’s word, and just because the issue has been debated for ages does not mean that truth cannot be followed –or that truth in this area cannot be known. Be understanding to how serious these issues are, and the fact that no matter how much something is debated, there is only one true position –and we will be held accountable for knowing and following it.

Conclusion
A strong argument builds confidence. The fact that the majority is wrong brings desperation. Clear teaching overlooked is confusing and frustrating. Seeing teaching that robs God of His glory brings disappointment, and ultimately, righteous anger. Yes, Calvinist love dialogue on these issues. The problem is, we see the bridge out ahead, but we often forget how God had to hit us with the Calvinist bat several times before we came to this position. Let us dialogue with patience, kindness, grace, and self-control, but let us never shy away from wanting to discuss these issues with those who oppose us.

SDG

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11 Comments on “Debating…Calvinism”

  1. Stan Barringer Says:

    Thank you for this honest post– it was really a blessing. I am a university student consumed with defending the truth of the gospel against the popular (and unbiblical) man-centered theology of our day. If this is not worth all our passion and discussion, I can’t imagine what is. Martin Luther would have died for the truth of man’s inability to conjure up saving faith. If our theology is bad and our understanding of the gospel skewed, how in the world can we expect other things– evangelism, healthy church growth, etc.– to fall into place with God’s blessing? But such is the assumption of many anti-Calvinists. They accuse Calvinists of being too concerned with “high theology and doctrine”, and yet they do not realize that ANY activity of the church is the natural outworking of proper theology and study of the scriptures.

    I’m sorry for this long post. At the risk of driving away more readers, I have to thank you again for the bit about why we interact. My older brother will be going to seminary next year (SWBTS) and we often discuss Reformed theology. He is somewhat confused, but definitely Arminian and man-centered when it comes to presenting the gospel. I love him and it breaks my heart when he accuses me of being legalistic in my concern for the gospel. I wish he would read this article and see why we must keep the conversation going.

    SOLI DEO GLORIA

  2. Gene Says:

    “The Aftermath — A Debate Challenge:
    The Caners’ remarks hit a nerve. A debate challenge was issued by the Calvinists (who are the only group to our knowledge to surpass Campbellites, commonly known as the “Church of Christ,” with their love for debating).”

    Ahem, there were over 100 debates conducted between Baptists of all stripes and other groups between 1644 and 1701. It’s also self-defeating for them to call on the Church of Christ, as it takes two parties to debate, so every group the Campbellites have debated must also be included, and that includes, more often than not Baptists. There’s nothing like ahistorical arguments, they are so easily disproven.

  3. JMattC Says:

    Excellent post Nathan.


  4. Thanks for the post. One thing I have found is that quite often when I am accused of divisiveness it does not stem from specifically making Doctrines of Grace claims or specifically teaching on the subject but when I have simply been teaching through scripture and come to a text that deals with the topic of election or the sovereignty of God. Thus when I teach that a specific text does say something, meaning it has a single/knowable meaning and that meaning does not jive with an Arminian perspective I then am labeled as being closed minded and causing problems. What is interesting if I were to come down on the Arminian side I would be doing the same thing but since then I would not be ruffling their feathers it would not be an issue.

    Maybe the way the church as a whole has been teaching, topically rather than expositionally, is why the issue of soteriology has not been as big a hot button till recently. With the rise of expositional teaching the texts have to be dealt with and that is a good thing even if it is uncomfortable. A lazy church, led by lazy Pastors, leads to a poor understanding of doctrine. By lazy I do not mean that nothing is done, I mean that what is done is done for reasons other than a good understanding of God’s commands.

    Thanks for the encouragement that we can claim, not pridfully, that we do know something and views contrary to our view are wrong. That this is an important topic and that we can talk about it. Since the whole area of the Doctrines of Grace deals with the character of God it is a subject that can not be ignored for the sake of pragmatic unity.

  5. hashman Says:

    I had emailed the pastor (a friend of mine) who was highlighted at the top of Baptist Fire as having “rejected calvinism after hearing Roger’s sermon”.

    He denied that it happened just like that. I made reference to Baptist Fire and asked him if they contacted him before posting that link.

    I haven”t heard from him since, and the site went down soon after.
    I don’t know if there is a connection.

  6. Francesco De Lucia Says:

    “Since the whole area of the Doctrines of Grace deals with the character of God it is a subject that can not be ignored for the sake of pragmatic unity.”

    I particularly agree with the above.

    Thank you for the post.

  7. Steve Grose Says:

    mmm nice post, but please don’t forget I have been a 5 point calvinist now for over 30 years 🙂 I agree that we are to take every opportunity to teach the word… (2Ti 2:23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. )
    Paul of course, reasoned “as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, Act 17:3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” Act 17:4 And some of them were persuaded ”

    No, I am not condemning reasonable debate, but rather the combattiveness that we sometimes demonstrate in debate which is more a product of our fleshly pride, rather than a reliance upon the power of God to bring change in those we are addressing.

    I think Paul also tended to the Lord Jesus Christ, His Cross, the atonement, His resurrection, the return of the Lord and the judgement in his preaching, within the context of the soveeignty of God, (and in reliance upon the Sovereign God (Act 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. ).
    One church I pastored was well known for being a charismatic pentecostal Baptist church. After six years of patiently teaching through the scriptures, it became well known for being a reformed Baptist church (we even had Errol Hulse, Reformatiojn Today, conduct a day long conference for us on the believer’s experience. Errol insisted on sitting with me throughout a John Piper conference several years ago mainly because I was the only fella there who had an accent he could understand!)
    I guess the issue as I see it is being patient and balanced as we teach through the scriptures, making slow gains, rather than being aggressive and injuring our own position through pride.
    Thnk you for your vey thoughtful material. I am greatly encouraged by your blog.
    Every blessing,
    Steve
    (oh drop bye the next time you guys are over and preach for me, I need a holiday!)

  8. Mike Ratliff Says:

    So…I guess it’s okay then for me to Calvinistically infectious. Thank God! I thought I was supposed to shutup and not stir up trouble with my “divisive doctrine.” 🙂

    Great post – by the way.

  9. Nathan White Says:

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for giving us a living example of the infectiousness. 🙂

    SDG

  10. David Roberts Says:

    I am a fairly young christian, and the pastor at my last church got fired for teaching the doctorines of grace also known as calvanisim. But honestly the first time I read through the scriptures without already having been swayed by opinions of men but the scriptures themselves I was convinced in the reality that God had to save me.I was way out there, there was no hope of me saving myself. I was very encouraged by your article and it is nice to know there are some other defenders of Gods word, not man centered theology out there. keep up the good work!!

  11. j w Says:

    Calvinists are not sneaking in. We are coming in broad daylight. We are coming to snatch away your churches to the truth.


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