Debate On, Ascol In, Omnibenevolence Out

Many of you are already aware of the news that the debate between Ergun/Emir Caner and James White/Tom Ascol has taken abrupt change. Usually, such abrupt changes are for the worse, but not in this case. Actually, prior to yesterday’s news (which can be found on both Tom and James’ blogs), many of us thought it simply couldn’t get any worse. Ascol had decided to gracefully bow out of the debate while further disagreement seemed to make the debate almost impossible. But that was then as this is now.

Change of Heart

In the past six months, we have witnessed volumes of exchanges through various posts, hundreds if not thousands of comments, and lengthy PDF documents detailing e-mail correspondence. Finally, when all hope seemed lost in a meaningful and profitable debate, a change of heart has occurred which has been most humbly manifested in the public apology and repentance from those participating in the debate. Just why and how this occurred is not worth our speculation, but what is worth our attention is the example placed before us.

Many of us have commented or even contributed with unnecessary and harmful statements either through comments or blogposts in the past. The stream of culpability runs deep and wide, and I readily confess that I have been swept up in that rushing current. So rather than try to probe into the why’s and how’s of what came about, let me encourage us to look to ourselves and plead with humility that we be brothers who are known for our loving hearts and graceful speech. I apologize and regret whatever harm I have contributed to foster or inflame the matters of the past and look forward to future debate with great expectations.

Whither Thou Omnibenevolence?

As you have read the public announcement made by the participants, the debate thesis has changed to “Baptists and Calvinism.” It is my assumption, then, that the prior thesis of omnibenevolence is no longer on the table. So the obvious question I have been asking myself, is, “What are we to do with omnibenevolence?”

Over the past three months, I have gathered many resources and read quite a bit on issues pertaining to this topic, and I believe that it is one worth discussing further. The doctrine of omnibenevolence needs sustained attention due to its precarious alliance with such camps as universalism, pluralism, and inclusivism (and Arminianism of course) as well as many modern-day attempts to deny the reality of hell. Furthermore, its relationship to the atonement, the other essential properties of God, and the problem of evil (there are others, but these are just to name a few) is one that could bear some clarification and contemplation. So with that said, I intend to continue to post in the days, weeks, and months ahead some pertinent articles and points in my research that I believe would be profitable for the discussion. Regarding the Caners’ decision to use it as a thesis, I believe they are wise to change it because it has little to do with the discussion of Calvinism in the Baptist tradition (although I am developing the Arminian playbook for omnibenevolence nonetheless).

My Hopes and Prayer
Finally, let me share my hopes and prayers for this debate with a little reference to the goals of Strange BaptistFire. When we first started this blog now three months ago, we desired to provide a biblically sound and robust defense for the Reformed faith against the website called BaptistFire. Within less than two weeks of SBF up and running, BaptistFire shut down completely. This was not our goal, but one can hardly doubt that there was a connection between the two events which transpired.

Over the course of the past three months, many discussions and even debates have taken place, including issues such as alcohol, infant election, hell, and other various aspects of the doctrines of grace. I believe that I can speak on behalf of all of us that we are not seeking to partake in “theological one-upmanship” or ripping into people we disagree with. Where we have disagreed, it has been our prayer that we present our convictions with clarity and charity while upholding the truths of Scripture with a clear conscience in a graceful way. We have not achieved this lofty goal, but this is our aim. I would like to quote a frequent visitor who frequently differs with the views of SBF:

“I copied what I wrote here on about 11 other sites (cause I believe what I believe) but also to see the responses. I can honestly say this is the ONLY site that did not chide, berate, condescend, or put down and that is the approximate order. Thank you. . . . Timmy, I want to thank you for your post. It was the ONLY one that spoke kindness, love, and respect for other brothers.”

Along these lines, I believe that it is possible to contend for the faith without being contentious. By all means, those of us who truly believe in the doctrines of grace should be those who have been brought low that such grace has been extended to us! It causes me great grief to witness (especially in myself) attitudes and statements that are not indicative of the love and spirit of our Savior. Should we be bold and uncompromising in our beliefs? Yes! But should we be humble, considerate, and respectful to those we disagree? Absolutely! I believe that Joshua Harris has coined this aspiration best which he refers to a “humble orthodoxy.”

My prayer is that this upcoming debate on Calvinism and Baptism will be one that will edify the Church and encourage believers to know the Lord and his great salvation more deeply. One needs not worry who will “win” the debate; what we need to worry about is whether our hearts and lives are drawn into deeper love, awe, and devotion to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. By the way, that’s just one reason why I am a Calvinist. 🙂

So as we look forward to the outcome of this debate, we have much to be excited about. Furthermore, I believe there that SBF can be a great place to have intelligent, biblical discussion that so often gets lost in the rhetoric, bickering, and inflammatory comments. Regardless of camp you fall into, it is my plea that as brothers and sisters we should contend without being contentious. May God be honored and glorified in the honest and clear presentation of the gospel which we believe and profess and take our stand—whether it be on a stage in front of thousands or in our offices in front of Him to whom we must give an account.

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4 Comments on “Debate On, Ascol In, Omnibenevolence Out”

  1. George H. Rank Says:

    soli Deo gloria

  2. Sam Hughey Says:

    I am greatly pleased to see that ALL participants will go ahead with the original language of “Baptists and Calvinism” and that the God-honoring attitude of humility is a desire by all participants. This debate has the potential (from both sides) for affecting all who truly desire to love God according to His Word and not our own traditions and opinions.

  3. charles rosson Says:

    Praise God for the finalization of plans for the October encounter.

    Being skeptical, I will praise the Lord even more when
    it becomes a reality in October.

  4. Terry Bebo Says:

    As a TRBC attendee I pray for all the participants but most prayfully I attend to Dr Ergun’s demeanor to be respectful,thoughtful and considerate and that his reputation as a “pit bull” will be as one who lies down with the lamb.

    I have always submitted to Spurgeon who was asked by a student “Who are the elect?” To which Spurgeon replyed” It is none of your buisness, preach the gospel.”

    Yes I uphold the complete immutability and impassibility of my God, Lord, and Savior. The great I AM found me!!


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