This week last year…

A good hyperCalvinist will immediately go to Romans chapter 9. And if you have that text, you can look it up yourself later, but you know that Romans 9 teaches, ‘Just as I have said, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say, then, is there no justice with God?’ (Verse 14): ‘Is there? May there never be.’ So, here the proof is, they say: God loves some, God hates others, and that’s the proof. Ladies and gentlemen, please hear me, ask yourself this simple question: Did God hate Esau from the foundation of the world? Did God hate Esau just ’cause he was Esau? Or did God hate Esau because of what Esau did? [Ergun Caner, “Why I Am Predestined Not to be a Hypercalvinist” (sermon, Thomas Road Baptist Church, 9 April 2006), download.]

2006 was a rough year for Reformed-minded folks within the Southern Baptist Convention. With Dr. Malcolm Yarnell of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary making comments to the effect of accusing Calvinists of being anti-evangelistic in March, with Dr. Ergun Caner of Liberty University equating historic Calvinist belief with the anti-evangelistic hyperCalvinist position in April, with former SBC president Dr. Jerry Vines equating the Southern Baptist battle against Calvinism with battles against liberalism and drunkeness in October, and with Dr. Nelson Price directly asserting that evangelistic Calvinism is an oxymoron in November, the year began and ended with slanderous attacks against Reformed theology. A temptation is simply to put the past behind us, ignoring those things that were said which have never been retracted. And if all that was at issue was personal reputations or the name “Calvinism,” I would certainly not be writing this post today. But what genuinely concerns me is not so much the gross historical inaccuracies of last years anti-Calvinist barrage, but rather the way in which the controversy exposed how some leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention are willing to twist Scripture in order to make a point. This is dangerous not only to them personally, but also to the people for whom they are supposed to act as shepherds. In other words, many Baptists look to these men in order to find a model of how to read and understand the Word of God. Instead, they are all-too-often finding examples of how to deny certain passages of Scripture. The quote given at the head of this post which, as cited, was preached by Dr. Ergun Caner at Thomas Road Baptist Church on April 9, 2006, is indicative of how a passage of Scripture can be read and then the meaning of that passage contradicted through inattention to the context.

Dr. Caner’s goal in this sermon is to demonstrate that Calvinism is incompatible with what the Bible teaches concerning the hate and (especially) the love of God. (It is important to note that Dr. Caner uses the terms “Calvinism” and “hyper-Calvinism” interchangeably.) Drawing special attention to the final two questions in the quote above, in reference to causality concerning the hate of God toward Esau, it is my assertion that Dr. Caner uses a combination of suppressed evidence and false dichotomy in order to make his point.

To see how Dr. Caner suppresses evidence, we must realize the point that he is trying to establish. Dr. Caner, in this sermon, is arguing for what he terms as God’s omnibenevolence. Caner believes that it is God’s character to love all people to ever live on the face of the earth to the exact same infinite degree, without discrimination. Any “hate” people experience from God is due only to their rejection of His love, so that “hate” is not properly considered as an attribute assigned to God, but merely a necessary reaction on His part to the sin of unbelief. The first piece of evidence that Dr. Caner suppresses is that the Bible teaches each and every person, before they experience justification, is guilty of this sin of unbelief. As the Apostle teaches:

What then? Are we any better? Not at all! For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. (Rom. 3:9-12 HCSB)

And so to try to make the discrimination between the love and hate of God depend upon the particular actions of Esau, in this sense (“what Esau did”), does not work. This is especially evident in that Jacob is clearly presented as no better than his brother, and yet God loved him. As Spurgeon points out concerning Jacob, “you find him an unbelieving creature,” and says:

I can tell you the reason why God loved Jacob; It is sovereign grace. There was nothing in Jacob that could make God love him; there was everything about him, that might have made God hate him, as much as he did Esau, and a great deal more. But it was because God was infinitely gracious, that he loved Jacob, and because he was sovereign in his dispensation of this grace, that he chose Jacob as the object of that love. [Charles Spurgeon, “Jacob and Esau” (sermon, New Park Street Chapel, 16 January 1859)]

The above consideration gives an exegetical basis for understanding the chief item of suppressed evidence, that of the verses just before the one Caner actually references (v. 13), namely:

(for though they had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand, not from works but from the One who calls) she was told: The older will serve the younger. (Rom. 9:11-12 HCSB)

Only then does the Lord add, “As it is written: Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” It is obvious that this evidence, especially the phrase, “not from works but from the One who calls” taken together with the greater biblical context provides a direct argument against the very point Dr. Caner is trying to make, namely, that God’s decision to hate Esau is based upon some special choice that Esau made and Jacob did not.

This leads to the false dichotomy. It has already been established that God’s choice in hating Esau was not dependent upon “what Esau did,” and so the only option Dr. Caner leaves us is to affirm that God hated Esau “just ’cause he was Esau” (which I assume means ‘arbitrarily’). But the biblical text presents another option, the one quoted in the passage above, “that God’s purpose according to election might stand.” As the Apostle Paul also writes in Ephesians 1:11,

“[God is] the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will”

To explore this option is outside the scope of this post, but for here it will suffice to say that the fact of why God hated Esau is substantially different from either alternative that Dr. Caner seems to think exhaust the possibilities.

Exemplifying this type of Bible reading- supressing evidence and presenting false dichotomies concerning the meaning of certain passages- is neither right nor safe for the people of God.

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11 Comments on “This week last year…”

  1. Barry Says:

    It could be that today more people throughout the south are feeling uncomfortable with the direction the SBC has taken them and people are searching for an aegis that does not have the hard-line stance on issues that effect Americans. Is pro-Calvin support really the issue among the vast majority of Baptists today, or do they have bigger concerns?

  2. Stephen Says:

    Thank you for this entry. I had the same conversation with my pastor several months ago. Unfortunately, to no avail. Keep up the good work.

  3. Chermone Bunting Says:

    I agree with bro Barry. It seems that the enemy is treading lightly in order to gain a greater hold. People want their itching ears scratched with a human compassion. Americans in general want things the easy way, including their god. As Christians we must stand on the bible, the doctrines that have been laid out by it, because the time is coming and a day of reckoning will soon be upon us.


  4. It is this kind of “exegesis” that has been corrupting thew SBC for the last 50 years or more. Taking one’s own theology or methodology and squeezing it into the line breaks of Scripture in order to stay within one’s own house of idols has gone on too long in our denomination.

    Pastors, faithfully preach the WORD, not the traditions of men!

    Sola Scriptura!


  5. Calvinist’s remind me of teenagers always whining,” Nobody understands me!”

    If we don’t understand, it is not for lack of literature! Book after book all espousing the convoluted teachings of Calvinism.

    Enough already! We understand and WE DON’T AGREE with your beliefs! If you took all the money pumped into all the books that essentially say the same thing and poured it into world evangelisim you would accomplish at least two things. You could silence the criticisim that Calvins minions are not interested in evangelisim. And you could also give the authors time to actually read the Scriptures.

  6. Nathan White Says:

    Dennis said: If you took all the money pumped into all the books that essentially say the same thing and poured it into world evangelisim you would accomplish at least two things. You could silence the criticisim that Calvins minions are not interested in evangelisim.

    Dennis, what good is it to ‘world evangelize’ if we can’t get the gospel right?

    Dennis said: And you could also give the authors time to actually read the Scriptures.

    Are you talking about passages such as 2 Thess 2:13? John chapter 6:37-44? Ephesians 1? Romans 9? Acts 13:48?


  7. Dennis,

    I don’t mind if you disagree with what I’ve posted and want to explain why, or if you want to make a specific argument that Caner’s view of the text is correct, but if you post another comment that is as off-topic as the one above, I’ll delete it.

    You wrote: “Calvinist’s remind me of teenagers always whining,” Nobody understands me!””

    Neither I nor anyone commenting on the post claimed that Caner misunderstood anything. Your comment was an off-topic rant that earns your position no respect.

    Sincerely,
    -Andrew

  8. Barry Says:

    Andrew,

    Would you happen to know of a rough percentage of Baptists who support Calvinism in the church? Thx.

    Also, shouldn’t Caner and Falwell be doing their best to provide a healing bridge between the two views if possible?

    Just because two people don’t agree with one another’s interpretations and dogmas they don’t need to get overblown with anger about it.

  9. Bruce Says:

    I love this type of preaching. Just pretend the text

    (for though they had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand, not from works but from the One who calls) she was told: The older will serve the younger. (Rom. 9:11-12 HCSB)

    is not there and actually get away with it. He probably got away with it due to the fact that the pew Bibles there no doubt have had Romans 9 cut out of them. LOL


  10. Barry, RE: Would you happen to know of a rough percentage of Baptists who support Calvinism in the church?

    Last year, LifeWay Christian Resources, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 10% of SBC preachers polled self-identified as “5-point Calvinists” (which sounds a bit high to me). Hope that helps.

  11. Barry Says:

    Thanks Andrew.

    I was just wondering. I like you guys alot. It’s one of the few religious posts I’ve seen that allows thoughtful give and take.

    Keep up the good work.


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