How prominent Baptists stack up

In his August 2, 2007 article for the Alabama Baptist titled, “How prominent Baptists stack up: Have leading Baptist theologians affirmed teachings of Dortian Calvinism?” Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr. concludes, “…some [Baptist theologians] have clearly rejected all five doctrines of Dort; that others have embraced all five doctrines of Dort; that still others have accepted some, but not all, of the doctrines of Dort; and yet others have bypassed, ignored or declined to address the doctrines of Dort. Such variety is clearly characteristic of Baptists past and present.”

I would actually agree with this conclusion, though I believe that prior to the rise of a kind of anti-intellectual revivalism- beginning in the late 1800s- Baptist (and Christians in general) tended to be more precise and consistent in articulating their theological positions. Certainly, however, no one can deny that from the beginning of the modern Baptist movement- arising out of English separatism in the early 1600s- there have been Baptists holding to Arminianism (historically called “General Baptists”) and Baptists holding to Calvinism (historically called “Particular Baptists”). My real problem is with the specific examples that Dr. Garrett gives- examples in which he either denies or calls into question the adherence of some “prominent Baptists” to what Dr. Garrett labels the “five doctrines of Dort,” which adherents themselves call the “doctrines of Grace.”

In responding to Dr. Garrett’s article, I have neither the time nor resources to address every name he mentions, so I will focus on three- C.H. Spurgeon, John Piper, and D.A. Carson- with passing mention of J.P. Boyce. Readers are also encouraged to view Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin’s article responding to Dr. Garrett’s claims concerning Andrew Fuller.

Concerning C.H. Spurgeon, Dr. Garrett agrees that this “prince of preachers” was a “Dortian Calvinist” with the following caveat: “Spurgeon reckoned faith as both human duty and the gift of God and may have followed Calvin in teaching that Christ died for all but prayed only for the elect.” In response to this, I must reply:

  1. As mentioned before, “Dortian Calvinism” has always taught faith is a human duty as well as the gift of God (see the end of the article linked at the beginning of this sentence). This is a repeated error made by Dr. Garrett- one that he makes in regards to J.P. Boyce as well- to assume that because someone teaches people are duty-bound to come to faith in God- that to be unbelieving is a sin- that he is somehow denying “Dortian Calvinism.”
  2. C.H. Spurgeon did not simply teach that Christ “prayed only for the elect,” but that He died for the elect, to secure our salvation. As stated in his “Defense of Calvinism“:

Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

Concerning John Piper, Dr. Garrett writes, “he has been unspecific as to some of the Dortian doctrines.” This is, at best, shoddy research. Without looking very hard on Piper’s website, one can find a series of sermons on the doctrines of Grace, summarized with the acrostic “TULIP,” which Garrett refers to as “the Dortian doctrines.”

Concerning D.A. (Donald Arthur) Carson, Dr. Garrett asserts that he has “not specifically embraced the tenets of Dort.” As ‘proof’ for this statement, Dr. Garrett notes that Carson wrote his dissertation on the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But acknowledging tension between these biblical teachings is in no way contrary to holding to the doctrines of Grace, which Garrett labels “the tenets of Dort.” Carson’s former student Dr. Stephen J. Wellum, editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, assures me that D.A. Carson is, indeed, a ‘five-point Calvinist.’

The above discussion is given in the interest of journalistic honesty. The real question is, of course, not whether this or that Baptist theologian is a Calvinist, but ‘what do the Scriptures say?’ For this reason, I encourage readers to view my previous posts on “Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?

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