While “Alarm Level” Lowered, Ignorant Rhetoric Remains High in Some Quarters

In the wake of the “Building Bridges” conference last week at Ridgecrest, Norman Jameson, editor of the Biblical Recorder (the North Carolina Baptist state newspaper), writes,

…if the general attitude of presenters is typical of the players in this debate [i.e., the debate over “Calvinism”] nationwide, there is hope for civil, informed dialog among people who hold different views. That bears celebrating.

This, I believe, is the reaction that the organizers of this conference hoped for, and I pray that more across the nation have the same reaction.

However, there are severe problems with the rest of Jameson’s article. [Norman Jameson, “Bridge building conference lowers alarm level,” Biblical Recorder, 11/30/07; HT:: Founders Ministries blog.]

After the quote above, Jameson goes on to ask,

Why are we talking about Calvinism at all? Why don’t we leave such discussion to denominations who base their doctrines on Calvin’s understanding of scripture?

Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist evangelist pastor, answered these questions long ago, saying,

“Salvation is of the Lord.” That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it. If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” [Charles Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism.”]

In other words, what we mean by “Calvinism” is not “Calvin’s understanding of scripture,” but rather the teaching that salvation is all due to the grace of the one sovereign God working in the hearts of undeserving sinners by means of His Gospel so that God gets all the glory for our salvation. If it could be proven that John Calvin did not hold to this doctrine, it would not change the beliefs of Baptist “Calvinists” one iota.
The questions Jameson posed above were intended to be merely rhetorical, however, and he answers his own questions as follows:

We’re forced into the conversation because in some Baptist academic circles – with the nucleus at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president Al Mohler – there is a movement to convince us that our earliest leaders were at heart and by theology Calvinist.

My only response to this is to challenge readers to carefully examine the earliest history of the Southern Baptist Convention and determine for yourselves whether the founders of the Convention were “Calvinists.” What one will find are multiplied examples of men like P.H. Mell, one of the original delegates who helped found the Southern Baptist Convention and went on to be President of the Convention for a total of seventeen years. Mell was vigorous in his defense of a “Calvinist” understanding of the Bible against the errors of Arminianism.

Here is how Jameson characterizes caricatures Calvinism:

Calvinism shoehorns big issues into small spaces to explain unfathomable ideas. And as [Dr. Malcolm] Yarnell said, it tends to offer answers to difficult questions based on ruminations about the system, rather than from a simpler scriptural answer.

The main idea of this last sentence- that “[Calvinism] tends to offer answers to difficult questions based on ruminations about the system, rather than from a simpler scriptural answer” is accompanied with no real proof or example and is, in fact, a demonstrable lie. I challenge readers to call in to the live webcast of Reformed [i.e. “Calvinistic”] Baptist apologist Dr. James White (dialing 1-877-753-3341 on Tuesdays at 1PM EST or Thursdays at 6PM EST) and ask him a difficult biblical question. See for yourself whether he tends to answer based on ruminations about a system of theology or if he answers based on exegesis of Scripture.

Overall, Jameson asserts that consideration of the doctrines which are attached to the nickname “Calvinism” are inconsequential, but he does believe that a few “Calvinist” teachings are worthy of mention. Jameson writes,

In yet another “angels on pinheads” debate of the kind that makes theologians salivate and laymen snore, several Calvinist positions do bear mention as they grow in influence among Baptists.

Jameson then examines only two of the traditional “five points of Calvinism”- Unconditional election and Limited atonement. (Perhaps he thinks the doctrine of Total depravity- that people are spiritually dead in sin in their natural state [Eph. 2:1] and thus alienated from God and hostile to Him [Col. 1:21], and thus we are entirely dependent on God’s grace for salvation- the doctrine of Irresistible grace- that God works graciously and effectively to save His people through the preaching of the Gospel, and thus we are not to depend on human wisdom to try to get people saved [Eph. 2:9]- and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the saints- that having saved His people, God actively keeps them in His grace, and thus we have security in our salvation [Phil. 1:6]- perhaps he thinks these amount to “angels on pinheads.”)

His examination of Unconditional election is inconsequential and interacts with no biblical text.

Of Limited atonement, Jameson writes,

Of course there is no shoe too small into which to horn a tulip interpretation, but a simple reading (simplicity could be my problem) of 1 Timothy, chapters two and four appears to say Jesus wants “all men” to be saved and that Jesus gave himself “as a ransom for all men.”

The above quote is significant in that it is the only time a specific Scripture reference is given throughout the article, with the exception of 2 Cor. 6:17, which Jameson reports as being cited by “Calvinist” pastor Jeff Noblit.

The fact that Jameson can glibly cite “1 Timothy, chapters two and four” as if this bare reference somehow contradicts Limited atonement- the doctrine that Christ’s death actually secures salvation for a particular people [Heb. 10:14]- proves that he has not carefully considered the text to which he refers. For Jameson alludes to 1 Timothy 2:6, which says, “[Christ] gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” If Jameson were to consider what this word “ransom” means- how the concept is actually used in Scripture and how this verse does not say, ” a potential ransom”- then perhaps he would be prompted to further consider how the Bible itself would have us to understand the word “all” in this context.

Jameson further notes,

Calvinist speakers said Baptists actually do believe in a limited atonement because we are not universalists, believing all are saved. The question is, what is the limiting factor in limited atonement? If all are not saved, what determines who is not saved?

The questions at the end of the above quote are again rhetorical, so let’s examine how Jameson answers them. To pose some questions of my own: Does Jameson’s answer depend on Scripture alone as its final authority? Does Jameson’s answer glorify God alone? Does Jameson’s answer avoid introducing unbiblical philosophy? See for yourself:

I was taught an individual accepts or rejects by his own free will that salvation paid for by Christ and freely offered to all.

Jameson says, “I was taught,” but I ask, “taught by whom? What text were you taught from? You who so forcibly reject ‘Calvin’s understanding of scripture’: Is your teacher your authority?” Jameson says, “an individual accepts or rejects by his own free will that salvation,” but I ask, “if the individual’s free will is the crucial factor in salvation- if this ‘free will’ is what truly makes the difference in whether or not a person is saved- then how do you avoid the conclusion that we should glorify this ‘individual’ along with God for his work in salvation?” Again, Jameson says, “free will,” but I ask, “you who claim to favor ‘a simple reading’ of Scripture: What passage can you find that speaks of ‘free will’ in regards to salvation?”

Jameson moves on to discuss the push within Southern Baptist life to reaffirm our commitment to a regenerate church membership. Jameson presents this as a Calvinist issue, though many others- including Paige Patterson, who is certainly no Calvinist- have seen the need for this issue to be addressed at the Convention level as well.

Finally, Jameson quotes Jeff Noblit, pastor of First Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, AL, and a speaker at the Building Bridges conference as having said, “The rise of Calvinism will produce better church splits.” Jameson reports that Noblit “said 2 Cor. 6:17 tells Christians to be separate. He said that verse tells ‘Christians they must split from false professors.'” But Jameson adds the observation, “[Noblit] did not say the verse is an admonition to be separate from non-believers.” First, one must observe that the definition of “false professors” is non-believers who claim to be believers. Second, Noblit also quoted 1 Cor. 5:9-13 to demonstrate that we are actually commanded to separate from false professors. Third, Noblit’s assertion was that as Southern Baptists become more doctrinally minded, some church splits will occur due to pastors and others taking bold stands on essential Gospel truth. Jameson’s response is, “Maybe I am more alarmed than I thought.” One can only wonder why he would feel alarmed at this.

Much more could be written by way of reply to Jameson’s article. But I conclude with this thought: If bridges are to be built between “Calvinists” and non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention, the non-Calvinists must lay aside caricatures of the “Calvinist” position, and must instead deal with the writings of Southern Baptists who self-identify as “Calvinist.” More importantly, non-Calvinists must stop using the baseless charge that Baptist “Calvinists” are more committed to a man-made system than we are to Scripture, and these non-Calvinists must learn to actually deal with the biblical text.

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6 Comments on “While “Alarm Level” Lowered, Ignorant Rhetoric Remains High in Some Quarters”

  1. Josh L. Says:

    It really is a sad thing to see such division within the SBC. I think we all desire to see unity amongst fellow Christian brethren, yet I cannot see how this will happen if we will not be honest with Scripture. I don’t believe it is a matter of holding “man-made” doctrines, but rather using honest, logical, and sound exegesis to interpret Scripture.

    I think Warfield hit the mark when he said:

    Calvinism is not a specific variety of theistic thought, religious experience, [or] evangelical faith; but just the perfect manifestation of these things. The difference between it and other forms of theism, religion, [and] evangelicalism is difference not of kind but of degree … it does not take its position then by the side of other types of things; it takes its place over all else that claims to be these things, as embodying all that they ought to be.
    – B.B. Warfield

  2. Nathan White Says:

    The more things change (Building Bridges), the more things stay the same (the article cited above).

    Excellent summary and rebuttal, Andrew. Let’s hope this gets out to those who may still be riding the fence after the conference. Just a simple look at the method of argumentation, not even considering the truthfullness therein, is enough to raise some serious questions.

  3. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    There were those who are just a little bit more than disinterested. They seem to have been waiting in the wings.

    There are the next things which the convention will, and should be working toward, right now. They will be working on opening up tolerance within the convention and encouraging local churches to open to honest dialogue, whether they want to or not. If things go as this article did, if the more vocal voices of Calvinists’ opponents control the media of exchange, rhetoric will continue degrading along the trajectory of pre-BB. So, the leadership will either do it now, or they will be forced to as the problem and factions become more ossified and reach critical mass.

    I think that all along this is what the organizers of BB intended to begin; to establish before factionalism becomes division a preemptive, cooperative effort. Obviously, there are some who being unable to prevent the conference, are seeking to undermine unity now, even before the setting of peers and pilons.

  4. Bill Pfister Says:

    Friend,

    I came across your blog for the first time today and found many of your posts saying things I have been saying and hearing other reformed SBC pastors saying. I read Jameson’s editorial tonight and thought it showed how littled had changed in the wake of the BB conference. I would encourage you to post a reply to the Biblical Recorder, especially the print version, so the conversation will continue.

    Much grace and love to you,
    Bill

  5. Andrew Says:

    Don:

    I appreciate your ministry, brother, but when I saw “knucklehead” and no interaction with Jameson’s article, I decided to delete the comment before I even saw who it was from. To me this is a “do unto others” issue, as I would insist that any non-Calvinist posting to this site would also refrain from name-calling in lieu of interacting with our arguments from Scripture. (Not that name-calling is always bad, as even the Apostle Paul refers to his enemies as “dogs” in Philippians, but he does so accompanied by arguments against their errors.)

    In His grace,
    -Andrew

  6. Andrew Says:

    Bill:

    Thank you for your encouragement, and I hope that you will keep reading!
    Jameson, editor at the Biblical Recorder, is aware of a very similar response from SBF blogger Timmy Brister, but he has simply dismissed our reaction as “hyper-sensitive,” so I’m not sure how the conversation can continue.

    In Christ,
    -Andrew


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