Category Archives: theology

Thoughts on Gerald Harris’s Editorial “The Calvinists are Here”

Gerald Harris is the editor of The Christian Index, the newspaper for Georgia Baptists. In the most recent (Feb. 09, 2012) issue he wrote an editorial entitled “The Calvinists are Here” in which he discusses the new “tremendous challenge” that is the theological divide between Calvinism and non-Calvinism. The link requires registration, but you can read the whole thing here. I wanted to post a couple of thoughts:

1) There are some of what Jerry Vines calls in the article “Militant, Hostile” Calvinists, or what I would call angry, young Calvinists, in SBC life. Fresh converts to Calvinism are typically intelligent young men who are looking for a deeper and less superficial faith, and when they find it in Calvinism they are often pretty forceful with it. This attitude is sinful, it should be acknowledge and repented of. Part of this comes because they find themselves in a minority which gives them two options, aggressive and angry engagement or loving and humble engagement. I think we all know which response brings glory to God and may he raise up more of the latter.

2) This is not, as Frank Page insinuates in his quote, a new problem. This tension has existed in Baptist life since the 1600’s. For the majority of that time, and especially in the American south in the early and mid-1800’s, the Calvinists were the dominant strand. With the rise of revivalism and the Second Great Awakening, along with the rise of dispensationalism, the more “Arminian” or “Free-Will” Baptists became the dominant group in the 1900’s, the Reformed Resurgence is simply a comeback for the Calvinist theology of the past. We would all be wise to learn from the conflicts of the past and embrace our commonalities without minimizing our differences. Baptist churches have local church autonomy, so we should allow the local church to make those decisions and hold their pastors and staff accountable. We should be mature enough to have serious theological discussion without misrepresentation, name-calling and mudslinging.

3) Jerry Vines is quoted as saying, “Current attempts to move the SBC to a Calvnistic soteriology are divisive and wrong. As long as groups and individuals seek to force Calvinism upon others in the Convention, there will be problems.” This is a troubling statement in so many ways. First, who are you talking about? I don’t know of any Calvinist who is seeking to force Calvinism upon others. It would be nice if you actually mentioned a real person. Second, If someone embraces Calvinistic soteriology shouldn’t they try to encourage others to accept it? Calvinists only attempt to move the SBC to a Calvinistic soteriology in the same way that you and others attempt to move it towards an Arminian soteriology, and that way is teaching it and encouraging others to believe it. Basically you are telling the Calvinists that you don’t mind them in the convention as long as they shut up and be quiet. I would say, develop better answers to their theological concerns. Do a better job defending your position and fewer young Baptists would become Calvinists.

4) While attempting to be balanced, Harris’s article most certainly was not. He mentions several prominent Calvinists, but never quotes them while always allowing the prominent opponents to Calvinism an actual quote. I think it would have been great if he had actually allowed Mark Dever or Trevin Wax or Bland Mason the opportunity to respond in like fashion.

5) I really don’t understand the mention of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Sex book in this discussion of Calvinists in SBC life. Has Driscoll been influential for SOME young SBC pastors? Yes. Does his sex book have anything to do with that? No. In fact, I have seen mostly criticism from Calvinists over the book, Dr. Akin being one exception.

6) I agree that many young Calvinists demonstrate a different type of Calvinism than J.P. Boyce, but I don’t think they are learning it in seminary. I think they are getting it from celebrity pastor types like Driscoll. Plus, you set up a false dichotomy in this paragraph. So would the reformed theology of J.P. Boyce be OK? His was a robust and manly form of Calvinist theology and I guarantee you he wouldn’t be sitting idly by in the modern SBC either. Be more specific. What brand of Reformed theology do you have a problem with?

7) Again, speak what you mean clearly. What are you inferring in the final paragraph of the article? The whole article is about Calvinism in the SBC, then you ask if we would dare defame the potential new “Great Commission Baptist Convention” name with half-hearted evangelism and church plants that wither away in five years. I cannot judge your motivation, only what you say. What you seem to be saying is, this is the kind of evangelism and church planting that would happen if we were Calvinists. If so, say so. I’m sure the Calvinists would much rather have an honest opponent who says what they mean rather than an opponent who pretends to be unbiased.

8) Out of curiosity, why were all the times you used the word Calvinist and Reformed printed in BOLD?

This article doesn’t make me angry, just sad. I propose that all the Reformed Baptists out there respond in truth and love and humility. Also, that they are more in love with Christ, find wore Joy in Him and his word, live consistently faithful and self-controlled lives, devote themselves to the word, to their families and churches. Transformed lives, families, churches and communities through the power of the Gospel and to the glory of God are the best answer for this kind of thing.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Christ the Controversialist – Essay 2

Christ the Controversialist is not one of John Stott’s most popular books, especially on this side of the pond. However, it is an excellent corrective in a world that no longer knows how to disagree and a church that no longer understands what it means to speak the truth in love. This is the second post in a series that will summarize the material from the book for an American audience.

——–

In Stott’s second introductory essay he defines what he means by “Evangelical” Christianity and defends the term as useful and applicable to Gospel centered religion.

First, evangelical means theological. Unlike the term “evangelism” which describes the offer of the Gospel, “evangelical” describes a theological system which the apostle Paul described as the truth of the Gospel. He gives a brief an helpful historical sketch of the term and then defines the way in which it is used in this book, that theological system centered on scripture and the Gospel which runs through Augustine and the Reformation.

Second, evangelical means biblical. Evangelical theology is biblical theology, and a theology of the whole Bible, not just a verse here or there taken out of context.

Third, evangelical means original. If it is biblical then it must not be new, it is not a new “-ism” but an old faith, passed down through the years. This is a key point. It is impossible to be Biblical and Evangelical and yet try to come up with a “New Kind of Christianity,” to reinterpret the Bible’s clear truth, a la Rob Bell, William Young, Brian McLaren, etc. Stott writes, “Christian duty is not to advance but to abide, not to go ahead beyond the apostolic faith but to stay put in it.” Good words. Stott then gives a brief overview of scripture passages that encourage people to remain steadfast in Gospel and to return to the Gospel.

Stott rightly points out that the staunch “oldness” of Christianity is one of the major stumbling blocks with people in the modern world that values newness and revolution. Our faith is built on Christ, the Cross and His and the Apostles teaching and this is non-negotiable. But Stott is not against change and warns the church not to hold fast to things that are not part of the Gospel faith presented in the Bible. He turns his attention to what ways Christianity is new.

First, Christianity is to be freshly understood. Revelation is the historical unveiling of God in Christ. Illumination is the unveiling of men’s minds to see what God has disclosed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is continually guiding the church to understand scripture more fully.

Second, what is old needs to be freshly applied. We have to be careful to make this distinction. We aren’t encouraged to dilute the Gospel, but to apply it to the problems and unique circumstances of the modern world. We aren’t so staunch in  our defense of the old that we reject solid hermeneutics altogether. Stott writes, “To preach is to relate God’s never changing Word to man’s ever changing world.”

Finally, what is old needs to be freshly experienced. We must not become stale in our faith, as if the point is just to win the argument or debate theology. We must know God in Christ. We must love God and experience Him in relationship, through His Word and through corporate worship.

Stott notes that every true reform movement in the church is a return to the Gospel faith of the Bible in some way, not an innovation away from it to some new form of Christianity. Stott is balanced in his approach and these words are so timely to an evangelical community that is struggling to define who they are, what is worth holding tightly to and what is worth compromising.

Tagged , , , ,

Christ the Controversialist – Essay 1

Christ the Controversialist is not one of John Stott’s most popular books, especially on this side of the pond. However, it is an excellent corrective in a world that no longer knows how to disagree and a church that no longer understands what it means to speak the truth in love. This is the first post in a series that will summarize the material from the book for an American audience.

——–

The first essay is called A Defense of Theological Definition. Stott points out that, although the modern perception of Jesus is that he was meek and mild and tolerant and sweet, the truth is, much of his ministry was made up of controversy with other religious leaders. As evidenced by recent events such as the Elephant Room debacle, the modern church is caught up in a spirit of pragmatism that refuses to tolerate unpractical theologizing. This introductory essay is extremely useful and timely.

Stott points out that the modern world has an extreme dislike of dogmatism, yet rightly notes that as Christians who believe in a revealed word from God, we are by nature dogmatic. If there is a word from God that may be read and received, it is sin and folly not to regard it. However, this does not give us the right to be arrogant. We do not and cannot know everything, but we are called to know, live by and declare what has been revealed.

We should never be modest about revealed truth. Stott writes, “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” While we should be open minded, particularly about things on which scripture is not clear, we are reminded of what Chesterton wrote, an open mind is like an open mouth, it is meant to close on something solid.

The second way that Stott describes the modern world is that if people insist on being dogmatic at least they should be quiet about it. A person shouldn’t try to impress his or her brand of truth on others, or really be open about it in a public way. This is evident in the controversy at Vanderbilt University and in the strong reactions to Tim Tebow over his overt displays of religion.

The Christian, especially the Christian pastor and teacher, is expressly commanded to both teach sound doctrine and to refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9). Stott makes a helpful distinction between being tolerant in mind and tolerant in spirit. A Christian should always be tolerant in spirit, giving people the benefit of the doubt, loving people, forgiving and forbearing, etc. However, this is not the same as being tolerant of mind. We cannot be tolerant of ideas that expressly contradict God’s revealed truth.

Christ was a controversialist, he never shirked from the spirit of the age and was unafraid to challenge the religious leaders of his day. Ultimately, Stott challenges us, we must ask ourselves if we are more enamored with the love and acceptance this world offers, or the love of God and His Glory. If we love God’s glory more, we will not shirk our responsibility to speak the truth in love, even if it means engaging in controversy.

Stott finally turns his attention to the brand of ecumenical movement that seeks to close ranks in common defense against opponents of Christianity. The result of this is what Stott calls “Lowest Common Denominator” Christianity. It is the kind of Christianity that papers over deep and meaningful differences for the sake of cooperation and tolerance. It is weak and powerless because it minimizes fundamental truths for the sake of unity. He asks, “how can we expect to defeat this common enemy if we surrender the Gospel, our only effective weapon.”

Ultimately the antidote is more clearly defined terms and positions, and a robust, confessional Christianity. We need less fog and more clarity. The task of the church is to confess the truth, regardless of the spirit of the age.

Tagged , , ,