Selective Thoughts on Articles 1 & 2 of the “Statement” on Soteriology by SBC Non-Calvinists

As I attend an SBC Church I want to record a few observations on the first two Articles of Eric Hankins’ “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”

I shall run the proof-texts through the “Rules of Affinity

Article One: The Gospel

We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

As a statement in favor of the view that Christ died for all sinners (which I believe is what Scripture says), this is clumsy.  It could easily be interpreted as a statement for universalism.  What needs to be added is a line about salvation being effective only to those who believe.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.

Awful wording!  The plain fact is, nobody is “capable of responding to the Gospel” unless God draws them to Himself.  What appears to be meant here is that they deny double predestination.

N.B. The category designations assigned to the texts below reflect how they relate to specific propositions within the Article.  As can be seen, the affinity between statement and text is generally quite weak.

Genesis 3:15 C5; Psalm 2:1-12 C5; Ezekiel 18:23, 32 C2; Luke 19.10 C3; Luke 24:45-49 C3; John 1:1-18 C3, 3:16 C1; Romans 1:1-6 C3, 5:8 C3; 8:34 C4; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 C3; Galatians 4:4-7 C3; Colossians 1:21-23 C3; 1 Timothy 2:3-4 C1; Hebrews 1:1-3 C4; 4:14-16 C4; 2 Peter 3:9 C1

Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

This again is poorly worded.  Taken at face value, the first sentence is a rather tame assertion of our fallen nature.  True, our nature is “inclined toward sin,” but it is decidedly so!  The whole nature is drastically affected by sin and its fallout.  Further, the environment is not “inclined toward sin.”  It is affected by it, and it is cursed for man’s sake, but the environment itself (by which I assume is meant the creation) is not in rebellion to God.  The way this is written makes it look as though our fall and the earth’s “fall” are the same thing.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

Yuk!  The first sentence is Semi-Pelagianism loud and clear.  Neither a Classical Calvinist nor a Classical Arminian would acquiesce to it.  I count myself as neither, and I don’t agree with it.  There is precedence for this view in the theology of E. Y. Mullins, but it does not reflect what I would think most non-Calvinist Baptists believe.  Our will’s are enslaved to sin and in need of God’s rectifying grace, however that is understood.  The matter of imputed guilt is more difficult theologically (e.g. W.H. Griffith Thomas, an influential Anglican, rejected it), often dependent upon careful definitions of “guilt” terms.

The second sentence could be countenanced by many with Calvinistic leanings, although with some qualification of the term “free response.”

Genesis 3:15-24 C4; 6:5 C2; Deuteronomy 1:39 C3; Isaiah 6:5 C2, 7:15-16 C4;53:6 C2; Jeremiah 17:5,9 C4 & C2, 31:29-30 C3; Ezekiel 18:19-20 C2; Romans 1:18-32 C2; 3:9-18 C1, 5:12 C3, 6:23 C2; 7:9 C3; Matthew 7:21-23 C4; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 C3; 6:9-10 C3;15:22 C3 (as a C1 this would militate against the second sentence of the affirmation); 2 Corinthians 5:10 C5; Hebrews 9:27-28 C3; Revelation 20:11-15 C3

N.B. It is vital to see that although the texts above do corroborate some assertions made in the Article, there are many assertions (e.g. about the inclination of our environment towards sin, and the denial of the bondage of the will), which are not supported by these texts.

I am frankly amazed by some of the signatories to this document.  I can only conclude that some of the theologians among them did not read the affirmations and denials closely.  Although I agreed once or twice with some of the remaining statements, it is clear to me that some of the other articles are framed in such a way as to give a false impression of Calvinism.   

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13 comments

  1. Paul, thanks for this excellent dissection of the statement. The sentence which floored me was “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.” In your response, you characterize this as “semi-pelagian” and I am not clear on what differentiates it from full-pelagian (not that it really matters except I am unsure of the distinctions).

    I looked at the definitions stated by R. C. Sproul (and really I’m no more a follower of him than you are, not much anyway…but consider him reliable in this matter) Sproul says “Semi-Pelagianism does have a doctrine of original sin whereby mankind is considered fallen.” The SBC statement seems contrary to that. I do see that what Sproul calls an “island of righteousness by which the fallen sinner still has the inherent ability to incline or move himself to cooperate with God’s grace.” is pretty much in line with the kind of thinking expressed in the statement.

    Also, according to Sproul, Pelagius “also argued that though grace may facilitate the achieving of righteousness, it is not necessary to that end.”

    Would you say those are the main distinctions?….the “island of righteousness” makes a semi- and the “no grace required” makes a full-on?

    1. Yes Ed, the distinction is about right. Pelagians, like Mormons and Muslims, hold that man does not have a sin nature, but is affected by his environment to go wrong. The “statement” is semi-pelagian since it does admit that man’s nature is “inclined to sin.” Yet, semi-pelagians believe that man’s original goodness is not totally eradicated and that he can choose to embrace God with a little “push” from the Spirit. This, of course, is contrary to passages like Rom. 8:7 and is not held by either true Arminians or Calvinists.

      Good to hear from you!

      Your brother,

      Paul

  2. Thanks for posting your thoughts, Paul. I had wondered what your thoughts might be as you had made some positive comments about at least a handful of the essays in “Whosoever Will.”

    I’m sure you have better things to do than wade through 700+ comments on several blogs about this, but as you can see from some, a good many do indeed take what is essentially a Semi-Pelagian view. They don’t like the label, but I don’t see how that’s not what it is. (Saying “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m a Biblicist” conveys next to nothing, IMO.)

    I’m guessing that the denial of original sin (or some kind of total depravity) may have escaped some of the pastors and laypeople who signed, but I doubt that it escaped the notice of the “big name” men on there, especially the initial signers, most of whom were prominent seminary faculty. From the comments it’s evident that at least some of them think an affirmation of original sin (or “original guilt” at least–I’m not convinced the two can be separated) necessarily entails infant damnation. So for them it all ties in with the age of accountability, etc.

    As has been noted elsewhere in this discussion, it appears that W.A. Criswell was a 4 point Calvinist who affirmed original sin. At times he referred to himself as a Calvinist, although that was before Calvinism became an issue in SBC life. And of course he gave altar calls, etc. so he did things in the “traditional” way. (In a quick search I found at least a few references to a belief in original sin in the Criswell sermon transcripts, although some of the references are to the Romish concept of baptismal regeneration.) Now, some of these men knew Criswell well so they may know something that I don’t as I’ve only listened to a few dozen sermons at most. I don’t pretend to know the mind of the man. But it’s very interesting that such a “traditional” Southern Baptist as Dr. Criswell (arguably and perhaps undoubtedly THE conservative SBC leader in the 2nd half of the 20th Century) apparently would have the same kinds of objections that you have and perhaps more besides. When I get time I may look for sermons on Psalm 51 and Romans 5.

    1. Chris,

      You are correct. Some of the comments were indeed Semi-Pelagian. SP’s don’t deny “original sin” but they define it away. Thanks for your comment.

      P.

  3. @Paul, thanks fior sharing your thoughts, I think most average evangelicals of the Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham variety today usually believe that yes, mankind have all committed sin and we can’t stop sinning myself, but there is a common belief on top of this that Jesus’s death on the cross somehow “restores” our ability to “do good”: use our own free will to decide to trust in Jesus. Many are intentionally vague as to what role the Holy Spirit plays in drawing one to Jesus.

    In such understanding, the grace of God is merely the provision that God has provided Jesus’ death and resurrection as the way of salvation for us to choose to believe and gain eternal life or reject and be eternally condemned, and nothing more.

    Someone from a popular-grade dispensational message board, when asked that why we weren’t given a choice by God similar to the way He tested Adam and Eve, provided a catchy summary of such sentiment in the form of:

    —————————————–

    “You mean a choice [to sin or to not sin similar to Adam and Eve] after we were born, correct?

    Well, we do have one, just different [from Adam and Eve].

    They [Adam and Eve] had everything [in the Garden of Eden], and one choice [to obey God by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] to keep it. We have nothing, and one choice [to trust in Jesus] to get everything.”

    ——————————————

    I wonder if this characteridaton is essentially semi-Pelagian theology?

    To pick up from what Chris Poe has said above, there was a time when such similar evangelicals would be way more calvinistic than today. I recall a time when teachers like Ray Stedman were around and he would be considered a 4-point Calvinist had he still been on this earth today. If you compare the theology of sober dispensationalists with the popular-grade dispensationalists, the former are mostly quite high on predestination, etc. Alas the current generation of dispensationalists are decidedly anti-predestination.

    1. Joel,

      Your quotation does not necessarily convey Semi-Pelagianism. More needs to be added. I tend to employ the hermeneutics of charity, especially when there is not much to go on. I DO agree with your broad argument.

      1. Paul, I would argue that the use of “choice” by our friend is not particularly careful, and I would censor this if it happens in the backdrop of a conversation about the residual effects of man’s fall. I would be happy to sign onto it is it is a generic evangelism document though.

        But I do stand corrected that we reserve judgment and the need to give someone the benefit of the doubt more often.

  4. “If you compare the theology of sober dispensationalists with the popular-grade dispensationalists, the former are mostly quite high on predestination, etc. ”

    That is very true of old time dispensationalist such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, W.H. Griffith Thomas, John Walvoord, J.D. Pentecost, Charles Ryrie and Merrill Unger who held / hold to a moderate form of Calvinism. The main areas of correction from Calvinism that they made was a proper biblical distinction between efficacious grace and regeneration in contrast to many Historical Calvinist teaching that efficacious grace and regeneration are one and the same thing ( Dr. Charles Hodge ) and also held to a form of universal atonement that rejects the views of historical Calvinism and Arminianism.

    “Alas the current generation of dispensationalists are decidedly anti-predestination.”

    We see this in such men as Chuck Smith, Dave Hunt, George Bryson and Normn Geisler in their anti-calvinism writings.

  5. I’m sorry Paul, but I am beginning to think that you are a 5 point calvinist!
    Love you anyway!
    John Gregory

    1. John,

      Actually, I could easily cite Arminius against the Articles above. I’m not a closet 5-pointer because I just don’t see TULIP as defined by most 5-pointers, represented in Scripture.

      God bless,

      P

  6. Paul,

    “Even if it were granted that ‘foreknew’ means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. For it is certainly true that God foresees faith; He foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith, which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith He himself creates (cf. John 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:2). Hence His eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by His decree to generate this faith in those whom He foresees as believing.”…John Murray

    Will the gift is free and offered to “pas” not all will come.

    Ray Woody

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