Seeking Clarity: The Conversation Continues

I am glad to see the gracious tone of a conversation that has arisen concerning “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  Albert Mohler respectfully submitted this response, to which Jerry Vines has now penned his own gracious response.

I want to highlight one section of Vines’s response that prompts me to wonder what exactly it is that has prompted this conversation.  According to Vines’s explanation,

 Through the years I have had wonderful fellowship with a number of men who are Calvinists. Many of them are my friends. I have had them preach for me: Dr. Mohler himself; Dr. John MacArthur; etc. And I have preached for them at Southern, The Shepherd’s Conference, etc. There has never been any problem. But, there is now a new kind of Calvinism among us. As I stated at Southern Seminary, in the presence of Dr. Mohler, faculty and students, there are some, not all, new Calvinists who are hostile, militant and aggressive. This kind of Calvinism is troubling our churches, hindering evangelism and missions, and disrupting the fellowship of our Convention. I would hope that men of good will, whether Calvinist or not Calvinist, would repudiate that kind of Calvinism.

I have no desire that any Calvinist be unwelcome in the SBC. I do desire that we can live together as brothers, openly and lovingly affirming our theological positions without trying to force them upon others who take another view.

So, it appears that the problem is not Calvinism per se, but a new kind of Calvinism that is promoted by jerks.  I will be the first to repudiate this kind of Calvinism.  The problem, however, is that the charge is always laid out in vague terminology by those who make it.  I am never told who, exactly, these “new Calvinists” are, nor what would constitute “aggressive” Calvinism.  I am not aware of any Calvinists who are out there trying to force their views upon others (if we understand “force” in its normal sense of compulsion).  As we all know, God is the only one who coerces the will (ba-doom-zing!).  (Oh, come on!  That was a joke!).

Does the attempt to persuade others that your view is correct constitute “force” that arises from aggression?  If so, then anyone who has ever evangelized another person is guilty of the sin Vines names in his post.  It sounds like the framers of this statement are concerned about Calvinists who seek to persuade others, with biblical and theological arguments, that Calvinism is true.  It sounds like they are telling Calvinists that it is perfectly fine to go sit in a corner by themselves and believe whatever they want, so long as they don’t try to influence anyone else.  But of course, that is an absurd notion if Calvinism is biblical truth, as any Calvinist would certainly believe (or else he wouldn’t be a Calvinist)!  What I keep hearing from those who stand on the other side of this issue than I do sounds eerily similar to our wider culture’s insistence that we evangelical Christians are free to practice our faith all we want in our own little huddles, so long as we don’t go out and try to convert others.  But truth that is not proclaimed as such is not worthy of the name.  If the attempt to persuade others that what I believe is true constitutes “aggressive” Calvinism, then what is being demanded of me is that I hold my view with less conviction than it deserves.  I know the framers of this statement would not seek to be lord of the consciences of all Southern Baptist Calvinists (for that is not a very Baptist principle at all!), but I would hope that they would clarify exactly what they mean by “aggressive Calvinism” in order to make clear to ordinary, non-aggressive Calvinists their support for the liberty of the consciences of all Southern Baptists who affirm the Baptist Faith and Message to proclaim their views without threat of censure from the majority.

I have met Calvinist jerks in my lifetime.  I know they are out there.  These ten affirmations and denials, however, don’t address the issue of Christian character.  They address the doctrine of soteriology.  It is time for the framers of this statement, who repeatedly proclaim their desire to work together with Calvinists of good will, to explain exactly what their concern is, to make specific charges, even to name names if need be, in order to make clear to the rest of us why this conversation needs to be held.

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4 Responses to Seeking Clarity: The Conversation Continues

  1. Andrew says:

    I am a Calvinist and can be a jerk sometimes. If those two are not simultaneously projected in my life, am I a calvinistic jerk?

    • There are people who have abrasive personalities, generally speaking. If they become Calvinsts, that personality flaw tends to carry over into the way they talk about Calvinistic theology. This is especially dangerous in what is often called the “cage stage,” which is when a person has just embraced Calvinist theology and has become, paradoxically, rather proud of himself for it to the point that he feels the need to belittle anything and anyone who has not come to see things the way he has. The problem here is not Calvinism (which would, if interpreted rightly, make someone more, not less, humble; but such is the nature of sin that it can hijack anything). The problem is one of character.

      Andrew, I don’t think you are a Calvinistic jerk. A girly man, maybe, but not a jerk. 😉

  2. Though not up to date with the above discussion, the video [with ‘time’ location noted] of Sinclair Ferguson gives a good picture of a gracious Calvinist responding to one of the ‘new’ ones.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing that video. It is wonderful. Ferguson’s point, if it were more widely understood, would put to rest the silly notion that Calvinism stifles evangelism.

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