Morris Chapman, Calvinism, and Saving Faith (Part 1)

Tim Brister —  July 16, 2009 — 51 Comments

Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the Executive Committee, has up until this time chosen not to address the pressing issue of the forced resignation of Clark Logan; however, he has taken up another topic stemming from his convention “report”—Calvinism.  His strange and categorically inaccurate views of those who hold to the doctrines of grace have been slightly edited in his most recent article entitled “Clarification of Intent.”  What I would like to do is revisit what he originally said, interact with his “clarification”, and offer the correct view of Calvinists using exclusively Baptist sources from both historical and contemporary advocates to make my case (in three separate posts).

Chapman states,

I have been accused of creating a caricature or a “straw-man” of Calvinism with the phrase, “without a faith response on the part of man.”  It has been said that no Calvinist in the Southern Baptist Convention would affirm the idea as I stated it.  The background of my comments comes from a lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists.

In almost breathtaking manner, Chapman defends his caricature of Calvinism with a postmodern epistemological construct (“my lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists”).  Not facts, not objective truths, not biblical warrant, but personal or existential testimony.  The veracity of his assertions extends no further than his commentary of Southern Baptists in general–quite a slippery slope no doubt.  The concluding remarks in my third post, I believe, will show that biblical exegesis and historical attestation expose Chapman’s personal analysis as severely lacking in substance and tainted with incredulity.

Do As I Say, But . . .

In the Executive Committee convention “report,” Chapman took liberty (as he has done in the past), to speak openly about Calvinism.  I find this to be a rather bold move.  You see, Chapman in 2006 strongly admonished any pastor talking about Calvinism in their churches, arguing that it belongs in academia, not in the local church; and yet Chapman has the luxury to do the very thing he admonishes others of not doing—even under the cover of an Executive Committee “report.”  Furthermore, Chapman went so far as to say that spending time talking about Calvinism  “distracts us from fulfilling the Great Commission.”  At a time when Southern Baptists are praying toward a Great Commission Resurgence, Chapman’s most egregious statements against Calvinism are on public display, not only as a distraction from the Great Commission, but also serving as ammunition for the uninformed anti-Calvinism, of which Chapman is in part responsible for perpetuating.  Simply put, it is do as I say, not as I do.

A second matter of duplicity comes with Chapman’s comments pitting a high commitment to theology against a high commitment to the Great Commission.  It was striking to hear him divorce doctrine from Jesus, as though it is possible to understand Jesus apart from a doctrinal understanding from His Word.  While downplaying doctrine in his convention report, Chapman responds in his “clarification” by playing up doctrine to defend his comments.  When in Louisville, Chapman spoke pejoratively about “idle arguments” regarding the atonement and election; three weeks later, he launches into a grammatical argumentation (of Ephesians 2:8) not to be found in a missions manual but a doctoral dissertation–all in an effort to provide clarification with “more technical precision.”  Sounds like theological talk to me. :) Is Chapman again doing the very thing he’s exhorting others not to do, or is he realizing the vital importance of having a robust, sound theology wedded to a passion for the Great Commission?

Chapman’s Caricature at the Convention

In his convention report, Chapman said,

“The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.”

This resurgence, one must assume, is the rise of Calvinism in the SBC.  The problem, however, is that he is equating a belief of hyper-Calvinism with Calvinism, arguing that Calvinists do not hold to human responsibility or a person’s exercise of faith in trusting Christ.  Since this is the main point of his clarification, I will address it more fully in my second post.  It should be noted now, however, that this conflation of Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism surfaces both in his interview with Lemke as well as his clarification.  In the interview with Lemke, Chapman gives his understanding for the resurgence of Calvinism, asserting:

“An additional reason for the resurgence of Calvinism is that a wide-open Arminianism under the guise of Open Theism must be refuted. Generally, where a heresy surfaces its closest theological polar opposites will appear and gain a relatively wide following” (emphasis mine).

Chapman is implying that the polar opposite of the heresy of Open Theism is that of Calvinism.  If anything, the polar opposite of Open Theism is Hyper-Calvinism or even fatalism, not Calvinism.  Nor can it be equated as a “heresy.”  This kind of language and labeling is woefully problematic and unhelpful.  In his “Clarification,” Chapman inserts the four points of Iain Murray’s analysis in Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism without skipping a beat when referring to Calvinism.  He clearly does not see the difference and projects the errors of Hyper-Calvinism upon Calvinism.

Chapman goes on to add that

“some are given to explain away the ‘whosoever will’ of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, ‘For by grace are you saved through faith’ (Eph. 2:8)?”

Now exactly who he is referring to, you guess is as good as mine.  But here’s the deal. Romans 10:13 and John 3:16 do not address how anyone ever believes.  Calvinists not only embrace these verses but also the rest of Scripture that shed light on how the “whosoever” wills to believe.  It is not that Calvinists explain away any of these texts; it’s that Chapman does not explain at all what the entirety of Scripture says about saving faith.  There’s so much more the Bible says about salvation that Chapman is apparently not willing to address (such as the fallen nature of man, regeneration, effectual calling, etc.).

Not only does Chapman believe Calvinists do injustice to texts of Scripture, he adds that such a view works contrary to the Great Commission.  He writes,

“The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.”

Again, it should be stated that no Calvinist holds to “sovereignty alone” if what he means is no human responsibility is in view.  I’m taking Chapman, according to his perception of the “resurgence” to be that of Calvinists, however incorrect it may be.  When you read a comment like this, you have to wonder if Chapman has ever read Carey’s Enquiry or Fuller’s Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation.  Has he learned of men like Jesse Mercer and Adoniram Judson? Furthermore, if Calvinism is indeed seeing great resurgence in our time, according to Chapman’s argument, there should be a corresponding decline in missionaries sent, churches planted, and overall gospel-centered living.  But does he know that the two largest sending seminaries (SEBTS and SBTS) are largely Calvinistic?  Should those serving on the mission field be queried about the most influential mission texts, I dare say the majority of them would say John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Piper is a Calvinist for those who do not know).  The leading church planting networks in North America are doctrinally Reformed (see Acts 29 and Redeemer Church Planting Network).  Clearly, the statements and logic of Chapman are not only incongruous with Baptist history, they do not represent the concurrent passions for the gospel and mission found among those in the Reformed resurgence.

Finally, Chapman boldly proclaims,

If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In one sense, I totally agree with Chapman.  The doctrines of grace should lead us to love the gospel and seek to share it with sacrificial lives.  Those who embrace grace should be the chief dispensers of that grace in word and deed.  For as long as I have been involved in Southern Baptist life, I have rarely seen a time where Calvinists were not marginalized, preached against, misrepresented, and policed by denominational leaders from convention pulpits.  I have done the research and documented the events within the Calvinism controversy in recent years, and almost every situation has been non-Calvinists or anti-Calvinists on the offense.  It is not Calvinists bringing the debate or driving the argument.  Calvinists simply don’t want to be misrepresented, just as Chapman has done here.

It is encouraging to see the maturity and renewed commitment to unity among Calvinists and non-Calvinists together for the Great Commission.  Men like Danny Akin, Frank Page, and Johnny Hunt on the non-Calvinist side, and Tom Ascol, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler on the Calvinist side, have exhibited the kind of grace that not only calls men to be reconciled to God, but also brothers in Christ to be reconciled to one another.  I pray that Morris Chapman embraces such a spirit and seeks to foster reconciliation in not just for the lost world, but for the Southern Baptist Convention as well.

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  • http://jasonmorrison.wordpress.com Jason Morrison

    Timmy, your post is well argued and fair to Dr. Chapman. Keep it up.

    • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

      Thanks Jason. BTW, I enjoy your blog. Good work.

  • Brent Hobbs

    Chapman’s behavior is just puzzling on this issue. At the very convention when gospel unity is so apparent, he’s stirring things up. Then he criticizes others for being divisive!

    I really don’t get it. Did Article 9 in the GCR upset him so badly? Add the Clark Logan situation and the section of his report directed at Acts 29… He just doesn’t seem to be making rational decisions right now.

  • http://www.matt-perry.net Matthew R. Perry

    Good article, Timmy. I’m scratching my head at this issue as much as anyone.

  • Michael Browning

    Again, Tim your writing continues to improve and clarify. Keep it up. Wish we could spend some time together riding :>}

    • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

      Thanks Michael. We will be in town next Thursday until the end of the month. If a ride is not in order, perhaps lunch. :)

  • Aaron S.

    I think Chapman’s “Clarification of Intent” article does actually clear some things up. For example, he says this:

    More recently, I have heard and read with increasing frequency of the belief that passages such as Ephesians 2:8 teach that “faith” itself is a gift of God – hence, even the response of faith is given by God and is not the free response of the human heart to the saving initiative of God.

    Yes — faith being a gift of God IS the Biblical view of salvation and I would hope that’s what Calvinists believe. As Chapman explains more, it seems to become very clear that he really does understand the Calvinistic view of salvation at least to some degree but he just strongly disagrees with it. When he talks about the human heart responding to God, he’s talking about it from the perspective of “free agency” or “human agency”. He even refers to Iain Murray’s book on hyper-calvinism stating “Spurgeon consistently emphasized human responsibility in the exercise of free-agency to repent and believe;”. I’m not sure if that’s an accurate depiction of Spurgeon’s views, but if it is, then I have to strongly disagree. Grace is in no way the exercise of human free agency. That is the synergistic, almost pelagian, view of salvation when God does some of it and man does the rest.

    • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

      Aaron,

      While I will elaborate on it more in my next post, Chapman does leave his readers with the impression of synergism and a limited view of God’s sovereignty. Spurgeon did emphasize “the warrant of faith’ and the responsibility to believe as would any other Calvinist, who also argue that man is unwilling and unable apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit and his effectual (inward) calling whereby the gifts of repentance and faith are bestowed.

      Chapman’s understanding of antinomy makes God’s sovereignty and human responsibility incompatible with one another, as seen in his “sovereignty alone” labeling. However, this is not an antinomy, but a flat out contradiction. In other words, Chapman’s *positioning* of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is not reconciled in the mind of God because it is not representative of the revelation of God in Scripture.

      • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

        Timmy,

        First, allow me to say that I have found your writing on this and other issues confronting the SBC to be both gracious and penetrating… in a word “Excellent”.

        Chapman appears to make the classic Pelagian mistake of equating the responsibility of man toward God to mean that man is responsible to have faith (to believe) as a choice of his “Libertine Free Will”. That this is a universal truth is at the heart of Pelagian theology… Yet, in this they error greatly for uncounted millions have lived upon this earth and gone into eternity without ever having heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ even once, and the Scripture says “how shall they believe in whom they have not heard.”

        Man’s responsibility toward God is to “Obey the Law”… this is a universal truth unto all mankind, and the standard by which he shall be judged. I say these things not because I think you need a theology lessen, far from that, but because as R.C. Sproul explains in his article the Pelagian captivity of the Church; the belief that God holds man responsible for his faith (belief in Christ) and not his obedience to the Law is universal in the Church today.

        In this Chapman has made a serious mistake… in his understanding of the responsibility of man.

        Grace Always,

  • http://toddpruitt.blogspot.com Todd Pruitt

    Dr. Chapman is on the wrong side of history in this situation. If the SBC is to have a future much of the weight is going to be shouldered by those who are reformed. I think Johnny Hunt has seen this. I think he sees that the younger men in the SBC who look to Akin, Dever, and Mohler as leaders are passionately committed to Scripture and mission.

  • Chris Funkhouser

    Thanks Timmy for your informative and clarifying writing. As a pastor in the convention, Morris Chapman’s recent behavior concerns me deeply. Does he believe that he has the power to do whatever he wishes, with no scrutiny from the Southern Baptist community? May God change the hearts of those who are fighting against Gospel growth in the convention, so that we can be a people who proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ to every tongue and tribe.

  • James

    Timmy, I’d like to offer a rational perspective that you will probably disagree with, but I hope you can seek to understand my perspective in that same manner that I seek to comprehend yours.

    Chapman has had many calls for transparency, and this response was an attempt to clarify his statements and thus be “transparent” in this particular situation. While the argument of “too little, too late” may be given, Chapman did respond. Give him credit for that.

    Chapman also provided a biblical perspective for his statements. While you may disagree with it, it is a difference of opinion on a second- or third-tier issue. Some Southern Baptists believe in monergism, but others adhere to a synergistic view of salvation. Both sides agree that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We can all agree on that.

    What I sense among Calvinists is a seething resentment about false characterizations of their theology. I am a modified Calvinist (which I know isn’t specific, but I’ll save that post for the appropriate place), so I have no beef with Calvinists in general. However, those who don’t adhere to Calvinism hear many different views about Calvinism from many different Calvinists. Perhaps mischaracterization isn’t so much from intentional or dogmatic ignorance but due to a misunderstanding from arguments that aren’t uniform in nature.

    I’ve heard Calvinists refer to themselves as “soft,” and I know some “soft Calvinists” who believe in synergism and others who adhere to monergism. I know “modified Calvinists” on both sides. Nevertheless, I don’t think Morris Chapman had bad intentions when speaking publicly.

    Have you noticed the same differences in Calvinistic theology among its adherents that may warrant an explanation on Chapman’s alleged confusion?

    • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

      James,

      Thanks for your comment. Let me try to respond to your comments in the order you provided them.

      1. Transparency

      You said, Chapman has had many calls for transparency, and this response was an attempt to clarify his statements and thus be “transparent” in this particular situation. While the argument of “too little, too late” may be given, Chapman did respond. Give him credit for that.

      True. His “clarification” is an attempt, I believe, of being more transparent, but Chapman has spoken “transparently” about Calvinism for years. That’s not the issue needing transparency, rather the issue of Clark Logan’s firing is what everyone wants transparency, accountability, and closure. Perhaps bringing up the Calvinism issue and making it controversial serves as a distraction from the Logan issue.

      2. Biblical Perspectives

      You said, Chapman also provided a biblical perspective for his statements. While you may disagree with it, it is a difference of opinion on a second- or third-tier issue. Some Southern Baptists believe in monergism, but others adhere to a synergistic view of salvation. Both sides agree that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We can all agree on that.

      I do not see how Chapman made a *biblical* case for anything he stated, other than the citing of Wallace’s exegetical commentary on Ephesians 2:8–which by the way, is an argument FOR faith being a gift from God, not against it. I do not see how someone holding to a synergistic view of salvation limits the work of God in salvation, gives men reason to boast in their “work,” and making the grace of God anything but amazing. I would like to hear a biblical theological case from Chapman or “the many Southern Baptists” who hold to this view. Libertarian free will is not biblical, nor is moral neutrality, nor does Scripture give credit to man for accomplishing anything in regards to their salvation. Rather, salvation is the effectually accomplished in Trinitarian fashion and appropriated through human means (repentance and faith) as responsible free agents made willing by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. I have not heard a compelling biblical case contrariwise.

      3. Different Calvinisms

      You said, erhaps mischaracterization isn’t so much from intentional or dogmatic ignorance but due to a misunderstanding from arguments that aren’t uniform in nature.

      The different Calvinisms are because no one wants to be labeled an Arminian, although some Southern Baptists are (and others even semi-Pelagian). Therefore, Calvinism (whether people like it or not) because the grid or framework used to determine where you are according to the five-points (imagine going around and asking how many points of Arminianism you believe in!). That is one reason why I believe people can be confused with various Calvinisms.

      Furthermore, there are some who argue for a “Calminian” position–an attempt to blend certain points of Arminianism with Calvinism. I find this to be most untenable and theologically unsustainable. Of course, then there are the Amyraldians or 4-pointers who agree with Calvinism save limited atonement. Others with use terminology like “soft” or “hard” Calvinists, “high” and “low” Calvinists, “strict” Calvinists, “consistent” Calvinists, “modified” Calvinist, “Dortian” Calvinists, “classical” Calvinists, “five-point” Calvinists, “hyper, aggressive, and extreme” Calvinists, and so on. Many of these labels are attempts to redefine Calvinism or slur Calvinism negatively by non-Calvinists.

      Soteriologically speaking, a Calvinist holds to all of the doctrines of grace, period. If you were to look throughout church history in Reformed literature, I believe you would find consensus on this basis. In other words, contemporaries like Mohler, Piper, Ascol, Dever would all say the same thing about what a Calvinist believes. But when you go across the spectrum of those who create their own categories or qualified versions of Calvinism, then yes, you will see differences according to such qualifications. But unqualified Calvinism and qualified Calvinism should not be conflated. People may be “Calvinistic” in their theology without being a Calvinist.

      4. Chapman’s Intentions

      I do not claim to know Chapman’s intentions but simply seek to (1) understand his comments in the context in which they were spoken and (2) consider previous comments Chapman has made about Calvinism in the past and how they relate to what he is currently saying. This isn’t a first time for Chapman to do such a thing, and when, how often, why, and how he does this are questions that do inevitably surface.

      I hope that helps. Don’t ever feel that, should you have a differing or contrary opinion, that you should feel inhibited or hesitant in commenting. In the spirit in which you wrote, I welcome your feedback.

    • Aaron S.

      James,

      I know your post was addressed to Timmy but I just wanted to pull out something that I think is very important. You said:

      While you may disagree with it, it is a difference of opinion on a second- or third-tier issue. Some Southern Baptists believe in monergism, but others adhere to a synergistic view of salvation.

      For myself and at least a few other people in the SBC that I know, this issue is of primary importance, not an issue of opinion or secondary importance. The nature of grace is tied in with the heart of the gospel. If grace is dependent on human cause in any way (synergy), then it is not biblical grace. This also affects one’s view of the character of God, the real nature of sin, and about every major doctrine. Grace alone by faith, which is a gift of God was the position of people like Martin Luther and many of the reformers. Not that we should look only to men of the past, but if the term Calvinism is being used, then that’s really what it stands for.

      I am not speaking for Timmy and he may disagree with me, but that is not something that should be compromised on for the sake of unity. Personally, after reading Morris Chapman’s articles, I find a great gulf between the position he is taking on the character of God and nature of grace and that of the historic “Calvinist” or “Reformed” position. I’m not sure how we are supposed to build bridges and foster unity between God-centeredness and what basically amounts to Pelagianism.

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  • J.D. Hawg

    Timmy, I think Chapman references something that does show us clearly the difference between the two groups. He makes the statement, “This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.” He is absolutely right.

    If you would go to a prominent SBC megachurch that I used to attend and looked closely at their mission activities for the past 10 years, you would find that the SBC approach to missions is no different than their Sunday morning altar call — numbers, numbers, numbers. They NEVER consider the fact that “success” in evangelism is going, not counting your “converts”, false or otherwise.

    So the heyday that Chapman alludes to is the era where the SBC had thousands of folks signing decision cards for the supposed glory of God.

    I have spoken to folks from Africa that confirm that once the mission team has loaded up on the airplane to return home, there’s not a true convert to be found. In fact, it’s easier with foreign missions to play the game because you’re not confronted with the lack of true repentance and change because you’re not there. It’s a little harder to do back home, but most churches can sear their conscience to ignore the fact that they baptize 500 people in a year and only 25 of those can be found after a year.

    How about a Regeneration Resurgence? When will the leadership of the convention, particularly Johnny Hunt, call for churches to get involved with those making “decisions” to make sure it’s real. We’d rather get their name on the card and send them out the door hoping that God really did grant them the faith to believe. Unfortunately, it rarely goes beyond “hoping”.

    May the convention repent of the idolatry of numbers and read their Bible to find God’s definition of success is not the world’s definition.

  • http://hereiblog.com Mark

    I’m a little confused on the exact point Chapman was trying to make with Eph. 2:8. If the whole gift is by grace are you saved through faith then both grace and faith are gifts. So what’s the problem? His point?

    Though he wrongly speaks even in his clarification.

    …in which even the faith response on the part of man is not a response of free human agency, but is a sovereign act of God.

    The faith response is not an act of God, but it is God who gives the gift so we are able (John 6:44) to respond in faith. God doesn’t respond for us. It is only by God’s grace that our agency is freed from sin that we may respond with this gift of faith.

    I don’t mind if he disagrees, but he could try to more accurately represent.

    • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

      Mark,

      Chapman’s conclusions on Eph. 2:8 I believe comports with those of Calvinists, namely that touto refers to “all of the above” as you mentioned. Grace is a gift. Faith is a gift. All of salvation is, in fact, a gift from God. God has purchased the end (salvation) and provided the means to that end (repentance and faith). The attempt to pit Eph. 2:8 against Calvinists is quite puzzling to say the least.

    • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

      Mark,

      Chapman’s clarification has cleared one thing up… “A Theologian he is Not!”

      Grace Always,

  • http://www.trbclife.org Wade Rials

    Timmy,

    Great post! I appreciate you keeping me up to date. Proud to be a University of Mobile grad!

  • James

    Based upon the responses to my initial, I believe that those who hold to monergism and those who hold to the biblical form of synergism are really saying the same thing. Only God can draw a man to salvation – man cannot draw himself (John 6:44). What a synergist will say is that man must repent and place faith in Christ – which is his personal decision, but wrought by the Holy Spirit. Therefore man plays a role in responding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but salvation is ALL God, without a doubt. Monergists will say that man’s faith and repentance come from God – so, in essence, it seems as though both sides are saying the same thing! I know that some synergists will say that man can choose to repent, but that is obviously unbiblical.

    Timmy, all I’m doing is trying to make sense of this matter. Both views hold water biblically and I don’t see where both sides are differing. Those who hold to both views have a yearning desire to see revival, and my heart’s desire is to see unity among the brethren. It just seems difficult to pinpoint specifically where the two sides differ.

    Can you help me….I thirst so deeply for the TRUTH!

    • Rick Mang

      The error in your comment is reductionism. When we equate mutually exclusive concepts we fall prey to the Rodney King syndrome. As long as we all just get along there will be no problems – and no struggling with hard theological concepts.

      What the synergists cannot abide is that God hardens whom He wills. If God does not have mercy on us by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, then He hardens and confirms us as being children of wrath. This is due entirely to His sovereignty with absolutely no influence or intervention by the fallen human will.

      It’s not unbiblical to say that man can choose to repent. But it is unbiblical to say that repentance can come out of his old nature. It is only the new nature, that is the result of regeneration that enables one to repent. It’s regeneration that gives us the “want to”.

      When you look at it this way, both sides do not hold water biblically.

      Hopefully this will help you see where the “two sides” differ and will help you in your quest for “TRUTH”.

      Rick

  • http://www.myall4one.com Pregador27

    Timmy, Did you read about Dr. Sullivan’s concerns with the Great Commission Resurgence? The reasons I ask is I believe it is clear he is anti-Calvinist and seems to be of a similar spirit as Dr. Chapman.

    I am looking forward to the next generation of Florida Baptist Convention leaders. There are some good men of God in there, but there are some questionable ones as well. (IMHO)

  • http://chadwickivester.com chadwick

    It seems that Morris accidentally printed his 2006 Convention report! . . . Is he gettin’ “Old-timers”?

  • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

    Timmy,

    This is a good and fair post. We need more of this type of theological dialogue in the SBC, not less. It is the lazy mind that just criticizes Chapman personally and calls for his resignation without taking his address as an opportunity to look more deeply into Scripture and actually deal with what he is saying. Thank you for this. I hope that others follow suit.

    Part of what Dr. Chapman may be reacting against is also something of concern that I have seen. Aaron S. makes a comment that equates Calvinism with the Gospel itself. In other words, if you don’t believe in all of the Doctrines of Grace, then you don’t believe the gospel and you are a pelagian. I have witnessed that attitude repeatedly and when that attitude exists, there is no room for compromise. A pastor who goes into a non-Calvinistic church with that perspective WILL tear the church apart. It is as though being a non-Calvinist means that you are deficient on the gospel and therefore, the reality is that you believe a different gospel or no gospel at all. Paul said that anyone who preaches a different gospel should be eternally condemned. Some believe that if you bring in man’s responsibility to any part of salvation, then you are mixing works with faith and that salvation is diluted, if not withheld. I am saying all of that to say that that perspective may not be yours or what Calvinists hold to, but it is what many non-Calvinists encounter on a regular basis. I wonder if Calvinists would not do better to begin educating their own adherents on what Calvinists actually believe instead of consistently telling non-Calvinists how wrong we are to listen to those in front of us who tell us that we are not believing the gospel. I’m not talking about you, Timmy, I’m talking about what Aaron said. If he believes that, that is fine. I have no issue with his personal belief, but it is informative as to why communication breaks down.

    As to being misunderstood, I know how frustrating it is. When I opposed the IMB policies, especially the one on PPL, I was called a Pentecostal repeatedly by people who had no idea what they were talking about. I explained again and again that believing in a private prayer language does not make one a Pentecostal. People refused to listen because their personal experience was limited to the person who told them that unless you speak on tongues you aren’t saved (a severe minority position among Pentecostals not unlike hyper-Calvinists in the Calvinist ranks) and that if you believed in tongues you automatically believed in a separate Baptism of the Holy Spirit. When I told them that I held the same position as Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Sam Storms, they were unfazed.

    My point is just that people work with what they know and what they have been told, not what the theology books say. That is why Calvinists, in educating non-Calvinists to their beliefs, would also do well to educate themselves as to how to have grace with those who disagree with them. I would be willing to say that non-Calvinists far outnumber Calvinists in the SBC and that most are not Pelagian in their theology, despite the unfair accusations from some. It goes both ways, doesn’t it?

    Again, good post, Timmy. If we had more of this kind of dialogue, we would learn to work together far better.

    By the way, the SBC Texan has an article up about the conference call between Chapman and the EC committee that he had to go through to get approval for Logan’s forced resignaton: http://texanonline.net/default.asp?action=article&aid=6328&issue=7.

    • Aaron S.

      Alan,

      I’d like to try clarifying a little bit what I posted. I do not think that a person has to consciously hold to the 5 points of Calvinism or even know what Calvinism is to be saved. I am dismayed, however, that in recent times Calvinism has been reduced to basically an intellectual argument that we just need to convince “less mature” believers of. If all the 5 points are is a consistent theology that any person can intellectually agree with, then why has there been so much fighting over it? I’m really growing to dislike the word “Calvinism” because of this. My perspective is that the 5 points are just a natural outflow of the God-centeredness of God. We don’t need to convince people to be Calvinists. We need God to work through preachers to break people of themselves and then give them faith that is from God. I agree with Martin Luther who in essence said that a person must despair or be broken of themselves in order to be saved. When someone believes that salvation is in any part an act of human free agency or something in the power of man, that is directly contrary to the gospel of grace alone. When we teach salvation as a decision people can make, we are teaching a different gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not the invitation of God if only we’ll receive it.

      It seems there are different groups within the “Calvinist” label. One group seems to view the 5 points and their implications as an intellectual argument that we need to convince believers of in order that they may mature. They are not things necessarily essential to the gospel and so should not cause a split within the SBC. Another group views the 5 points not as BEING the gospel but as a natural outflow of understanding the gospel of grace alone and the God-centeredness of God. It’s not important to convince people of the 5 points, it’s important to be God-centered in all things and to defend the gospel of grace alone, which is God’s demonstration of His glory. When people say things about grace like Morris Chapman, he is essentially attacking the character of God. When we want to hold on to some work or decision of our own in salvation, it is nothing but pride and an un-broken heart that still wants to cling to something in itself.

      It very well could be that a person who has been taught certain things claims to be an Arminian but in their heart they do not really believe what they they think they do. A person might claim to be a Calvinist but be a pelagian at heart (the heart is very deceitful). I think that’s why it’s so hard to discuss these things. A preacher once told me a story of a small church he preached at. Several families were self-professed Calvinists and one was self-professed Arminians. The self-professing Calvinists were cold of heart but the self-professing Arminians liked to speak of the things of God and when questioned, seemed to really believe things more in line with historic reformed teaching about the character of God and nature of grace. So I realize that labels can be very misleading. But the essence of what Calvinism is about really does expose the nature of the gospel. So if someone says “I’m an Arminian”, that really doesn’t tell me a whole lot. If they say salvation is by grace but also by free agency, that tells me a lot more. This is getting long so I’d better end. I hope that it has made some semblence of sense.

      • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

        Thanks for the explanation, Aaron. I wouldn’t say that salvation is by grace and free agency, but I would say that we are to believe and repent. That is a response to the message of the gospel. Peter and Paul in Acts consistently answered the question, “What must I do to be saved?” with the answer, believe and repent. I would say that believing and repenting is man’s response to God’s initiative. They could have answered, “Don’t do anything, for if you do, you are mixing works with grace and are assaulting the character of God. God does the saving so He gets the glory.” But, they didn’t answer that way. They told them what to do.

        I can believe that and still believe that it is totally God who does the saving. Man cannot save himself in any way. His believing and repentence does not save him. God saves him through the power of the gospel. But, at the same time, man does respond by faith to what God does.

        I do not see a problem there. The way that I look at it, God gets all the glory because He is the One who makes it possible (through Jesus’ work on the Cross), and He is the one who calls through the preaching of the gospel. Our only act is to respond, which I do not see as a work in that it is something that I earn. I am responding, through faith and repentance, to the free gift of grace.

        Is my thinking here not in line with Reformed theology? I would say that some Reformed theologians would say that it is. Others, so concerned that we not add anything at all, even repentance or faith, would call me Pelagian. I would disagree. But, if I am out of line, then what do you do with the way that the Apostles preached the Gospel, calling for faith and repentance? You could say that faith is a gift and God is just saving people with no response of their own – it just happens. I agree that faith is a gift and that God births it in our heart. So, I am not seeing it as a work. But, still, WE are called to believe. WE are called to repent. So, it is also a response on our part.

        Maybe I have it all wrong. I am not trying to be unteachable on this subject, as I have much to learn regarding the mysteries of God. I am just trying to be faithful to what I see Scripture saying and am trying to affirm all of what God says to be true.

        • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

          Alan,

          Can an Unregenerate man (prior to any work of the Holy Spirit) actually believe and repent?

          Or does Regeneration by the Holy Spirit “Liberate the Will of man”, as Calvin taught, so that man now has the ability to both believe and repent?

          I guess the question is “Does man respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in faith and repentance? Or does the Holy Spirit respond to the work of man in regeneration and new birth?”

          If the Holy Spirit is responding to the belief and repentance of man then there is hardly any way to escape the conclusion that man’s salvation is based upon “merit” and not upon grace. Those who believe and repent “merit” salvation and those who do not believe and repent do not “merit” salvation. I do not see any way of escaping this conclusion.

          This is truly at the heart of the issue we are discussing. Yet if we Southern Baptist; value “Cooperation” more than our pride, and we can honestly say that we trust the Holy Spirit and not man’s arguments to guides all our understanding, then we can both Calvinist and Non-Calvinist choose to cooperate in spite of our differences. If we do not come to an agreement that we will grant each other personal “Religious Liberty” and “Respect” to believe only as the Holy Spirit leads each of us in this matter… then I fear for our future!

          Grace Always,

          • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

            Greg, no matter if we disagree or not, I respect you greatly and desire to cooperate with you for the sake of the gospel. We should be able to have these discussions as brothers and still cooperate together. It is in the discussions that we learn and opinions are changed. I learn a great deal from them and I would be a fool to just push away everyone who didn’t agree with me completely. I like diversity. :)

            As for your question, I would say that it is not possible for an unregenerate man to believe and repent prior to the work of the Holy Spirit upon him. Dead men cannot believe. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). So, the Word must be preached in some way. Through this, the Holy Spirit works and calls the man. We cannot come to the Lord unless He calls us. So, our response of faith and repentance is only in response to the initiation of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to believe unless God was working on the sinner’s heart.

            So, yes. Man must respond to the Holy Spirit, not the other way around. Only God can save us and no one seeks after God on his own.

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Alan,

    I hear this mentioned a lot, but would you be willing to go on record as to just what “man’s responsibility” toward God really is?

    I am thinking about writing a post about this… but men like you and Timmy are far more gifted writers than I am, so I really would like to see someone take up this issue.

    Grace Always,

    • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

      Greg,

      I would just simply say that man’s responsibility is to respond to God’s initiative through faith and repentance.

      • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

        Alan,

        I would say “Yes I agree”… but I guess what I am driving at is the fact that not all men hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some do and some don’t. Neither those who hear the Gospel, nor those who do not hear the Gospel had any say whatsoever in their hearing or not hearing of the Gospel, and yet I find absolutely no way of salvation for the man who does not hear the Gospel.

        How is that fair? And how does that not violate the “responsibility” of the man who never hears the Gospel to respond in repentance and faith?

        Just asking questions here…

        Grace Always,

        • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

          Greg,

          Good questions. That is why the gospel must be preached, because faith comes by hearing. I’m not going to fall into the “what’s fair” argument, because my understanding is limited. But, I do know that the gospel must be preached and people must hear, believe, and repent. That is what I see the Bible saying. Yes, it is God who saves and God who calls through the drawing of the Holy Spirit as the Gospel is preached. Man does not save himself, but he does respond to God’s grace through faith and repentance. God gets the glory for all of this because it would not happen unless the Lord called and made it possible.

  • Aaron S.

    Alan,

    Thanks for your response. I really think this kind of dialog is helpful in understanding where people are really coming from. Often we can use the same words but mean very different things by them.

    You bring up a good point about the apostles telling people they must repent and believe. But the fact that the apostles or even God gives a command to people does not necessarily imply a moral ability to keep the command. This might be where a difference occurs. Many assume that if God gives a command, then that implies a human ability to keep it. But the historical “reformed” position is that God can command things that only He can give people the power to obey. When “reformed” people used the word responsibility in the past, I believe this is where they were coming from. They did not mean to imply a moral ability but to say that man is accountable to his creator who is just in requiring obedience and also just in punishing sin. But apart from grace, there is no ability for righteousness at all.

    The reformed position (which, more importantly, I think is the biblical one in this case) is that man is completely dead in sin and cannot do a single good thing apart from God first working grace in the soul. True repentance and faith are the fruit in a person who is born again. Scripture speaks of the new birth and it not being of the will of man (John 1:13). John 3 also speaks of it and how the spirit blows where it pleases.

    I believe we are in agreement that we would not just tell someone to “do nothing because God must do it”. But do you see a difference between on the one hand telling a person they must repent and believe – God is calling them and they must respond; and on the other hand telling people that God requires them to repent and believe but they must cry out to him for even this because they are unable to truly repent or to even truly be convicted of sin apart from His first working in their soul? The reformed position urges people to cry out to God as their only hope and not rest in something they have ability to do. The reformed position sees that only God can convict and change hearts and so preaching is actually a proclaiming of God looking for Him to work in souls. The Pelagian side, on the other hand, believes that faith is a response within the ability of man and so preaching is declaring the truth in hopes of convincing people.

    It’s hard for me to see which side you would fall on. When you say things like “Our only act is to respond,” are you meaning that this is an act man does or that this is what happens when God is working grace in a soul and so is actually a response moved by God? If the latter, then that would be in line with what I believe is the Biblical gospel. But if it is being thought of as God on one side doing a bunch of things and us on the other responding in our own ability, then I do think that is entering the realm of Pelagianism and I hope I’m not out of line in saying that many “reformed” people of the past would agree.

    • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

      Aaron,

      I would agree with you that God only commands what He then gives us the ability to do. I have preached that for a long time. Just yesterday, I was preaching through Philippians 2:1-11 and in verse 5 where it says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” I paused and admitted that that sounded impossible. But, if God commands it, then He enables it to take place if we trust in Him. In other words, He gives us the power to do what He commands us to do.

      As for your comment that, “God requires them to repent and believe but they must cry out to him for even this because they are unable to truly repent or to even truly be convicted of sin apart from His first working in their soul,” I would say that I do not see where that is that far afield from what I am saying. My point is that God calls – God initiates – God draws. We respond through faith and repentance. God’s initiation in our hearts is what gives us the ability to believe and repent, yes. We could not believe and repent unless God called us. I would not say that faith and repentance are works done by free moral agents independent of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Once the Gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit applies it to the hearer, faith is birthed in person’s heart and they are able to repent and believe. It is a work of grace, accessed by faith, which is also a gift of God through the preaching of the Word. But, we are to still respond.

      I guess that the way that I see it is that God enables – empowers – graces me to be able to respond to Him. But, I still must respond. Maybe I am reading you wrong, but it seems that you are saying the same thing when you say that a person must cry out to God to be able to repent and believe because they are not able to themselves. According to your perspective, how is that crying out for the ability to repent different from a work? Isn’t the asking for the ability to believe something that the person affected by the Holy Spirit does? Aren’t they playing a part? I would say that God births faith in our heart – He initiates – and with that faith that He births in our heart through the preaching of the word and the calling of the Holy Spirit, we respond by calling upon the Lord, confessing with our mouths, believing in Jesus, repenting of our sins, turning to Christ, etc. Those things are not “works”, per se, they are responses to the God’s initiative. If God were not calling and initiating, we would not do those things because no one seeks God, no not one.

      I am certain that I am missing something here, but it seems as though we are saying the same thing except that you are adding a step of you crying out to God before the ability to believe and repent is granted you. I am saying that God works on our heart through the preaching of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit and we respond right then. Faith is given, but me must respond in expressing that faith and in repentance. I cannot get past the words of the Apostles to eliminate any kind of response on the part of man. I want God to receive all the glory as well, but it seems like He set it up the way that He did, so it does not give Him glory to depart from it.

      Thank you for the dialogue here. Again, this is very insightful. Perhaps you see us as further apart than what I see. I see us saying similar things. But, not being a 5 point Calvinist myself (although I am friendly to the theology), I usually disappoint Calvinists in one way or another eventually. :)

      One other thing, just to let you know how much I slide toward the Calvinist perspective on this issue, yesterday when I was preaching through Phil. 2:1-11, I was talking about humility and my point was that we are unable to humble ourselves truly before God. Any attempt to do so on our own would result in religious pride. Instead, we are to come to Christ alone and be encouraged by our union with Him, comforted by His love, fellowship with the Spirit, and receive His tenderness and compassion (Phil. 2:1). The result should be that we treat others better than ourselves, we serve others, and we humble ourselves. Humility comes from being united with Christ. I am not united with Christ because of humility and it is not something that I can produce on my own. It must come from Jesus just like all of the fruit of the Spirit comes from His life in me. Only Christ was truly able to humble himself (Phil. 2:6-8) and God exalted Him to the highest place. Because we are already exalted (Phil. 2:1; Eph. 2:6-8), we are then free to be like Christ and humble ourselves, lifting others up and blessing them. In other words, everything in the spiritual life comes from Christ, not ourselves. This is true about salvation and it is also true about sanctification. Yet, we must still respond to what God is doing through faith in Christ and repentance from trusting in ourselves and pursuing the world.

      I only point that out because I think that the implications of this discussion are far greater than what happens in salvation. Most Calvinists that I know would say that salvation is all from God, but then preach sanctification like a Weslyean. The whole focus turns to us and what we can do, leaving God’s initiative and His power out of it. The Calvinist then becomes as much of a legalist as the Arminian. Yes, I have seen this. We must be consistent. I am to continue to live in Christ the same way that I received Him, rooted and built up in Him strengthened in the faith, overflowing with thankfulness (Col. 2:6-7).

      Maybe I have things wrong here. I am open to critique.

      • Aaron S.

        Alan,

        Thanks for continuing the discussion. After reading your reply, I think it could be that we are saying close to the same thing. When you said: “In other words, everything in the spiritual life comes from Christ, not ourselves.” I would very wholeheartedly agree. Also, when you mentioned Calvinists preaching sanctification like a Weslyean, I think you are right-on there. I have heard supposedly “reformed” preachers in essence say that we are saved by grace but sanctified by something we do (spiritual disciplines, for example as a means that WE can sanctify ourselves). Consistent God-centeredness, however, says that all good comes from God and any good motive or action had or done by the believer is the work of God in the soul. I see grace as Christ actually dwelling in human souls and giving new motives – “Christ IN you, the hope of salvation”. So there is never any opportunity to boast because any good believers do is the work of Christ in them. From what you have written, it sounds like you would agree with this.

        The one issue I am still hung up on is your view of how a person responds. You said, “Faith is given, but me must respond in expressing that faith and in repentance. I cannot get past the words of the Apostles to eliminate any kind of response on the part of man.” I would agree that there is response, but couldn’t say it like that because it’s not that WE are expressing faith but that Christ is the one giving faith and expressing it through us. From the outside, that will look like a person who is responding in belief, but in the soul it is actually Christ doing the work.

        A few questions that might help clarify things to me: What happens if faith is given but we don’t respond? Is that possible? Is the application of faith conditioned on our response? The way this is worded, it sounds like you are saying that God provides faith but we must apply it by responding. This may not be what you mean, but that’s just how it comes across, which I think is actually close to the historic arminian concept of salvation (prevenient grace, etc.)

        A few other thoughts (note – this may be getting a little off topic, but it’s all sort of tied together for me): Regarding the crying out to God, I’m sorry for not explaining that very well. I’m not sure if there is enough space here, but I’m not meaning that a person should do that as a means to get salvation. What I mean to say is that from the perspective that grace (including its application) is 100% the work of God, sinners must understand that salvation is not within their own power even though they are commanded to repent. Wordly repentance is actually something we can work up on our own and then think it is true spiritual repentance when it isn’t. That is, I can turn from various outward sins but be doing that from a selfish heart and for selfish reasons (so really just changing the type of sin), and yet be deceived into thinking that because I “repented” I have been saved. So while I agree that repentance must happen, I guess I’m saying that in order for true repentance to happen, God must bring true spiritual conviction and then change the heart so that there can be a true turning away from sin and toward God. What I’m really reacting against is how in recent times salvation has been reduced to something people can very easily accomplish in their own power and thus we have vast numbers of people who are deceived. God has not truly worked in them but instead they have simply been pointed to do something in their own ability. Because their so-called salvation originated with something they did (an act of their will), sanctification must then continue as an act of their will (even though it isn’t really sanctification because they were never truly converted). It may very well be that we are reacting to different extremes. I guess I just don’t see the extreme today of telling people not to do anything because if they are going to be saved, God will save them. I’ve never actually heard preachers saying this, though I’m sure we could find them somewhere. I do, however, see the other extreme happening all over the place. I’ve heard many many preachers telling people to just follow them in a prayer, make a decision, walk the aisle, etc. – all things they can do in their own ability.

  • Pingback: Morris Chapman, Calvinism, and Saving Faith (Part 2) « Provocations & Pantings()

  • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

    Aaron,

    Yes, I believe that the Spirit of God is working within us to regenerate us, but we must respond to the Lord. God works in us to will and act according to His good pleasure, but we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Over and over again throughout Scripture, we are called to follow Jesus. I know that we are called by God and that the Spirit is working within us to enable us to do that, but still, we are called to respond, leave our nets, take up our cross, and follow Christ. You keep saying that you know that there is a response required on our part, but then you state that we cannot respond in any way – it is only Christ who responds in us. I agree with you that Christ gives us power to respond, but I will maintain that we are called upon to respond. We are not overidden by the Spirit of God.

    All of this seems rather confusing to me in that I am not able to understand how you can say that we are to respond, but it is not us who responds but Christ who responds in us. I agree that Christ is moving us and empowering us, but I don’t see how there is no place for us to respond. You even say that we respond to the Lord. How exactly does that happen? It seems as though you are saying two things.

  • Aaron S.

    Alan,

    I think we may be understanding the response in different ways because we are coming from different perspectives. I’m basically saying that the work of Christ in the soul is not something done with no apparent effect. When Christ works, it is seen by others in that the person in whom he is working is being changed and responding to God. But that response and that change is not something that came from the person’s will of his own accord, but rather something being actively effected by the work of Christ in them. God is giving motives and so driving the will of the believer in righteousness. So I’m agreeing that we will always see response and change in a believer, but I am saying that the response and change is moved and effected by God. The believer is a new creature, one whose soul is united with Christ.

    It seems you may be looking at the actions of God and those of man as mutually exclusive things. God initiates and then man responds. Perhaps this is similar to if I gave a gift to someone and they respond of their own accord in joy to the gift. If this is the case, then I guess I’m saying that I do not think this is the “reformed” or biblical understanding of grace. From my perspective it seems like you are affirming that salvation is all of grace but at the same time affirming that it is dependent on the will of man, and so not all of grace. Perhaps that is my lack of understanding your position.

    One question I still have that may help me: Is it possible for God to work within us to regenerate us but yet we refuse to respond? It seems you would have to say yes according to how you started your last comment. If this is the case, then you must say that God can regenerate people and yet fail to save them because it was ultimately up to them to respond.

    • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

      Aaron,

      I do not believe that salvation is dependent on the will of man. I also do not believe that that change in a person is “something that came from the person’s will of his own accord.” Man can only respond to the initiative and influence of God as the Spirit moves upon Him to enable Him to respond. He cannot be saved by his own will apart from God. And, of course, man will not “will it” unless God initiates and moves on his heart because He is dead in His transgression – no one seeks God. So, I see that salvation is totally dependent upon God and God’s initiative in calling the sinner to faith and repentance.

      It is up to God to save. Yes, I believe that man must respond, but I do not think that that makes salvation dependent upon man. I think that there is a false view of what “works” is in this case. The works that Paul was arguing with were the works of circumcision, dietary laws, obeying the law as a means of righteousness and other acts taht one might trust in to merit the merit of Christ. He was speaking against people putting their trust in their own works to present them as acceptable before God. They were also putting their trust in the fact that they were descendents of Abraham. But, Paul says that salvation is by faith and it is a matter of a circumcised heart. Responding in faith to the calling of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel, which is the Good News about what Jesus has already done for us, is not a work or a works based righteousness. You are not claiming any righteousness for yourself – you are wholly looking to the merit of Christ.

      Aaron, I would encourage you and other Calvinists to take this argument and find a way to explain to non-Calvinists, because it seems very much as though you are saying what Morris Chapman was speaking against – that “The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.” I’ll take your word that you are not, but I am failing to see the nuance here. I have consistently agreed with you that it is God that intiates through the preaching of the Word and calling of the Holy Spirit and we only respond to the Lord, and while you admit that we must respond, you continually worry that I am thinking that our response is something that we do independent of God. Please note: I have continually said that we are only able to respond as God initiates and calls. How can that be independent of God?

      In trying to explain that God does it all, it very much looks like you are saying that man has no role at all, lest we devolve into pelagianism and reject the gospel. In your explanation, I still do not see how what we are saying is that different except for the fact that I am comfortable with saying that we must respond and you give a nod to a response on our part, but quickly say that it is all God and not us at all. I agree that God initiates and enables, but I still think that we must respond in faith – the faith given by God. Yet, we are in disagreement somehow.

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Alan,

    Both you and Aaron appear to be saying such similar things that it is hard for me to tell the Calvinist from the Non-Calvinist.

    If I may ask a question;

    So would you say that regeneration precedes repentance, or repentance precedes regeneration? I think hearing you answer on this question might help me understand your position a little better. (No “at the same time” answer please, as we both know that to be a dodge).

    Grace Always,

    • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

      Greg,

      Like I said before, I fully believe that repentance is only possible once God works on a person’s heart and calls them through the work of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. Some might call that regeneration. I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily because I think that once regeneration begins it continues on to completion. Is it possible to reject the Lord when you are called? The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt. 22:1-14) seems to indicate so, as do many other Scriptures. So, I would say that God must bid a person come before he is able to repent (my prior argument), but that regeneration happens when faith and repentance occur in that that is the point when someone is born again. Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29), and “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40), and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44), and “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54), and “‘The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him” (John 6:63-65), and “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17), and “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38).

      I could keep going and going, obviously. But, my point in pointing to all of that is that we gain from Jesus’ own words an understanding that I believe is vital. Here is what I take from these Scriptures:

      1. Jesus knows all who will believe.
      2. We can only come to Jesus if the Father enables us or draws us.
      3. We are told to look to Jesus and believe in Him. This is called a “work” that God requires.
      4. We can choose to do God’s will and when we do, we will find out if Jesus is from God.
      5. We are told to eat and drink of Jesus to have eternal life and so that the Spirit will flow from within us and Jesus will raise us up at the last day.

      All of this, at least to me, shows that God is the One who draws us and that we must respond to the drawing of the Lord by believing in Him and partaking of His life. Then His life will flow from us, producing fruit (John 15:16). I believe that it is possible to reject the Lord’s drawing based on what I see happening in Jesus’ ministry.

      Now, I did not want to really get into a tit-for-tat with verses because I have far too much respect for you guys to think that you have never read these verses before and just needed me to point them out to you. I know very well that you have verses to defend your position and they are very convincing. Some of this is just looking at the same thing from different angles. I feel that my perspective is biblical, however, because I do not think that man is at the focus or that it is man’s effort or work that saves us – it is God’s calling and drawing through the gospel that does so. Our “work” so to speak, is to believe, which is what Jesus told us to do. That is not a “work” in the sense of self-righteousness, but rather, it is trusting in Christ alone to save.

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Alan,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail and with such honesty, grace, and clarity. I have a great deal of respect for you and the very mature way you engage in these often passionate discussions about our common faith. I too do not wish to get bogged down in any tit-for-tat argument over the many verses that both sides can bring to this discussion.

    I am of the opinion that it is the Holy Spirit, through the careful study of the Scriptures, that convicts each of us of us of truth or error, and that a healthy dose of another historically cherished Baptist doctrine would be very good for the Southern Baptist Convention at this time.

    XVII. Religious Liberty – “God alone is Lord of the conscience…”

    Grace Always

  • Aaron S.

    Alan,

    I do want to thank you again for your thoughtful responses and desire to discuss these things. It may seem we are going in circles, but I think we are getting at some of what has been fought over since the reformation. I am basically saying that the “faith response” has nothing to do with effecting salvation but it is simply a necessary outflow of the new birth. Perhaps I am saying what Morris Chapman is arguing against in some way. I would just note, however, that there is a faith response, but it is after or in conjunction with the new birth and it is the work of God not the work of man’s supposed free-will. In essence I would say the response is God’s response to Himself worked out in the soul.

    This discussion reminded me of “The Bondage of the Will” by Martin Luther. The belief that salvation does not come until there is some response on our part seemed to be the argument of Erasmus that Luther was strongly objecting against. The issue is extremely important. Here’s what Luther wrote regarding this topic centuries ago:

    “So it is not irreligious, idle, or superfluous, but in the highest degree wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know whether or not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation. Indeed, let me tell you, this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us; our aim is simply, to investigate what ability “free will” has, in what respect it is the subject of Divine action and how it stands related to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatsoever of Christianity, and shall be in worse case than any people on earth!” (The Bondage of the Will, pg. 78, 1957 Packer/Johnston translation)

    Luther’s position was that the will is in bondage to sin and has nothing to do in effecting salvation (matters pertaining to salvation). He also said: “For if it is not we, but God alone, who works salvation in us, it follows that, willy-nilly, nothing we do has any saving significance prior to His working in us.” (pg. 102)

    The reason I bring Luther up is because this is the historic “reformed” position, which has been strongly opposed to any act of the human will as part of salvation, which in my mind includes a faith response IF that is the will or work of man. When any decision or response on the part of man is brought up as a “necessary element in the salvation experience,” as Chapman has noted, I cannot get around understanding that as salvation dependent in some way on the will of man and so is not a salvation totally of grace.

    I’m sorry if my responses are starting to frustrate you. I know I’m not the most clear writer. I would agree with Luther’s main points in Bondage of the Will – things he thought essential to the gospel. I do not think Morris Chapman could agree with him and write the things Timmy brought out. If the will or work of man has anything to do in salvation, then it is not 100% of grace. It is the work of God conditioned on a reception or response.

  • Aaron S.

    Here is one more quote from Luther that gets at his view of salvation being entirely the work of God:

    “God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel pleasure and work of another – God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvatio” (pg. 100)

    (apologies if there are typos)

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Brothers,

    I have found Calvin to be even better than Luther on this issue… Regardless if you are a Calvinist or a Non-Calvinist and you have not read Calvin’s (The Bondage and Liberation of the Will), and you are serious about understanding this important issue, you will find it of great value. When Non-Calvinist actually read Calvin on this issue for the first time, most are very surprised by what they find… and many come away finding it hard to disagree with what he says.

    You can fid a copy of Calvin’s (The Bondage and Liberation of the Will) at: http://www.monergismbooks.com/The-Bondage-and-Liberation-of-the-Will-p-16201.html

    Truly one of the most important books I have ever read!

    Grace Always,

  • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

    Greg and Aaron,

    Thank you both for the excellent discussion. I have learned a great deal and this has caused me to reflect more deeply on our great salvation. While I believe that a faith response is necessary, I recoil against anyone claiming that that response was due to their own merit. Again, I fully affirm that it is God working on man that enables him to believe, therefore God receives the glory. Apart from God’s drawing, salvation is impossible.

    So, I find myself in no-man’s land on this issue. I lean Calvinistic and benefit greatly from their writings and teaching. I know where I disagree with Calvinists, so I don’t let that bother me. I greatly appreciate the God-focus that often exists among the Reformed. I was raised Arminian and see it as a very damaging theology and cannot go back to it. So, I’m in the middle somewhere.

    But, I think that I am in the place that the vast majority of Southern Baptists reside on this issue. Where I differ, perhaps, is that I am quite reformed when it comes to our sanctification – far more than most Calvinists that I know. Just as we are saved by the work of Christ and we are just to respond by faith, so are we sanctified the same way. While the salvation discussion is very important, it deeply troubles me to see Calvinists who seem to forget about grace and the work of the Spirit after salvation. That makes no sense. It is all Christ.

    I think that this is a complicated issue and it is clear that there are differing views. I do think, in light of these discussions, that Dr. Chapman could stand to be given some grace as a brother trying to work from his convictions on this issue. Disagreeing with him is fine (as I see here), but I don’t think that he is the enemy he is being painted to be.

  • Aaron S.

    Alan,

    Thank you also for this discussion. It seems to be coming to a close for now but I think things have been learned on both sides. I’m glad to hear your comments about sanctification being the work of God as well as salvation. I also think that reformed people and perhaps the SBC in general seem to approach sanctification from a works/man-centered perspective rather than it being the life of God at work in the soul.

    As far as this whole topic goes, I still think it is of primary / essential importance and not just some secondary issue that brothers can agree to disagree on. When responding to Chapman’s comments, I’m not really trying to attack him personally but just the theology being put forth. I think we can strongly react against a theology without it having to be a personal attack or attack of a person’s motives.

    While I don’t think we should ever be intentionally hurtful or mean in our dialog, I think we should be more concerned about offending God than offending man. Besides, if we were truly humble the only thing that could ever offend us is that which goes against God :-). Take care,

    -Aaron

    • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

      Absolutely, Aaron. I am all for disagreeing on the basis of ideas and teachings according to Scripture. We should hold to our convictions, while also humbly listening to our brothers and loving them sacrificially. The problem with many of these debates is that brothers in Christ become contentious and mean-spirited as they debate the glorious grace of our Savior. What a contradiction! Timmy is dealing with his objections well as are you and Greg. I have the utmost respect for all of you.

      I would be happy to continue discussing this in some way if there are other avenues to explore. It has been very fruitful for me and I have learned a lot. I think that we both agree on the works based nature of sanctification as it is preached on both sides of this debate throughout the SBC. While not trying to minimize this debate, practically speaking, I believe that our understanding of sanctification has even greater consequences because whether we have a monergistic or synergistic view of salvation, there is no doubt that God does it and He alone gets the glory. Of course, I am not talking about making peace with any type of full blown Arminianism. You might see any compromise on that issue as out of bounds and I would understand that, but I think that there is room for some disagreement there based on how one interprets Scripture.

      The biggest question for the Calvinist in the SBC is this: How are you going to co-exist with a denomination that has between 80-90% of its members holding a different view than you on this (according to recent polls)? You can say that the SBC was historically Calvinistic all day long and it does not change the reality of where we stand today. How do you interact with people who disagree? How do you pastor churches that have a different perspective? If you go so far as to say that non-Calvinists do not believe the true gospel, then it is clear that you are headed for schism. If you can co-exist while continuing to promote your views, that seems to be the best approach.

      It will be interesting to see how things shake out. I am not a prophet, but I am willing to forecast that division will happen at some point if co-existence is not possible. As for me, I can definitely get along with Calvinists and I appreciate them. Whether or not they will tolerate my presence in the SBC is up to them, I guess.

      Thanks for a great discussion. I hope to continue it again sometime.

      • Aaron S.

        Alan,

        Good questions. I know we probably don’t want this to go on forever but I’ve thought some about the things you asked. I’m actually not really sure whether co-existence should happen or not. The SBC is unique in that the local church has the most authority regarding matters of faith and practice. The most recent BF&M seems broad enough to allow people on both sides to agree with it, which I think is a flaw and yet it does seem to allow this co-existence to occur. Maybe that’s a good thing (wait, it obviously is ultimately because God works all things together for good ;-) ). There is the cooperative program, but honestly I’m very hesitant to donate money there. I do think a false gospel has been in the SBC for some time and a lot of cooperative money is actually spent propagating a false gospel. That might seem harsh but it shows that I do think these issues are one of primary or necessary importance. I like the idea of local associations (perhaps even non-geographical) of SBC churches that are like-minded in doctrine working together.

        Also, I’ve been in a church where people were opposed to “Calvinism” because of what they’ve been told about it and yet they seemed receptive to God-centered preaching so long as certain “buzz-words” weren’t used. So I’m not really sure how accurate that 80-90% statistic really is. Perhaps there will be a division and perhaps there really should be one. But perhaps God will bring true revival and people will be humbled. We could “Calvinize” the whole SBC and it be nothing but an intellectual doctrine devoid of God. In that case the SBC might be worse off than it is now… interesting and important things to consider.

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