Morris Chapman, Calvinism, and Saving Faith (Part 2)

Tim Brister —  July 20, 2009 — 7 Comments

In Part 1, I sought address specific comments by Morris Chapman from his convention “report,” nothing also a few areas of duplicity.  In Part 2, I want to interact with his “Clarification of Intent,” especially as it concerns the doctrine of saving faith.

Chapman’s Charges

Quote #1

“I have heard and read with increasing frequency of the belief that . . . the response of faith is given by God and is not the free response of the human heart to the saving initiative of God.”

Notice what Chapman is doing here.  He is saying that either if (A) faith is a gift from God, then (B) a person is not a free, responsible human agent.  In other words, Chapman seems to be saying that for a person to be morally responsible, faith must be self-engendered (not given by God).  If God supplies the faith, then a person’s freedom is violated.  Chapman expounds on this idea in the second quote.

Quote #2

“The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation 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.  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)?”

Chapman underscores the idea that a “faith response” in which God sovereignly grants the ability to believe and repent is contrary to the “whosoever will” of John 3:16 and furthermore a contradiction to Ephesians 2:8.   It should be noted again for the record, that no one has a clue who exactly Chapman is referring to when he speaks to a “sovereignty alone” group in the SBC, but as I have shown in a previous post, Chapman cannot make the distinction between hyper-Calvinists and Calvinists.  Therefore it makes sense to say that he is arguing that Calvinists genuinely do not believe in human responsibility and the free agency of man because they hold that faith is a gift from God.

Quote #3

The word ‘antinomy’ refers to an apparent contradiction between two equally valid or reasonable principles.  As I stated in my report, it is my conviction that scripture teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the human heart in its response to God.  I said, ‘Both are necessary elements in the salvation experience. A healthy tension (an antinomy) exists in the Bible with regard to these two important biblical truths. Both are present in the salvation experience.’”

Chapman here is arguing against those who are in the “sovereignty alone” crowd by arguing that we need to embrace the antinomy of divine sovereignty and human responsibility and the tension therein.  I will address the issue of antinomy later, but the question comes as to where he holds to divine sovereignty in salvation since the idea of God-granted faith violates his understanding of the constitution of human free agency.  What I understand Chapman to be saying is that there is one aspect in which God is sovereign (i.e. “God’s initiative”), and there is another aspect in which humans are responsible (i.e. the “faith response”), and the two are mutually exclusive. In other words, God does one part, and you do the other—an idea what theologians have called synergism (two parties working together to accomplish the same end goal).

Commentary & Critique

Allow me to enumerate my commentary so that my critique is easy to follow.

1.  Faith Intrinsically Tied to Human Freedom

Generally speaking, Chapman has indeed constructed a caricature of Calvinism and a straw man regarding “sovereignty alone.”  But even more revealing is his understanding of saving faith, which is intrinsically tied to human free agency.  To argue that faith is seated or grounded anywhere else than in human freedom is tantamount to stripping moral responsibility away from the person; ergo, “sovereignty alone” is leveled against anyone who says faith is provided in the supernatural working of God’s Spirit in regeneration.

2.  No Biblical Case for Chapman’s View of Saving Faith

Calvinists hold both that faith is a gift from God and sinners are morally responsible free agents.  Chapman’s “if-then” categories are falsely constructed and unsupported by Scripture.  Simply because God commands us to repent and believe does not mean that repentance and faith are not grace gifts from God provided by the regenerating work and effectual calling of the Holy Spirit.  What God requires/commands, He provides/grants in the covenant of grace.  Repentance and faith are said to be granted in numerous places in the Bible (e.g., Rom. 12:3; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25; Acts 5:31; 11:18). Given that Chapman makes self-engendered faith the centerpiece of his position, it is quite surprising that he does not seek to build a biblical case for his position and against saving faith as a gift from God.  The grammatical argument for Ephesians 2:8 at the heart of Chapman’s “clarification” is an argument FOR faith as a gift from God, not against it.  His exegesis (actually Wallace’s) is correct, but his conclusions are wrong.

3.  God’s Sovereignty AGAINST Human Freedom: Diminishing the Work of the Holy Spirit

Chapman wrongfully divides divine sovereignty and human responsibility in an attempt to uphold his understanding of human freedom.  I think it is fair to say that Chapman believes that faith must be self-engendered because salvation is self-determining.  God is sovereign over what He initiates, and in Chapman’s view, that consists of bringing a sinner under conviction of their sin.  There is no mention of the Spirit’s work in regeneration or calling, as one must assume Chapman holding to regeneration being effected by a person’s conversion, not producing it.  Therefore God’s sovereignty is limited so as not to violate a version of free will often called libertarianism (or the “power of contrary choice”), and the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation is diminished to simply that of bringing conviction of sin upon the sinner.  What God begins by initiation, man completes by exercising his free will.  In this synergistic view of salvation, man essentially “seals the deal” as the decisive and final cause by freely choosing to believe with his self-engendered faith—all of which cannot be credited to God but to the free will of man.

4.  Calvinism and Compatibilism: God’s Sovereignty OVER Human Freedom

Calvinists believe in a view of divine sovereignty that is compatible with the kind of human freedom expressed in Scripture.  Man is free to do what he wants to do, but as sinners, what he most wants to do is sin against God.  There is nothing in us that inclines us to seek God (e.g. Romans 3:9-12), and what we do is in accordance to our sinful human nature.  What we need is to have our very nature changed, so that we who were dead in trespasses and sins would be made alive with a new heart, new affections, new thinking, etc.  This is the work of regeneration, where God takes the heart of stone and gives the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), where God puts His Spirit within us (Ezekiel 11:19), where our eyes are opened to see our need for Him so that we repent and believe.  This work of regeneration is accomplished by the sovereign work (agency) of the Spirit (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5; John 1:12-13) through the preaching of the Word (instrumentality) (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).  Chapman does not explain how sinners totally depraved with minds hostile against God (Romans 8:5-8; Colossians 1:21), with hearts at enmity with God, who are considered “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3) can come to a place where they can believe except for conviction of sin by the Spirit of God.  What we desperately need is more than conviction but a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), a circumcision of the heart (Colossians 2:11-13), to be made alive (Ephesians 2:5), that is, to be born again (1 Peter 1:3).

God’s sovereignty is compatible with human freedom because God gives us new desires that come with having a new nature.  Prior to regeneration, we are enslaved to sin, in bondage to do what our sinful desires led us to do.  After regeneration, we no longer want to do those things and instead have a desire to know Christ and believe in Him.  If the role of the Holy Spirit is reduced to that of conviction where there is no new nature given, no regeneration, no effectual calling, then yeah, it makes sense to say that faith is not a gift from God.  The only problem with that thinking is it is nowhere found in Scripture. Furthermore, we have numerous occasions where God exercises His sovereignty over the free choices of responsible human agents to bring about His purposes.  Therefore, while man is certainly responsible for doing what he most wants to do, God is sovereign in election and in effectual calling—both of which Chapman tacitly dismisses with a synergistic, self-determining position regarding saving faith.

Here’s a simple question based on John 10:26 in which Jesus tells the Pharisees,you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”  Which comes first—believing or being a part of “the flock”?  It seems that Chapman would have you believe that a person’s belief makes you a part of the flock, but that is exactly opposite of what Jesus is arguing.  The reason you do not believe is because you are not one of His sheep.

5.  Antinomy or Contradiction?

An antinomy is holding to two apparently contradictory truths or laws (“anti” against; “nomos” law) at the same time.  However contradictory they may seem to us, however, they are always reconciled in the mind of God, hence the difference between antinomy and contradiction.  The former makes sense to God; the latter does not.  Because of how Chapman has framed his understanding of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, he has not presented an antinomy but a flat out contradiction.  This is because God does not view His sovereignty limited or absent from the realm of human responsibility.  God is sovereign in His choice (Father’s purpose) and in His calling (Spirit’s regenerating).  God does not leave His greatest work in the hands of men to complete or leave room for anyone to take the credit.  From beginning to end, salvation is all of grace, purchased fully by the finished work of Christ on the cross and applied by the sovereign work of the Spirit whereby sinners are given the graces of repentance and faith.

Conclusion

In his interview with Dr. Steve Lemke, Chapman said that he believes the reason why there is a resurgence of Calvinism is “largely a reaction against the shallowness of Baptist doctrinal instruction during the era of moderate-led seminaries . . .”.  While I question his speculative reasoning as to the beginnings of the Reformed resurgence due to shallow doctrinal instruction, I would not be surprised if the continuation of the “shallowness of Baptist doctrinal instruction” as seen in Chapman’s statements turn many more Baptists to the Bible to be like the good Bereans who search the Scriptures to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).  Chapman cannot make a biblical case for self-engendered saving faith, nor can he argue for self-determination in regards to human responsibility.  Not only does his view lack biblical justification, it diminishes the work of God and salvation and leaves room for man to boast for what he was able to do apart from God.  If there is one overarching theme in the story of redemption, it is the complete salvation of God’s people by His grace and for His glory.  Chapman’s view of saving faith, sadly enough, presents grace as though it can be merited and God’s glory as though it can be shared.

In my third and final response to Chapman, I will show how his view of saving faith does not comport with Baptist history.

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  • http://seminarysurvivalguide.com Mark

    Tim,
    Appreciate so much your well-reasoned response to Chapman. Studying the compatibilist view of free will / determinism in metaphysics sealed my commitment to Calvinism. Many regard the compatibilist view of free will as inadequate and unsatisfying, but I find it resonates best both with the teaching of the scriptures and my experience.

    The sovereignty of God does not stop at the threshold of my will. If it did, I would be lost.

  • http://www.exploringtruth.org carlton binkley

    I’m always amazed at how people can believe in a libertarian view of free will. Most would agree that the bible teaches sin has dominion over us prior to regeneration. If that’s the case, then believing in libertarian free will is hard to fathom.

    I don’t understand how you can believe in sin’s dominion over us and at the same time believe in some type of libertarian freewill that is capable of producing a Godward faith, unless you also believe in prevenient Grace. The two, sin’s dominion and libertarian free will, don’t seem to mesh.

  • Rick Mang

    Under Item 1 in commentary and critique, should “salvation alone” also read “sovereignty alone”?

    Rick

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

      Rick,

      You are correct. Thanks for point that out!

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  • http://word4men.wordpress.com Greg Bailey

    In some ways the rise of God’s soveriegnty as the paramount doctrine in many young Baptists is that Paige Patterson and Chapman, the Judge etc won. And they told the students at the seminaries and the people they ministered to in churches to trust The Bible…The Bible makes the only real case we need on God’s regenerating work in salvation and our responsibility to follow. Thank you Timmy for showing from OT, The Gospels and The Epistles where God is soveriegn in Election.
    I find the biggest problem with those who seem to minimize God’s soveriegnty is the point you made about the lack of an understanding of regeneration. We quote the scriptures over and over again about a “new creation” and being “dead” and “brought to life” and then we give the creation and the dead person credit for changing. Hmmmm.

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