Morris Chapman, Calvinism, and Saving Faith (Part 3)

Tim Brister —  July 21, 2009 — 10 Comments

In my third and final post (see Part 1 and Part 2) on Morris Chapman’s recent comments on Calvinism, I want to focus on what Baptists have historically said on the issue of the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation and more specifically saving faith.  Before I do, however, I want to comment briefly on how Chapman used (1) Packer’s antinomy and (2) Spurgeon on saving faith—both of which do not stand in his corner.

Packer v. Chapman on Antinomy

Personally, I am not a fan of the idea of antinomy.  Like Paul Helm, I am inclined to believe that antinomy is too permissible and “could be a license for accepting nonsense” (Paul Helm, The Providence of God, 66).  It is along these lines that I believe Chapman has brought the employment of antinomy in question.  Assuming Chapman is referring to J.I. Packer’s explanation of antinomy, one should note that Packer and Chapman have very little in common when it comes to understanding God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  For instance, Packer writes,

“God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text.  Both are thus guaranteed to us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true.  It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other.  Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent” (J.I. Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, 22-23).

Chapman indeed plays God’s sovereignty (“sovereignty alone”) against human responsibility and uses antinomy to justify doing so.  However, the principle proponent of antinomy says it is incorrect to do so.  Furthermore, Packer agues that “it is God who saves” and “God’s prerogative to give results” because “only God can give faith” (Ibid., 27).  While Packer holds that man is divinely controlled and yet morally responsible; Chapman does not.  Packer believes that God is sovereign in salvation and that faith is a gift from God; Chapman does not.  Therefore, I find it curious that Chapman would employing the idea of antinomy when the very ones who argued for it have done so on completely different grounds and in completely different ways.

Spurgeon v. Chapman on Saving Faith

It’s hard to find a Southern Baptist who does not like Charles Spurgeon.  We have all read his sermons and no doubt benefited from the ministry of the Prince of Preachers.  Chapman refers to Iain Murray’s book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism twice, and I wan to mention them here, pointing out the misuse of Spurgeon as a defense for his case.

In his 2006 post-convention commentary, Chapman quoted Murray thus:

Most Southern Baptist Calvinists are in the tradition of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said, “Divine sovereignty is a great and indisputable fact, but human responsibility is quite as indisputable…Faith is God’s gift.”

First of all, it should be noted that while in 2006 Chapman said that most Southern Baptists Calvinists believe faith is a gift from God like that of Spurgeon, in 2009, he argued that such a belief constitutes “sovereignty alone” and thereby nullifies human responsibility.  As a result, not only are these Southern Baptist now hyper-Calvinists, so is Charles Spurgeon!

It is interesting to note where Chapman cuts off the Spurgeon quote, because Spurgeon does not finished the sentence with “faith is God’s gift.”  The complete sentence by Spurgeon states:

Faith is God’s gift, but it is also the act of renewed manhood” (Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, 86-87).

Faith is the act of someone who has been renewed (i.e., regenerated).  For Spurgeon, faith is a gift from God, and belief is the human response made possible by the renewing or regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  This is confirmed in the book All of Grace where Spurgeon added,

“We repent and believe, though we could do neither if the Lord did not enable us” (Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace, 94).

What this means for Chapman is that Spurgeon cannot be quoted to argue his theological position.  While Chapman cannot reconcile the gift of saving faith with human responsibility, Spurgeon thinks otherwise, saying,

“There is no discrepancy between the truth that the sinner believes and that his faith is brought about by the Holy Spirit” (Ibid.).

This divine and mysterious work of the Spirit in regeneration, Spurgeon argues,

“cannot be a reason for refusing to believe in Jesus whom that same Spirit bears witness. . . . In fact, [a person’s] believing is the proof that the Spirit is already at work in his heart” (Ibid., 93).

This is precisely because faith is the act of “renewed manhood”—those who have been enabled and given the faith to believe.  To set the gift of saving faith over and against the responsibility to believe does not make sense to Charles Spurgeon, nor should it to any other Baptist who desires to take full account of the work of God in saving sinners.  There are numerous other quotes from Spurgeon I could provide to make this case, but these simply should suffice that show Charles Spurgeon and Morris Chapman have very little common ground to stand on when it comes to saving faith, which is quite alarming given that he refers to Spurgeon repeatedly.

Various Baptists on Saving Faith

In 2006, Chapman claimed that “most Southern Baptists are not strident Calvinists or ardent Arminians.  They are biblical and they are Baptists.”  In his recent “Clarification,” he adds,

“The background of my comments comes from a lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists.  Most Southern Baptists with whom I have had contact have embraced the following model of salvation – God initiates conversion through the convincing/convicting power of the Holy Spirit.”

Chapman speaks with confidence that he knows what most Southern Baptists believe when it comes to saving faith, and that his position is the majority opinion.  Could it be that Baptists have agreed with Chapman throughout history that faith is self-engendered, that conversion is self-determining, that the Spirit’s work does not include regeneration but only conviction of sin?  Let us peel back some Baptist history and see what we find.

Beginning with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, we read “the grace of faith by which the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls is the work of the Spirit in their hearts” (2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689).  On the topic of effectual calling, the 1689 adds,

The power that enables him to answer God’s call and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, is no less than that which effected the resurrection of Christ from the dead” (Ibid.).

The Kehukee Baptist Association was one of the earliest Regular Baptist associations formed in 1769 in part by missionaries from the Charleston and Philadelphia Associations (both Reformed). In its Articles of Faith (1777), we read,

“We believe that it is utterly out of the power of men, as fallen creatures, to keep the law of God perfectly, repent of their sins truly, or believe in Jesus Christ, except they be drawn by the Holy Ghost.”

The now popular Sandy Creek Association, instrumental in God sending revival and planting many churches in the South, had this to say about God’s work in salvation:

“We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness” (Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association, 1816).

What many consider a significantly less Calvinistic confession, the 1833 New Hampshire Confession also states:

“We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God” (New Hampshire Confession of Faith, 1833).

The Abstract of Principles, the first confession of Southern Baptists drafted in 1858 and still the confession of SBTS and SEBTS, states the following about saving faith:

“Saving faith is the belief, on God’s authority, of whatsoever is revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving graces, and leads to a life of holiness.”

John L Dagg, the first writing theologian of the Southern Baptist Convention, argued,

“The Holy Spirit effectually calls all the elect to repent and believe” (Manual of Theology, 331).

Dagg continues,

“[The effectual (inward) calling] always produces repentance and faith, and therefore secures salvation” (Ibid., 332).

James P. Boyce, founder of Southern Seminary, wrote in his Abstract of Theology that saving faith is

“the act of a regenerated heart which alone is inclined to such belief as constitutes trust.  And it is attained by this heart through the illuminating influences of the Holy Spirit” (386).

Boyce is clear to show that “the Scriptures teach that the author of true repentance is God operating by truth upon the renewed heart” (Ibid., 384). From the 17th century on through the 19th century, Baptist associations, seminaries, and theologians all argued that the Spirit of God regenerates, calls, and supplies the evangelical graces of repentance and faith.  But what about contemporary Baptist theologians?

Contemporary Baptist Thought

Let’s begin with the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message on regeneration, which states:

“Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace” (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000).

The BF&M2K says that we become new creatures by the Spirit of God after which the sinner responds in repentance and faith because they have been given to him (experiences of grace).  It is clear that Chapman’s view of saving faith does not comport with our most recent confession and theological consensus statement, and furthermore if he represents the majority of Southern Baptists, then what does that say about their understanding of what we believe?

The most popular of all Systematic Theologies today is that of Wayne Grudem who writes,

“[Regeneration] is in fact this work of God that gives us the spiritual ability to respond to God in faith. . . . As God addresses the effectual call of the gospel to us, he regenerates us and we respond in faith and repentance to this call” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 702).

Second to Grudem is that of Millard Erickson who writes,

“Although we depicted conversion as a human response to divine initiative, even repentance and faith are gifts from God. . . . Humanly exercised repentance and faith are [also] gracious works of God in the life of the believer” (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 954).

Kenneth Keathley, a self-professing Molinist, even agrees, arguing

“regeneration is entirely a work of God.  Repentance and faith are gifts from God, and it is only by his grace that a person converts, but God does not repent and believe for us” (Kenneth Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation” in A Theology for the Church, 728).

Keathley adds later that “the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and the effectual call that accompanies the preaching of the gospel enable a sinner to believe” (Ibid., 743).

Finally, while he is not a Southern Baptist, he is perhaps the most well-known Baptist in our generation, John Piper writes,

“All the wonderful acts of drawing, granting, and giving are the work of God in regeneration.  Without them we do not come to Christ, because we don’t prefer to come.  We so strongly prefer self-reliance that we cannot come.  That is what has to be changed in the new birth.  A new preference, a new ability, is given” (John Piper, Finally Alive, 53).

Piper explains that God’s work of begetting (regeneration) is the decisive cause of one’s believing (102) and that regeneration is the cause of faith such that one’s believing is “the immediate evidence of God’s begetting” (139).

Conclusion

I lay out all these quotes across 400 years of Baptist thought to make the case that while Chapman feels that he has his finger on the pulse of what the majority of Baptists believe today, his argument on the Spirit’s work in regeneration and specifically his view of saving faith is altogether aberrant at best and absent at worst.  Those whom he brought to his defense have historically spoken against him, and still it is in question to whom he is referring in his comments from the convention platform in Louisville.  The reader is left to wonder which is worse: what he wrongfully accused Calvinists of believing or what actually does believe.

P.H. Mell faithfully served the Southern Baptist Convention as president for seventeen years, most of which was during its shaping and solidification.  More than that, he was a competent pastor and theologian who served three churches over the course of five decades in pastoral ministry.  One of the most significant writings left behind by Mell was his little booklet entitled A Southern Baptist Looks at Predestination. In it, he argues for God’s sovereign work in salvation, and I want to leave you with the following argument which explains why the ultimate consequence of Chapman’s position attempts to rob God of the praise He alone deserves.

“If the Holy Spirit be bestowed upon all in a measure sufficient for their salvation, and some improve His influences, while others do not, it is because of some excellencies of character inherent in the former and not the latter . . . and if any are in this condition, they at least cannot join in the ascription of the redeemed: not unto us, but unto thy great name be all the praise” (59).

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  • Rick Mang

    I am not familiar with the theology of Mell so I can’t tell if the first part of his quote indicatates a hypothetical condition or a settled one. I do however, agree with the conclusion of the quote.

    I also think that Chapman would agree with his conclusion. But because his (Chapman’s) reasoning lacks cogency, it would be no wonder if he doesn’t agree that his position attempts to (divest?) God of the praise He alone deserves.

    A very well thought out series of articles. I hope it provokes a serious discussion.

    Rick

  • http://charlie-wallace.blogspot.com Charlie Wallace

    This is by far one of the most exhaustive lists of quotes about regeneration that I’ve seen. Thanks for compiling this.

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

    Timmy,

    I hope you are working on your manuscript… this is good stuff.

    Seriously, you should think about publishing your work (in printed form)… it would be a great benefit to many.

    Grace Always,

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

    Great job Tim. Maybe if Chapman would spend some time with a different group of Baptists he might come to a different conclusion. Thanks for the insight.

  • stephenleecavness

    timmy,
    one you might add to your collection, as quoted by robert selph in his book, “southern baptists and the doctrine of election” is this statement by f.h. kerfoot, who was the corresponding secretary of what was then the home mission board and who took the place of boyce as theology prof at sbts;
    “and, in common with a large body of evangelical christians, nearly all baptists believe what are usually termed ‘the doctrines of grace’ ”

    -stephen cavness

    • http://www.thelowercase.wordpress.com stephenleecavness

      ***updated w/ page number***
      timmy,
      one you might add to your collection, as quoted by robert selph in his book, “southern baptists and the doctrine of election” is this statement by f.h. kerfoot, who was the corresponding secretary of what was then the home mission board and who took the place of boyce as theology prof at sbts;
      “and, in common with a large body of evangelical christians, nearly all baptists believe what are usually termed ‘the doctrines of grace’ ” pg.73

      -stephen cavness

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

    Though I don’t want to discourge Timmy from writing on the subject of Baptists and salvation (regeneration, justification et al) a reference on such things would be Bob Selph’s (now Pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Taylors, SC) “Southern Baptists and The Doctrine of Election.” Published by Gano I believe. Bob has been an SBC/ARBCA pastor and Director of ARBCA and a contributor to many things with Founders Ministries and other Baptist and Reformed Ministries.
    Grace Alone,
    Greg

  • http://www.christcovenantcommunity.org Branton Burleson

    John Piper actually has an article on the DGM website that explains why he disagreed with Packer that sovereignty and responsibility are an antinomy. I think Piper wrote it back in the 70s and gives an Edwards explanation as an alternative to “antinomy.” Very good, so you might check it out.

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  • http://www.thirdgreatawakeningcom.blogspot.com Dr. James Willingham

    Packer’s use of antinomy is an effort and an attempt to get some insight into the nature of apparently contradictory truths. Some might call them paradoxical. I attempted to name the phenomena of apparently contradictory teachings, These teachings such as education/illumination and trinity/unity/ Jesus God/man, inspiration human/divine, church and worship formal/informal, nature of the church universal, spiritual, invisible/local, visible, congregational, to mention some (I could add for the unchanging nature of God and yet His changes (immutability/mutability)). I have written papers on many of these issue across the years. One approach that has been helpful was the development of the thought in Paul Halmos’ work, The Faith of Counsellors, in which he sets forth his theory of creative dissonance in which he finds counsellors who experience a tension between the objective and subjective elements of their approach to counseling find the tension a desirable one that enables them to be flexible. I called the phenomena crisontist, Christ + dissonance My 6 years of research in church history (3000 5×8 notecards covering more than 250 sources – some 6000 pages of researc materials) then the writing of a number of papers along with a MA thesis in Intellectual History cros more twenty years enabled me to grasp how two-sided, apparently contradictory teachings set up a tension in one’s mind and person, enabling a believer to be balanced flexible, creative, and magnetic. This, though not set forth in clearly written understandings in the period from 1740-1820 is the explanation for that great creative outburst that tranformed Protestantism from being a gospel recovery, contentious, combative, rigid effort into an outgoing labor to win the world to Christ through persuasion along with the creating of a new nation with more freedoms than ever seen before and with a built in change mechanism to enable them to adjust to changing situations. Only problem was the change mechanism went out of whack with the importation of French Infidelity into biblical studies as so-called Higher Criticism (Higher???), really the ideas of the Philosophes of France along with some from England like Tom Paine. Now that that approach has finally begun to look like what it is, a flawed view of unbelievers adopted and adapted by some believers who could not see the gaps and errors in it, we are beginning to look once more at the Bible with eyes of wonder as to the depthof a Book inspired by Omniscience and to think it possible thatit might reflect such a depth of Divine wisdom as would challenge and transform us upon our grasping it as it was meant to be perceived.