The Alabama Baptist and Dortian Calvinism

Tim Brister —  August 3, 2007 — 20 Comments

alabama-baptist-button.jpgWhile making my daily phone call to my parents last night, my father was unusually perky. His first words was, “Tim, you won’t believe this!” I believe a lot of things, so that exclamation really said something to me. He went on to tell me that our Baptist state paper, The Alabama Baptist, published not one, but seven (7) articles on “Dortian Calvinism.” Six of the articles were written by Dr. James Leo Garrett, and the seventh was an editorial introduction by Bob Terry.

Those of you in The Heart of Dixie know that our state has not been too kind to Calvinism in the past, so this has the potential to be the start of something good. Furthermore, contrary to previous state papers (such as Lonnie Wilkey from the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector and Nelson Price/Bill Harrell from Georgia’s Christian Index), these articles could be the start of some helpful and constructive conversation in state papers. You see, the thrust of the antagonism against Calvinism is not coming from the younger generation of Southern Baptists (who by and large do not read state papers) but the elder generation who are quite committed to reading their Baptist state paper. While the younger generation know most of the SBC bloggers, they haven’t a clue who Bob Terry, Lonnie Wilkey, James Smith, or Gerald Harris are, but the elder generation (who probably don’t know what a blog is) are quite familiar with these men.

So with that said, I look forward to reading these articles and perhaps interacting with them in the future. I also am needing to update my compilation which I hope to revise and make available (again) in the near future. In the meantime, consider reading these articles which could make for good future discussion (note: you may want to print these articles out and save a hard copy as Baptist papers do not have an expansive archive of past articles).

Understanding Calvinism: A Resource (editorial) – Bob Terry

Articles by Dr. James Leo Garrett:

A question facing Baptist churches

Calvinism: What does it mean?

Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?

Have Baptists always been Dortian Calvinists in their confessions of faith?

How prominent Baptists stack up

What are the alternatives to Dortian Calvinism?

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  • Interesting. I had never heard of “Dortian Calvinism” before. The term “Calminian” is used as well, and I’m not sure theologically what that might mean. I look forward to seeing what you think of these articles.

  • I read “What are the alternatives to Dortian Calvinism?” (since I’ve been desperately hoping for a way out, you know). I found it to be based on a fictitious premise, that people choose to believe Calvinism (choose to believe–another logical fallacy), not because they actually believe it is true, but to counter-act Arminianism and Open Theism. I’ve never met anyone of any persuasion who who espoused their view in order to balance an opposite extreme.

    Whats with the term “Dortian Calvinism”? Is there any other kind? Prior to the Synod of Dordt, was anyone called a Calvinist? Don’t the Canons of Dordt define Calvinism?

  • Hutch

    I became a Calvinist years before I ever heard of open theism. I have never met anybody who said they became a Calvinist because they were distressed by open theism.

  • Wonderful to hear! Thanks for passing this along.

    …way down South (Birmingham)

  • You are all getting ahead of the game . . . 🙂

    Yeah, from my initial scan, I think Dr. Garrett does not a nice job leaving out the unnecessary rhetoric, but I do think some of his assertions and premises can and should be challenged.

    When I first heard that the articles were addressing “Dortian Calvinism,” I thought, “Great. Another [insert adjective] Calvinism to add to the list.”

    Evangelical Calvinism
    Extreme Calvinism
    Five-point Calvinism
    Historic Calvinism
    Consistent Calvinism
    Strict Calvinism
    High Calvinism
    Modified Calvinism
    Dortian Calvinism

    I am having a hard time trying to keep up with all the terminology. Trying to get on the same wavelength with a general definition of Calvinism is hard enough, but it is altogether another level to parse between what exactly people are referring to these days. You know how it goes. Whenever people bring up the “C” word (gasp), you always have to request a qualification of that term because what they are referring to most likely has a different reference point than what you are probably thinking about.

  • I said over at Founders that these articles seem to be generally helpful in bringing out definitions (and Garrett does a much, much better job than many of the recent attempts), but that overall the articles tend to further cloud and confuse the issues. I found myself saying “Huh?” on more than one point. Maybe that’s just my ignorance of Baptist history showing, but I don’t know. I’ll let you know after I finish By His Grace and For His Glory. 😉

    I also find myself tiring of all these “Calvinist” labels floating around. I recently sat down with a Deaf brother who is himself Reformed, and we had a very refreshing and uplifting conversation. I think I may finally have found a kindred spirit, quite honestly. But he said that he does not use the label “Calvinist” for the precise reasons you state here. He prefers to call himself “Reformed” instead, because he feels that is a much more accurate and consistent label than “Calvinist” has come to be.

    More interestingly, he thinks that it is possible to call myself Reformed even though I’m not a “full” Calvinist. For some reason, that just makes me feel good. *innocent grin*

  • Timmy, I almost forgot: do you still need that cut/paste of Reggie Weems’ response to Lonnie Wilkey that I posted? Drop me a line if you do. Just wanted to ask here in case I don’t see you at UPS tonight.

  • “What Are the Alternatives to Dortian Calvinism?”


    1. heterodoxy

    2. heresy

    3. rank heresy

  • If you guys have got a few minutes to spare, you ought to check out the not-so-short commentary by Gene Bridges.

    Several of the comments (both here and on Founders) reflect the same concerns I have.

  • When I was at Samford, the admin kicked Campus Outreach off campus. I don’t know if it was they were PCA or the Calvinism. They had a bigger influence on me then my church.

  • Kevin,

    From what I understand (Collin Hansen), Samford has two (maybe three) large Reformed campus ministries now. Collin discovered this while researching for his upcoming book on the resurgence of Calvinism in America (a chapter is dedicated to the SBC).

    I do find that news surprising given that Timothy George is founding dean of Beeson. But then again, Beeson and Samford don’t have as much relation as other college/seminaries do.

    Although I was not a student of University of South Alabama (USA), I was quite involved in their Campus Outreach. In fact, the first time I ever heard John Piper was at a Campus Outreach Christmas Conference in 2000. That week changed my life (and theology). It was also that conference that led Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church to bring Campus Outreach to Minneapolis.

  • Thomas Twitchell

    Hutch Said:

    “I became a Calvinist years before I ever heard of open theism. I have never met anybody who said they became a Calvinist because they were distressed by open theism.”

    Glad to meet you Hutch. Up until about four or five years ago I was teaching my daughter a form of open-theism, as James White explains. You see, the logical end to the semi-autonomous, or semi-libertarianism position, that is inherent to Arminianism led me to explain God’s foreknowledge to my daughter from the perspective of God’s viewing history from a distance. My explanation was that God did not need to know everything about the future at some point, because the future had not happened yet. Shocked at what I was hearing myself say about God’s eternal nature, specifically his omnicience, I found myself at a crisis. It was that night that change my views for ever. I have to admit that the Holy Spirit had been teaching me through programs on Pilgrim Radio for several years. But, it was that one issue that broke the back of my autonomy. Now, here is the deal. Though my training in an SBC church never came close to any formal theological teaching, the conclusions that I had come to were based in what I heard from the pulpit and gathered from SBC publications. In other words I was lead to heresy by default.

    Timmy Brister said:

    “Yeah, from my initial scan, I think Dr. Garrett does not a nice job leaving out the unnecessary rhetoric, but I do think some of his assertions and premises can and should be challenged.”

    Did you mean “does a nice job?” I only read two of the articles and read Gene’s response. The two I read have problems even without the thorough understanding that Gene brings to light.

    My further concern is the “historic problem.” It is not as if there was a problem with Calvinism at first. The problem has to do with the incursion of Arminianism. The fact that we are fighting for our life within the SBC is astounishing. It is as if it was the Arminian faction that established the great work, and Calvinists are beggars at the feast. It is quite the contrary. What I really need to see is the admission by the Arminian faction that it was in truth, they who have come in, taken over, and caused division. When they can be honest about the historic facts, then they can begin to be trusted in their scholarship conscerning the theological divide. Let them admit to introducing doctrines contrary to the foundation of the SBC, doctrines that are contrary to historic orthodoxy, then the dialogue can truly commence. Let them stand accountable to dragging the SBC back to Dort to prosecute the whole controversy over again, or we cannot not trust that decades from now, they will not again be in a position to excise Calvinism from the SBC for good.

    Back to Hutch. The problem of unlimited atonement is the problem with open-theism. It is not just an issue of free-will. When the Arminian camp can define a theology of unlimited atonement that does no harm to the eternal nature of God, and not just his omnicience but his omnipotence, both the knowledge of those who are elect and the power by which they are enabled to come to Christ, then and only then will they not have to stand under the condemnation of Dort.

  • There is no lack of Calvinist professors in the SBC seminaries. When will a state Baptist paper tap one or more to write a series like this?

    That’s the fundamental issue here. So far, a Calvinist professor has to write a 300 word or so response letter for the editorial section, while the non-Calvinists get to write multiple articles and have their sermons published far and wide. That is not at all “balanced.”

    What we need is a point-counterpoint published debate in either book form or in a series of articles or a series “In Their Own Words” in which Calvinists get to present their views themselves. It’s as if we aren’t to be trusted to speak for ourselves.

  • Gene,

    That’s a great point. Jerry Vines’ messages gets peppered throughout Florida; Roy Fish’s sermons spread throughout TX and MO, and now Dr. Garrett in Alabama. If they want to address Calvinism and make a resource issue on Calvinism, why not consult Drs. Mohler, Nettles, Wright, Ascol, Dever, or a whole host of other possible theologians?

    While the articles and resources on the Internet on Calvinism is quite voluminous, the Baptist state papers remain a stronghold in the SBC against the Reformed resurgence in the SBC.

  • By the way I didn’t point this out, but there are several more inaccurate statements in Dr. Garrett’s work.

    For example:

    A second meaning of Calvinism has reference to the entire Reformed theological tradition in general, as distinguishable from the Roman Catholic, the Anglican or the Lutheran traditions. This is a somewhat imprecise usage inasmuch as it obscures the role of the Reformer of Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli (14841531), who preceded Calvin and was the fountainhead of another stream of the Reformed tradition.

    A. The problem here is that Zwinglians have long been included in that moniker, not denied. It seems that Dr. Garrett is confusing Zwinglian Reformed tradition and Amyraldian Reformed tradition. I have multiple monographs in my library on the Zurich tradition by men who certainly hold to them being well within the bounds of the term “Reformed.” I’d like to know where he is getting this information.

    B. Anglicans are actually considered children of the Reformed tradition. Their a “via media” group, that’s why we place them in a separate strand.

    He says Dagg held to four of the five articles of Dort, and places the emphasis on denial where Dagg talks about repentance and faith.

    But where Dagg talks about faith and repentance as duties, how is this out of step with Dort? If you’ll notice, nowhere does he state that. What he does do is state that those who are not “Dortian Calvinists” must only prove that faith and repentance are duties for everyone.

    But where does Dort deny this? We are not told.

    What Dort does say is that God sends ministers of the gospel to preach the word for the conversion of the elect, who are not known. What Dort does say is that “And as to others who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.” What Dort does say is that faith and repentance are gifts of God that come

    Nowhere does Dort deny that repentance and faith are duties for all men. In fact, it comes close to saying that these are outright duties, for it clearly affirms the sincere call of the gospel, something that can only be done on a platform of “duty faith.”

    As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.

    It then continues:

    HIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 9. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the Word of life; other, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the Word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt 13).

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 10. But that others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains); but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who, as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He calls them effectually in time, confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son; that they may show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light, and may glory not in themselves but in the Lord, according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 11. But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only cause the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly under and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the inmost recesses of man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised; infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 12. And this is that regeneration so highly extolled in Scripture, that renewal, new creation, resurrection from the dead, making alive, which God works in us without out aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that, after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 13. The manner of this operation cannot be fully comprehended by believers in this life. Nevertheless, they are satisfied to know and experience that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and to love their Savior.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 14. Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.

    Where in any of this is a denial of “duty faith?”

  • Thanks for brining this up. I guess since I am an Alabama Baptist, I should start reading the Alabama Baptist. The stuff I’ve seen in the past has not sparked my interest but it looks like I need to start reading it again.


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  • Tony Pursley

    “What Are the Alternatives to Dortian Calvinism?”


    1. heterodoxy

    2. heresy

    3. rank heresy


    Andrew, I certainly hope that you are not directing your “heresy” comments at those who are not Calvinists. Even if they were stated in jest, these kinds of comments, and the spirit in which they are often said, are one of the main reasons Calvinists are “fighting for their lives” in the SBC. The fact that some Arminians and Calminians say the same things about us only compounds the problem.

    I subscribe to the Doctrines of Grace, and I feel that they are the most faithful to Scripture. But, I don’t think that our Arminian (open-theists exluded) or our Calminian brothers are outside the pale of orthodoxy. I was told that Dr. Whitney, a Calvinist himself, even stressed this in a lecture in his Spiritual Disciplines class. Many of them are wholeheartedly committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and wouldn’t dare think of robbing God of his sovereignty. In other words, though we may disagree about particular points of Theology, we are still on the same team and still proclaiming the same Christ and Him crucified.

    In relation to Dr. Garrett’s discussion on alternatives, I agree that some of his premises seem misguided. I don’t think that the resurgence of Calvinism is necessarily a reactionary pendulum swing back towards God’s sovereignty. I’m sure that is true for some, but I came to embrace the doctrines of grace through the Scriptures. Romans 9 anyone? But, I do think that his closing comments were quite wise. Challenging the Calvinists to guard against hyper-calvinism, the Arminians to guard against humanism, and the Calminians to guard against convenience at the expense of truth is very wise counsel indeed.

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  • Jerry

    Were are all Gods People? My wife and I live in Va and can not find even a small group of like minded brothers and sisters. We are “Doctrins of Grace” believers, through and through, orthodoxy and orhtopraxy. I am retireing and want to move to an area where we can fellowship. I pray Christ will bless you all. And this Blog it, it is nice that He has provided another way for His children to communicate. Peace to you all in Him.