Why Go Back to the Founders? Responding to President Frank Page

Tim Brister —  January 18, 2008 — 40 Comments

The President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Frank Page, is a nice and gracious man. From the little personal exposure I have had with Dr. Page, he is warm, cordial, and courteous. And while I had concerns about his nomination for presidency two years ago, I have appreciated the tone of his presidency and desire to work together for the gospel with a desire to bring our Convention to a greater Great Commission focus.

Although his legacy will undoubtedly be the first non-Kingmaker appointed nomination to win the Presidency since the Conservative Resurgence in 1979 (with the except of Jim Henry ’94), one has to wonder if his personal commentary will someday eclipse his role as a denominational statesman. In a recent Christianity Today article, entitled “TULIP Blooming,” Dr. Frank Page seems to think that the Reformed Resurgence in the SBC, much like the 15-evangelist conference, to be something we should lament over. Dr. Page asserts,

“The totality of history shows the vast majority of Baptists have not been [Calvinists], so why go back to the founders?” Page said. “I think we need to go back to the Bible.”

Of course, with Page’s argument, we are led to believe that what the Founders of the SBC believed and taught was something contrary to the Bible. As a president of the SBC, I find it remarkable that our top figure would state that our convention adhered to doctrines not founded in Scripture. Now it is apparent to all that Dr. Page has had trouble with TULIP, and that is fine if he disagrees or has differences (though I think his arguments are presumptuous and problematic). However, having trouble with TULIP should not thereby constitute trouble with Baptist history.

It is evident that many if not most Baptists were indeed from the Reformed tradition, as indicated by the Founders of the SBC, not the least of which included William B. Johnson, Patrick Hues Mell, John L. Dagg, James P. Boyce, and Basil Manly Jr. Furthermore, our first confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles (1858), was distinctively Reformed. Dr. Tom Nettles, in his book By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, lays out the history that Dr. Page apparently has not, or will not, consider. It should not be to our surprise that Dr. Nettles’ masterful treatise has yet to be refuted since its first publication over twenty years ago.

Nevertheless, putting history aside, we need to answer the question why we should go back to the Founders? The Reformed Resurgence in my generation goes back to the Founders precisely because of, not in spite of, the pursuit to go back to the Bible. What the Conservative Resurgence did in the recovery of inerrancy of Scripture paved the way to recover the sufficiency of Scripture. Time and again, when you ask young men in the SBC who are “young, restless, and Reformed,” we will tell you that it is out of the study of Scripture, sometimes specifically the Scripture often ignored or glossed over, that has birthed a passion for the gospel, the doctrine of sovereign grace. What makes matters worse, and even more detrimental to the cause of the anti-Calvinists in the SBC, is the continued barrage of rhetoric and ultimatums handed down by the elder generation of Southern Baptists. It is as though, if you can’t influence them with exposition or exegesis of Scripture, then scandalize them with rhetoric and police them with ultimatums. Certainly we cannot expect for a brighter tomorrow when the flickering lights of old want to unplug fresh bulbs in the SBC lighthouse.

Apparently, what Dr. Page does not understand, what the Arbuckle Baptist Association does not understand, what the itinerant evangelists do not understand, is that the movement taking place today is nothing less than a sweeping work of God’s Spirit to revive a passion for the gospel that compels us to believe it passionately, preach it fully, share it faithfully, and defend it lovingly. Young Calvinists in the SBC are not expecting you to agree with Calvinism or be a “five-point Calvinist.” We are not even asking you to go back and appreciate your Baptist history and what God did through the Founders of the SBC. But what we (if I can speak for the younger generation) are asking is to cease misrepresenting the truth and attempting to rewrite history.

Honestly, there are some Calvinists I know that can learn a lot from Dr. Page (myself included). His attitude and demeanor characterizes him as a man with a genuine pastoral heart for people. However, I think there is something that Dr. Page, and others who express an anti-Calvinist sentiment in the SBC, can learn from the younger generation of Southern Baptists–that is, we want to be treated fairly and accurately, doing justice to truth in the same way you do charity. The trouble that young Southern Baptists have is not that you have a trouble with TULIP but that you have trouble with those who believe the TULIP–and that’s a big difference. What I fear, however, is that the irenic quest for understanding, for appreciation of differences, and learning from one another, is not something that will occur overnight. But hopefully, with the right kind of leadership, we can begin to see that take place.

The Founders left the SBC a great legacy, worthy of our appreciation and imitation. It remains to be seen whether Dr. Page and the current leadership in the SBC will demonstrate the kind of leadership that, when you say, “Let’s go back to the Conservative Resurgence,” you are also saying, “Let’s go back to the Bible.”

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  • AMEN! I am encouraged greatly by your response.

  • “The totality of history shows the vast majority of Baptists have not been [Calvinists], so why go back to the founders?” Page said. “I think we need to go back to the Bible.”

    >>I’ve said this before: The SBC is in a “Catholic” phase of its existence. In other words, it is engaged in ostensibly Roman Catholic thinking prior to the Reformation (and IMO to the present day. This is just another example.

    And notice that not only does this statement give the impression that what the Founders (and us RB’s today) affirm is contrary to Scripture, it also affirms an apparently majoritarian rule of faith. Not only that, it seems to say that the reason we should go back to the Bible is because of things the “vast majority” believed.

    This is grossly incoherent of course. On one hand, we’ve gotten away from the Bible, for there would be no need to go back to it otherwise. However, the Founders didn’t believe the Bible, in his view. However, if the majority of Baptists weren’t / aren’t Calvinists – and we need to go back to the Bible, then what exactly does this mean about the current state of affairs. If the majority aren’t Calvinists (and currently they are not), then does he believe that what the majority now affirms is also unbiblical?

    Dr. Page is a nice fellow, but he’s a wooly thinker. These propositions are tugging in several directions. Never do they really meet.

    So. we’re left with his majoritarian rule of faith, and that, my friends is Romanism all over again. It’s paying lip service to the Bible, and its exactly what Rome did. It’s “back to the Biblle’ as long as it agrees with the majoritarian rule of faith, eg. “Baptist tradition,” defined, of course, as “not Calvinist.” This is just the Roman rule of faith wrapped up in evangelical vestments.

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  • Andrew Walker

    Two questions that run through my mind:

    Can Calvinists be happy remaining in an SBC that is NOT uniformly Calvinist?

    Can non-Calvinists be happy that our Calvinist brothers are devoted to scripture and end with an interpretation different than their own?

    I regret playing the part of the hermeneutical skeptic, but more than ever we need the understanding that faithful interpreters from both sides of the debate reach different conclusions. If the SBC has enough theological dexterity and elasticity to embrace both theological camps, I feel we will have an SBC more strongly rooted and standing together for the gospel.

  • “”Southern Baptists are not going to accept any theology that would in any way reduce our evangelistic zeal or missions commitment,” Mohler said.

    Page isn’t so sure. While acknowledging that both sides seek to uphold biblical truth, Page worries that extremists could undermine the SBC’s emphasis on outreach.”

    Where are the extremists? Where are their blogs? What are their publications? Can we get a list of books? What are their denominational positions held? Have they withdrawn from associations or ceased giving to the cooperative program? Where are they? It appears that to many, they is us!

    Wouldn’t everyone “SEEKING TO UPHOLD BIBLICAL TRUTH” firmly deny and resist ANY movement to undermine an emphasis on outreach? Do calvinists ignore the great commission? Or is it that old nut that we don’t like fireworks in our kid’s baptistry and that must mean we don’t share an EMPHASIS on outreach?

    What kills me is that we’re portrayed as liars, or at least as being deceitful. It is as though we never ever mean what we say? This is the Malcom Yarnell movement in the SBC, to ignore us and beat down that straw man.

    I think this is the point to all these articles:

    “”We would like to see Southern Baptists become aware that [their] money is being used to teach Calvinism in our seminaries,” Elam said.”

    Whether it’s opposition to Dr. Mohler’s SBC candidacy or whether or not there are rumblings that Southern seminary is ripe for another takeover, I know not. But I do know that this is this is continually said in every one of these articles. And since I haven’t seen Danny Aiken quoted much, the focus is always Southern.

    I agree with your comments, Gene. I read the last line and came here to post at how absurd it is to say that since most of the people in the pews never believed their confessions and never believed what their founders believed, never believed what their bible teaches, by virtue of their majority status, are right in their unbeliefs (whether true statements or not). Romanist thinking indeed.

    Thanks for the response Timmy. When I saw the link at Justin Taylor, I came here first to see if you had written and so you had. Keep up the good work. I am glad that you are responding instead of me. I trust your words more!

  • The Reformed Resurgence in my generation goes back to the Founders precisely because of, not in spite of, the pursuit to go back to the Bible.

    This is an annoying feature of many Christian debates: Everyone claims to have the biblical view. Just this once, can both sides please agree that we’re all studying the same Bible diligently and just come to different conclusions? Please?

  • During my stint at SWBTS in the 80’s there was a minority of both Calvinist students and faculty, but notable was the fact that Calvinists were accepted without rancor. I certainly never experienced any. Even my classroom exchanges with Dr. Estep were conducted with Christian charity and acceptance. He may have argued with my conclusions, but I never detected any animosity. At the same time, it appeared that Calvinist profs like Curtis Vaughn and Bruce Leafblad were accepted by their peers as full partners and not as adversaries.

    It appears that things have changed, and that there has been a drawing of “battle lines”. While I may be mistaken, it has not been the Calvinist minority who have drawn these lines. I have a hard time assigning a reason for this without tending towards the uncharitable.

  • Jerry,

    I am glad that you are trying to be charitable by not assigning a reason for the drawing of lines these days.

    But charity is exactly what we all need these days when it comes to denominational rangling. I would like fto see more articles about an Non-calvinist SBC leaders who are showing charity towards those they disagree with, just by saying, “Well, if he says they believes in man’s responsibility, then I believe them. If they believe in a free offer of the gospel, then I believe them. And if they say they strongly support the missionary efforts of the SBC and the Cooperative program, then I’m going to have charity towards them and welcome them here.”


    I’m not holding my breath, but I know that If God has use for us in the SBC, then he will give us a place of service. And I trust in Him. I need to focus on becoming more charitable as well. Rereading this post makes me think that is in order.

  • After I wrote this response, I thought it would be prudent to pick up Dr. Page’s book, Trouble with the TULIP and read over it again. It doesn’t take long to do that, given it is only 76 pages.

    But I read it this time in light of his “Let’s get back to the Bible” terminology. And when I read the conclusion, I was struck by his comments. Here’s the first paragraph of his conclusion:

    “In recent days, there has been a resurgence of the promotion of the doctrine of Calvinism within evangelical circles. One positive result of this is that it has brought a renewed study of God’s Word and its truths regarding salvation. The downside of this resurgence is that many people are falling into a trap set long ago. Manmade doctrines always fail” (73).

    Not only does he believe that the theology of the Founders of the SBC not biblical, he calls it “a manmade system of logic,” “serious mistake,” and agreeing with Estep, “It is a system of theology without biblical support” (74). Furthermore, it produces a spirit of anti-evangelism and a “cold, logical, haughty spirit” (75).

    On the other hand, Dr. Page believes that he provides a biblical understanding of salvation. Now the way he goes about it is interesting to say the least. He determines whether a doctrine is biblical by how many times the word is used in the Bible. In other words, if the word is not explicitly referred to in Scripture, then we cannot consider it a biblical doctrine. It’s just not “biblical.” For example, a belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation is really the result of “interpretive gymnastics” since the word “sovereignty” is mentioned only five times in the NT. Consequently, to believe God is sovereign in salvation “leads to a distorted concept in which God is responsible for everything” (40-41).

    So do you get it? What Dr. Page means by “getting back to the Bible”? He means to believe doctrines on the basis of how many times a word is used in Scripture lest we develop “distorted concepts” of salvation. Forget biblical exposition or exegesis, forget doctrines, and don’t worry about having a solid hermeneutic. Rather, count the number of times a word is used in the Bible and build your beliefs from there. I guess we cannot, then, believe in the Trinity since the word “trinity” is not used in the Bible. But “free will” is not in the Bible either, but apparently “the issue of free will” is at the very heart of the matter (43). What gives?

    Dr. Page concludes by saying, “Let the Scripture speak for itself!” (75). I could not agree more. The gospel that Jesus taught, that Paul taught, that the entirely of Scripture reveals, is God’s purpose of electing grace and sovereign mercy to purchase sinners for the glory of His name. It is most unfortunate that Dr. Page cannot get past the rhetoric of “manmade systems” and the like to consider the full weight of Scripture. Only then, can he abide by his own advice to “get back to the Bible.”

    So if you are wanting some background context to what Dr. Page means by, “Let’s get back to the Bible,” there you have it – in his own words.

  • I’m wondering how you would characterize Frank Page’s modified Arminianism? Are his beliefs biblical too?

    The guy isn’t a Calvinist. He’s doesn’t accept your Reformed theology. What SHOULD he have said?

  • BDW,

    What Dr. Page should have said, that is, if he is speaking of Calvinism, is present it as faithfully and accurately as possible, and then made his argument or points of contention. As I said, no one is saying that he should be a Calvinist. But I am saying that he should be accurate, and I don’t think that is too tall an order to fulfill.

    Re: Page’s modified Arminianism, the only area where I think he disagrees is perseverance of the saints, which in my mind, isn’t much of a modification. He believes in total depravity, as does classical Arminianism, as well as conditional (and corporate) election (based on foreseen faith), unlimited atonement, and resistible (or persuasive) grace. From his comments on free will and grace, he apparently holds to libertarian free will (power of contrary choice) and prevenient grace (in the Wesleyan sense). However, I may be wrong, given that his comments were few on the matter.

    If I was to write a book or article on Arminianism, I would explain their beliefs just as though a thoroughly convinced Arminian would. I would not load the presentation with rhetoric or write in a condescending or pejorative manner. I would present my article/book to other Arminians and ask them if I was fair, honest, and accurate. This is what Piper did with N.T. Wright, and what most respected scholars do when addressing such issues. If Dr. Page had sent his book to any Calvinist in the SBC, I could almost guarantee you that they would have issue with virtually every page of his book. If you cannot be fair, honest, and accurate, then one could hardly consider the literature as non-fiction or scholarship. Most people, I think, would consider it propaganda, and the merits of the argument fail as the absence of truth is revealed.

  • Timmy,

    Apparently, what Dr. Page does not understand, what the Arbuckle Baptist Association does not understand, what the itinerant evangelists do not understand, is that the movement taking place today is nothing less than a sweeping work of God’s Spirit


    Reformation is not the work of mortal men… Reformation is the work of our Sovereign God. Throughout history it has always been so; And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. (Acts 5:38-39)

    Grace Always

  • This is an annoying feature of many Christian debates: Everyone claims to have the biblical view. Just this once, can both sides please agree that we’re all studying the same Bible diligently and just come to different conclusions? Please?

    I can agree we are studying the same Bible,but to bring in BDW’s comment, I’ll ask this simple question:

    The non-Calvinist, semi-Arminian, whatever you wish to call him, always and invariably invokes libertarian free will, elsewse known as libertarian action theory or LFW. May I ask where we find that action theory in the Bible? Even Arminians tell us that it not exegetically derived. Without it, the non-Calvinist has lost one of the central planks of his theology. My theology is not, contrary to popular opinion, constructed around central planks. The Arminians admit that they do theology that way. Indeed, Miley can be quoted to that effect as can Olsen.

    Here’s the bottom line: One side appeals to philosophical constructs like LFW, while the other only invokes them in ancillary fashion, usually to answer the other on its own level. So, yes, one side is, ultimately, subbiblical, as well meaning as they may be, and as unpopular a statement that I am making. A friend of mine who once taught at SWBTS (who shall remain nameless for his privacy) once told me that there are no exegetical arguments against Calvinism. All of them are philosophical and ethical.

    He’s right. For example, we Calvinists talk about God decreeing all things. The other side immediately seeks to defend God’s honor saying we make God the author of sin. Of course, they also conflate causality (providence) and certainly (decree) in the process. One side talks about free agency, and the other responds with “That makes men ‘robots.”” One side says we need to understand words like “all, each, and world” contextually. The other says “all means all,” and I would add, proceeds to ignore many of its own exegetes.

    That said,there are few of us who argue that the SBC should be composed of Calvinists only. I would love to see that, but it’s not going to happen, and I don’t think it should happen such that if one side doesn’t give in, the other should separate.

  • Oh, I’m not a Calvinist but I will agree with you about the book’s deficiencies. But like more than a few books you’ll find on the shelves of Christian bookstores, Trouble With The Tulip probably wasn’t worth the paper that it was printed on. Around the time Page published Tulip, he visited Brewton-Parker College where my dad was a professor at the time. He spoke at chapel and handed out signed copies. I received a copy. After Page’s election, I sold my copy to an ardent anti-Calvinist out of Oklahoma for over $50! So, unlike most of you, I am thankful for Trouble With The Tulip!

    My question was more about Page’s quote in Christianity Today and not about the book. Should Arminians like Page concede that Calvinism is indeed biblical just not as biblical as Arminianism or what? Would you even concede that both theological systems are biblical?

    Another question that interests me: what Baptist historians reject the argument that most of the founders of the SBC embraced Reformed ideas? Maybe I’m wrong but I thought most reputable Baptist historians do acknowledge that fact. My dad does in his upcoming survey of Baptists, In Search Of A New Testament Church: A History of Baptists.

  • Yogi Taylor

    Hey Bro! Will you e-mail me?


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  • BDW, you asked:

    what Baptist historians reject the argument that most of the founders of the SBC embraced Reformed ideas?

    It’s not so much with respect to SBC identity as it is Baptist identity as a whole. Frankly, you’ll find that this comes out of modern TX Baptists. They are trying even as we speak to do one of two things (nobody seems really sure).

    a. Put forth a modified form of Landmarkism, what Dr. McBeth in his standard text might term “ideological” Landmarkism

    b. Recast Baptist history in terms of Anabaptistery, not English Separatism.

    Emir Caner is part of this. As I understand it, he was doing this at SEBTS when he was there, and I have it on good authority that he’s doing it at SWBTS in their undergraduate school. I don’t know if he teaches at the graduate level at present. In my opinion, they are trying to do (b) not (a). William Estep seems to have begun that trend. The argument would be something like this: Anabaptists were not Calvinists (which is true). Baptists come from Anabaptists (which is at best debateable). Ergo, historically, Baptists are not Calvinists, which is false, because we know there’s such a thing as Particular and General Baptists.

    From this they run to the Separate Baptists based on assumptions about the New Lights in America. They try to trace a connection to something other than Calvinism based on the evangelistic movement of that time. This seems based on the preconceived notion that Calvinism is not evangelistic. Well, that might be true in England of that time, which was increasingly hyperCalvinist. The problem there, of course, is that English Baptists and American Regulars are not the same stock, for at that point Baptists in America had become their own animal, so to speak. So, the logiic gets reversed. They see that Primitive Baptists arose from the Regular Baptists, for example in Eastern NC, and they deduce that Regulars were hypers and not evangelistic. Since the SBC tradition IS evangelistic, they reason to the conclusion that the SBC can’t be as Calvinistic as us Reformed Baptists believe. The argument is a bit more complex, and there are gaps I’ve not filled in, but that’s the gist.

    When you read, for example, some of their anti-Calvinist material, when they discuss Baptist tradition, yuu’ll find references to Anabaptists through and through. Now, it’s true there are some articles in the First London Confession that reflect an Anabaptist bent, particularly on, well, baptism, but the rest is taken almost verbatim from the True Confession of 1596, which bears the hand of William Ames, who can hardly be described as not Reformed. If wasn’t Reformed, who was, know what I mean? So, we see even in the last century when Dr. Pachal wrote his books that this trend was beginning. It was further promulgated in the “2 Streams” theory by Dr. Shurden and others and later picked up by Dr. Patterson, who, of course, was at SEBTS and SWBTS. Beginning to see a connection?

    As to SBC history in particular, we find a similar trend in discussions of the Sandy Creek tradition. The standard work on it is Paschal’s history of NC Baptists, both volumes of which I own, one being autograped by the author I might add. (Cost me a pretty penny for that one). I respect his work a great deal, but every time he talks about Sandy Creek and Calvinism (to deny those roots), when you look at the page, there’s not a footnote to be found, not a one. He’s clearly conjectuing here. This is important, because both volumes, apart from these references, are very heavily and accurately footnoted. The irony is that he has to admit, because it’s undeniable, that every church that entered into union with the Regulars Down East and into the Piedmont where we live (since you and I live in the same area, I understand), was a Calvinist church, or, at worst, Amyraldian, and Amyraldianism is well within the boundaries of the broad Reformed family. So, honestly, I don’t know where he got those ideas, because when you read his book, if you know what Calvinists believe, and I am a Reformed Baptist,so you know I well know, you’re left thinking, “That statement doesn’t add up to what went before it and came after.”

    Also, Dr. Yarnell in his articles in the AL Baptist paper (Timmy can correct me if my memory is wrong on identifying those articles specifiically) went so far to deny John L. Dagg was a five point Calvinist. Why? When you read his paper, he says Dr. Dagg spoke about duty faith, repentance, etc., as if Calvinism denies this, even though the Synod of Dort specifically speaks to the issue in the affirmative. Note, Dr. Yarnell is a TX Baptist. So, what we’re getting, it seems are opinions about what men in our history have believed that are, in fact, characterizations made based on inaccurate ideas about what Calvinists believe.

  • genembridges wrote: For example, we Calvinists talk about God decreeing all things.

    Worse than that, we argue among ourselves about the order of the decrees. As a Calvinist, I have long felt that the biggest waste of time is to engage in the purely speculative supralapsarian/infralapsarian/sublapsarian discussion.

    No wonder the non-Calvinists are scared of us!

  • I love it when Gene shows up!

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  • Guys,

    Sorry for the late replies. Been on the road with the fam heading back to AL.


    Regarding whether Arminianism and Calvinism can both be biblical, I think there are several points to make. As Gene as stated, libertarian free will is foundational to the Arminian argument, as is prevenient grace and conditional election. I will not mention perseverance, since most if not all Southern Baptists reject the last point of Arminianism.

    I do not believe that it prevenient grace, LFW, and conditional election can be argued from Scripture. They are simply not there. On the other hand, you will find substantial support for unconditional election, compatibilistic free will (freedom of inclination), and irresistible grace (or effectual calling). Granted, the term “irresistible grace” has cause more confusion and misunderstanding than perhaps any other term, leading many to believe that God has stripped us of human responsibility and turned us into robots. Of course, this is not true, and no Calvinist would ever make that argument.

    Rebutting the Calvinists, the Arminians say that we do not believe in John 3:16 and all the “whoever will” texts. But Calvinist do not have a problem at all with the texts with the “alls”, “whosoevers”, and “world.” We simply believe that God knows who those whoesevers are (foreknowledge), has chosen them for salvation (election), and enables them to “call upon the name of the Lord” (regeneration, effectual calling). Therefore, it could be said that we believe in these texts more than the Arminians do because when interpreted in light of the rest of Scripture, such texts as Rom. 10:13 bearing more meaning than generally asserted to them.

    I am not trying to write polemically here but simply to make the same call for biblical support to the Arminans that they do for Calvinists. The problem is, unfortunately, that the Bible seems to be the last thing that enters the scene, after the emotional rants, the rhetorical flourishes, and philosophical constructions.

  • Gene,

    Quick correction: It was Dr. James Leo Garrett who wrote the articles in the Alabama Baptist, not Yarnell. But your statements that he seems to find that Calvinists deny duty faith and repentance were surprising, given that Dr. Garrett is such an accomplished and seasoned scholar. Those weren’t the only inaccurate statements made, which I found perplexing.

    Regarding the Texas Baptists, I understand the strategy to rewrite Baptist history began with Estep’s scholarship, then the “two-stream theory”, then arguing Sandy Creek revivalism contra Particular Baptists, and then eventually out-and-out Anabaptism. The proponents leading the charge have been Estep, Caners Bro.s, Yarnell, and of course, Patterson. For instance, at last year’s Baptist Identity Conference II at UU, Dr. Patterson’s message was “What Southern Baptists Can Learn from the Anabaptists”. It was a scholarly paper presented at the conference which was clearly intended to advocated Anabaptism to his fellows Southern Baptists.

    Be watching in the future for the presentations, articles, and books from SWBTS regarding the Anabaptist Movement.

  • Timmy,

    As a loyal Arminian, I want you to know that I agree with your assessments stated here. I read Page’s book “Trouble with the TULIP” and subsequently threw it in the trash, literally. It is an embarrassing piece of work that appears as though it was thrown together over a single weekend. Ugh! And did I mention that I counted nearly 80-some exclamation points! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Not bad for a 76 page book ! ! ! ! ! !

    And here’s a couple more ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    And here ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    I shouldn’t presume to speak for Page. Nonetheless; maybe underlying his major concern is that this new resurgance of Calvinism with the SBC will eventually entail a sort of “takeover,” do you get what I mean?

    I have to say that I somewhat fear the same thing. If the SBC decided to not just “work together” for the cause of Christ, but wanted to adhere to Calvinistic theology with no room for any other voice on her doctrines, then I (and I am assuming many other non-Calvinists) would leave the SBC.

    Dr. Finn told me that Southern Baptists have typically been split down the middle throughout Church history where Calvinism is concerned. At times, SB’s were more Calvinistic, and at other times they were less. There has undoubtedly always been a Calvinistic presence in the SBC – and always will be, I’m guessing.

    It’s going to be interesting to watch how this all unfolds in years to come.



  • Timmy,

    And by, “I agree with your assessments here,” I mean your post – not your response to “Guys” at 2:48 pm. There are a few things with which I disagree on those comments.

  • thomastwitchell


    The historical argument is a canard anyway which really should not even enter in. Unfortunately the authoritarian/majoritarian appeal has replace an appeal to Scripture as a distinctive in SBC life. And, unfortunately, it will have to be answered before the real issues are addressed. How fruitlessly time consuming and distractive.

    Hows the weather Gene? Frozen rain, boy do I remember that. Two inches of ice and having to chip my way into my car when I was stationed at Ft McPherson. Praise God, it is rain nontheless.

    I thank God for the men who are scholarly looking at our history. Revisionists exploit ignorance, and it is a shame that both exist. It is a shame we have gone after the ways of the world. Such are the results of the “we don’t need to know that” generations that have gone before us. Simply avoidable, if churches like my former SBC had abided by their constitution and taught history. If we were half the upholders of the BFM that we claim to be, the deplorable condition of history illiteracy within the SBC would not be what it is: Christianity is the religion of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is therefore a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. An adequate system of schools is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people. The cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is coordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. This is followed through in both the 63 and 2000. How far we have fallen! It is the mission of the SBC, it is the Great Commission to be a teaching church in all aspects. Perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps the Commission is not wanted and now that the shame has been exposed, appeals to authority are the only fig leaves left for cover.

    Luther and Calvin had to deal with this type of appeal. So they did. Responding in kind with quotes to prove that they were at least on level ground. But it was to their dismay, for they understood that this kind of appeal avoided the issues at hand. What was said above by Gene in his characterization of the point counter point is true. Can we not just get back to the text without the counter arguement devolving into rationalizations, either historical, or philosophical? That is really the stakes though. To address the issues strikes fear in the hearts of some. It is an accountability issue, is it not? What we want to know, really is not what Augustine believed, or what any other teacher of history believed, but what is right belief, according to Scripture? If we have been teaching an implicit faith, (and Gene is right) and “it is so because I say so,” then as Gene indicated we have returned to Rome. Our liberty of conscience has been violated, our Christian civility, too, if indeed the truth of Scripture has been shielded by a priesthood of so called academics. Isn’t this, as it is with Page’s complaints, what is really at issue? If Page sinned, and his sin is willful ignorance and claiming erudition, and a crime then perpetrated upon the unsuspecting, trusting pew sitters by that claim, then revival rests with him, and men like him, repenting. Surely a burden, to be responsible for the fall of so many, surely a burden to fall before God in repentance if the shame is a shame that cannot be abandoned to the discipline of the Father for the fear of the condemnation of men. But, what kind of man refuses? An illegitimate son? An actor? Surely these men are faithful brethren, ordained, respected, incapable of such. Of course they are, it is the Calvinist that is the usurper who hides behind the credentialing, his ill-intent. We all know that right? Surely, the men who have stood for several generations as stalwarts of the tradition are right and true. To say otherwise- blasphemy, unfair, simply impertinent- to suggest that the revered among us have prostituted their call for gain, not possible.

    Accountability is what is not being done. What good is an Ethics board in the SBC that cannot call (or be called) to account those people known to falsify, people known to accuse others of heresy? Where is the application of Matthew 18 between members of the SBC, between member churches? Gene knows what I speak of, because he believed me to have accused him of things that I did not even know that I was guilty of until, he told me what I was doing. I am insignificant though, without prestige. God has protected me. I wonder if it is not that it is praise of men that keeps men from their appointment with the accountant. And, I wonder if it is not that we have removed from ourselves church discipline so far, that there is no longer any way to exercise it. Then again, if we reinstitute it, who will carry it out, and who would want to be subjected to it?

    Andrew at SBF carries a beginning look at limited atonement. Why is it that we cannot come to an exegetical certainty? Where are the councils? Is Sam Waldron a heretic? I want to know, and if not, Falwellites and the like, Page, the Caners, Graham et cetera, who say so by associating his doctrine with heresy, must apologize, or prove their case, or shut up.

    In the end we will have to deal with the reemergence of the heresy of Molinism. We will have to counter other forms of open-theism, as Gene mention Landmarkism, the emergent post-modernism and many other things. Our fluidity, our uncertainty will be our undoing if an answer is not soon in coming forward. Otherwise we will be as a house built upon sand. The storm clouds are on the horizon and if we are warring within our camp have not settled upon the sure foundation, we can be assured that we will be swept away with the rains. Take heed, Paul warned that the day will come when each man’s work will be tested by fire to see if it was good or evil. Better to judge ourselves, now, than to wait for that Day.

  • Yes, Thomas, we’re frozen in down here today. Snowed about an inch where I am, I hear more in parts East. Billy might have gotten more than us. Two days ago, freezing rain and snow pelted us. At least it’s water. I’d like to see at least an inch before the month is out – been praying every day for rain for the Southeast. We’re at about .78 for the month here so far; the norm is 1.8. PLEASE PRAY FOR RAIN. Thank the Lord for helping the folks in the East. A lot of those places that got more snow than we did here today are on farms that have been devastated by the drought.

  • If I may interject:

    Not all non-Calvinists hold libertarian free will.

    I just had to point that out.

  • Stephen,

    I’ll agree with you on that point, but the problem there is that someone is defining themselves by what they are not. In other words, a person says, “I’m a non-Calvinist, and I don’t hold to libertarian free will.” Then yes, you are telling us something, but via negativa does not really tell anyone anything other than who you are or what you believe in light of someone else you disagree with. Make sense?

    Just come and say it: You are not a Calvinist or an Arminian . . . you’re a Baptist! 😉

  • Just come and say it: You are not a Calvinist or an Arminian . . . you’re a Baptist!

    Sho’ nuff. 😉

    But seriously, I just wanted to point out (and probably should have made that clear) a rare flaw in Gene’s argumentation where he says:

    The non-Calvinist, semi-Arminian, whatever you wish to call him, always and invariably invokes libertarian free will, elsewse known as libertarian action theory or LFW.

    This is simply not true. We had classes with plenty of non-Calvinists who don’t hold LFW, and remember that Dr. Ware is the same way? It may be true of some of the most outspoken objectors to Calvinism (i.e. Yarnell, Caner & Co.), but by no means is it always the viewpoint of the non-Calvinist.

    And if it be not enough to simiply point out that flaw, but I must lay my theological cards out on the table (where have I heard that before? 😉 ), I think the biblical view of the will is that it is enslaved to sin. Slaves have no rights, do they not? Therefore they can make no choices not first granted by their master, meaning every choice is tainted by sin if not flat-out sin driven.

    The regenerate will is still enslaved, only this time to Christ, if Paul’s remarks about himself are to be taken as a barometer of such matters. Our will has changed masters, and is in the process of being brought into subjection to our new master (that is, sanctification). What our formerly corrupted will cannot currently deal with is that our new master grants us freedom that was formerly unavailable, which we have no idea how to handle unless we submit to our new master in all things. That’s why we still sin; it’s like a child stumbling and falling as it learns to walk, then run.

    Basically put, we are lifelong slaves who never have any rights of our own that are not granted to us; we simply change masters.

    Interestingly, this view of the will makes election even more sensible, since a slave can’t “choose” his master; rather the master chooses the slave.

    When I explained it to my wife this way, that was the first time she “got” unconditional election. That was a fun day!

  • Oh, by the way, right around the time of Building Bridges I heard the term “molinism” being thrown around a lot, then the term got its 15 minutes during BB. All I got to say about that is from what I’ve read of it so far, it’s just…weird. :p

  • Stephen,

    I would say that Dr. Ware is in a very small, and albeit odd, theological camp, arguing for compatibilist middle knowledge. The only other person I know who has written about this in print is Terrance Tiessen (Providence and Prayer). They basically use the Molinist model and simply replace libertarian free will with freedom of inclination. I think the majority of those in the Reformed camp will not find this model useful or a better (or more biblical) model of providence. Tiessen, however, I believe, considers himself to be a five-point Calvinist while Dr. Ware as a multiple-intent view of the atonment (though not exactly Amyraldianism).

    The more I looked over Dr. Page’s book on free will, the more convinced I am that he is neither Arminian or Calvinist but semi-Pelagian. When speaking of accepting or rejecting Christ, both which a sinner can do (power of contrary choice), he makes no argument for being influenced or aided by grace. For the Arminian, prevenient grace is necessary to overcome the effects of the Fall and enable one to believe, though it is synergistic (you cooperating with God). For the Calvinist, irresisitlb egrace is necessary and provided by regeneration wherein a sinner’s will is renewed through the new covenant promise (I will give you a new heart and cause you to walk in my ways . . .). HOWEVER, Dr. Page presents the case that a sinner, although affected by sin, can still accept Christ on his own, without the grace of God. I don’t see how this cannnot be a semi-Pelagian position, which is far more man-glorifying than Arminian man-centered theology. But, according to Dr. Page, his position of biblical understanding of salvation, is the right one to take. God forbid!

  • Stephen, you wrote:

    But seriously, I just wanted to point out (and probably should have made that clear) a rare flaw in Gene’s argumentation where he says:

    The non-Calvinist, semi-Arminian, whatever you wish to call him, always and invariably invokes libertarian free will, elsewse known as libertarian action theory or LFW.

    This is simply not true. We had classes with plenty of non-Calvinists who don’t hold LFW, and remember that Dr. Ware is the same way? It may be true of some of the most outspoken objectors to Calvinism (i.e. Yarnell, Caner & Co.), but by no means is it always the viewpoint of the non-Calvinist.

    By way of reply, I’m only taking addressing the objection in the terms it supplied, which was using Dr.Page as his foil. He’s a Libertarian.

    Here’s the problem, the “non-Calvinists” don’t want to be labeled “Arminians.” but, they, with the exception of the Amyraldians, whom I’m willing to include under the general term “Reformed” since they do stand within that sphere, disavow irresistible grace, and you can only do that, like it or not, from a platform of LFW.

    The term “non-Calvinist,” you see gets shifted around a great deal. They tell us what they aren’t, not what they are. Frankly, I find that duplicitous at worst, intellectually unstable at best.

    As to the issue of LFW, well, go to my blog and search for posts to Henry and Robert on the freedom of the will. He’s one of those, “I don’t believe in LFW” people, but, when you pin him down, he invariably invokes LFW. That’s my point. At some point, all of these people, with the exception of the Amyraldians, wind up doing it. Like Henry and Robert, they try to blend together two utterly incongruent action theories and then, because they wish to make “free will” of the agent that which either/or (or both/and) grounds the foreknowledge of God with respect to our futures or the possible worlds from which he could choose (as in Molinism) or simply makes the difference between who believes and who does not, they wind up falling into de facto LFW. They’ve just equivocated over it and abused it several times. They have tried to go, by the way, the route of some 19th century libertarians, to whom the reply was made that, no matter how they tried to do this, it would invariably result in simple libertarianism. See:


    For example, Robert disavows the notion of uncaused choice, yet he has no doctrine of Arminian prevenient grace, and he rejects the very idea of an effectual calling, so he’s left with an intellectually confused position. He can only deny effectual calling on a platform of LFW, but in doing so, he commits himself to the notion of uncaused choices.

    FYI, both you and Timmy, Dr. Thiessen discussed his view of Molinism with Steve, Turretinfan, and Greg Welty on T-blog awhile back.

    See: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/09/middle-knowledge-truth-makers-and.html

    I posted it on behalf of TF. The thread went to 72 posts, but I think it’s very useful for understanding Thiessen’s position.

    The bottom line with his view is that it will reduce to natural knowledge, no matter how you cut it. Molinism is designed to uphold LFW, once you drop LFW, it’s no longer a theory of “Middle Knowledge,” because MK is predicated upon LFW, not CFW. The question to be answered is “What grounds God’s knowledge.” The Molinist says, “Man’s choices.” IN Reformed theology, and I would argue classical theism, God’s foreknowledge is a species of His self-knowledge (ergo, “natural knowledge”), He knows what He knows about us because He knows His decree.

    Another, often overlooked problem is that, while the Calvinist can stipulate that some elements of the final decree of this world are predicated on our responses to circumstances, grace, etc. (we have no problem with a broad idea of “cooperation” in our theology of agency or foreknoweledge), we have a problem with the idea that God chooses worlds out of “possible worlds” like items on a buffet. Where do these items come from if not God’s own mind? He has to decree them for them exist, even if only as “possibilities.” Any actions we take in those “possible worlds” would only be the result of His decree of such a world. So, he’s not choosing to decree from a group of “possible worlds” anything that He did not design and create. A theory of “Middle Knowledge”that involves God dong that runs afoul of the independence of God, which is why I can’t understand why men of any theological persuasion would put forth such a theory. The Libertarian who holds this theory must deny classical Christian theism to do so, for CCT holds that the first non communicable attribute of God is what? His independence. If God is GROUNDING His foreknowledge in our choices, then He is made dependent on those choices in some manner, thereby attacking the independence of God.

    The BIGGEST problem with Molinism is that it’s greatest proponents (like William Lane Craig) say candidly it has little exegetical warrant and is mostly philosophical. In fact, the texts that they invoke only show that God knows counterfactuals (eg. what would happen if x and not y occurs). Nobody denies this. Rather, we deny that He knows this because of LFW choices; rather He knows this because He knows what He chose to decree and what He chose not to decree. It’s like if I wrote a book and a character asked me, “What if Bob does x?” Even knowing I had chosen to have Bod do y, I could look at my book, and, because I wrote the book, know that if I changed what Bob did from y to x then z would be the outcome. So, the reason I know z would be the outcome does not depend on Bob being a libertarian agent. It only depends on me knowing my book, eg. what I would have to change if I decided to have Bob do x and not y. So, my foreknowledge displayed to my asking character would be a species of my own self knowledge, which, in theological terms is what we call natural knowledge. “Middle knowledge” is therefore, superfluous, which is why Dr. Ware’s position amounts to a redundancy.

  • Gene,

    Thanks, man, I see now where you were coming from.

    As for middle knowledge, I learned quickly through discussing with a good friend (also a UPSer, there seems to be a lot of that these days, Timmy) that I couldn’t really hold it. As we were discussing it that night he said to me something that has stuck with me since: “I don’t think there is any future to know until God declares it!” That statement made so much sense I dropped middle knowledge that night.

    I do, however, still hold “freedom of inclination.” It makes sense of why we still sin despite now being enslaved to Christ — our will hasn’t been totally subjected to Christ just yet and the old inclination to sin continues to hold sway from time to time. When I phrased Paul’s injunction to “bring his body into subjection to Christ” in this way (bring my inclinations into subjection) it made sense.

    But I still think the will isn’t truly “free” in the sense non-Reformed seem to want to argue; after all, we’re slaves, aren’t we? That freedom of inclination is still a freedom that has to be granted by our master!

  • Wow,

    “middle knowledge”– I’m impressed. For all the SB theologians names being tossed around here, I hardly expect to find William Lane Craig’s heavy-t term among us popbloggers.

    As much as a middle knowledge view of predestination goes, it is not another factor to consider in a way around compatibilism, CFW, or even determinism, if you will. The middle knowledge concept attempts to explain a LFW, incompatibilist point of view, an avenue where it could work while preserving God’s sovereignty. So, we are still left with arguing wether or not we have LFW in the first place.

    I have not heard many theologians make a distinction between free will pertaining to salvation and free will pertaining to everything else. I think the issue of salvation (necessitated through conversion) is a category unto itself. With everything else, it is reasonable to think that we have LFW.

    Well, I’ve fairly blathered my way into a lonely wing of the issue…Frank Page–another misconstrual of Reformed Theology, yes. Good work. 😛

  • Letitia,

    I think to make things more simple, we have to work between the positions that espouse indeterminism and determinism. Middle-knowledge, or Molinism, is by nature of LFW, an indeterminist position whereby the final cause or determining factor is not God but man, even if God knew all counter-factuals or alternative worlds. Soft determinism, considered as compatibilism, is the position where I believe you will find most if not all Calvinists–in that human beings have free will, a will that is based on their affections and inclinations so that they do exactly what they want to do. Those who hold to LFW argue that a persons decisions is utterly arbitrary and not grounded in anything. The grounding objection to Molinism has been well argued by others. Anyway, I don’t want to get too deep in the woods. 🙂

  • Ah, Augustine lives…

  • That’s right, I forgot: we Reformed and almost-Reformed are spiritual recluses.

  • I am not sure if there were any woods where Augustine lived. Perhaps I should have said we should not get swept away by the Nile . . .

    or something like that. 🙂

  • Sjoerd de Boer

    As a non-baptist Calvinist and a strait-liner of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands who stated in the Canons of Dordt as a REACTION on the five points of the REMONSTRANTS (followers of Arminius who derived these points from Arminius AFTER his death and went further than Arminius himself) the five points of the Reformed faith, DERIVED from Calvin’s doctrine of election, I would like to encourage everyone to study the Canons of Dordt (including the rejections of the errors of the Remonstrants) AND the church history in that period (the two first decades of 1600).
    There is an excellent and extensive lecture to find on http://www.sermonaudio.com by Dr. Ferris Griswold, a Reformed Baptist (so don’t worry that this is an attempt to convince you to become a Presbyterian) under the title “The Arminian Controversy”.
    I noticed, when I came to the US, that this subject is a hot topic here in the Baptist Churches, where I expected it to be the least. I have to tell you with shame that in many Dutch Churches today this document lies deep tucked away under a thick layer of dust. And in a great deal of the Presbyterian Churches this subject is totally irrelevant for the reality of today, so it seems.
    I also noticed that the doctrine of election here in the US is often misrepresented by both sides and abused. in a sense of who is right and who is wrong. Many loose their heads in fights about who should have the power in the Church.
    If there is anything that I would like to say, and this is actually the reason why I make this comment, we have to be careful with these doctrines!! In the Canons of Dordt we can hear foremost PASTORS, rather than coldhearted desk-theologians. Let me finish this comment with the words of the Canons (1st head of Doctrine, art.14):
    “As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God was declared by the prophets, by Christ Himself, and by the apostles, and is clearly revealed in the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, so it still to be published in DUE TIME AND PLACE in the Church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed, provided it be done with REVERENCE, in the spirit of DISCRETION and PIETY, for the GLORY of God’s most holy Name, and for ENLIVENING and COMFORTING His people, WITHOUT vainly attempting to investigate the secret ways of the Most High”…….
    So please, never go into battle with a dull ax or walk around as bull a China shop and finally, never forget: the battle is the Lord’s, for it is about His Glory

    May God bless you all

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