Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the Executive Committee, has up until this time chosen not to address the pressing issue of the forced resignation of Clark Logan; however, he has taken up another topic stemming from his convention “report”—Calvinism. His strange and categorically inaccurate views of those who hold to the doctrines of grace have been slightly edited in his most recent article entitled “Clarification of Intent.” What I would like to do is revisit what he originally said, interact with his “clarification”, and offer the correct view of Calvinists using exclusively Baptist sources from both historical and contemporary advocates to make my case (in three separate posts).
I have been accused of creating a caricature or a “straw-man” of Calvinism with the phrase, “without a faith response on the part of man.” It has been said that no Calvinist in the Southern Baptist Convention would affirm the idea as I stated it. The background of my comments comes from a lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists.
In almost breathtaking manner, Chapman defends his caricature of Calvinism with a postmodern epistemological construct (“my lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists”). Not facts, not objective truths, not biblical warrant, but personal or existential testimony. The veracity of his assertions extends no further than his commentary of Southern Baptists in general–quite a slippery slope no doubt. The concluding remarks in my third post, I believe, will show that biblical exegesis and historical attestation expose Chapman’s personal analysis as severely lacking in substance and tainted with incredulity.
Do As I Say, But . . .
In the Executive Committee convention “report,” Chapman took liberty (as he has done in the past), to speak openly about Calvinism. I find this to be a rather bold move. You see, Chapman in 2006 strongly admonished any pastor talking about Calvinism in their churches, arguing that it belongs in academia, not in the local church; and yet Chapman has the luxury to do the very thing he admonishes others of not doing—even under the cover of an Executive Committee “report.” Furthermore, Chapman went so far as to say that spending time talking about Calvinism “distracts us from fulfilling the Great Commission.” At a time when Southern Baptists are praying toward a Great Commission Resurgence, Chapman’s most egregious statements against Calvinism are on public display, not only as a distraction from the Great Commission, but also serving as ammunition for the uninformed anti-Calvinism, of which Chapman is in part responsible for perpetuating. Simply put, it is do as I say, not as I do.
A second matter of duplicity comes with Chapman’s comments pitting a high commitment to theology against a high commitment to the Great Commission. It was striking to hear him divorce doctrine from Jesus, as though it is possible to understand Jesus apart from a doctrinal understanding from His Word. While downplaying doctrine in his convention report, Chapman responds in his “clarification” by playing up doctrine to defend his comments. When in Louisville, Chapman spoke pejoratively about “idle arguments” regarding the atonement and election; three weeks later, he launches into a grammatical argumentation (of Ephesians 2:8) not to be found in a missions manual but a doctoral dissertation–all in an effort to provide clarification with “more technical precision.” Sounds like theological talk to me. 🙂 Is Chapman again doing the very thing he’s exhorting others not to do, or is he realizing the vital importance of having a robust, sound theology wedded to a passion for the Great Commission?
Chapman’s Caricature at the Convention
In his convention report, Chapman said,
“The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.”
This resurgence, one must assume, is the rise of Calvinism in the SBC. The problem, however, is that he is equating a belief of hyper-Calvinism with Calvinism, arguing that Calvinists do not hold to human responsibility or a person’s exercise of faith in trusting Christ. Since this is the main point of his clarification, I will address it more fully in my second post. It should be noted now, however, that this conflation of Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism surfaces both in his interview with Lemke as well as his clarification. In the interview with Lemke, Chapman gives his understanding for the resurgence of Calvinism, asserting:
“An additional reason for the resurgence of Calvinism is that a wide-open Arminianism under the guise of Open Theism must be refuted. Generally, where a heresy surfaces its closest theological polar opposites will appear and gain a relatively wide following” (emphasis mine).
Chapman is implying that the polar opposite of the heresy of Open Theism is that of Calvinism. If anything, the polar opposite of Open Theism is Hyper-Calvinism or even fatalism, not Calvinism. Nor can it be equated as a “heresy.” This kind of language and labeling is woefully problematic and unhelpful. In his “Clarification,” Chapman inserts the four points of Iain Murray’s analysis in Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism without skipping a beat when referring to Calvinism. He clearly does not see the difference and projects the errors of Hyper-Calvinism upon Calvinism.
Chapman goes on to add that
“some are given to explain away the ‘whosoever will’ of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, ‘For by grace are you saved through faith’ (Eph. 2:8)?”
Now exactly who he is referring to, you guess is as good as mine. But here’s the deal. Romans 10:13 and John 3:16 do not address how anyone ever believes. Calvinists not only embrace these verses but also the rest of Scripture that shed light on how the “whosoever” wills to believe. It is not that Calvinists explain away any of these texts; it’s that Chapman does not explain at all what the entirety of Scripture says about saving faith. There’s so much more the Bible says about salvation that Chapman is apparently not willing to address (such as the fallen nature of man, regeneration, effectual calling, etc.).
Not only does Chapman believe Calvinists do injustice to texts of Scripture, he adds that such a view works contrary to the Great Commission. He writes,
“The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.”
Again, it should be stated that no Calvinist holds to “sovereignty alone” if what he means is no human responsibility is in view. I’m taking Chapman, according to his perception of the “resurgence” to be that of Calvinists, however incorrect it may be. When you read a comment like this, you have to wonder if Chapman has ever read Carey’s Enquiry or Fuller’s Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. Has he learned of men like Jesse Mercer and Adoniram Judson? Furthermore, if Calvinism is indeed seeing great resurgence in our time, according to Chapman’s argument, there should be a corresponding decline in missionaries sent, churches planted, and overall gospel-centered living. But does he know that the two largest sending seminaries (SEBTS and SBTS) are largely Calvinistic? Should those serving on the mission field be queried about the most influential mission texts, I dare say the majority of them would say John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Piper is a Calvinist for those who do not know). The leading church planting networks in North America are doctrinally Reformed (see Acts 29 and Redeemer Church Planting Network). Clearly, the statements and logic of Chapman are not only incongruous with Baptist history, they do not represent the concurrent passions for the gospel and mission found among those in the Reformed resurgence.
Finally, Chapman boldly proclaims,
If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In one sense, I totally agree with Chapman. The doctrines of grace should lead us to love the gospel and seek to share it with sacrificial lives. Those who embrace grace should be the chief dispensers of that grace in word and deed. For as long as I have been involved in Southern Baptist life, I have rarely seen a time where Calvinists were not marginalized, preached against, misrepresented, and policed by denominational leaders from convention pulpits. I have done the research and documented the events within the Calvinism controversy in recent years, and almost every situation has been non-Calvinists or anti-Calvinists on the offense. It is not Calvinists bringing the debate or driving the argument. Calvinists simply don’t want to be misrepresented, just as Chapman has done here.
It is encouraging to see the maturity and renewed commitment to unity among Calvinists and non-Calvinists together for the Great Commission. Men like Danny Akin, Frank Page, and Johnny Hunt on the non-Calvinist side, and Tom Ascol, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler on the Calvinist side, have exhibited the kind of grace that not only calls men to be reconciled to God, but also brothers in Christ to be reconciled to one another. I pray that Morris Chapman embraces such a spirit and seeks to foster reconciliation in not just for the lost world, but for the Southern Baptist Convention as well.