[Whether and How to Debate Calvinism]
[Does Calvinism Matter?]
Calvinistic theology is much broader than its distinctive doctrine of salvation. But for the purposes of this series, I will limit my comments to implications of the Calvinistic doctrines of salvation, the human will, and divine providence, since those are the aspects of Calvinism most often debated. Others have done an excellent job defending the doctrine of election and the five points of Calvinism. If you're interested in books on Calvinism, I recommend The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin Palmer for a basic introduction, The Five Points of Calvinism by Steele, Thomas and Quinn for an intermediate introduction, and The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner [This is a man, though his first name might make you think otherwise; his last name is pronounced Bet-ner] for a thorough defense of Calvinism.
This series will attempt to show some of the reasons Calvinism matters both theologically and practically and thus why it is worth defending and advancing among Southern Baptists.
Calvinism is found in the Bible. The first and most obvious reason Calvinism matters is that it is found in the Bible. The words “elect” and “election” appear 18 times in the Bible, while “predestined” is found 5 times. The terms “chosen,” "choose," and “chose” occur almost 200 times, though many don't refer to saving election. Thus, the Bible itself is the reason for this current debate among Southern Baptists. We must not sideline these truths or pretend that they do not matter (Titus 1:9; 2:1, 15). We must be faithful exegetes who clearly articulate and advance all the Bible teaches (Acts 20:20, 27). To suggest that election does not matter, is insignificant, or may be marginalized for pragmatic reasons is to suggest that God put insignificant or unimportant teachings in His Word. We do not have the right to neglect any portion of what God has written.
The doctrine of election is not buried in obscure places of the Bible. The book of Ephesians, for example, leads with the doctrine of predestination. Paul begins his great letter by showing that all of salvation is rooted in God's Trinitarian electing love. He writes:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory" (Eph 1:3-11).The doctrine of predestination is also at the heart of Paul's theological treatise to the Romans (Rom 9:6-24), and it is one of the diamonds shining in Moses's theological treatise in the Old Testament (Deut 7:6-8; 29:4; 30:6).
Because divine election is taught in the Bible, historic Baptists always recognized that Calvinism matters. The English Baptists were divided into two groups that identified themselves by whether or not they were Calvinists: General Baptists were non-Calvinists who affirmed a “general atonement” for all mankind and Particular Baptists were Calvinists who affirmed a “particular atonement” for the elect only. Historic American Baptists, however, were predominantly Calvinists. Both the Regular Baptists of the Charleston stream and the Separate Baptists of the Sandy Creek stream affirmed God's unconditional election of sinners to salvation. Both of these Calvinistic streams flowed out of the larger Reformed river that formed the Southern Baptist Convention.
Calvinism supports the doctrine of inerrancy. One of the ironies of the current debate in the SBC is that it is taking place between conservatives who stood together in defense of the biblical doctrine of inerrancy against liberalism. I submit that Calvinism matters in the defense of biblical inerrancy because only Calvinism has a doctrine of the human will that can account for an inerrant Bible.
2 Peter 1:20-21 speaks of the Bible's inspiration. “Knowing this first of all that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The recent “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation” says “We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options).” But if the authors of Scripture possessed “the ability to choose between two options,” then on what basis may we be absolutely certain the words they wrote in Scripture were the words God intended them to write? Is it not possible, if not probable, that if the authors of Scripture had “the ability to choose between two options,” then at times they might have chosen the wrong words?
Thankfully, Scripture is clear that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). The human authors of Scripture had a kind of free will that is consistent with divine determination, such that the words they wrote were the very words God intended them to write, while they still wrote freely from the perspective of their unique personalities, writing styles and experiences. In his classic work, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, B.B. Warfield wrote, "The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by His power to the goal of His choosing. The things which they spoke under this operation of the Spirit were therefore His things, not theirs." Only a Calvinistic understanding of the human will can account for such inspiration.
So, Calvinism matters because of the Bible. The next post will deal with why Calvinism matters in evangelism and missions.