SBC and Calvinism: The Point of No Return

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pe 3:9 NKJV)

This post is going to be very simple and relatively short. God is either “lonsuffering toward us” or He is not. He is either “not willing that ANY should perish” or He is not. Here is something that really troubles me in my spirit. I really do hate the issue of the divide that calvinism is causing in the SBC. I have been accused of “hating my brothers in Christ” because I disagree with the implications and ramifications of this issue and its relevance in our convention. Nothing could be further from the truth. This has no personal aspects to it whatsoever. I do not “hate anyone” because of their position with respect to calvinism or any other issue that I am aware of.

Here is question that I would love for someone to answer. Either God is the One who solely determines who is or is not saved or His decision on my eternity is based on my decision with respect to Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. Either God decides who spends eternity in heaven or His decision is based on my decision. The latter in no way diminishes God’s sovereignty because that is an impossibility! God is ALWAYS sovereign because He says He is. This fact does not mean that God cannot base His decision on my decision and that does not elevate free-will to some position over God as has been argued on several occasions.

My question is this: At best, one of these two positions is true and the other false. It is entirely possible that BOTH could be wrong but one thing is absolutely true: both of these positions cannot be correct. Given that premise, how can a calvinist be so critical of my position that theirs does not fit 2 Peter 3:9 when they are in effect saying at least indirectly that their theological position is to correct the inerrant theology of the majority of Southern Baptists and it is clear that they are doing just that?

The calvinist does not like my position any more than I like his but there is this cry for unity when it is obvious to anyone that has eyes to see or ears to hear that neither group wants the other group dictating and directing the theological tenets that will help determine the future direction of the SBC. If one of us is wrong in our portrayal of the character of God, how can either plead for unity when deep down, the divide that separates us is as important to one group as it is to the other?

I believe the SBC is going to have to determine which side it wants to stand on, where the issue of calvinism in the SBC is concerned. The issue has escalated, like it or not, to a winner take all position and it is time for that decision to be made. If the SBC continues to sit on the sidelines and let the current direction continue, the decision will be made for the SBC and the people will one day very soon sit asking, “How on earth did this happen!”

We cannot co-exist as a denomination at this point. Those leading the resurgence of calvinism have taken this issue to a no-return position and one side will ultimately emerge as the predominate theological position and that is now inevitable and irreversible.

May God bless the SBC and its future.

Bob Hadley, Pastor Westside Baptist Church Daytona Beach, Fl.

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The BF&M 2000 and Calvinism Revisited!

The relevance of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is garnering a lot of attention today. Its popularity has soared in the last few years as the revival of Calvinism has found fertile ground in the entities of the SBC. A lot of attention has been focused on the diversity that is contained in the BF&M 2000 and the relevance of Calvinist leanings in the document. In fact, depending on who one talks to today, there are a growing number of references to the BF&M 2000 as being a Reformed document simply because Al Mohler was one of the fifteen members of a committee charged with the mission of re-writing the newer document. Someone recently made a comment to me personally that the committee relied heavily on Dr. Mohler “to work out the specific wording of the revisions from the BF&M 1963.” His take was basically Dr. Mohler’s presence on the committee completely overshadowed the other members and his obvious qualifications and expertise were relied on for the re-write. This individual concluded that this ought not to come as a shock to anyone.

At question is the reference to regeneration in Section 4 on Salvation. Calvinists begin with what they call total depravity or total inability which says that man is dead in his sin and he is enslaved to a sin nature that he has inherited from Adam. Not only does man inherit a sin nature which the BF&M 2000 acknowledges, Calvinists maintain that man inherits Adam’s guilt and is therefore guilty of Adam’s sin as well as his own and in order for him to even respond to the gospel, he must be given a new nature, a new heart or he must be born again so that he can then repent and exercise believing or saving faith. Consider the following quotes:

“A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved.” (Lorainne Boetner) “We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again that we may believe.” (John Piper) “Faith is the evidence of the new birth, not the cause of it.” (RC Sproul) “the revived [regenerated] heart repents and trusts Christ in saving faith as the only source of justification.” (ESV Study Bible, 2531.) [for a complete reference to the quotes above, see Dr. David Allen’s comments from his presentation at the John 3:16 Conference in Atlanta by clicking here. http://sbctoday.com/2013/05/15/dr-david-l-allen-2013-john-316-presentation-part-13/

As seen in the statements referenced above, Calvinists for the most part see faith as the evidence of the new birth; we are born again to believe and the most egregious statement, A man is not saved because he believes in Christ, he believes in Christ because he is saved! For most Calvinists, regeneration takes place and is initiated by God and by Him alone giving a lost man his salvation, period. It is God and God alone that decides who will and will not be saved; it is God and God alone who decides who will go to heaven and by default is solely responsible for determining who will die and spend eternity in hell. Here is the most amazing part of this discussion. These Calvinists are saying that this theology is consistent with the BF&M 2000 and because that is the adopted position of the SBC these guys deserve to teach in the seminaries of the SBC and serve in the entities of the SBC and they are actively seeking to grab hold of every ounce of influence their positions will allow and then some.

How does the BF&M 2000 justify being called a Reformed document? Where in the BF&M 2000 is this notion that men do not believe to be save but are saved to believe?

Section IV of the BF&M 2000 says the following about Salvation:

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

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

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.”

Consider the first sentence, “Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” Salvation is “offered freely to all who accept Christ as Lord and Savior.” When an average person reads this statement, he sees God offering salvation to all and while one can read this sentence correctly that way, it can also be read with the emphasis on “all who believe.” Calvinists believe that those who believe are those who have been regenerated or effectually called to salvation and once that takes place, repentance and believing or saving faith automatically follow. So it is fair to say that this statement can “swing both ways.”

Look at the next phrase: “who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” This statement is Calvinist leaning but in a way that someone not familiar with the nuances of the specific issues would not notice. Basically Calvinists will point to this statement saying “Jesus’ death on the cross obtained eternal redemption for the elect, who are those who believe.” The BF&M 2000 does definitely allow for that interpretation. Look at the next statement: “In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.” The 1963 statement leaves out “justification.” It read, “In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, sanctification, and glorification.” In the 63 statement, regeneration and justification were seen as basically the same thing; regeneration being “born-again” which is what justification accomplishes. So by adding justification, a distinction was made in the 2000 document and the Calvinists point to this distinction to say that regeneration precedes justification in the BF&M 2000, which is perhaps the most distinguishing mark of Calvinism.

Move on down to Section A: Regeneration. The wording of this section is unchanged with the exception of the final statement in the 63 version dealing with justification is now a separate Section B of its own, with no change in the language.

“Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” No problem right? Well maybe and maybe not. A work of God’s grace sounds so sweet to the Baptist ear that loves Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound. I have heard this hymn affectionately referred to as the National Anthem of Baptists. So being born again is a work of God’s grace. Amen. Calvinists and their Doctrines of Grace love it as well. Regeneration is a work of God’s grace where believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. This has tremendous implications where Calvinism is concerned. Through regeneration the lost person becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. It is a work of God’s grace and not of man’s doing at all. It is amazing how words can be written that seem to say one thing to someone who is not familiar with the unique nuances of a particular theology and then as the theology is explained those nuances jump out in full view.

Here is perhaps the most detrimental statement in the confession. “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Calvinists read this verse and say, “regeneration is a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit to which the sinner THEN responds in repentance and faith in Jesus and is justified or converted.” The non-Calvinist will read the statement in this way: “regeneration or being born again is a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit through the conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus and is saved.” The non-Calvinist sees “to which the sinner responds in repentance” referring to the work of the Holy Spirit that convicts men of sin while the Calvinist sees “to which the sinner responds in repentance” referring directly to regeneration that is a “change of heart” and they gloss over the convicting of sins because regeneration will automatically cause one to see his sin as God see it and he will naturally as a new creature repent.

At this point, the Calvinists have more than a leg to stand on in this debate that the BF&M 2000 leaves room for both the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist to both work together and to vie for leadership positions in the entities of the convention and to seek to influence the theological tenets for the future of the SBC.

There is a statement in the BF&M 2000 dealing with this issue of regeneration the Calvinists are overlooking. It is found in Section 2 C “God the Holy Spirit.”

Here is what this statement says:

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the
Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ.”

Note the following statement: “He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration.” Ok this is an interesting statement. Since there seems to be a good deal of confusion about just what regeneration means in the later section, perhaps this earlier statement will clear up the ambiguity in the later statement.

Here is the most damaging statement for the Calvinist position in the whole of the BF&M 2000: “At the moment of regeneration He (The Holy Spirit) baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” There is no ambiguity in this statement. Here regeneration is clearly identified as conversion and justification. Regeneration is not the cause and effect of repentance and believing and saving faith; regeneration is the result of repentance and saving faith because at regeneration the Holy Spirit baptizes first of all, “every believer” and then “every believer into the Body of Christ.” This statement is as clear as one can be. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit takes place at regeneration and the unregenerate becomes a “believer.” Repentance and believing faith have already taken place because they are essential to becoming a believer, which is what this statement says. Second, the indwelling Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ.

Here is the final keg in the coffin for the SBC Calvinist . This sentence, “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ” was added to the BF&M 2000 statement! It is not part of the 63 statement. So while Calvinists attempt to argue that the BF&M 2000 is a move back to historic Calvinism, this addition by itself negates the more ambiguous statements dealing with the timing of regeneration in the salvific process as presented in section IV on Salvation.

Perhaps it is time for trustees of the various entities to revisit the adherence to the BF&M 2000 that has been trumpeted as the fix all for the Calvinist revival in the SBC and see how they stand on “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” Perhaps this is the statement that may hold the most hope for a renewed perspective on the BF&M 2000 and its relevance for the 21st century.

Calvinism in the SBC and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000

Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary takes a look at the BF&M 2000 and attempt to makes the case that it affirms what is known in theological circles as “original sin.” When the average person hears the phrase “original sin” most think of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. Nettles’ use of “original sin” is far more reaching than that. In Nettles’ treatment of “original sin”, he sees Adam’s guilt being passed on to every generation, which lays claim to much more than man’s “inclination to sin” as stated in the BF&M 2000. The Bible does clearly establish the fact that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Ro. 3:23) and it goes on the further say, “the wages of sin is death.” (Ro. 6:23) However, Nettles’ contention that the Bible clearly states that men are “born condemned for their sin and are therefore dead” is another matter. This tenet is absolutely essential to the Reformed Theology position. Nettles’ article can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

Nettles quotes the Abstract Principles, which he notes was the founding theological confession of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. According to Nettles, The Abstract speaks to “original sin” as it says, “his [Adam’s] posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.” He then goes on to quote the BF&M 2000 which obviously reflects some similarity to the Abstract as it says, “his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” Nettles proceeds to note the similarities but fails to note the differences that are significant, especially where the respective documents differ on the issue of “original sin.”

Nettles writes, “The phrase ‘nature and environment inclined toward sin’ [the environment is, not trees and mountains, but people, rational moral beings, already involved in the course of sinfulness before God] views men as already sinful and transgressing. The fact that, according to the Bible, there never has been and never will be an individual born from Adam’s vine who does not sin, argues for an explanation of universal depravity, that is, a propensity that necessarily produces sin. Does such a moral propensity not involve real guilt?”

Nettles accurately points out that the Bible clearly establishes the fact that all men are sinners. Nettles however goes on to equate this fact with his supposition that all me are “already (born) sinful and transgressing.” He then takes another unwarranted step as he incorrectly associates all men being sinners as being “an explanation for universal depravity,” which he says is a “propensity that necessarily produces sin.” Here Nettles attempts to turn things around a bit. He uses the Scriptural fact that all men are sinners to say that all men are dead spiritually and that this is the “propensity that necessarily produces sin.” So men sin because they are spiritually dead and as dead men they cannot not sin. There is a serious problem with that supposition; it is not borne out by the text. This concept has to be read into the text.

Note Nettles’ next assertion, “Does such a moral depravity not involve real guilt?” Basically Nettles is saying A equals B and b equals C and because those are true D equals E and F equals G. It is fine to attempt to connect the dots as Nettles has done and draw the conclusions he has drawn, but that is not the case presented by the Scriptures themselves nor is it the position proffered by the BF&M 2000.

While Nettles points to the joint language in the two confessions related to man’s “inheriting an inclination toward sin” he fails to note the significant differences. The Abstract says, “his [Adam’s] posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.” The BF&M 2000 states, “his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” Note the differences. The BF&M 2000 says that men “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” The Abstract says men “inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation.” While it is certainly true that a nature “corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law” would accurately describe a nature “inclined to sin” it is not automatically true that the reverse of that is likewise accurate: a nature “inclined to sin” is not necessarily a nature “wholly opposed to God and His Law.” The two phrases CAN BE interpreted in the same way but the two statements are not necessarily mutually interchangeable. The problem is not really the phraseology but rather the interpretations that go with the phrase that become problematic.

Now to another significant difference. The BF&M 2000 makes no reference to the phrase in the Abstract, “are under condemnation.” Nettles attempts to say that both confessions necessarily point to an “original sin” position. He intentionally overlooks the absence of this very important phrase in the BF&M 2000. While it is true that the Abstract does necessarily point to a firm position on “original sin” it is equally clear that the BF&M 2000 does not or the phrase “are under condemnation” would still be part of the confession. The correct theological position of a majority of Southern Baptists today is that men are not born guilty of Adam’s sin as Nettles suggests. The BF&M 2000 is clear: “as soon as they (men) are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” This is a very important distinction between the Abstract Principles and the BF&M 2000 where the issue of the inherited nature of man’s sin is concerned. The BF&M 2000 does not demand an “original sin” interpretation as Nettles proposes.

Now, while confessions can be useful, no solid Southern Baptist would place any confession above the Scripture. Nettles moves his presentation from the confessions to the Scripture. He does so with the following comment, “These confessions embody Jesus’ teaching when he incriminated the so-inclined heart as the evil fountain from which evil actions arose. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:23). An inclination to evil has no moment of innocence but already is weighted with guilt.” It is true Jesus says that which defiles a person comes from within but His statement in Mark 7 is not a commentary on inherited Adamic guilt. That is something that is being added to the text and the intent of Jesus’ statement.

Consider the other Scriptural references Nettles notes. He writes, “From whence is such a heart? Under divine inspiration, David lamented, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” (Psalm 58:3)” Take a look at the context David is speaking in: “1 Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge people with equity? 2 No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth. 3 Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.” David closes the Psalm with the following statement: “10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. 11 Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.” It is clear that David is speaking about rulers that rule unjustly and use violence to accomplish their selfish interests. These selfish motives come from the heart that is deceptively wicked from the time they are born. All men are sinners and their sin effects everything they do. This is not a proof text on original sin and Adamic guilt.

Even Nettles’ reference to Psalm 51 does not provide the convincing conclusion to the issue as he suggests. Here Nettles writes, “David confessed, ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’.” (Psalm 51:5). David’s statement simply means that his conception and birth took place in a sinful world. David is coming to God acknowledging his sin and asking God for His forgiveness. He confesses before God and acknowledges the justification of God’s verdict and His judgment. He then says I was brought forth in iniquity etc. David is saying that there has never been a time in his life when he did not need the Lord and His salvation. He goes on to ask God to create in him a pure heart and to restore in him the joy of His great salvation. It is one thing to read theology out of a text but it is a dangerous thing to take theology looking for texts to justify one’s position. That is sadly the case here.

Consider Nettles’ next statement: “Transgression abides first of all in heart—disposition and inclination of soul to disregard God’s law.” This is an accurate statement. Man’s inclination and disposition is indeed to disregard God’s Law. It is a heart problem. Men want to do what seems right in their own eyes and do not naturally accept or conform to God’s Law. It can also be said that this is an “inherited problem.” All men since Adam have this problem and the problem stems from Adam’s sin. However, this statement does not demand an “original sin” position as Nettles suggests. He continues, “The environment-inclined-toward-sin is the sum total of all the natures-inclined-toward-sin since the fall of Adam. An inclination toward sin in the status of no condemnation is a contradiction.” This statement is a conclusion Nettles draws with no Scriptural foundation. It is simply a statement he makes as if it jumps off the page of the sacred text. It may have an authoritative ring to it but that is about all it has.

Consider the statement itself. “An inclination toward sin in the status of no condemnation is a contradiction.” This statement itself is justifiably acceptable. The implication is what is not acceptable. Nettles is attempting to tie condemnation of sin to Adamic guilt. Men are without question condemned because of their sin; that was the basis of David’s prayer in Psalm 51. Nettles continues, “The “nature inclined toward sin” followed Adam’s transgression and constituted the punishment of spiritual death that immediately came upon him and, as the BFM affirms [“whereby”], passed on all men by inheritance (Romans 5:12).” The BF&M 2000 states the following: “Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence “whereby” his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” Nettles attempts to add condemnation to a phrase where there is no justification to do so. In fact, the next statement in the BF&M 2000 clarifies the actualization of condemnation as it clearly states, “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” Like it or not, the BF&M 2000 is not a proof text for original sin as presented by those who tout the Reformed way in theological discussions. There is no reasonable reference to Adamic guilt or “original sin” in the Bible nor in the BF&M 2000 as is suggested by Nettles’ article.

In conclusion, one must understand the importance of this concept of Original sin and imputed Adamic guilt to support the tenet of total depravity and inability, which are foundational to the veracity of the tenets of Reformed Theology. Nettles is a lifelong proponent of Reformed Theology and a founding member of the Founder’s Ministry where his referenced article appears. The Founder’s Ministry is the oldest and largest organization that has Southern Baptist ties that has as a stated purpose of turning our local churches and pastors toward the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace (i.e.) Reformed doctrine or better known as Calvinism. In an article that appears at the “Southern Baptist Traditionalist” site, a long time personal friend has written an article highlighting the involvement of men like Tom Nettles in its 30 year history this year. Nettles, along with Tom Ascol, Fred Malone and C. Ben Mitchell who is a professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee which is my alma mater and a couple other gentlemen met with the Founder’s founder, Earnest Reisinger and they decided “that the purpose of the Founders Conference would be to promote instruction in both doctrine and devotion, as expressed in the doctrines of grace, and the experimental application of those doctrines to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness.”

Congratulations to the Founder’s Ministries 30 years of continued influence in their promotion of doctrine and devotion to the Doctrines of Grace and the experimental applications of those doctrines to the local church, especially Southern Baptist churches. You can read this very well written article by clicking here.