Calvinism, Arminianism, and Bible Exposition
by Don Roberts, B.A., M.Div.
The article that follows was published in the Florida Baptist Witness, May 11, 2000. The headline shown below is that which the editor assigned. Included is a Calvinist Response to this article, as well a Critique of the Calvinist Response that exposes its theological errors.
"Christ's Obedience Made Righteousness Available to
Baptists are often critical of charismatics who represent speaking in tongues as the sine qua non of Spirit fullness. This teaching is divisive, and erects artificial barriers between brethren. Are Baptists who embrace five points of Calvinism any less divisive when accusing lesser-pointed brethren of preaching a different gospel? "True Calvinism," some would say, "consists of all five points. Omit any point and you cease to be a Calvinist! Moreover, you cease to be a 'grace man'!" I am not trying to compare Calvinism to Pentecostalism. They are apples and oranges. My concern is the sectarian attitude sometimes exhibited by those with strong doctrinal persuasions. Arminianism nurtures this same divisive spirit when denouncing Calvinism as both the enemy of evangelism and callused rationalism. The one camp is compelled to crusade for God's sovereignty while the other champions His unlimited atonement for sinners. What shall it profit a man if he should brandish his soteriological badge, and denigrate his brother? Is either of these self-imposed labelsCalvinist or Arminiana pure synonym for "Christian" or "disciple"? I think not!
We as Southern Baptists ought to treasure our doctrinal heritage. We must remember, however, that theological roots are no more viable than the exegetical soil that grew them. My purpose is simply to mine a little expository ore, and give Southern Baptists of every stripe a little fodder for spiritual digestion.
The Scriptures are crystal clear on several aspects of election. They teach us that the Father gave the elect to the Son before the foundation of the world, at which time they were chosen "in Him" (John 6:37; Ephesians 1:4). These are His people, and He shall save them from their sins (Matthew 1:25). All that the Father gave Him shall be saved, and nothing lost (John 6:39). Jesus told the Pharisees, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring" (John 10:16). Paul's tumultuous beginning at Corinth was counterbalanced by this assurance from his Lord: "I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:10). In his last epistle, Paul told Timothy why he endured so much hardship. It was "for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (II Timothy 2:10). The elect were foreknown of God, and therefore predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29). God was willing to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory. He was also willing to make known His power and wrath upon the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Romans 9:22-23). Both outcomes magnify His Person and attributes, and garner glory for Him!
Amid these certainties a crucial question arises: "What criteria, if any, did God employ as a basis for election? Ten thousand theological volumes have failed to resolve this issue to the satisfaction of every believer. What are the decrees of God? The best theological minds can only speculate inasmuch as Paul said His judgments were unsearchable, and His ways past finding out (Romans 11:33). The testimony of the Scriptures, especially as they reveal how God acted toward men, has led me to these conclusions. First, God decreed that He would make man in His own image and likeness, and endow him with a measure of sovereignty (dominion) within limits. Secondly, God decreed that fallen man, dead in trespasses and sins, would be provided grace sufficient to respond to the word of salvation. Third, God decreed that believers (those who would respond to grace as opposed to frustrating and rejecting it) would be the recipients of His mercy and acceptance. This was His sovereign good pleasure!
The two issues of sovereignty and faith need clarification. Sovereignty is defined as complete independence and self-government, the exercise of ultimate authority. When Adam gave names to the animals, whatsoever Adam called them, that was their name (Genesis 2:19). Was God less than sovereign in allowing Adam to make these determinations on his own? Absolutely not! Likewise God remains sovereign in establishing man's response to proffered grace as the condition upon which He will elect. Faith is humble dependence upon another. In Gospel terms, it is casting oneself upon the mercy of God. Faith exercised is not reckoned as work, but rather the abandonment of any thought that works can avail to justify the sinner! It is impossible to please God without the exercise of faith (Hebrews 11:6).
In Genesis 3:21, both Adam and Eve left the garden clothed with coats of skins that the Lord God had made for them. These two individuals constituted the entire human race at the time. Thus God made provision for all humanity, and prefigured the work of Christ. In like manner the blood brought into the holiest on the Day of Atonement availed for an entire nation, consisting of both elect and non-elect.
In Genesis 4:5-7, we have the saga of Cain. The Lord did not respect his offering. His wrath and fallen countenance brought a response from the Lord, who approached Cain, and reasoned with him (Isaiah 1:18). It was made abundantly clear that his acceptance hinged solely upon his own attitude and well doing. The ball was in his court! Cain rejected God's counsel, and was not among the elect! It seems disingenuous to argue that God simply passed over Cain by an act of sovereign pleasure. The fact is the Lord made a genuine proffer of acceptance pending an obedient response. If the atonement did not include Cain, the offer was meaningless or worse!
I would like to close this brief analysis by citing Isaiah 53:6: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." This verse begins with all, ends with all, and has every one in the middle. To whom is the prophet referring? One thing is certain! All three refer to the same group! The prophet was clearly addressing his nation with universal application. The New Testament equivalent is found in Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Study Romans 5:12-20, where Paul uses the phrase "upon all men" three times. His argument is that Christ's obedient death made the gift of righteousness available to every individual affected by Adam's disobedience.
I offer these words from Lewis Sperry Chafer as moderating wisdom. He wrote, "There is nothing inconsistent, if God so wills, in a circumstance which leaves even the elect in a lost estate until they believe; nor is there any inconsistency if one, for whom Christ died, shall be left in a lost estate forever" (Systematic Theology, Volume III, p.186). I believe Southern Baptists can disagree on the condition of election without impugning Gods sovereignty. We must agree, however, that all whom the Father gave to the Son shall come to Him, and those who come to Him He shall in no wise cast out.