Of His own will He [God] brought us forth by the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
James 1:18 (ESV)
The latest editorial in the Christian Index, the newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, is entitled “The Calvinists are Here.” To the editor, the current influx of Calvinists is an “encroachment” on SBC life. The editorial notes a LifeWay Research study showing that 10 percent of all SBC pastors now identify themselves as Calvinists and a third of recent graduates from SBC seminaries espouse Reformed doctrines, with Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, being a notable source.
Former SBC president Jerry Vines said in SBC Life, “I have stated before, so it’s not new news, that should the SBC move towards five-point Calvinism it will be a move away from, not toward, the Gospel.”
The Reformation of the 16th century brought a recovery of the Gospel. The Gospel had been diminished by the Roman Church. Men like John Wycliffe (living in the 14th century) gave their lives so that the plough boy would know more of the Scripture than priest. There were many corruptions in the Roman Church of Luther’s day. From simony to relics to Papal bulls and indulgences, the Gospel was not proclaimed.
Then, in God’s providence, He raised up men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Puritans, and the English Separatists, from which the Baptists arose. One must realize that Calvin never set out to have a system of theology named after him. As a matter of fact, the article mentioned above does not inform the reader that the “five points” were a response to the Remonstrance, the five points of Arminiamism (A system of doctrine developed by Jacob Arminius). That’s right. It was the Arminians that shifted away from the Gospel after the Reformers brought it back to the church.
When Dr. Vines says that Calvinism is a move “away from the Gospel,” it is actually the other way around. The Arminian Remonstrance was a move away from the Gospel. Arminianism was exposed for what it was at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19: a set of doctrines that exalts the glory of man and not the glory of God. Arminius taught that man was not totally depraved. Election was conditional on man’s choice. All people were included in the atonement, even if some would not choose eternal life. Grace could be resisted. And finally, a professed believer could lose his or her salvation. Eternal life was held in the power of man rather than God. It was at the Synod that the five points of Calvinism were developed to counteract the false teaching of Arminians.
Unfortunately, Calvinism has been grossly misrepresented in our day. God is seen as mean or “unfair” if He elects certain ones to eternal life. It is claimed that Calvinists do not evangelize because “God will bring them in anyway.” But Biblical Calvinists know that God is a God of means. The means by which His elect come is through the proclamation of Gospel. The Father chose his children before the foundation of the world, the Son purchased them with his own blood, and the Spirit applies the truth of the Gospel to the hearts of men, causing them to be born again (Ephesians 1). Divine election is what makes evangelism successful. Biblical Calvinism simply exalts the God of Scripture. It lets God have the first and last word on all things. The author of the editorial states that John Calvin is “best known for his doctrine of predestination, which became the foundation of his theology – suggesting that God predestined certain individuals to be saved.” The truth is that Calvin spends very little time, comparatively, teaching about predestination in the Institutes. Calvin’s Institutes is a theology book that exalts the glory of God and puts man in his place. Calvin lived and loved to preach the greatness of God. Let us be clear that when Calvin does teach on predestination, he simply goes to the Bible. He does not produce this doctrine on his own initiative, out of thin air. He reads Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9, and He sees election everywhere in the Bible.
The Biblical Calvinists of the SBC have not set out to fight with those opposed to them. Most are not aggressive and hostile. As Gerald Harris says, “Most of the Reformed pastors and churchmen I know are gracious and godly people with a profound devotion to the Word of God.” Those saved by grace should be the most gracious people. They do love the Word of God and doctrines that the founders of the SBC cherished so greatly. Reformed theology is nothing new in the SBC. It is the doctrine we were founded on. Let us read the primary sources and this will be clear.
No one chooses to be born. You are simply born. In the same manner, no one chooses to be born again on his own. James 1:18 says it so clearly: that God brought us forth (same word as a mother giving birth) by the Word of truth. God brought us forth. God gave us life. Regeneration comes first, then repentance and faith, and not vice versa.
When someone asks me, “Are you a Calvinist?”, I ask, “What do you mean by ‘Calvinist’?” If it is a misrepresentation of Calvinism, then no, I am not one. But if it is Biblical and not ultimately bound to Calvin, then yes, I am one. Baptists are people of the Book. We are not bound to Calvin. We just want to be Biblical. Lord willing, in May, I will be graduating from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, KY. SBTS did not make me a Calvinist. God brought me to an understanding of the Doctrines of Grace (the five points of Calvinism) 6 or 7 years before I studied there. Attending SBTS was simply God’s means of preparing me for ministry. SBTS exists For the Truth, For the World, For the Church, For the Glory of God. That’s all I was looking for and that’s exactly what I found. I pray with all my heart that it wasn’t simply head knowledge, but a life living what the Bible teaches. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy go hand in hand.
Yes, the Calvinists are here and I am one of them, as long as it is a Biblical Calvinism. So please, don’t misrepresent it. I unashamedly say with Jonathan Edwards, “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.”
Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Soli Fide, Soli Deo Gloria