Southern Baptists, Calvinism, etc…

June 6, 2012 — 5 Comments

If you want a good summary of what is going on with Southern Baptists, relating some of the concerns and some of the responses to a recent document produced by some prominent southern baptists, look no further than Joe Carter’s summary.

You can find it HERE. He has one section on the primary criticisms of the document which I reproduced below.

What are the primary criticisms of the document?

Critics of the documents—including both Calvinists and Arminians—have presented three general criticisms:

1. The document’s primary argument relies on an appeal to the masses rather than careful exegesis of Scripture¬†— The statement’s primary contention for rejecting Calvinism appears to be based on the fact that the majority of Southern Baptists have already rejected Calvinism: “. . .we are asserting that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life.” Like most other evangelicals, members of SBC churches are unlikely to be able to distinguish between Calvinism, Arminianism, or heretical views of soteriology. Basing the claim on what the “majority” view is not an adequate foundation for settling the issue.

2. The document makes erroneous claims about the “traditional” Baptist view of soteriology. — As noted above, the signers of the document overlook the historical view in favor of one that is less than 50 years old.

3. The document endorses a semi-Pelagian view of soteriology — The most serious charge made by critics of the statement is that it is semi-Pelagian, a heretical view that claims human beings retain the ability to desire God, to seek God, and to pursue salvation through an act of the free will without God first operating on the human heart.

The passage that raises concerns is the denial in “Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man”:

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

As the Arminian theologian Roger Olson points out,

Semi-Pelagians such as Philip Limborch and (at least in some of his writings) Charles Finney affirmed the necessity of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s enlightening work through it for salvation. What made them semi-Pelagian was their denial or neglect of the divine initiative in salvation (except the gospel message).

The problem with this Southern Baptist statement is its neglect of emphasis on the necessity of the prevenience of supernatural grace for the exercise of a good will toward God (including acceptance of the gospel by faith). If the authors believe in that cardinal biblical truth, they need to spell it out more clearly. And they need to delete the sentence that denies the incapacitation of free will due to Adam’s sin.

Calvinist Chris Roberts, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, draws a similar conclusion:

The statement affirms that there is corruption (inclined toward sin), but denies that there is inability. The statement elsewhere affirms that we need salvation through Jesus Christ alone, but repeatedly asserts that salvation is found through a free response of the human will, a will which is here claimed to be inclined toward sin but not incapacitated by sin. If that is not semi-Pelagian, what is?

It should be noted that most of the critics would likely agree that the document’s endorsement of semi-Pelagianism is due to sloppiness on the part of the drafters rather than endorsement of heresy by the endorsers.