Friday, March 5, 2010

"Somewhere In The Middle," Part I: The Need for Consistent Theology

I went in the LifeWay store at my institution today, and took a look around at the new books there. Normally, I wait until about 2 weeks after my last visit to make a new appearance in the bookstore. Believe it or not, there are always new books coming in...and every time I visit, there is at least one book that I start to covet and have to fight the urge to buy...

So today’s book that stood out to me, among quite a few, was the new book “Whosoever Will,” which is a book out of the “John 3:16” conference. Dr. Ken Keathley, as well as Dr. Paige Patterson (now president of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas), as well as Dr. Richard Land, Jimmy Vines, Jeremy Evans and Dr. Bruce Little (both professors at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC), and a few others.
This book is titled (in full), “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique Of Five-Point Calvinism,” by the authors David Allen and Steve Lemke. The book has not made it out to yet or any of the other stores, but it is present in the LifeWay here...and probably in the other Southern Baptist seminaries across the country. To say the least, it’s moments like these that make me so thankful to be at Southeastern!!!

I’m in LifeWay, I see that the book is finally out (I knew about it in advance), so I pick it up---and the first thing I did (as I do with all new books that intrigue me) is I read the table of contents. I discovered that some Southeastern professors had contributed to the volume (that always excites me). Then, I read through some of the introduction.

There were two things that stood out to me. First, what surprised me the most (and made my heart glad) was to discover that David Allen and Steve Lemke properly categorized Arminianism, and placed it within its proper historical camp. The writers make it clear that Arminius and the Remonstrants (his followers) were Reformed in their theology---that they were “Calvinists,” which is the term they used. I don’t know if I agree with the label; but the point that Allen and Lemke were getting at is that Arminian theology, flowing from Arminius and his followers, was as Reformed as Calvinist theology. And to that, I say, “AMEN”!!!!

I was so relieved (that’s the word) to discover that these men knew how to rightly categorize Arminius and his theology. Praise the Lord for these men and their work!
But then, they said something else that quite naturally affected me: while these men don’t agree with five-point Calvinism, they also don’t agree with Arminian theology, either!!!

Now, let me say this before I get attacked: I am not one of these “theological crazies” that gets flustered if people don’t agree with my theology. I am not the first (nor last) authority, nor ANY authority whatsoever, when it comes to sound theology. I write and say the things that I do because of the reading and research I have done...not because I think I am a voice in the world.

So it’s fine if they do not accept Arminian theology. But what bothers me is that they accept “none” of Arminian theology, but “some” of Calvinist theology. The writers stated that they remain in the middle when it comes to the two theologies. The opinion of the writers is that, while they accept some Calvinist theology, they cannot accept all five tenets of Calvinism.

But this is inconsistent. The five points of Calvinism all connect into one coherent system. If one affirms the Calvinist definition of total depravity [T] (as being “dead,” unable to do any good whatsoever), then God must “unconditionally” elect (“U” for “unconditional election”) whoever will be saved. If God chooses the number of the saved, then He will only die for those He chose (hence, “L” for “Limited Atonement”). In order to get these specific persons to Himself, God will “irresistibly” win them over by “Irresistible Grace” (“I”). The “P,” which stands for “Perseverance of the Saints,” states that the elect will infallibly persevere, since God elected them. If God elected these persons, then they cannot completely go astray in their salvation. God will not allow them to because He has “fixed” the outcome---and such persons will endure to the end because God has declared it to be so.

But, the moment that you start tampering with, for example, “Limited Atonement,” and declare that “Jesus died for all,” then you’ve ruined the Calvinist system. If Jesus died for all, then everyone must receive an equal opportunity to be saved. How could Jesus have died for people who will never get an opportunity to accept Him? If Jesus died for all, then all must have access to the atoning blood of Christ---which means then, that God cannot “unconditionally elect” certain persons, or use “irresistible grace” (since not everyone accepts the work of Christ). In addition, even those who are now in Christ rejected the grace of God at numerous times in their lives (me included). This truth of experience testifies to the fact that God’s grace is NOT irresistible. God’s grace can be (and often is) resisted.

So to say like the writers that, “We hold to some of the five tenets but not all” is really to say, “we don’t hold to any of them.” The reason is that, if you deny one tenet, you’ve denied them all. As offensive as this may sound to Baptists and Calvinists everywhere, this is the truth. I am just this bold when it comes to my fellow four-point Arminians. I believe that those who hold to four-point Arminianism (but argue unconditional eternal security) are inconsistent in their theology. And I still don’t understand how Israel could forfeit their residence in the Promised Land, but we can’t forfeit the eternal inheritance!

So I’m not just calling out Calvinists on that one; I’m also calling out fellow Arminians who want to claim that they cannot hold to the fifth tenet of Arminian theology. I may upset some of my fellow Arminians with that one, but this is a risk I am willing to take.

So, if “four-point,” “three-point,” “two-point,” and “one-point Calvinism” will not work, then neither will “four-point Arminianism.” It’s either all five points of Calvin, or all five points of Arminius. As Roger Olson states:

“It is not unusual in evangelical circles to hear sincere and well-intentioned Christians declare themselves ‘Calminians,’ a combination of Calvinist and Arminian. I have encountered this claim numerous times when presenting Calvinism and Arminianism to classes in colleges, seminaries or churches. Often students ask, ‘Why can’t there be a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?’ To which someone replies, ‘There is---it’s called “Calminianism!” A sincere desire to bridge the gulf that has caused so much conflict underlies this misconception. By no means should the desire for unity be belittled; it is admirable even though its fulfillment is, in this case, impossible” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pp. 61-62).

Many of the above called out systems (one-point, two-point, three-point, and four-point four-point Arminianism) all attempt to create some form of “Calminian” theology. If both Calvinist and Arminian systems are mutually exclusive, then only one of them can be right; and no “mosaic” forms of “hodge-podge theology” will suffice.

I will continue this mini-series with an often-quoted misconception in my next post.

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