Morris Chapman and a Fundamental Misunderstanding of Calvinism

During the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Morris Chapman–president of the Executive Committee of the Convention–gave an address in which he managed to tick-off every person with who holds to reformed theology or even those who lean towards reformed theology (see the report here).  Some of my best friends and most respected friends whom I know from attending Southern Seminary were spittin’ mad at the end of Dr. Chapman’s so-called report.  Recently, Dr. Chapman has issued an eratta sheet of sorts, seeking to clarify what he meant to say (see the “clarification” here).

Unfortunately, Dr. Chapman’s most recent statement does little to clarify and, in fact, does even more to infuriate those of us who hold to reformed theology.  I think Dr. Chapman does not understand Calvinism…or if he does, he is intentionally misrepresenting our position.  What is more, he has relegated so-called “Calvinists” to the status of second-class citizen in the Southern Baptist Convention.

First, Chapman describes how a person becomes a Christian:

The background of my comments comes from a lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists.  Most Southern Baptists with whom I have had contact have embraced the following model of salvation – God initiates conversion through the convincing/convicting power of the Holy Spirit.  Through this conviction of sin, the human heart responds in repentance and faith.  A lost individual becomes a child of God by faith and is adopted into God’s family as a redeemed saint.

No Calvinist I know would disagree with this.  However, the devil is in the details.  We would say that God does, in fact, initiate His work of salvation through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.  We believe the Holy Spirit must give a new heart (a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone) and that is what brings conviction of sin.  When, through the regeneration brought by the Holy Spirit, someone has a new heart, that person necessarily sees God for who He is in all of His majesty, glory, and perfection.  Consequently, that same person also sees himself or herself for what he or she really is–a dirty, depraved sinner with no hope of attaining to the perfection of God.  Then, and only then, does the person throw himself or herself on God’s mercy and plead for His grace.  And there we have salvation–regeneration preceding redemption.  Or, as someone else (I think Piper) has put it–redemption is a fruit of the Holy Spirit having first regenerated someone.

Second, Chapman goes through Ephesians 2:8:

More recently, I have heard and read with increasing frequency of the belief that passages such as Ephesians 2:8 teach that “faith” itself is a gift of God – hence, even the response of faith is given by God and is not the free response of the human heart to the saving initiative of God.

The whole part of the original bears reading.  To summarize: Chapman goes into a multi-paragraph exegesis of this passage trying to explain what is the “gift” of Ephesians 2:8–is the gift “grace” or “faith?”  Now there are some pretty strong arguments for grace bring the gift (although the grammar, rightly noted by Chapman won’t support this) and faith being the gift (again, unsupported by the grammar and rightly noted by Chapman).  Chapman prefers to see the entirety of salvation as the “gift.”

The problem with this is that it completely and (perhaps) intentionally ignores the entire context of Ephesians 2 (and that is what most of the current generations of Calvinists have a major problem with…but that is blog for another time).

Ephesians 2 begins: 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Now, that paints a bleak, bleak picture of our sad state.

Dead.  Dead in our trespasses and sins.  Following the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (ie. non-believers).  Living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of our flesh (basically, being self-idolaters).  And, here’s the killer: We were by nature children of wrath…like the rest of mankind.

With all due respect to Dr. Chapman and the scholars and grammarians he quotes, it cannot be that faith is not also a gift.  If we are “dead” and “by nature children of wrath” who are, apparently of our own free will, following the “prince of the power of the air,” then there is nothing we have to contribute to the salvation process.  We are told in Romans 3:11 “no one seeks for God.”  Since we, in our natural state, do not seek God, something must change.  That is why Calvinists believe that regeneration must precede redemption.  Something, namely the Holy Spirit, has to change our natural state; we must be regenerated, which is giving life into a previously dead heart.

So while the two Ephesian elements of salvation are “grace” and “faith” it must logically follow that they are both involved in the whole process of salvation.  Ephesians 2:1-3 shows where our natural, inherent faith lead us: to follow the prince of the power of the air.  Therefore, it must be the case that both grace and faith are given as part of the salvation process.  In other words, faith cannot be that thing which we contribute.

Chapman further states:

Had I spoken with greater technical precision in my report, my words may be expanded this way, “The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation in which even the faith response on the part of man is not a response of free human agency, but is a sovereign act of God.  Some are given to explain away the ‘whosoever will’ of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, ‘For by grace are you saved through faith’ (Eph. 2:8)?” (emphasis Chapman’s)

As I mentioned above, free human agency can do nothing–except follow the prince of the power of the air–apart from God’s regenerating work.  Now, after we are regenerated, we can and certainly do choose to follow God.  The problem here is that Chapman seems to think humans are, by nature, neutral and can go either way–good or bad.  This does not account for the pronouncement in Ephesians that we are “dead” and it doesn’t account for our need to have a new nature (because our default position is “Children of Wrath” and that being by nature).

Two examples:  First, R.C. Sproul in his book Chosen by God mentions a dead man and asks the important question: Can a dead man ever do anything for himself?  Of course the answer is no.  Every motion of a dead body has to be performed by an outside source.  Second, I have 3 cats.  All of them “meow.”  Their meowing does not make them cats.  They are, by nature, cats and therefore meow.  If they were “required” to be a dog they would need to be, by nature, a dog.  Even if I could teach them to bark like a dog it would not make them a dog by nature.  The meow of a cat and the bark of a dog are individual fruits of their nature.  After all, when my 22-month-old daughter says “woof-woof,” that doesn’t make her a dog.

So, we, the dead, must receive a new nature.  Even if it is said that saving faith is a result of that new nature, that faith is still a gift.

I’m afraid Dr. Chapman doesn’t understand the total and radical change that must take place for someone to be a Christian.  Maybe that’s why our churches are in decline and our baptisms are dwindling?

Chapman concludes his article with a few quotes from a 2007 interview.  I find these particularly infuriating or disengenous.

“The resurgence of Calvinism is largely a reaction against the shallowness of Baptist doctrinal instruction during the era of moderate-led seminaries coupled with a strong interconnection of the principle of sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) with Reformed doctrine during the Protestant Reformation. Since the principle of sola scriptura resurfaced during the inerrancy debates of the Conservative Resurgence, it is only logical that its relationship with Reformed doctrine would also emerge. An additional reason for the resurgence of Calvinism is that a wide-open Arminianism under the guise of Open Theism must be refuted. Generally, where a heresy surfaces its closest theological polar opposites will appear and gain a relatively wide following.

The rise of reformed theolgy is not a reaction against open theism.  Also, it is not a reaction against shallow Baptist doctrine of the moderate era.  Rather, the rise in reformed theology is based on the recovery of true, Biblical theolgy as we (as a denomination) seek to shake off the destructive ideals of non-lordship salvation, easy-believism, decision-making mentality (as opposed to disciple making), and the outright heresy of Finney-style theology and worship.

Chapman really shows his stripes here:

“One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept church pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church. Another danger is that the truly warm-hearted, ‘evangelical’ Calvinists often are misunderstood by second-generation successors, potentially resulting in a decline in evangelism and missions. As long as the conversations can remain cordial and warm-hearted, we always have been able to work together for the missionary, educational, and benevolent needs of the Convention and the world.

Here we can see that the Calvinists will always be the “red-headed step-children,” at least in Chapman’s mind.  He clearly states a non-Calvinist church is strong and healthy.  Given, that may be so.  Arminian-leaning churches can, by the grace of God, be strong and healthy.  But, he assumes that a Calvinist pastor will destroy that peace and tranquility.  In many of the discussions I’ve heard, it is always the Arminian-types that refuse (most absolutely refuse) to work with Calvinists.  All of the Calvinists I know are more than happy to work with Arminians (and that without exception).  So, it is not the Calvinists that are damaging the convention.

Also, Chapman suggests that Evangelical Calvinists are leading to a decline in missions and evangelism.  WRONG! No Calvinist I know downplays missions or evangelism.  In fact, churches like Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, Bethelem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, and Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL go above and beyond in their pursuit of both missions and evangelism.

Lastly, Chapman says “As long as the conversations can remain cordial and warm-hearted, we always have been able to work together for the missionary, educational, and benevolent needs of the Convention and the world.”  I’ve got three words: Pot. Kettle. Black.

If Chapman really believed this we should have expected his address at the SBC 2009 to be a clarion call to link arms–Calvinists and Arminians both–for the purposes of spreading the Gospel.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Rather than follow his own advice, Dr. Chapman said:

The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.

If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dr. Chapman apparently doesn’t believe what he said about being warm-hearted and cordial.  Rather than using his Presidental Address as a cooperative moment, he used it as a bully pulpit against Calvinists.  After hearing his address to the SBC and his subsequent “explanation” it is clear to this Southern Baptist that Chapman thinks only the Calvinists need to be cordial in addressing the Armininas.  His bitter speech did nothing to foster cordial and warm-hearted feelings.  In fact, he managed to step on the feet of every Calvinist.

I am continually frustrated by chronic mis-characterizations (bordering on character assasination) from non-Calvinists.  It’s one thing when it is a pastor.  It is entirely a different matter when it is the head of an agency with many faithful and devoted pastors (and congregants) who are Calvinists (or at least Calvinistic).

Speaking for myself, my confidence in his leadership has waned.

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