Category Archives: Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace, Current Events, Uncategorized

Partners ?????

There is a prominent statue right smack-dab in the middle of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. It is a statue of Walt holding Mickey Mouse’s hand and the inscription on the base of the statue says “Partners.” Of his company’s success, Walt Disney was very fond of saying, “never forget that this all started with a mouse.”

This is a nice sentiment but it is not true. Mickey Mouse, lovable though he may be, is not a pre-existent or even co-existent entity. Mickey Mouse was the creation of Walter Elias Disney. Given, Mickey was a great “invention” that helped the Disney Company to achieve its success in the movie, cartoon, theme park, etc. industry. But, Mickey was just that–an invention.

As a master animator, Walt Disney was “sovereign” over all that Micky did–his actions, his speech, the plot-lines of his movies, etc. The nice, but wrong, sentiment of Walt and Mickey’s “Partnership” suggests Mickey did these things on his own, he didn’t. Mickey was totally dependent on Walt for all he said, all he did, and even his very existance.

The relationship between God and man is no different. Many people like to think of God and man in a “partnership” in all matters related to salvation. While this is a nice sentiment it is wrong, dead-wrong, and the stakes are much higher than a man and his adorable mouse.

The truth of our relationship to God is that it is in no way, shape, or form a partnership. We are not co-eternal, co-existent, co-sovereign, co-omnipresent, or co-redeemers. Like, Mickey Mouse, we are totally and utterly dependent on God (our Creator and the true Sovereign) for everything. As Acts 17:24-25 says:

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Anything and everything we have is from God. We do not “partner” with Him. He is the Benefactor, we are the beneficiary; He is the One who gives, we are the ones who receive.

Much of the glory of the Gospel is lost in bad theology that seeks to make us partners with God in our own salvation. This is deadly. Apart from His regenerating, We do not and cannot seek after God. God is the Initiator, we, because of the grace and faith He gives, become the responder. In this way, we respond, but we are not partners for we accomplish nothing related to our own salvation.

The Gospel does not start with our being on middle ground, it starts with our being dead and lifeless. The Gospel starts with God’s opposition to us. We are totally and, apart from God’s grace, irrevocably damaged in every aspect of our humanity. The Gospel is about God and his opposition to sin (and, therefore, the sinner–us!). The Gospel is about Jesus bearing God’s righteous opposition and wrath to us on Himself–He became the very Curse of God, a cursing we deserved. The Gospel is that by Jesus bearing the curse we deserved, He is both just (in that sins are paid for and not glossed over) and justifier (in that He is the one, through His work on the cross, that Justifies us). By dying on the Cross, Christ paid the sins of His people, thereby removing the God’s curse on us, bearing God’s curse in His own body.

So, like Micky and Walt, there is no real partnership. There is only a Sovereign God who acted to redeem a people for Himself. We, the beneficiaries of God’s actions, can only respond to Him in repentance and faith after He initiates the relationship.

Can you Imagine Micky Mouse holding a press conference in which he declares his work in inventing himself? That would be as ridiculous as us trying to take any credit for what God has done and provided us in His saving work.

This is the true nature of the Gospel–God works to make us (dead, lifeless sinners) into trophies of His work and His grace, all to the eternal praise and glory of Christ. God takes us from being “dead in our trespasses and sins” to being called sons (and daughters) of the Lord of the Universe!

This is a glorious Gospel indeed! And it is a Gospel that “Demands [our] soul, [our] life, [our] all.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace, Uncategorized

Calvinism Gets a Bad Rap-Part II

I missed commenting on this, somehow, in my previous posting. The Baptist Press article has more matters of frustration for me. Now, I don’t know his theological leanings, but some of the comments made by Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, TN, illustrate several problems with today’s Church and Christianity in general.

Poe comments about the resurgence of Calvinism:

“In a broad sense, it’s happening on Christian college campuses too, as Calvinism appeals to young people who are wanting a more intellectual approach to Christianity,”

What is the problem with this? We should all want a more intellectual approach to Christianity, shouldn’t we? After all, doesn’t the “Greatest Commandment” include loving God with our minds?

Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” [37] And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment.

The scripture is clear—Christianity is to involve the mind. We are to know what the Bible says, we are to know what we believe, and we are to know why we believe what we believe. The Apostle Peter makes this point:

1 Peter 3:13-17 (ESV)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? [14]But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, [15] but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, [16] having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [17] For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Not every Christian is going to look like a seminary-trained minister. Certainly there are and will continue to be various levels of learning, ability, and commitment within the Church as a whole. But, some pastors, I fear, do not even attempt to properly train the Christians under their care. Poe’s further comments show my fears are not just fears—they are reality:

“Southern Baptists neglected serious Christian education from the early 1960s, and that’s when all the trouble started. From discipleship training we went to the amorphous youth groups, whose only real good was to keep kids happy until they graduated from high school and graduated from church. Now, you have a generation [of college students] who have come along and want something deeper and they have latched onto Calvinism.”

We, as a denomination (the SBC) and a Church have made a mess of things in this area.Poe is right—for years we have failed to engage the minds of the people under our spiritual care. We have been far more concerned with people coming to church and with how many baptisms we have rather than being concerned with how mature our people are. I say this to our shame.

Certainly we should be concerned with people being in church and baptisms are important. But, these things are not the most important things. The “Great Commission” does not tell us to “Go and bring people into church” or “Go and baptize all nations.” The verb in the passage is clear: Make Disciples. The church is commissioned by Christ Himself to make disciples. The “Go,” the “Baptizing,” and the “Teaching” are important aspects to making disciples, in fact disciples cannot be made without going, baptizing, and teaching.

The main thing is to make disciples—and we have lost sight of that. We have built our proverbial houses on two superficial things: 1. The amount of people on our membership roles—even if they haven’t darkened the door of our churches in decades; and 2. The number of baptisms we have in any given year—even if we are baptizing worldly, unregenerate people. Almost never do we seek to measure the spiritual progress or spiritual maturity of our people. No, we brag about our membership numbers and our baptism numbers—how superficial are we? No wonder our people look every bit like the people of the world and no wonder our people, youth specifically, are leaving the church—superficiality stinks and everyone, particularly youth, knows it! So people leave for a man-made system that will lead them straight to hell, because we have not engaged their minds and we have not taught them like we should. May God forgive us.

For those who do not leave the faith but want to have a far deeper experience of faith than they found in their churches, Calvinism offers that deeper experience—an experience that engages the mind and the heart. Poe notes:

“Calvinism has an appeal because it tends to have an answer for everything -– you can explain everything [by saying] that God predestined it.”

There is a reason people like to answer everything in terms of God’s sovereign control—it is a deeply biblical answer. Paul wrote:

Romans 8:28 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.

There is deep comfort in this verse. This verse means that, for the Christian, God is working His purposes together for His glory and our benefit. Many people who have a superficial Christianity are taught to trust or delight in the things that God can give—health, financial stability or security, and deliverance from hell. Superficial Christianity gives the impression that God exists to give you these things. While God does delight to give good gifts to His children, that is not His ultimate purpose or His ultimate gift. His ultimate purpose is to glorify Himself and His ultimate gift is Himself.

Calvinistic Christianity (and deep-water Christianity in general) seeks to glorify God for His giving us Himself. People who regard God Himself as their ultimate treasure are far more likely to trust in His sovereignty because they know God holds the past, present, and future is his more-than-capable Hand and, in the end, He has our good in mind—this is why so many Calvinists echo the words of Job in all areas and situations of life:

Job 13:15 (ESV)

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Furthermore, Calvinist churches are growing, some slowly, but they are growing the right way. These churches do not give out baptisms and church memberships like they were balloons at a church picnic. No, these churches seek to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that the ones being baptized and the ones accepted into membership are, in fact, true believers who will want to grow deeply in their faith. So, the numbers of church members may be less and the number of annual baptisms may be small, but these Calvinist churches, by in large, are much more concerned with the spiritual maturity and spiritual depth of their members, not superficial and misleading numbers and this is to their credit.

1 Comment

Filed under "Doing" Church, Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace

Calvinists-Getting a Bad Rap…Again.

There are some people who do not understand Calvinism. A recent Baptist Press article illustrates the confusion. In the article, Jerry Drace, an evangelist from Humboldt, Tenn., was quoted lamenting the rise of Calvinism in the SBC. The article quotes:

Drace told the group he currently is working with some young pastors who are “so leaning in this morphed Calvinism that they almost laugh at evangelism. It’s almost to the extent that they believe they don’t have to do it. So [Calvinism] gives them an excuse not to do evangelism.”

Things like this frustrate me to no end. I don’t think it is an intentional misrepresentation, but it is a misrepresentation nonetheless.

The modern missionary movement was started by William Carey. Carey was one of the founding members of the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen. Many people will find this next fact shocking…wait for it—Carey and his supporters (the Particular Baptist Society…) were Calvinists. And, yes, they believed in missions.

Carey and his supporters believed that doing missions was commanded by God. Carey became a missionary out of obedience to his Lord’s Great Commission. Carey was worship driven, not people driven.

Many people today think of missions in terms of the people, but we are to engage in missions work because God commanded us to do so. We are not to have people as our primary motivation. Certainly people are important in missions, but God is the most important “Person” when it comes to our missions endeavors. It is of the utmost importance to get the order of things right.

Primarily, we are to do missions because God commands us to do so.

Secondarily, we are to do missions because there are lost people on their way to hell who need to hear the gospel.

Unfortunately, when this order is inverted, people become the goal of our missions work when God must be the goal of our missions endeavors. It is idolatrous to invert our priorities in missions—for to make man the object of our efforts is, essentially,  to worship man.

When missions is done for the right reasons—to honor, glorify, and worship God—the missionary, even in the face of crushing opposition, will continue in his or her efforts. Why? Because they are in missions to worship God, not man.

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace, Missions & Evangelism, Worship