Founders Journal represents the theological thinking of the largest network of strict Calvinists within the Southern Baptist Convention, Founders Ministries.* In its most recent edition, Founders offers its critique of Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, edited by Drs. Steve Lemke and David Allen. The issue entitled “Theological Debate Within the Family” (FJ 82) unfortunately ran into some technical difficulties and is being presently republished (though the misprinted version had already been sent out). I want to offer a few observations about the critical journal entries and will do so in at least three parts…>>>
The editorial by Founders' executive director, Tom Ascol, is a worthy call for irenic “debate” among “family” members. He acknowledges “unguarded accusations” by “extremists” from “both sides” seemed to have kept the divide as “deep and wide” as possible. However, a new opportunity for open dialog seemed to present itself in 2007 which became the Building Bridges Conference held at Ridgecrest. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries sponsored the event hosted by Lifeway Christian Resources. The fruit of the conference was published in a book containing several papers from the conference entitled, Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialog.
Afterwards, The John 3:16 Conference hosted by The Jerry Vines Ministries and sponsored by several seminaries including New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was offered as a biblical-theological response to Five-Point Calvinism. Similar to the product of the Building Bridges Conference, the papers given by several non-Calvinist scholar-theologians were collected into a volume entitled, Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. It is this book Ascol’s focus concerns in the present journal issue. He writes:
This issue of Founders Journal provides a selective review of and response to Whosoever Will. The purpose is to provide the kind of serious engagement the book deserves… . Truth matters. And the cause of truth will not be served by glossing over differences that we have in any areas with fellow-believers.
But, as Ascol rightly goes on to conclude, such disagreements must be pursued with “respect for each other and devotion to God’s Word.”
We think Tom Ascol is correct in calling for mutual respect while pursuing one’s convictional basis for disagreeing with fellow-believers over biblical-doctrinal issues. And we appreciate his appeal to such a worthy end. On the other hand, given some of the content of the journal’s entries, we question whether Ascol’s editorial fulfilled his lofty aspirations.
For example, beginning with Ascol’s editorial, we wonder why he insisted on making the issue into a “Calvinist-Arminian” debate when no editor or author within the collection of essays in Whosoever Will confesses Arminianism. Indeed from his opening line, the entire issue was cast as a debate between “Calvinism and Arminianism” exceeding four centuries. The "either/or" theological lens for which Founders is notorious is presumed throughout**. Ascol even pulled in self-confessing, Arminian theologian, Roger Olson, as an authority to assure all readers that Whosoever Will authors were genuine Arminians whether or not they wanted to admit it.
For Ascol, while “love requires that we not simply label the contributors to Whosoever Will “Arminian” when they plainly reject that characterization," nonetheless, “historical accuracy” and “theological integrity” insist on identifying many of their positions as nothing other than Arminian. Note that Ascol is completely aware all of the contributors to Whosoever Will "plainly reject" embracing classic Arminianism. Nevertheless, love's requirement to not "label contributors" with positions they "plainly reject" is instantly forfeited for "historical accuracy" and "theological integrity."
One may ask, if “historical accuracy” and “theological integrity” so easily trump love for the brethren when making theological assessment, why Ascol would have so much difficulty in accepting Dr. David Allen’s scholarly opinion that Calvinist James White*** embraces what can only be described as Hyper-Calvinism. Or, is Allen’s view somehow incapable of being historically accurate or reflecting theological integrity?
Even so, throughout the issue, it was much more than just suggesting “positions” were Arminian:
“The debate between Calvinists and Arminians continues to rage among Southern Baptists today…”—Matthew Barrett
“Though they have resisted this, the writers should accept the judgment that they defend a classically Arminian, or openness, position”—Tom Nettles
As both Barrett and Nettles illustrate, the tenor of the issue is more than just identifying some of Whosoever Will’s authors as holding certain Arminian tendencies. Rather Nettles, beyond all sober reason, actually connects Whosoever Will authors with Open Theology, one of the few theological errors specifically identified and condemned in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Is this the “historical accuracy” and “theological integrity” Ascol suggests should trump love for the brethren? Is this showing respect for fellow-believers while debating biblical-theological issues “within the family”?
Or, is it inaccurate to suggest Founders is doing nothing more in this volume than they have largely done since 1982--scorning all theological views but rigid, strict Five-Point Calvinism?
With that, I am…
*Since the early 1980s, Founders Ministries has made it its business to promote “the Doctrines of Grace and their experiential application to the local church” with a definitive “recovery of the gospel.” Indicative of gospel recovery is the said “promotion of the Doctrines of Grace” (i.e., Five-Point Calvinism). Initially, Founders accomplished their mission through conferences, publication, education, and pastoral training. More recently, however, Founders launched a strategic church planting network which is “confessionlly reformed” and looks like it’s headed for funding from our North American Mission Board (let’s just wait and see). SBC leaders including Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president, Danny Akin, offer strong support to the network. Representing a virtual “who’s who” within or supporters of the young, restless, and “Reformed” syndicate in the SBC, other supporters include Greg Thornbury, Donald Whitney, Owen Strachan, Micah Fries, Bruce Ashford, Alvin Reid, and Nathan Finn. Of course, all who support Founders support this new venue of promoting the doctrines of grace including Southern seminary professor and Founders board member, Tom Nettles
**By "either/or" lens I mean that for Founders, one is either a five-point Calvinist or one is not a Calvinist. In their understanding, one might be Calvinistic if one holds to say, four-point Calvinism, but only those who truly hold to all five-points are Calvinists (here, here)
***If Allen (along with other theologians) is correct in his theological assessment of James White and Hyper-Calvinism, it should deeply concern Southern Baptists that Founders Ministries now hosts James White at their conferences (see also, here, here)