Today is posted the first of two essays originally published in The Alabama Baptist in 1995. We thank that paper for their generosity in giving permission to post these essays here. I am following the order in which the essays first appeared in the original publication >>>
This week's essay belongs to the pen of the late Dr. Herschel Hobbs. Next week, Dr. Timothy George. Their assigned subject was Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. I trust the reader will be enriched by both of these great Baptist scholars.
The late Dr. Herschel Hobbs really needs no official introduction--especially if one has been a Southern Baptist for any length of time. From 1949 until 1973, Dr. Hobbs was Pastor at what would then be considered, by even today's standard, a mega-Church--the historic First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City.
Dr. Hobbs was a true Baptist statesman and leader at most every level of Baptist life. One of his greatest achievements was serving as Chair of the committee that wrote the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. Dr. Hobbs received his Ph.D in New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary studying under the world renowned Greek scholar, Professor A.T. Robertson.
Today's essay, orginally published as a short editorial on June 22, 1995, is entitled "God's Sovereignty and Man's Free Will." He went to be with the Lord only a few short months after penning this article making it among the last of his prolific writing ministry...>>>
At the close of Billy Graham’s first London Crusade, a Church of England clergyman said that Billy Graham set Christianity back a hundred years. Hearing of this, he said, “I am disappointed. I had hoped to set it back 2,000 years.”
From recent articles, we are told that a small group of Southern Baptist scholars seeks a revival of five-point Calvinism. They propose to restore our theology to that of the 19th century. Among others, they cite James P. Boyce.
Writers note that about the turn of the century, Southern Baptists saw a shift from that extreme position to a more moderate one. Mentioned in this regard are E. Y. Mullins and W.T. Conner. Some of them would even claim that the Apostle Paul as holding to the Calvinistic view. Such seems to be putting the cart before the horse by about 1,500 years. That is the reason for this article. At the risk of being misunderstood, I am more interested in what Jesus said and Paul wrote than what Boyce, Dagg, et al wrote.
So, like Billy Graham, we do not need to go back to the 19th or even to the 16th century. We need to go back to the first century.
Calvin emphasized God’s sovereignty to the neglect of man’s free will, both of which are abundantly taught in the Bible. More specifically, Calvin held that before the foundation of the world God elected certain individuals to be saved to the neglect of all others. This is contrary to the very nature of God!
Recognizing the place of faith, those who follow Calvin say that only the elect believe in Jesus as Savior. As I understand it, the opposite is true. Believers are the elect. I agree with Frank Stagg that election is not “a rigged television show.”
While Paul refers to election elsewhere, his extended treatment of that doctrine is found in Ephesians. Space forbids a thorough treatment of this epistle (see my New Men in Christ, Word, 1974, out of print). But I want to point out some salient facts in Ephesians.
In essence, Paul says that God elected a plan of salvation (Eph. 1-2) and a people to propagate the plan (Eph. 3.1-6.20). But man is free to accept or reject either or both of them.
In Ephesians 1.4, we find the words “hath chosen.” This translates exelexato (ex, elexato). The latter Greek word has been anglicized as elected. The preposition ex intensifies the verb elexato. But note that Paul says that God elected us "in Him" or in God in Christ. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world (not a selected few) unto Himself" (2Cor. 5.19).
"In love" (v.4, KJV) more likely belongs in verse 5. "In love having predestinated us." Whatever God did, He did it in love (1Jn.4.8).
Unfortunately, many tend to interpret the English "predestinated" rather than the Greek word proorisas. The basic verb is horizo [which means], among other things, to set a boundary. From it comes "horizon," the limit or boundary of your vision from where you stand. The prefix pro means beforehand. So, to set a boundary beforehand. I liken it to a fence around a piece of land. The fence is Christ. In 11 verses (1:3-13), Paul uses "in Christ" or its equivalent 11 times (Greek text). So whatever God did, He did it "in love" and "in Christ."
"According to the good pleasure of his will" expresses God's sovereignty, which means that He can act in accord with His nature and purpose as redeeming love without the advice or consent of anyone outside Himself.
However, the Bible also teaches the free will of man as a person made in God's image. To violate man's free will would make him less than a person, only a puppet dangled on the string of fate. The Bible never teaches that. Man is free to choose but is responsible to God for his choices. Otherwise God Himself is responsible for man's sin, which is unthinkable!
The free will of man is seen in Ephesians 1.13: "After that ye believed" or "believing." Exercising faith is an act of the human will. To say that only those chosen by God can believe is to ignore the plain teachings of the New Testament. If this be true, then Jesus' commission to evangelize the world and the many pleas for lost people to believe in Him for salvation are meaningless.
God's election of a people to propagate His plan refers to the church (Eph. 1.22-23). In Ephesians 3.10-11, Paul wrote that there "might be known by [dia, through an intermediate agent] the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
First Peter 2.1-10 clearly identifies the church as God's chosen people "which in time past were not a people [a constituted nation], but are now the people of God." But like the plan any segment of God's people can accept or reject this role--but they are responsible to God for the choice made.
In 1814 the Baptists of the United States divided over the issue of evangelism and missions. The anti-missionary group (hyper-Calvinists) have dwindled almost to the vanishing point. The group committed to evangelism and missions has flourished.
Southern Baptists, the most committed, are the largest non-Catholic religious body in the nation. If we counted infants as do Roman Catholics, it is possible that the Southern Baptist Convention could well be the largest in the nation. And Southern Baptists have experienced their greatest growth since 1900!
Hyper-Calvinism offers no incentive for evangelism and missions. I recall hearing George W. Truett say,"The church that is not missionary does not deserve the ground upon which its building stands. For the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein."
God in Christ has done all that even God can do to provide redemption for a lost humanity. But each person through faith in His redeeming Son must receive it for himself. Refusal to do so means such a person is lost without hope. Those who receive it receive eternal life. Christians and Christian bodies who of their own free will refuse to become God's people to propagate His plan of salvation have saved souls but wasted lives.
If all of the Bible was lost except John 3.16, in this gospel within the gospel is the ability to save a lost humanity. And what does it say to us? "For God so loved the world [not certain ones in it], that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever [anyone, anywhere, anytime] believeth [an act of man's free will] in him should not perish [be lost, destroyed, or go to hell], but have everlasting life." This in not hyper-Calvinism but the gospel in a nutshell.
With that, I am...