Today, I post part two of a two part series entitled "Calvinism: Herschel Hobbs & Timothy George." I thank The Alabama Baptist once again for permitting me to post this essay written by Dr. Timothy George originally published by them July 13, 1995 entitled "Amazing Love, Amazing Grace."
Dr. George presently is Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama. He is a longtime Southern Baptist and an outspoken advocate of Calvinism's return in the SBC. Being a prolific writer, his works include "Baptist Theologians" as well as "Theology of the Reformers."
And, though his speciality is historical theology, Dr. George demonstrates able Biblical scholarship with his commentary on Galatians in the New American Commentary series. Today's essay originally appeared on the heels of Dr. Hobbs' editorial in The Alabama Baptist...>>>
If a Calvinist is one who follows the teaching of John Calvin, then in several important respects, Baptists are clearly not Calvinists. Calvin practiced infant baptism; Baptists baptize only repentant sinners who make a credible profession of faith. Calvin advocated presbyterian church polity; Baptists are congregationalists.
Calvin also believed that the civil government should play a coercive role in the establishment of religion. Baptists believe in the separation of church and state and religious liberty for all persons including the most hardened heretics and even atheists. In each of these ways, Baptists are closer to the Anabaptists than the mainline reformers.
But historically Baptists have affirmed both the formal and the material principles of the Reformation; Scripture alone, and justification by faith alone through grace alone because of Christ alone. Every Sunday in churches large and small, rural and urban, black and white, Baptists gather to sing John Newton's famous hymn, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found; was blind but now I see."
Newton was a slave trader who was gloriously saved from a life of destitution and despair. When he tried to explain what happened to him, he knew it was not by accident or chance that he had come to Christ. God's amazing grace and eternal love had rescued him from the clutches of sin and would one day lead him home.
Paul compared redeeming grace to His first act of creation: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Charles Wesley, who certainly was no Calvinist, understood very well what this meant when he described his own experience:
"Long my imprisoned sprit lay, fast-bound in sin and nature's night; Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed Thee."
Amazing love! Amazing grace! God's grace is at the heart of all we believe and do in the name of Christ. But, like all other Christian teachings, it can be distorted and misconstrued if it is not kept in proper biblical balance.
The Bible teaches both divine sovereignty and human responsibility with respect to the process of salvation. The first confession of faith drafted by Southern Baptists defines election as "God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life, not because of foreseen merit in them, but of His mere mercy in Christ, in consequence of which choice they are called, justified, and glorified." This same confession also declares that God's work is providence and grace in no wise "destroys the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures." How can these two principles be reconciled?
Dr. Herschel Hobbs has given the best answer I know to this question: "On the level of finite intellect, the sovereignty of God and the free will of man cannot be harmonized, but in the infinite wisdom of God there is no conflict" (Isa. 54.8-9; Rom. 11.33ff).
Some people speak of "irresistible grace," as though God were a giant magnet mechanically drawing sinners unto Himself. But the history of salvation shows that human beings have been resisting God's grace since the Garden of Eden. "There's no one righteous, no not one; no one that seeks God. All have turned away" (Rom. 3.10-12). I prefer to speak of God's overcoming grace, His love that will not let us go, His never-failing mercy which pursues us, wins and woos us, unto the joy of a costly obedience.
But if God is sovereign, why should we bother to witness or preach or even pray for the lost? As a young pastor in England, William Carey confronted this attitude when a senior minister rebuked him, "Sit down, young man. When God wants to save the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine!"
But Carey knew that God had appointed the means as well as the ends to accomplish His purpose of grace. God's Word makes clear that we are to pray, plan, give, and go!
No one extolled the sovereignty of God more than Charles Haddon Spurgeon, whose little book "All of Grace" is one of the greatest soul-winning treatises in the history of the church. But Spurgeon too confronted what Andrew Fuller called the "false Calvinism" of those who opposed the promiscuous preaching of the gospel. Their views, Spurgeon said, had "chilled many churches in their very soul," leading them "to omit the free invitation of the gospel and to deny that it is the duty of sinners to believe in Jesus."
The Great Awakening was spawned by people of faith who believed that the Great Commission was still in effect and who saw no contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the command of Christ to preach the gospel to all peoples everywhere. They saw nothing lacking in the work of the cross that would prevent anyone who repents and believes from receiving eternal life. God's grace was not an inhibiting but rather a motivating factor in their evangelistic and missionary outreach.
In India, Carey preached for seven years before winning his first convert, but he worked faithfully and patiently because he knew that God's Word would not return void.
The doctrine of grace underscores the fact that while we are called to be co-laborers with God, all of the glory belongs to Him alone. This is why Paul, after his most extensive treatment of the mystery of election in Romans 9-11, concludes with an anthem of praise: "Fro from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen" (Rom.11.36).
This is the proper response to God's amazing grace--doxology and humility. The realm of grace is where all the boasting stops. Here no one has bragging rights, for, as Paul asked the Corinthians, "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Cor.4.7).
The great missionary statesman, Luther Rice, was a strong defender of Reformed theology, but he knew that the doctrine of grace should never become a pretext for arrogance or contention among God's people. His words are still relevant today:
"Let us not...become bitter against those who view this matter in a different light, nor treat them in a supercilious manner; rather let us be gentle towards all men. For who has made us to differ from what we once were? Who has removed the scales from our eyes?"
With that, I am...