Interestingly, Between the Times is turning up the temperature on Calvinism's focus, with 4 for 4 of their most recent posts addressing the issue. I'm getting jealous: at that rate, pretty soon their focus promises to overshadow my own! Being a single author, I can never keep up!
I appreciate the latest post by Founders Calvinist, J. D. Greear. I must say, however, though his mild, warm presentation is thoroughly winsome, the points of contact he presumes exists among all Southern Baptists--especially between Calvinists such as himself and many NonCalvinists--reveals, in some ways, a fundamental misunderstanding about the divide between the two.
Before Greear mentions 4 things that gets to the heart of biblical theology, he writes, "Often Calvinists will say that Calvinism is the essence of the Gospel (see Piper, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc). Unfortunately, that statement often gets translated to mean that the particulars of the 5 points are the essence of the Gospel, which they clearly are not. But I don’t think that’s what those guys mean. What they mean is that Calvinism gets at the heart of the Gospel" (emphasis mine). A few things about this paragraph.
First, I commend Greear for conceding what many NonCalvinists have lamented for years: Calvinists oftentimes insist Calvinism is the essence of the gospel. Greear even fills in the blanks with some popular names--Piper, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc. Yet, when Greear attempts to tease this idea out, it becomes confusing, precisely about what he is suggesting.
On the one hand, Greear denies Calvinists embrace the particulars of the 5 points are the "essence" of the gospel but on the other, asserts Calvinism gets at the "heart" of the gospel. The question here is simple: how does Greear distinguish between the "essence" of the gospel and the "heart" of the gospel? Also, confusing is the insertion of "particulars" of the 5 points. Does Greear mean the details of the 5 points are not the "essence" of the gospel? If so, which details in each of the 5 points may be surrendered? If he does not mean such, what is his meaning?
Secondly, Greear mentions what he apparently believes is a bottom-line approach to speaking of Calvinism. He writes: "There are 4 things Calvinists often teach which really do get to the heart of a Biblical theology. Regardless of where you come down on the “5 points,” these are things I think Gospel-centered Christians should agree on" (emphasis added).
What are the four things?
- THE ‘PRIORITY’ OF GOD’S WORK IN SALVATION: by this Greear means, "It takes a work of God’s grace in us before we will desire to know God. How that happens, what role our cooperation plays in that… those things we might disagree on." If this is all Greear means, no problem from any non-Calvinist will ever be voiced (though no guarantees exist, of course). I'm fairly certain, however, most all non-Calvinists would bite into that like a sweet Georgia peach. On the other hand, I have to register my profound doubt that the overwhelming majority of Founders Calvinists would settle for such a mild understanding of God's prior grace. The truth is, their persistent, public, unequivocal commitment to "born-again-before-faith" theology cannot sit down in the classroom with hands over mouths. I think they'll want much more. But, I can be proven wrong
- THE PREEMINENCE OF GOD’S GLORY IN SALVATION: Greear means the biggest reality in the universe, and the priority among God’s purposes on earth, is His own glory...This is important because if the fact that God’s glory is ultimate in the unverse were not true, then a lot of things in the Bible won’t make sense to us. Personally, I'm reluctant to assign any attribute about God the "biggest reality" or the "ultimate." Though a fine distinction, I am more comfortable speaking in terms of God Himself being both "biggest" and "ultimate" reality. One reason this is significant for me is, I do not attempt to make an apologetic case for hell's existence by arguing that hell's existence most glorifies God which Greear appears to presume.
- THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL: Greear writes, "Even if you don’t believe that God determines, individually, who will be saved and who will not, we have to recognize that God has maintained control of when and how the Gospel has been preached." First, what nonCalvinist argues God does not determine who will be saved and who will not? I surely don't. Secondly, disregarding God's providential workings in the world is not something NonCalvinists are about--at least as I know.
- THAT GOD, IN NO WAY, OWES ANY SALVATION: That we all deserve hell with no exceptions is not disputed among NonCalvinists. So, on this we agree. And, had Greear just stopped there, we'd have little dispute. However, he places a heavily loaded Calvinistic charge on the tail-end: "He didn’t choose me because He saw I’d believe. From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace." While no nonCalvinist has a particular reservation with the second proposition--that is,"From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace"--many NonCalvinists would register strong objection to the first proposition: "He didn’t choose me because He saw I’d believe." First, there is a subtle but certain attempt to drive a wedge between God's foreknowledge and predestination. Many NonCalvinists, right or wrong, link a strong connection between God's foreknowledge and predestination. I do not mean foreknowledge in the sense of "fore-loving" but prescience. Second, there is also a subtle but real presumption that if God did base His predestination on foreknowledge, it would be considered an act of merit. That appears the reason Greear added the second proposition, "From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace." However, Scripture gives no indication whatsoever that God's foreknowledge of our faith would constitute an act of good works on our behalf.
In conclusion, while we appreciate Greear's attempt to put in print what all Gospel-centered Christians should agree on, for my part his four propositions are both too subtly reformed to appeal to the masses of NonCalvinists and too weak to appeal to Founders' insistence on unbendable reformed faith.
Whatever happened to The Baptist Faith & Message, anyways?
With that, I am...