This week was an interesting week on SBC Tomorrow. On Wednesday, we offered a piece on Andrew Broaddus (1770-1848), a legendary figure in his own time... >>>
A strict Baptist of the south, Broaddus remained a positive influence for evangelical Christianity all over the region. The famed Calvinist, J.B. Jeter, a friend and supporter who preached Broaddus' funeral homily, hailed him as the most formidable foe against whom Alexander Campbell contended on the historic Baptist side of the Campbellite controversy, a controversy which wreaked havoc on 19th century Baptists. Yet, one important aspect about Broaddus' theological beliefs solicits a silent response from Baptist Calvinists today--Broaddus definitively rejected Limited Atonement.
On Thursday, we posted a piece on W.T. Brantly, Sr. Dr. Brantly was also a 19th century Baptist legend of his time not only serving as editor of The Christian Index, but also serving the pastorate of the historic Philadelphia First Baptist Church, the church which not only birthed the first Baptist association on American soil, but also whose strict Particular Baptist pastor, Elias Keach, composed what Baptist historian William Lumpkin describes as "perhaps the most influential of all confessions"--The Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742).1 Keach used The Second London Confession (1677, 1689) as a model, adding some material on hymnody among other slight changes. The Philadelphia confession also is the confession behind the so-called "Charleston tradition" in the south, since The Charleston Association of South Carolina, which was founded in 1751, adopted the Philadelphia confession sixteen years later in 1767. 2
Even so, we discovered Dr. Brantly was anything but a strict Calvinist. Rather, Brantly flat out rejected the Calvinistic notion of irresistible grace, a non-negotiable tenet of strict Calvinism. The irony remains striking. While Dr. Brantly pastored the quintessential Calvinist Baptist citadel in Philadelphia, he failed to believe and preach one of 5 Point Calvinism's necessary petals on its T.U.L.I.P.--the "I"! From the strongly confessional standpoint we find in Founders Calvinists like Tom Ascol, Tom Nettles, and Al Mohler, this appears devastating. Why?
Apparently, local ecclesial confessions even in strongly Calvinistic parishes like Philadelphia First Baptist Church hardly carries the historical, authoritative weight so often proffered upon them by contemporary Calvinist advocates like Ascol, Nettles, and Mohler among others. Brantly obviously didn't hold to Baptist Calvinists' well known adherence to and insistence upon 5 Point Calvinism. Nonetheless, he served a church which confessed a statement of faith which surely adhered to 5 Point Calvinism. Consequently, it appears probable that 18th and 19th century Baptists had no more sense of duty to tediously adhere to their local confessions than do contemporary Baptists. If I am correct, this throws the proverbial wrench into the machinery of strict Calvinist confessionalists like Ascol, Nettles, and Mohler.
Consider: Founders-type Calvinists frequently tally up all the Baptist churches in the 19th century which confessed strict Calvinist confessions like The Philadelphia Confession of Faith and from the tally infer something like, "See. We were all strong Calvinists back then." However, it hardly historically follows. If Philadelphia First Baptist Church--a church which confessed arguably the strongest, most influential Calvinist confession composed on American soil--did not demand her pastor to adhere to all 5 Points of Calvinism found in her confession, how may we legitimately deduce that most other supposed strongly Calvinist churches failed to follow Philadelphia's example?
In addition, how do we know whether the messengers from almost 300 Baptist churches scattered all over the south who met in Augusta, Georgia in 1845 were messengers representing what are supposed to be strongly Calvinistic churches just because those churches confessed strongly Calvinistic confessions? If Philadelphia First is any indication, at best we can draw no affirmative conclusion about the Calvinistic strength of the churches whose delegates met in Augusta. And, unfortunately for advocates of Calvinistic confessionalism like Ascol, Nettles, and Mohler, if we look to Philadelphia, we may reasonably infer the contrary--local Baptist churches then had no more rigid creedal connection to their confessions than local Baptist churches today.
Finally, on Friday, we posted a piece on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, E.C. Dargan (1852-1930). Serving as professor of homiletics and ecclesiological history from 1892 to 1907, Dargan hardly followed in the steps of his theological mentor, James P. Boyce, under whom Dargan studied. Indeed he brandished the High Calvinism Boyce embraced and rode the waxing wave of milder Calvinism which had all but bled out the "Charleston tradition" by the last quarter of the 19th century. Dargan's understanding of the fallen human will kisses Total Depravity good-bye--at least total depravity in the strong Calvinistic sense. His understanding of the fallen human predicament surely makes strict Calvinists cringe. But Dargan uses straight-forward language in his biblical anthropology and even scoffs at those who try to usurp the plain assertions found in Scripture by employing theological jargon and philosophical sophistry.3
Hence, so far as Baptist Calvinists and the T.U.L.I.P. are concerned, a lot of petals fell this week. Now we are down to 2 Point Calvinism, hardly a time for celebration by Founders-type Calvinists.
1William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, Judson Press, 1959 [revised 1969], p.352
3Interestingly, one critic logged on and at first agreed with my summation on Dargan only later to log back on to change his mind. By citing further reading, he claimed he needed to alter his first impression (my responses to both comments are here and here). One bit of further reading he cited led him to believe Dargan embraced regeneration precedes faith. Not only is such a conclusion incredible in itself, given Dargan's clear statements of depravity which in no shape or form could be read to require regeneration before faith (Dargan did not believe what strict Calvinists do that lost people must be raised from the dead spiritually before they can believe similarly to Lazarus being raised from the dead physically), but also if one will simply look at the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptists' first confession of faith, one will readily see Baptists did not believe in regeneration precedes faith dogma. Rather, they confessed regeneration was "a work of God's free grace conditioned upon faith in Christ" (Article VII). That is, being born again cannot happen unless faith is already present. The kicker is, E.C. Dargan sat on the committee along with E.Y. Mullins, which composed Southern Baptists' first confession. Hence, it hardly follows the critic is correct about Dargan.