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Barth, Van Til, and Calvinism

Karl Barth: May 10, 1886-1968

Karl Barth: May 10, 1886-1968

Karl Barth (May 10, 1886–1968) and Cornelius Van Til (May 3, 1895–1987) tend to be polarizing figures in church theology. Van Til was a firm opponent of Barth’s theology, arguing that it was fundamentally flawed and anti-biblical. Despite their sharp differences, Barth and Van Til were similar in that they were both strongly influenced by the work of John Calvin.

In Church Dogmatics, The Epistle to the Romans, Barth states, “Calvin’s theology interests us in its historical context as an outstanding record of Reformation theology that historically—and at times even legally—has served as a basis of proclamation in modern Protestant churches.”

In The Case for Calvinism, Van Til responds to The Case for a New Reformation, The Case for Theology in Liberal Perspective, and The Case for Orthodox Theology. He challenges their views “by setting the truly Christ-centered position of the historic Protestant faith, especially the historic Reformed Faith as found in Calvin and his followers.”

To celebrate the birthdays of Van Til and Barth, Logos Bible Software is offering:

$50 off The Works of Cornelius Van Til—use coupon code VANTIL13 until May 11.

 $50 off Barth’s Church Dogmatics—coupon code BARTH13, until May 11.

Eric Sigward, guest blogger and former student of Van Til, wrote the following about Barth and Van Til.

Van Til and Barth on the Celebration of Barth’s birthday, 2013

By Eric H. Sigward

Cornelius Van Til: May 3, 1895-1987.

Cornelius Van Til: May 3, 1895-1987.

When I entered Westminster Seminary as a freshman in 1975, I was fortunate enough to take Van Til’s last official class as an emeritus professor, “Karl Barth and the Word of God.” My first sessions with the great professor were “buzzing and blooming confusions,” as Van Til used to say. The terms were so large and the relationships so confusing that I despaired of ever understanding what he was saying. Eventually, I got an A– in the class and became a good friend of Van Til’s. It is with the memory of this initial confusion in mind that I approach writing about Van Til and Barth. I wish to show sympathy for those who are not familiar with these men or their theologies. As Van Til once said, “American evangelicals know absolutely nothing about Karl Barth.” I am trying to avoid shutting down the lines of communication between my subjects and you.

Van Til felt that Barth showed a verbal similarity to orthodox Protestantism and yet a thorough-going denial of its contents. Barth was not orthodox, but neo-orthodox. How is it that we Christians can criticize and label the philosophy of another professed Christian as heretical? It is on the basis of Reformed theology’s doctrine of the total depravity of man whereby the natural man denies the authority of God in any area of his life and sets himself up as his own authority (and god). By grace, however, God has penetrated the natural man’s defenses, has given him a new birth and a new trust in the infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. With faith in Christ, God gives man faith in his Word. Thus, Christians may criticize error based upon this new epistemological certainty, based upon this new birth in Christ that brings with it all of God’s gracious provisions of salvation, including the mysterious testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We now naturally recognize one another.

Van Til thought Barth had reworked all the essentials of Reformed Christianity. In a nutshell, Barth had massively changed the traditional doctrine of election into a fabrication that Christ was simultaneously the only eternally elect and the only eternally reprobate man—reprobate upon the cross and elect in the Resurrection. Beware, however, that these “events” did not take place in history at all but in “Geschichte.” This is dialecticisim—espousing one thing and the opposite at the same time. In Barth, it is exhaustively applied to God and all knowledge: We both know and don’t know God at the same time.

Such a myth, fable, or fabrication did not take place in space and time at all but in Geschichte, where eternal history takes place. That is to say, Barth had an uber-system and an uber-realm that would color all other theological statements. Since one wire of orthodox theology can be cut, why not cut them all—the doctrines of Scripture, creation, man, Christ, and salvation? Pursuing the mission of higher criticism and neo-orthodoxy, Barth would translate (Umdeutung) all our words into an ingenious system that resembled Christianity but was not Christian. Fortunately, over the years, Barth has not borne fruit as a church or as a movement. Christians have dropped him or never known him at all, and the only place we find Barthians today is in university seminars made up of graduate students.

Calvin: On The Importance of The Community of Believers

Cog 2003 03 WikiIn his stirring commentary on Psalm 16 (Psalm 16:3) Calvin remarks:

This passage, therefore, teaches us that there is no sacrifice more acceptable to God than when we sincerely and heartily connect ourselves with the society of the righteous, and being knit together by the sacred bond of godliness, cultivate and maintain with them brotherly good-will. In this consists the communion of saints which separates them from the degrading pollutions of the world, that they may be the holy and peculiar people of God.

The community serves, it seems, the dual purpose of knitting believers together in godliness and sanctity and in separating believers from the ‘degrading pollutions’ of the world.  Calvin may well be on to something here that modern Christianity might need very much: i.e., the community as refuge.  Christianity has never been, and never can be, an individual concern.  It is a community of saints, believers gathered together not simply for worship but for fellowship, mutual encouragement, and mutual edification.

In our over-individualized culture what we need, perhaps more than anything, is the security which the communio sanctorum alone offers.  Calvin, it is my opinion, understood this and in putting thought to paper has allowed us all to see the value of it as well.

 

The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, pt.2

Connections to Today’s Current Situation: The London Baptist 1689 Confession of Faith’s Influence on the Abstracts of Principles

James Petigru Boyce, often called the Cavalier and Puritan, was a pastor, a university professor, and above all, the founder and first president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), a seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Boyce more than appreciated Calvinistic theology—he was raised by a mother of Presbyterian descent, and he studied under Archibald Alexander at Princeton Theological Seminary. As Timothy George has stated, “Princeton provided Boyce with a systematic framework in which to cast the Calvinist theology he had imbibed from Basil Manly Sr. and his other Charleston pastors.” After his education at Princeton, Boyce pastored for two years before moving on to teach at Furman University. In 1856, Boyce gave an address titled “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” which would not only affect where he worked at the time, but also bring about the foundation of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As Boyce made clear during the birth of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), three ideals were essential to building a common theological seminary in the South: The first was openness, creating a seminary for everyone and anyone who was called by God regardless of academic background or social status. The second was excellence—Boyce was intent on establishing an advanced program of theological study that, in its academic rigor, would be comparable to the type of instruction offered at Princeton, Andover, Harvard, and Yale. The third change that Boyce brought to SBTS established a set of mandatory doctrines and a confessional guideline for SBTS’s instructors. Timothy George sheds light on this in his Theologians of the Baptist Tradition.

“The third ideal was confessional identity. Boyce proposed that the seminary be established on a set of doctrinal principles that would provide consistency and direction for the future. This, too, was a radical step in the context of nineteenth-century Baptist life. Newton Theological Institute, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America, had no such confessional guidelines. Nor, indeed, did the Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845. However, Boyce firmly believed that it was necessary to protect the seminary from doctrinal erosion. From his student days in New England, Boyce was aware of the recent currents in theology: Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, the New Divinity. In particular, he spoke against the “blasphemous doctrines” of Theodore Parker, who had denied that Christianity was based on a special revelation of God. At the same time he was concerned about populist theologies in the South, and warned against the “twin errors of Campbellism and Arminianism.”

While all three areas of Boyce’s address and vision are true of SBTS today (thanks to Dr. Al Mohler), that is not the case for the SBC. It is not false in the light that it has fallen short of Boyce’s Abstracts of Principles—the SBC was not, in fact, founded on Boyce’s Abstracts of Principles—but the SBC did not follow the examples set before it by its earlier Baptist forerunners (London Baptist in 1689, Philadelphia Baptist in 1742, and New Hampshire Baptist in 1833) in making a confessional theology, which would have given it a denominational foundation. The SBC was finally organized as a convention by 1845, but it had no foundational set of doctrines to follow until 80 years later, in 1925. These have been edited, revised, and added to a number of times throughout the past century, and they have led to the different views within the SBC on salvation, especially in the absence of the SBC doctrines’ earlier Calvinistic brother, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833).

The SBTS still holds to its original confessional standard, maintaining that its professors agree to the same Abstracts of Principles that Boyce meant to define the SBC. As Timothy George points out, “The Abstract of Principles was intentionally modeled on the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which was based on the Second London Confession, which, in turn, was a Baptist adaptation of the Westminster Confession.” Thus one sees the historical value in taking a look back into his or her church history. Seeing the godly examples, the doctrinal stances, and theological guidelines God has given to His Church brings great value to the Church’s future growth.

For Additional Information
Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001).

The Reviews are in on Calvin’s Institutes

At the young age of twenty-six, John Calvin finished the first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. The results and response to the work was impressive, to say the very least.

He was only in his twenty-sixth year, when he published the first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, with an address to the persecuting King of France which has ever been esteemed a production unrivalled for classic purity, force of argument, and persuasive eloquence. Designed as a defence of the calumniated Reformers, and an exposure of the base injustice, tyranny, and corruption of their persecutors, this work became the bulwark of the Reformation, and the stronghold of its adherents. It was made the Confession of Faith of a large portion of the Protestant world, and the text book of every student. It was recommended by a Convocation held at Oxford, to the general study of the English nation, and long continued to be the standard work in theology in the English universities. The Pope makes it one of his anathematizing charges against Queen Elizabeth, that the impious mysteries and Institutes, according to Calvin, are received and observed by herself, and even enjoined upon all her subjects to be obeyed.* According to Schultingius, the English gave these Institutes a preference to the Bible. “The Bishops,” he says, “ordered all the ministers, that they should learn them almost to a word; that they should be kept in all the churches for public use.” He informs us also that they were studied in both the universities; that in Scotland the students of divinity began by reading these Institutes; that at Heidelberg, Geneva, Lausanne, and in all the Calvinistic universities, these Institutes were publicly taught by the professors; that in Holland, ministers, civilians, and the common people, even the coachman and the sailor, studied this work with great diligence; that esteeming it as a pearl of great price, they had it bound and gilt in the most elegant manner; and that it was appealed to as a standard on all theological questions. According to this writer, and the Cardinal Legate of the Pope, these Institutes were considered more dangerous to the cause of the papacy than all the other writings of the Reformers.

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 21-23.

Calvin’s Prayers: A Model of Scholarly Humility

Calvin prayed at the conclusion of his lectures.  Those prayers are both intriguing reading and profound spiritual instruction.  For example, at the conclusion of the 38th lecture on the Minor Prophets, he prays

Oil painting of a young John Calvin.

Grant, Almighty God, that as almost the whole world give such loose reins to their licentiousness, that they hesitate not either to despise or to regard as of no value thy sacred word,—Grant, O Lord, that we may always retain such reverence as is justly due to it and to thy holy oracles, and be so moved, whenever thou deignest to address us, that being truly humbled, we may be raised up by faith to heaven, and by hope gradually attain that glory which is as yet hid from us. And may we at the same time so submissively restrain ourselves, as to make it our whole wisdom to obey thee and to do thee service, until thou gatherest us into thy kingdom, where we shall be partakers of thy glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.  [Calvin, J., Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Joe 1:1–4)].

Noteworthy here is the focus of Calvin’s prayer:

1- that his hearers value Scripture; 2- that they reverence God’s speech; 3- that they be humbled by the fact that God stoops to speak to them; 4- and finally, that they heed it to the point of real active obedience.

The background to this prayer is the remarkable claim of Calvin that

The Prophet reproves the Jews for being so stupid as not to consider that they were chastised by the hand of God, though this was quite evident. Hence they pervert, in my judgment, the meaning of the Prophet, who think that punishments are here denounced which were as yet suspended; for they transfer all these things to a future time. But I distinguish between this reproof and the denunciations which afterwards follow. Here then the Prophet reproaches the Jews, that having been so severely smitten, they did not gain wisdom; and yet even fools, when the rod is applied to their backs, know that they are punished. Since then the Jews were so stupid, that when even chastised they did not understand that they had to do with God, the Prophet justly reproves this madness. Hear, he says, ye old men; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land, and declare this to your children. But the consideration of this passage I shall put off till tomorrow.

Calvin’s rather gruff remarks – set in balance with the prayer he uttered moments afterward- indicate that for Calvin there was a terrible danger in refusing to respect God’s address.  Such refusal was, in his terminology, ‘stupid’.  As those who refused to hear Amos were ‘stupid’ so too, Calvin would argue, are those who refuse to hear God today (in Calvin’s day).

Calvin was absolutely convinced that God must be heard.  Surely Christians today would assert the same (albeit without such free use of the word ‘stupid’).

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Calvin’s Exegesis of Isaiah 54:7

It scarcely needs to be said to readers here, given as they are to an interest in Calvin’s work, that he offered amazing insights into biblical texts every time he turned his attention to exegesis.

Take, for example, his explanation of Isaiah 54:7-

7. For a little moment I forsook thee. The Prophet explains more fully the former statement, and shews what will be the nature of this divorce, namely, that she shall be speedily restored to her former condition. He magnifies the mercy of God, and extenuates the sorrow by which the hearts of believers might be oppressed. It was not enough for believers to expect some revival, if they were not convinced that God’s wrath would be of short duration. We quickly lose courage and faint, if the Lord be not nigh, and if he do not quickly stretch out his hand to us. For this reason Isaiah, after having spoken of restoring the Church, adds that this divorce shall last but “for a moment,” but that his mercy shall be everlasting.

When he says that he forsook his people, it is a sort of admission of the fact. We are adopted by God in such a manner that we cannot be rejected by him on account of the treachery of men; for he is faithful, so that he will not cast off or abandon his people. What the Prophet says in this passage must therefore refer to our feelings and to outward appearance, because we seem to be rejected by God when we do not perceive his presence and protection. And it is necessary that we should thus feel God’s wrath, even as a wife divorced by her husband deplores her condition, that we may know that we are justly chastised. But we must also perceive his mercy; and because it is infinite and eternal, we shall find that all afflictions in comparison of it are light and momentary. Whenever, therefore, we are pressed by adversity, we ought to betake ourselves to this consolation. At the same time it ought to be observed, that what was said was actually true as to the whole body of the people, who had been divorced on account of their wickedness; and although God did not receive all of them indiscriminately into favour with him, but only the elect remnant, yet there is nothing absurd or improper in addressing his discourse as if it had been to the same persons.  –  Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 54:7). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

I have set off in bold face both the phrase with which Calvin is concerned and the stunning insights he gleans from the text.  And, it has to be said, his insights are in no respect ‘eisegesis’.  Calvin reads Isaiah theologically.  And therefore, Calvin reads Isaiah correctly and interprets him effectively.

This slight example of Calvin’s exegetical work will, I hope, convince readers to dive deeply into Calvin’s commentaries.  They are a treasure trove.

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Jim West

A Baptist Defense of Calvinism

One of the most influential of all British Baptists wrote these lines-

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.

Who was he? None less than C.H. Spurgeon- one of the most widely cited and influential Baptists in all of Baptist history. But that wasn’t his only assertion about Calvin and Calvinism. In his ‘Defense of Calvinism’ he also suggests

I suppose there are some persons whose minds naturally incline towards the doctrine of free-will. I can only say that mine inclines as naturally towards the doctrine of sovereign grace. Sometimes, when I see some of the worst characters in the street, I feel as if my heart must burst forth in tears of gratitude that God has never let me act as they have done! I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone. I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of Divine grace.

This is so very Calvinistic that Calvin himself would have amen-ed. What follows a little further on in the treatise may well be affirmed by Calvin too- had he a say in the matter:

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer- I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.

Baptists have affirmed the teachings of Calvin, in the main, for a very long time. The rejection of those teachings, in the main, by many among Baptists today (and particularly in the SBC) isn’t so much a return to Baptist roots as it is an aberration.

+++++

Jim West

Baptists and Calvin: Does Calvinism Lead to ‘Antimission’ Sentiments?

The accusation that Calvinism leads to antimission sentiments has sometimes been leveled, but as Michael Horton shows in his recent book For Calvin, nothing could be further from the truth. Horton observes, in the section titled “Calvinism and Christian Missions” (p. 151), that, in fact, Calvinism has been and remains one of the most important sources of Christian missionaries, with no less than Thomas Mayhew, David Brainerd, David Livingstone, Robert Morrison, and Jonathan Goforth stemming from Reformed churches and practicing Reformed theology. Quoting Horton—

With growing interest in Calvinism in Southern Baptist circles, some leaders have expressed alarm that it will dampen the denomination’s enthusiasm for evangelism and missions . . . . [But] the Southern Baptist Convention sponsors “about 5000 home missionaries” and “more than 5000 foreign missionaries.” For a denomination of sixteen million, this comes to approximately “0.000625 missionaries per capita.”

By contrast, the 310,000 member Presbyterian Church in America has “about 600 foreign missionaries.” That is 0.001935 foreign missionaries per capita, commissioned and supported by the PCA. Thus, the PCA supports three times as many foreign missionaries per capita as the SBC supports foreign and domestic missions combined (p. 162).

And the PCA gives twice as much per dollar to international missions as the SBC does (p. 162).

So much, then, for the absurd assertion that Calvinism leads to antimissionary sentiments.

But, some may protest, Calvin himself laid the foundation for less interest in missions with his understanding of the doctrine of predestination. So what does Calvin say himself about missionary activity? In his commentary on the Gospels, at Matthew 28:19, he writes

Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now, the wall of partition having been broken down, (Eph. 2:14,) the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born, at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was given for a light of the Gentiles, that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth. Mark means the same thing by every creature; for when peace has been proclaimed to those that are within the Church, the same message reaches those who are at a distance, and were strangers, (Eph. 2:17, 19.) How necessary it was that the apostles should be distinctly informed of the calling of the Gentiles, is evident from this consideration, that even after having received the command, they felt the greatest horror at approaching them, as if by doing so they polluted themselves and their doctrine.

I’ve emphasized the most relevant materials. Calvin was himself convinced of the necessity of the preaching of the Gospel to the ‘ends of the earth.’ Calvinism, then, does not in any respect lead to ‘antimissionary’ sentiments. Quite the contrary.

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Jim West

Related articles

Calvinism and the London Baptist Confession of 1644 (Part 2)

The Particular Baptists and Calvinism
1644 brought growth for the Particular Baptists as they more clearly defined the doctrinal standards in their confessional statement. 1645 brought trouble.

Arminian General Baptists charged the Particular Baptists with insufficiently addressing free will, communalism, and falling from grace, especially within the L0ndon Confession of 1644’s first edition. The General Baptists’ response to the London Confession of 1644, documented in a pamphlet titled “The Foundation of Free Grace Opened,” gave their dictional stance against limited atonement, clearly siding with Arminian theology.

The differences and disagreements between 1645’s General and Particular Baptists gave rise to a second edition of the 1644 London Confession and of the First London Baptist confession of 1644. Third and fourth editions would be made later in 1651 and 1652. As William L. Lumpkin commented about the Particular Baptists,

In the Army of Cromwell, Baptists had distinguished themselves and had risen to positions of leadership . . . (Calvinist) Baptists were everywhere in prominent positions, and no longer lived in fear of the King and Parliament. The Westminster Confession has appeared in 1646, and by comparing the London Baptist Confession with it men could see that Baptists indeed belonged to the mainstream of Reformed life.

Calvinistic theology can be seen in a number of areas within the Particular Baptist’s confessional documents. Here are just a few examples taken from the second-edition London Baptist Confession of 1646.

Total Depravity
Article VI: first Eve, then Adam being seduced did wittingly and willingly fall into disobedience and transgression of the Commandment of their great Creator, for the which death came upon all, and reigned over all, so that all since the Fall are conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity, and so by nature children of wrath, and servants of sin, subjects of death, and all other calamities due to sin in this world and for ever, being considered in the state of nature, without relation to Christ.

[See also Article V.]

Unconditional Election
Article V: Subject to the eternal wrath of the great God by transgression; yet the elect, which God has loved with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, neither by their own works, lest any man should boast himself, but wholly and only by God of His free grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.

[See also article XVII and article XIX.]

Limited Atonement
Article XXI: That Christ Jesus by His death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation only for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave Him; and that the Gospel which is to be preached to all men as the ground of faith, is, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the ever blessed God, filled with the perfection of all heavenly and spiritual excellencies, and that salvation is only and alone to be had through the believing in His name.

[See also article XXX.]

Irresistible Grace
Article XXII: That faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and not only so, but the excellency of them above all other writing and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power of the fullness of the Spirit in His workings and operations; and thereupon are enabled to cast the weight of their souls upon this truth thus believed.

[Se also article V and article XII].

Perseverance of the Saints
Article XXXVI: To this Church He has made His promises, and given the signs of His Covenant, presence, love, blessing, and protection: here are the fountains and springs of His heavenly grace continually flowing forth; thither ought all men to come, of all estates, that acknowledge Him to be their Prophet, Priest, and King, to be enrolled amongst His household servants, to under His heavenly conduct and government, to lead their lives in His walled sheepfold, and watered garden, to have communion here with the saints, that they may be made to be partakers of their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

[See also article XXVII.]

Connections to Today’s Current Situation
Where do Baptists come from and what are their historical beliefs? The question lives on, surfacing again in the twenty-first century within America’s largest Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. As Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol stated in 1995, “Never in our history have we stood in greater need of reexamining our roots.” The issue is the same today as it was then.

With regards to today’s current Southern Baptist situation on soteriology, members must look past the “traditional” views of the twentieth century and back to their historical seventeenth-century fathers. We must not forget the theology that the Baptist church is founded upon. Southern Baptists need to clearly see the historical value of their Protestant faith and its theological stances. As Baptist historian W. T. Whitley once stated (on Baptists’ redress of their own history), “if a later generation finds that it does not agree with its predecessors, whether in content or in emphasis, it has openly revised and re-stated what it does believe or it has discarded the old confession and framed another.”

Additional Reading Information on Calvinism and Baptist Church

A Preliminary Word: Not All Baptists are Anti-Calvin or Anti-Reformed

Before launching further into our series proper, one additional word needs to be said, I think. It’s a preliminary word, a disclaimer of sorts, before the genuinely important questions like “Where is the intersection of Calvinism and Baptist history?” And “What are the major differences between Arminianism and Calvinism?” And “Within Baptist thought, where does Calvinism live today?” And, finally, “What was the role of Calvinism in the Reformation?”

This preliminary clarification is hinted at in the title of this entry: Not all Baptists are anti-Reformed. It’s a necessary preliminary clarification because very recently Ed Young, pastor of a Baptist church in Texas, opined of Reformed pastors in general and one Reformed pastor in particular:

Are they all bad? No they just don’t reach anybody. Last year at Fellowship Church we baptized 2,632 people. One of the fair-haired boys of this movement, I will not call his name, they baptized 26 people last year. (he then drops his hand-held mic on the floor and looks stunned). Oh, he’s deep. What are you smoking? Are you kidding me? I cannot put my head on the pillow at night knowing we baptized 26 people.

I’ll leave aside for the moment the many problems of such a statement in terms of arrogance and pride and focus on Young’s self-evident loathing of Reformed theology, pointing out simply that though there may well be others who feel something similar, there are many, many Baptists who would be shocked and dismayed by the sentiment exhibited by Young and those of his negligible camp.

For example, none less than A. T. Robertson, perhaps the finest Greek scholar of the Baptist tradition, while listing those whom he considered the best examples of preaching scholars, wrote:

This then is true; not all scholars can preach, and not all preachers can become scholars. There are varying degrees of both, but the best preachers have generally been men of the best training in the schools. This is all that can be said and it is enough. For each man wants to do the most that is in him for the glory of God. The leading examples of preaching will confirm this statement. Paul was an educated man, and so was John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouthed preacher of later days. Luther was a theological professor. Calvin preached every day for a long time while professor of theology at Geneva. John Knox learned Greek and Hebrew between the ages of forty and fifty. Whitefield and Wesley, the great popular preachers, were Oxford men. The famous French preachers, Bossuet, Bourdaloue and Massillon, were likewise scholarly men. And the exceptions usually prove the rule, for even Spurgeon has made a respectable scholar of himself in spite of the lack of early training.

Robertson’s inclusion of Knox and Calvin is certainly not accidental, and had he believed as Young believes, he certainly couldn’t have included them.

Other famous Baptists have also found much merit in Calvin, including but not limited to—and in no particular order—Charles Spurgeon, Roger Williams, Basil Manly, J. P. Boyce, and, of course, Al Mohler. Young may be a vocal critic of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, but he is not a central voice, and he is not even an important voice.

Calvin, the Reformed Tradition, and Calvinism have all been extraordinarily important in the history of the Baptists. Some marginal people may wish to attempt to rewrite history, but they won’t succeed. There are too many who know the facts.

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Jim West

 


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