Greenway nominated to lead Southwestern Seminary
The 2019 College Football National Championship game on Monday night was exciting! Clemson lost the coin toss and got off to a shaky start.
Trevor Lawrence, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound true freshman quarterback made several unimpressive incomplete passes – as the game started.
Clemson was quickly sent to the sidelines as the powerful Alabama offensive machine took the field.
The Alabama Crimson Tide began to roll in their first two plays. Tua and team seemed invincible.
Until … Clemson safety A.J. Terrell stepped in from of a pass and sprinted 44 yards for a Tigers touchdown.
Trevor Lawrence went on to pass for 347 yards. It ended as a 44-16 upset victory for the Clemson Tigers.
Dabo Swinney, the Crimson coach, gave glory to his Lord Jesus in his post-game interview.
A shaky start doesn’t define your entire life.
A shaky start doesn’t determine your finish.
A shaky start doesn’t decide who you become in life!
Maybe life slapped you around early on.
Maybe you were from the “other side of the tracks.”
Maybe you “messed up” early in life.
Maybe your first job was a failure.
Maybe there are a lot of “woulda, coulda, and shouda’s in your life.
With God, your future is more important than your past!
“Claims, Clarity, Charity – Why the Traditional Baptist Statement on Soteriology is not and cannot be Semipelagian.”
David L. Allen
Dean, School of Preaching
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Distinguished Professor of Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Periodically over the past couple of years I read a post at “The Baptist Review” that addresses some aspect of Calvinism. Sometimes in the comment threads the Traditional Baptist Statement on Soteriology (TS) is referenced and occasionally the claim of Semipelagianism pops up. This occurred recently in the post “I’m Now An Arminian,” (Posted on “The Baptist Review,” September 21, 2018, 1:53 pm.) based on the five points Dr. Leighton Flowers listed at his website Soteriology101 as “The 5 Points That Led Me Out Of Calvinism.”
While there are numerous worthy matters to discuss in the post and comments (and I always benefit from these comments and learn from them), I would like to focus only on one: the claim that the TS is Semipelagian.
In short, the TS is not and in fact cannot be legitimately interpreted as Semipelagian. Here is why.
First, let’s identify what Semipelagianism is . . . and what it is not.
What is the heresy of Pelagianism? Simply put, it is this: a person can take the initial steps toward salvation by his own efforts, apart from divine grace (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 1058). Pelagianism denies original sin and asserts wrongly that human nature is essentially unimpaired by the Fall.
Many labor under the mistaken notion that “Semipelagianism” was a term originating in the debates during and after Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century. This is in error. Actually it was Theodore Beza who invented the term in 1566, and applied it to the Roman Catholic view of grace and human will.
Beza used the term by way of analogy with “Pelagianism” to denote the Catholic conception of original sin which, after baptism, leaves only an inclination to sin. He considered the Catholic teaching to be somewhat different, though not fundamentally so, from the Pelagian conception of original sin as not transferrable to Adam’s descendants.
According to Beza, the central tenet of Semipelagianism is that it attributes salvation partly to God’s grace, and partly to what he described as human effort. Faith is viewed both as a gift of God and a choice of the human will.
In 1571, Nicholas Sanders, a Roman Catholic, began to use the term “Semipelagianism” with a shift in meaning, where he for the first time applied it to the fifth-century Massilians. The Massilians considered Pelagius a heretic and sided with Augustine on the priority of divine grace before human response, but also differed with Augustine because they believed the human will acts freely in appropriating saving grace. The Massilians affirmed original sin, the necessity of divine grace for salvation, sought a balance between grace and human freedom, “and doubted whether a just predestination could avoid being based on foreknowledge.” “Semipelagianism” is a misleading term for this kind of theology and is more fittingly called “Semi-Augustinianism.” The term “Semipelagian” as used at this point indicated a rejection of Pelagian theology by siding with Augustine, but rejecting some of the implications of Augustine’s views. (D. F. Wright, “Semi-Pelagianism,” New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, 2nd ed., eds. Martin Davie, et. al. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016], 833–34. The Catholic Encyclopedia likewise concurs that “Semipelagianism” is a misnomer.)
“Semipelagianism” came to be used for a variety of post-Reformation positions that postulated a greater or lesser degree of human free will in the process of salvation. By the 1680s the term had become common currency while its original sixteenth-century meanings and usages were virtually forgotten. Interestingly, early Catholic catalogues of heresies of the Reformation period make no mention of Semipelagianism. (See Irena Backus and Aza Gourdriaan, “‘Semipelagianism’: The Origins of the Term and its Passage into the History of Heresy,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 65.1 (January 2014): 25–46; and Rebecca Harden Weaver, Divine Grace and Human Agency: A Study of the Semi-Pelagian Controversy, Patristic Monograph Series 15 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996).
Thus, it is important to note that there was no theological position identified by the term “Semipelagianism” in the fifth and six centuries. This is not to say that the idea of Semipelagianism did not exist in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Council of Orange (529) condemned the theological position which was later identified with Semipelagianism.
It is also important to note the elasticity of the term and its usage from the sixteenth century until today. Semipelagianism means different things to different people.
And that is part of the problem with respect to those who want to label the Traditional Statement as “Semipelagian.” The historical-theological context of the fifth-century debates between Augustine and Pelagius and their surrogates really have no correlation to the current conversation Southern Baptists are engaged in regarding the TS, as Dr. Harwood rightly points out (Harwood, “Is the Traditional Statement Semi-Pelagian?”, in Anyone Can Be Saved: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology, eds. David L. Allen, Eric Hankins, Adam Harwood [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2016], 157–68. Harwood’s chapter is an excellent resource on this subject and is the best refutation of the Semipelagian charge.).
According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the so-called Semipelagianism of the 4th and 5th centuries “maintained that the first steps toward the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that Grace supervened only later.” As recent scholars have noted, this definition needs to be refined in light of the historical evidence. But setting that aside, let’s go with this definition for a moment, since this is, generally speaking, the way the term is used by many today.
By that definition, Baptist theologians Malcolm Yarnell and Adam Harwood have demonstrated from the language of the TS itself that it clearly denies Semipelagianism. The Statement affirms the priority of divine grace in nearly every article, including Article Two, which is the focus of the Semipelagian charge. Article Two states, “While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s [prior] drawing through the Gospel.” Article Four, “The Grace of God,” states, “We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.” The TS makes clear that sinners are saved through a faith response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel prior to the response of the sinner. The TS prohibits the Semipelagian understanding of a sinner taking the first steps toward salvation. The TS does not prioritize the human will over the grace of God. The free response of any sinner is not possible without God’s initiation. Semipelagianism does not argue for the priority of grace in the matter of salvation. The TS does.
Now, here is what I have observed in some of the comments by Calvinists labeling the TS as Semipelagian. First, there is the presumption and presupposition that concepts like total inability, irresistible grace, and regeneration preceding faith are matters of fact. These are of course all disputed by those of us who are not Calvinists. (The latter is disputed by many Calvinists as well, but I digress.)
Second, presuppositions like “original sin entails original guilt” are considered fact and any denial of such is considered to be a part of Semipelagianism. This was the approach of Herman Bavinck and appears to be followed by some Calvinists, including some commenting in “The Baptist Review.” As Dr. Yarnell has accurately pointed out, on such a partisan definition of Semipelagianism, The Baptist Faith and Message would likely be classified as “Semipelagian” since the BFM makes no reference to original guilt. Not even Reformed theologians are in agreement on whether original sin includes original guilt. Henri Blocher in his book Original Sin notes the different views among the Reformed.
Third, it appears to me that some Calvinists have only two theological boxes and some have only three. A few, thankfully only a few, seem to believe that the two boxes are Calvinism and Unbiblical. This is a classic case of the False Dilemma Fallacy. Others operate under the three box system: Calvinism, Arminianism, Unbiblical (where Arminianism barely escapes the third category, i.e., it is wrong on many points, but it is not heresy). As Dr. Harwood noted in his critique of Roger Olson’s points concerning the TS, as Traditional Baptists, we don’t necessarily need to utilize the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace (which is in need of careful definition as well) to state our position against aspects of Calvinism.
While we are at it, let me state for the record that the term “prevenient grace” antedates Arminius and all orthodox Christians affirm some form of prevenient grace in the general meaning of the term: a grace coming from God prior to any human response to the Gospel and enabling any human response to the Gospel. This is what lies behind Augustine’s use of the term (grace is “prevenient to human will”) and Calvin’s use of the term in their writings and, more recently, Fleming Rutledge’s statement in her book on atonement, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2015) that we need to retain the valuable term “prevenient grace.” The initiating act of God for salvation as defined by the TS falls well within this category.
Now back to point number three above. Calvinists and Arminians err when they claim that theologically, it’s either Calvinism or Arminianism. This approach does not do justice to the varieties of orthodox Christian traditions. Augustinianism is not identical with Calvinism. Nor can Lutheranism be identified as Calvinism. As Michael Horton rightly noted, Confessional Lutherans “cannot be pressed into Calvinist-Arminian categories” because they affirm unconditional election and monergism, but deny double predestination, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of believers (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 314.n.11). Douglas A. Sweeney (professor of Church History at Trinity) informs us that Lutheranism is . . . Lutherans. They are neither “hesitant Calvinists” nor “two-and-a-half-point Calvinists.” (See https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/was-luther-a-calvinist/). Baptists are Baptists, and we are a varied bunch! Those who affirm the TS reject the notion that one has to be either Calvinist or Arminian . . . and Baptist history is on our side. See http://www.baptisttheology.org/white-papers/neither-calvinists-nor-arminians-but-baptists/.
Fourth, and this may be the most problematic of all, some critics of the TS seem to assume or believe that anything that is not Calvinism is, by entailment, Semipelagianism. Since the TS authors and signers deny such things as regeneration preceding faith, total depravity entails total inability, and that faith is a special grace gift given only to the elect, some Calvinists wrongly interpret the TS as denying prior divine initiative in salvation, and thus they conclude it is Semipelagian. This is a misuse of the term . . . and a serious mistake. It reads Semipelagianism into the words of the TS rather than finding it there.
I would urge all to read the last three pages of Richard Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice (Baker, 2017) to see that today’s Reformed understanding of Compatibilism is not equivalent to that of the early Reformed theologians who placed more emphasis on genuine free will. Spoiler alert—heavy dependence on Jonathan Edwards for your understanding of the freedom of the will, or the lack thereof, is problematic according to Muller! Edwards did the Church no favor when he wedded Calvinism with Thomas Hobbes’ determinism (See Allen Guelzo’s Edwards on the Will [Wipf and Stock, 2008]. Even the 19th century Calvinist theologians B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge were not on board with Edwards).
God’s prior initiative in salvation does preclude Semipelagianism.
The TS affirms God’s prior initiative in salvation.
The TS is not Semipelagian.
God’s prior initiative in salvation does not preclude libertarian freedom.
God’s prior initiative in salvation does not have to include Calvinism’s paradigm of total inability of the human will. Denial of total inability is not Semipelagianism. As Arminius rightly made clear in his refutation of the charge of Pelagianism, the sinfulness of humanity is so complete that only by grace, and by grace alone, is human freedom even a possibility. (W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments, 189.)
The Biblical reality of humanity’s responsibility to God militates against a wholesale rejection of freedom of the will. A will that is not free is not a will, as the early Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas all affirmed. Libertarian freedom, rightly understood, has always been a qualified freedom. A person does not act outside of the influences of his sinful human nature or contrary to the judgment of his intellect or outside God’s providence.
In this vein, serious problems exist with Augustine’s exegesis of Romans 9 and Ephesians 2, coupled with his concept of original sin. Prior to the later Augustine, with the exception of the Pelagians, all Christians held the concept of an inherited sin nature and propensity to sin which prohibited any human approach to God apart from an initiating divine grace. As Kenneth Wilson has recently demonstrated, Augustine redefined the standard notion of original sin to include original guilt. Free will for Augustine becomes Stoic “non-free free will” requiring God’s infusion of faith for regeneration to occur. Augustine borrowed from Stoic moral theory to validate his novel notion of individual unconditional election à la his interpretation of Romans 9. Wilson states:
Stoicism’s internal “evil will” precluded any possibility for a human to have a positive response [to the gospel]. . . . Therefore “free will” meant only that humans were capable of responding negatively, not that humans could believe. His novelty blatantly contradicted the universal Christian doctrine of the God-given (and post-fall retained) capacity/principle to receive/accept/believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (cf. John 1:12–13; John 20:21). (Kenneth Wilson, Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to “Non-free Free Will,” in Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity, vol. 111 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018], 270).
This ground-breaking book is a bombshell in Augustinian studies and demonstrates Augustine derived much of his later theology more from Stoic, Manichaean, and Neo-Platonic philosophies, which he then superimposed on key biblical texts. See especially pp. 265–69, on Augustine’s departure from traditional Christian theology of original sin. Calvinists cannot afford to ignore Wilson’s scholarly treatment. He is one of the few scholars to have read and examined all of Augustine’s writings in Latin, in chronological order. Augustine is the fountainhead of Reformed theology and the primary influencer of Calvin.
So, back to the title of this piece: “Claims, Clarity, Charity.” Claims have to be substantiated. The claim that the TS is Semipelagian remains unsubstantiated. Clarity—definitional, historical, theological—must be the order of the day. Charity must rule as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
(Posted with permission from www.drdavidlallen.com)
PERSONAL NOTE: A lot of criticism has been issued since the release of this letter. Much of that criticism has to do with the “threat to withhold funds”. The writers do have a responsibility to share their concerns when there is reason to do so. Sadly, that is the case here. Their concerns are not with the actions of the trustee board but with the actions of the executive committee that met 7 days after the 13 hour meeting of the full board that did not deliver a decision that suited them.
Dr. Bart Barber defended the actions he and the other members of the executive committee took in vacating the decision of the full board on the floor of the SBC in Dallas. Here is an excerpt of his statement:
“I am an old-time Baptist congregationalist. My church has business meetings every month because I want us to have business meetings every month. I believe in our polity. And it is a part of our polity that our entity heads do not get to remove trustees when they become an inconvenience to them, that entity heads have to answer to their boards both when they want to do so and when they don’t want to do so, that seminary employees have to abide by board decisions.”
While it is true that the entity heads do not get to remove trustees when they become an inconvenience to them, why does that same polity not apply to a group 10 trustees who decided that the decision of the 40 trustees was an inconvenience to them? That is the problem. This is a travesty and it is a shame that there are those who are unwilling to acknowledge it.
Finally, Dr.Barber concluded his statement on the floor of the convention with the following: “But I cannot vote for him to occupy any monarchy. We are Baptists. We have no popes. We are all accountable to someone. Whatever divides us, I hope that we are all in agreement about that.”
I am in agreement with his statement of being accountable to someone: the executive committee is accountable to the full trustee board, to the convention and to God as well as those who support the institution financially. My prayer is that the full trustee board will take the actions of the executive committee and deal with that responsibly so that something like this never happens again.
Here is a summary of the letter sent to Chairman Ueckert and the members of the executive committee of the trustee board.
A letter was sent today to Mr. Kevin Ueckert, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the members of the Executive Committee expressing serious concerns related to the actions of the Executive Committee on May 30 in vacating the decision of the full board of trustees in a previous meeting held on May 22-23.
The letter points to the legal implications of their actions with respect to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and their oversight of academic accreditation of the seminary as well as the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
The letter specifically highlights the deliberate misrepresentation of an email sent to the chief of security related to a rape allegation at SWBTS in 2015 by Ueckert in a June 1 statement. The email in question makes reference to a single statement that was intentionally released in direct reference to the rape allegation itself when in fact, the email was sent 5 weeks after the incident was initially handled. This issue was discussed in the May 22nd meeting and Dr. Patterson’s explanation was heard and should have ended that issue. Mr. Ueckert deliberately released the statement knowing that its reception would be damaging to Dr. Patterson. The letter points out that the statement was “patently false” and that “Mr. Ueckert knew it was false at the time he made it.”
This group of 26 individuals have been ardent financial supporters of the seminary and have asked for an investigative committee consisting of 10 individuals, 5 from the trustee board and 5 from the group of 26 named signers of this letter to look at the decision of the executive committee to substantiate the allegations made and to evaluate the actions taken against Dr. Patterson. They have indicated that their continued support to the seminary estimated to be in excess of “tens of millions of dollars” is in serious jeopardy.
Here is a link to the full letter.
There is a second reason that I cannot accept the tenets of Calvinism and it involves the Calvinist postulate that God before the foundation of the world chose the elect to be “in Christ” and those individuals are the ones Jesus died for on the cross to pay the penalty for THEIR sin and THEIR sin alone. Calvinism contends that propitiation and expiation were completed on the cross. Propitiation means God’s wrath is satisfied while expiation means sin has been wiped away. Propitiation involves a sacrifice. So Christ went to the cross to become our substitute and in dying, He paid the price for our sin, expiating our sin and propitiating God’s wrath therefore reconciling us to Him.
People are propitiated and problems expiated. If this is indeed true and propitiation and expiation were completed on the cross for the elect and the elect alone, then two things MUST be true. First of all, the elect are predestined for heaven and never become the elect but rather ARE the elect from the foundation of the world. The second truth is the non-elect can NEVER be redeemed because no expiation was provided for them on the cross and forgiveness is impossible apart from the shedding of blood. According to calvinism, Jesus did not shed a drop of blood to expiate the sin of the non-elect and propitiation is not possible for the non-elect.
There is another implication that must be considered if propitiation and expiation were completed on the cross and that is the eternal state of the elect. Calvinism posits every person being born in an unregenerate state and at the appointed time, the elect are regenerated and repentance THEN takes place and believing faith becomes operative and conversion takes place. The question must be answered is this; are the elect and the non-elect in the same condition prior to regeneration?
If one accepts the tenets of calvinism, I am convinced they are not. If expiation was completed on the cross for the elect or ANYONE for that matter, his or her sin has already been dealt with. If propitiation was completed on the cross, then God’s wrath is placated and reconciliation has already taken place for the elect. Listen to John Piper’s comment on propitiation,
“If ‘the whole world’ referred to every individual in the world, we would be forced to say that John is teaching that all people will be saved, which he does not believe (Revelation 14:9-11). The reason we would be forced to say this is that the term propitiation refers to a real removal of wrath from sinners. When God’s wrath against a sinner is propitiated, it is removed from that sinner. And the result is that all God’s power now flows in the service of his mercy, with the result that nothing can stop him from saving that sinner.
Propitiated sins cannot be punished. Otherwise propitiation loses its meaning. Therefore if Christ is the propitiation for all the sins of every individual in the world, they cannot be punished, and must be saved. But John does not believe in such universalism (John 5:29). Therefore it is very unlikely that 1 John 2:2 teaches that Jesus is the propitiation of every person in the world.” To see Piper’s comments CLICK HERE.
Piper is correct. Propitiation refers to a REAL REMOVAL OF WRATH FROM SINNERS. Given this statement, the following conclusion that Piper makes is problematic: “the result is that all God’s power now flows in the service of his mercy, with the result that nothing can stop him from saving that sinner.” Once expiation and propitiation take place, the result is the sinner IS SAVED not TO BE SAVED. If expiation and propitiation are completed on the cross, there is NOTHING that needs to be done for the one whose sins have been removed. Piper’s own statement confirms this: “Therefore if Christ is the propitiation for all the sins of every individual in the world, they cannot be punished, and must be saved.” Now, he is looking at another angle of his own argument BUT the implications work both ways!
One of two things MUST be true; propitiation and expiation are either completed at Calvary or they are not. They cannot be completed at Calvary and then appropriated at conversion. One thing is absolutely clear; completed means what it means. If one MUST repent and believe BEFORE propitiation or expiation are completed, then they cannot be completed on the cross and the whole foundation of calvinism’s position on limited or particular atonement crumbles.
If propitiation and expiation and the atonement are indeed completed on the cross, then as Piper points out, sin is removed when propitiation and expiation are completed and there is now no more condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus; if propitiation, expiation and atonement were completed at the cross and sin is indeed removed and reconciliation completed, there is no need for regeneration nor even repentance at a later date. If the postulates of calvinism are indeed true, the elect are born the elect and do not BECOME the elect and they cannot not be the elect. There is never a time in the life or an individual who is born the elect where his sin is not paid for in full and as such there is never a time when he is in danger of God’s wrath and in fact he is born reconciled to God.
I understand this is NOT what most calvinists teach, but it is consistent with the tenets of calvinism as I have put forth and that is why I cannot subscribe to the calvinist theological system. Remember, there is a huge difference in what calvinists believe and what calvinim itself contends. The two SHOULD be more consistent.
Calvinism is NOW the theological flavor for the SBC today. It has been around the SBC since its founding but make no mistake about it, it is infinitely more popular today than it has ever been in the SBC. More people are being indoctrinated with the errant theology with the proliferation of the internet and the increased influence in the academic arena. For many, especially the younger crowd coming up, they are dining on the vast buffets provided by the Pipers, and MacArthur’s and Mohler’s of our day. The Founder’s Movement deserves a resounding round of applause for its determination to stick to its mission to make the SBC a reformed denomination. Adding to the Founders are groups like Together For the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks and a host of other reformed groups. Speakers for these groups are growing in popularity by the hour and their influence is increasing especially among the young folks who are in the process of forming their theological roots so to speak. This is a huge problem in the SBC today.
Why on earth am I NOT a Calvinist? It ought to be obvious that the answer to this question is one of two options: first, I am not in this theologically elite elect group because God did not intend for me to be in it or the god of this world has not drawn me into it. On a more serious note, I will try to answer this question in the next series of posts.
First of all, I do not believe the Bible supports a total depravity/inability position. Without this foundation, one CANNOT be a Calvinist. Total Depravity is a thesis presented that forms the foundation for Calvinism. It has some level of validity to it. Man is without question depraved. Man is unquestionably sinful and all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Man’s depravity is not in question here. What is at question is the totality or extent of that depravity. Calvinism contends that man lost the ability to choose God when Adam sinned. Fallen man has no inclination nor any ability to choose God or anything righteous. This is a definition of depravity. Not total depravity. Understand one other thing. There is a determined difference in someone “choosing God on his own and of his own inclination” and one responding to God’s salvific initiative brought about by an introduction to the gospel and the convicting and convincing work of the Holy Spirit in a lost person’s heart.
I respectfully challenge you to think about the difference in depravity and total depravity. There is a profound difference. Calvinists argue God MUST change the totally depraved nature before he can respond to God. This is the foundation for the necessity of regeneration taking place prior to repentance or believing faith on man’s part. Since man cannot change his own nature, which is a sin nature, God MUST do it so that he can THEN respond to God.
Here is a question I have with respect to man not being able to change his nature. How did he change his created nature, being created in the image of God in the first place? If the totally depraved man cannot change his nature and God must do it, that must be the case in the beginning as well. The Bible clearly states that man was created in the image of God and most believe this meant that man had a choice in the garden. God gave him that choice and He also gave him the consequences of his choices. God told Adam, “In the day that you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die.” So the question that looms large in my mind is, how did man go from being created in the image of God having been given the responsibility to choose to being not able to choose, where God is concerned? If man’s created nature was changed, God would have had to be the One to change it, since man is incapable of doing so. That is what Calvinism contends. Actually, I believe that statement to be true but I believe it is true in the beginning as opposed to the end as calvinism contends.
The Bible speaks of man’s sin nature and that all men have sinned and there is no one who is righteous no not one. This does not mean that men cannot respond to God’s initiative of revelation and reconciliation. The gospel message is of such a nature that it demands a response! I believe man is still created in the image of God and bears the responsibility to choose and to suffer or benefit from the consequences of those choices as set by God Himself. This seems to be perfectly logical where the Scriptures are concerned.
If Adam’s nature was changed, then it must be understood that sin did not change his nature; God must have changed man’s nature. A problem with that would be the statement that God made in the garden concerning Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:22, ““Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.” If God had changed man’s nature to one of total depravity and inability, it would seem difficult to square that with His statement in Genesis 3:22. Adam has sinned. God has confronted that sin. He has cursed the serpent, the woman and the earth. Man is not totally depraved; the difference between Adam and Eve after their sin as opposed to prior to their sin is that they now know BOTH good and evil. Calvinism and total depravity contends that man knows only evil. He can only sin. He cannot not sin and so he is unable to choose good or choose God without first being regenerated or made alive.
Genesis 3:22 speaks directly to this issue and Scripturally says something totally different. If total depravity and inability are accurate, it must have come into being after this statement and not before. One additional problem with the concept of total depravity and inability and regeneration being necessary for one to respond positively to God is that there is no evidence of that in the Old Testament where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are concerned; there is no evidence of that being the case with the calling of Moses at the burning bush; in fact, one could argue the opposite as God spoke to Moses he made every excuse in the book not to go back to Egypt and lead the people, even to the irritation of God in the dialogue process.
There is no evidence of God regenerating David before Samuel Anoints him to be king. Regeneration is not even an Old Testament concept. Another interesting note is the fact that total depravity and inability are nowhere to be found in the Jewish theological system. God has established a set of laws and He has promised to bless those who keep His laws and to punish those who do not keep His law.
The truth is, total depravity and inability are not Biblically sustainable concepts and in fact are difficult to sustain especially in the Old Testament and in the event of Adam’s original sin itself. Even when God came walking in the cool of the garden after Adam had sinned, there is no reference to regeneration taking place before Adam could respond to God. None. God spoke and Adam responded. God is still speaking and men are still responding to God and those responses determine both the direction of one’s eternal destiny and the quality of the journey to get there.
Here is an interesting item I heard discussed MORE THAN ONCE in Dallas earlier this week. Phillip Bethencourt’s name was mentioned as the anticipated successor to Dr. Patterson as president of SWBTS.
Who is Bethencourt? He has served Southern Seminary since 2006, holding positions as director of Academic Advising for the School of Theology, director of Research Doctoral Studies and Academic Advising, and instructor of Christian theology at Boyce College. He has also served as executive assistant to the senior vice president for Academic Administration as well as vice president of Academic Services.
Bethancourt is currently the vice president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission under the leadership of Russell D. Moore. He continues to teach for the School of Theology as assistant professor of Christian theology.
There are a couple problems with this comment. First of all, no search committee has even been named by the trustees. Secondly, this would make it 7 out of 7 entity hires to come out of the Mohler machine.
Someone say it ain’t so. Please.
The Southern Baptist Convention just reached a new low. Recent reports show the number of churches in the SBC has increased but membership and baptisms are on the decline. Is this a sign that NAMB’s transfer of its focus from strengthening the local church to planting churches in metro areas primarily outside the more traditional service area of the convention is not as effective and successful as they would have us believe? Perhaps. Is there truth to the hard-handed handling of NAMB over state conventions and employees that do not toe the Ezell line? It seems there may be fire where so much smoke exists. This is an issue the trustee board should be concerned with. However, this is not the new low I am referencing.
Is the IMB’s reduction of missionaries to the world from roughly 6000 to 3500 or so a reflection of a new low? Well in 2010 the SBC met in Orlando and passed the Great Commission Resurgence which seemed to be much to do about nothing with one exception. The IMB was given the convention’s blessing to move monies from the foreign mission field to work with foreign mission people groups in the US. What a novel idea. Since monies that are going outside the US are not increasing the number of reformed churches and improving the influence of the reformed groups in promoting this errant theological position within the SBC, those funds can now be directed where it needs to be directed, to churches in the US! It would be interesting to know what percentage of funds from the IMB are going to administration and fixed operating costs, and then the percentage of funds going to serve these foreign people groups inside the US as compared to the actual percentage of funds going to fund the missionary force on the foreign fields. Good luck in getting the truth on that one. My guess is the trail of money will be difficult to ascertain. It will shed light on why we only have 3500 missionaries on the foreign field instead of the higher number of 6000 in the past. This is an issue that the trustees need to address. This is still not the new low that I am referencing.
Recently announcements have come from leaders admitting to moral failures leading to resignations within the SBC. Allegations of sexual abuse still surface with regards to church staff personnel and continued ongoing criticism still lingers with one particular group and its leadership and their continued association and apparent acceptance with the new powerbrokers in Louisville. This is not the new low that I am referencing and that would even include the transfer of power from Nashville to Louisville itself and the move to reform the SBC. That is a huge statement even for me.
There are a number of other statements that could be included in this tirade of sorts lamenting the current state of affairs with in the SBC that would illustrate the new lows within the convention.
The new low that I am referencing is the public attack on Dr. Paige Patterson. For the record, I have only met the guy one time in New Orleans and we spoke and he basically patted me on the head and said, (me paraphrasing) “Sonny, don’t worry about things, we have all that under control.” I have been a vocal critic of the reformed take-over of the SBC and the underhanded covert manner in which that process has been undertaken. In fact, the means by which that process has been facilitated does point to what I believe to be the new low in the SBC and that focus is on the manipulation of the trustee system related to the entities of the SBC. The subtle infiltration of the trustee boards has been the mechanism employed to gain control of those entities that has effectively turned the tide of the SBC to this reformed theological position.
The trustee boards are no longer answerable to the SBC but now all indications point to the powerbrokers in Louisville. Here is a great example. When the convention voted in June of 2011 to have Lifeway take the 2011 NIV Bible off its shelves, the trustees met in February of 2012 and decided to leave it on the shelves. Guess who was chairman of the trustee board? Dr. Adam Greenway who is dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Are the trustees accountable to the SBC? Hardly. If the messengers cannot tell Lifeway to remove a book from its shelves, we have a serious problem. Accept it. It is a fact.
Consider another problem that has been widely criticized. We have had several entity heads hired over the last 3 or 4 years. Let’s look at those. Lifeway, is the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention and church business services provider; it is one of the largest providers of religious and Christian resources in the world. The CEO is Thom Rainer. Prior to coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. Southeastern Seminary’s president is Danny Akin. He served as Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of Theology at Southern Seminary from 1996-2004.
NAMB’s president is Kevin Ezell. Before going to NAMB, he served as Senior Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in of all places, Louisville. He was Al’s pastor. In 2012 Midwestern Seminary announced the hiring of Jason K. Allen as its new president. Before coming to Midwestern, Allen served as a senior administrator at Southern Seminary. In 2013 Russell Moore was announced as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Prior to that appointment, Moore served as provost and dean of the Southern Seminary.
In 2014 The International Mission Board hired David Platt as president. Guess what? He did not come out of Louisville but he is of their theological brand and a frequent speaker for the reformed groups Mohler and company frequent.
So who is responsible for hiring the leaders of these SBC entities? The trustee boards of each of the entities. There is this argument that there is no effort to influence the trustee boards but in all 6 of the most recent hires of the entities, all but one came out of Louisville and the lone exception’s theology is consistent with the Louisville tribe. Coincidence? Hardly. Problematic? Without question. Yet, we are consistently told we need to trust the trustee system. I guess it depends on which side of the fence you want to stand.
Fast forward to 2018 and in fact May of 2018. A public assault was initiated on twitter and picked up in the social media and then traditional media outlets only to be further fueled by various social movements speaking to specific problems in our society and now the SBC. The new low is not related to the public attention on issues that need to be addressed. It is a reference to the trustee treatment of Dr. Patterson who was clearly attacked and became a victim of a character assault. What is very interesting is the perception that victims of one kind of assault seemed to show little to no concern for him being a victim of a different type of assault and instead of revolting from that reality, some were in fact guilty of the same thing as they “piled on” adding to the assault. This is not even the new low I am referencing.
The new low has to do with the abject and outright dismissal of facts to replace and ruin Dr. Patterson by the trustee board of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson served as president. To be more specific, it was the actions of the executive committee of the trustee board that needs to be called before the messengers of the SBC at the 2018 annual meeting to give a reason for their abject actions in vacating the decision of the full board of trustees on May 22 in their meeting on May 30. From all that has been reported, it appears that the members of the executive committee did not agree with the decision of the full board and took it upon themselves to meet and reverse what they believed to be an errant action of the full board that met for over 13 hours before coming to the final decision that they came to.
This group of trustees that make up the executive committee needs to be replaced by the messengers in Dallas. It is time for the convention to take back control of the trustee board system and say to the trustees, you are accountable to the messengers of the convention, not Louisville and not to any other political powerbroker that attempts to infiltrate and influence the decisions made by the trustees. The trustees need to represent the people in the pew who pay the bills and not the political powerbrokers who spend the money.
Let’s recap a few of the most egregious issues that have been released that have captured the headlines over the last couple of weeks. Here is a fact that has gone unmentioned. The trustee meeting that was called on May 22 was not called by the chairman of the board of trustees but rather called by Dr. Patterson himself. Imagine that. This deplorable excuse of a human being in trying to do what he believed was in the best interest of the entity he served as president, called the trustees together to deal with the criticism that had been brought against him. Hardly an action taken by someone who cared more himself than he did the hurt of others.
The day that this trustee board was scheduled to meet, an article from the Washington Post was released reporting an allegation that Dr. Patterson had mishandled a rape reported to him by a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while he was president there in 2003. According to this article, Dr. Patterson reportedly advised the young lady “not to report the incident to the police” and to “forgive her assailant” and he placed her on probation for 2 years. When the full trustee board met and this issue was discussed, Dr. Patterson’s response was that he did not recall dealing with a rape allegation while at SEBTS. In that meeting, a call was placed to Dr. Allan Moseley who was Dean of Students at Southeastern and his response was, “I don’t recall the lady telling me that.” A call was then placed to the lady who became Lively’s accountability partner and she said, when she was queried on May 22, “I don’t ever remember this student telling me that.” These two individuals should have been much closer to the situation than Dr. Patterson would have been and their accounts backed up Dr. Patterson’s response. His response, remember was not that the rape did not occur but that he did not remember the allegation being addressed by him. Apparently, the trustees agreed that he was trying to be transparent and honest in his response.
An email apparently came up about a statement that Dr. Patterson wrote to the chief of security that made what appeared to be a horrific statement that no one would make much less a seasoned statesman of the SBC. Here is the damning comment brought to light by Kevin Uecker, chairman of the board of trustees in a statement he released explaining the executive committee’s actions taken to vacate the decision of the full board in firing Dr. Patterson:
“In addition, as previously disclosed, a female student at SWBTS reported to Dr. Patterson that she had been raped in 2015. Police were notified of that report. But in connection with that allegation of rape, Dr. Patterson sent an email (the contents of which were shared with the Board on May 22) to the Chief of Campus Security in which Dr. Patterson discussed meeting “with the student alone so that he could “break her down” and that he preferred no officials be present.” The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS. Moreover, the correlation between what has been reported and also revealed in the student record regarding the 2003 allegation at Southeastern and the contents of this email are undeniable.”
Ueckert admitted that this email was presented at the trustee board meeting on the 22nd and Dr. Patterson responded to it and apparently his response satisfied the board. Here is the most damaging part of this story: that email was not in response to an allegation of rape of a seminary student at SWBTS in 2015 as was presented to represent, but it was in fact made 30 days AFTER the rape allegation was handled and reported to authorities and the male student expelled. The email in question was in response to subsequent meetings and discussions that took place after the incident was handled. Mr. Ueckert should have either known about the date of the email or he did know the date and released the email as cause for vacating the trustee board decision. Notice Ueckert’s statement: “The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.” The attitude expressed in indeed antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS but it was not the email in question but rather the action of Ueckert in using this faulty email as justification for the actions of the executive committee.
Mr. Ueckert knows that Dr. Patterson NEVER meets with students alone and it appears that he deliberately misrepresented the intent of this email knowing that its presentation would further damage the credibility and reputation of Dr. Patterson and support the errant actions of the executive committee. This is inexcusable in the public arena and is even more so in a Christian context and should not be overlooked by the messengers convening in Dallas and this action must not be dismissed.
If the SBC does not take this action of the executive committee of the trustee board into consideration and deal with it responsibly, God help us as a convention.
Pastor, Westside Baptist Church Daytona Beach Florida
A number of people have asked about the trustees of Southwestern Seminary as well as who are the trustees that make up the Executive Board. Here is a list from the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual. The names that are highlighted make up the Executive Committee of the SWBTS Trustee Board.
Dear Southern Baptist Family:
On May 22 the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary met together in a board meeting called at my request. At that meeting, in which I briefly participated, I was asked to assume the position of President Emeritus of Southwestern, and I accepted this reassignment. One week later, May 30, the executive committee of the board met, though this time I was not asked to participate and was unable to address or answer questions for committee members since I was in Germany for a preaching assignment. While in Germany, I received a phone call informing me I had been relieved of all responsibilities with and compensation from the Seminary effective immediately.
Since much has been reported and written about these matters in recent weeks, I wanted to address briefly a few points. It is not in my spirit or my heart to debate or revisit the decisions of the trustees to whom I was accountable as president of Southwestern, other than the brief comments that follow.
Recently, I have been accused, publicly and privately, of a number of things—none of which I acknowledge as having done in the way portrayed, and others that I am confident I absolutely did not do. I’ll just speak to several examples. First, a poor choice of words has occurred, in and out of the pulpit, over decades of ministry. I regret each case in which my heart and message were not clearly presented.
On the other hand, I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse of women, students, or staff at any institution where I have served. Indeed, the Southwestern trustees confirmed as much in their public statement of May 23, 2018: “The board affirmed a motion stating evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse.”
For my words, demeanor, sentiments, or disposition to have been twisted to suggest the very antithesis to who I am and the biblical message I have presented over half a century not only is crushing to me and my family but also inevitably proves hurtful to others in the process. I have never sought to inflict hurt upon a woman or man.
For the last 43 years, through service in three institutions, I have attempted to prepare pastors and missionaries academically, evangelistically, and spiritually for kingdom endeavors. Today, on behalf of my sweetheart Dorothy, who has labored faithfully by my side through both sorrows and triumphs, and on behalf of my children and grandchildren, I want to express my gratitude to God for Southern Baptists. You have often encouraged our hearts. You have prayed for us in a multitude of ways. I would ask of no one of you more than you have given. What I have given back is a pittance compared to your kindness to me.
I wish further to thank the faculties and administrators who have held high my arms during both calm and raging waters. I love you all. To all of my students, including nearly 10,000 graduates whose diplomas I have personally signed, I thank you for your uncommon love for me, and more important, your unwavering devotion to our Lord.
To those who have ever opposed me or have embraced a different vision, I would be remiss if I did not thank you also. Your opposition kept me on my face before God, reminded me of just how very human I am, and outlined in tantalizing colors the mercies of God, which I have received in profusion from our Lord. I pray for heaven’s kindness for each of you.
At age 75, while my occupation has changed, my calling and passion have not been disturbed. Soon Southwestern will have a new president. I am riding off into the setting sun—but with a Bible in my hand and a witness from my heart until He comes for me individually or for us all in the air. I ask Southern Baptists to hold the new president of Southwestern before God in earnest prayer. He will be a great man, but the level of his attainment will be dependent to a large degree on your concert of prayer. I know that you will not fail in this endeavor.
In a few days, for the first time in 66 years I will not attend the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention – having begun attending when I was nine. As many of you know, I was elected in 2017 to deliver the 2018 annual convention sermon, but I have now respectfully requested to be released from this high privilege because I do not want my role as a preacher to detract in any way from the important business of our convention and because my desire is to work toward biblical harmony at our annual meeting. Many messengers have implored me to carry out this assignment, but this convention is not about me, and I have every confidence that this decision is best and right.
Now, may I just leave you with a challenge? I have with stumbling step, limited ability, and stuttering tongue desired to bequeath to the world an orthodox denomination with a heart and message for a world of lost people. My part is small in the amazing history of the people we call Baptists. But as insignificant as it may be, I will be praying every day that you will cling to the whole Bible as the Word of the living God and at the same moment give that Word to every lost person on this globe, knowing that Christ died for all and that every man, woman, boy, and girl who comes to the Lord Jesus in saving faith will be saved. Would you join me in that endeavor? Please link your hearts with Dorothy and me in expressing thanksgiving to our Lord for His abundant mercies to us all.