Whole Counsel Theology

Friday, June 02, 2006

SBC Presidential Candidate Frank Page on "Calvinism"

I really have no desire to engange in denominational politics -- really. :) However, with the recent nomination of Dr. Frank Page as a candidate for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention, I figured it would be good to read up on him a little.

Baptist Press posted this recent article about Dr. Page, and put a lot of information together about his views about the SBC and various topics in denominational life that have received a lot of attention lately. I found the article very informative, and I found myself in agreement with several things that Dr. Page said. However, there were a few things included in the article that I had to differ with, under the subject heading of "Calvinism" in the article:
In his book, “Trouble with the Tulip: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism,” Page said he expressed his belief that “God has foreordained the ‘how,’ not the ‘who.’” Those foreordained in Christ become the chosen elect people of God, he added.

When I read this, it sounded a little familiar, and then I remembered reading something Herschel Hobbs wrote in a book that he wrote to explain the Baptist Faith and Message from 1963. I couldn't find my book, but I did find this article on the internet, and this quote from that article:
In essence Paul says that God elected a plan of salvation (Eph. 1-2) and a people to propagate the plan (Eph. 3:1-6:20). But man is free to accept or reject either or both of them.

That kinda sounds like what Page was saying when he said "God elected the 'how' but not the 'who,' and that those in that plan "become the chosen elect people of God."

Hobbs, in his article, then goes into a discussion of Ephesians 1:4-5, and I cannot help but think that Page was making the same assertions as Hobbs did above, and basing it a particular interpretation of this passage. That is, that God elected Christ as a plan, and then all those who believe in Him are then the elect. However, is this the appropriate way to exegete that passage in Ephesians? Though I've exegeted part of this passage before, I wanted to address a larger section, so I've reproduced the text below, followed by some explanations:
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love (5) he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, (8) which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ (10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (11) In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (12) so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (13) In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, (14) who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

The reason I cited all of these verses is because of the context; all of these verses compose a single sentence in the Greek, and therefore should be taken all together. In short, the Father elects and predestines a people in Christ for His glory (3-6), the Son redeems that people for His glory (7-12) and the Holy Spirit seals them for His glory (13-14). All three of these activities are for the glory of God (verses 6, 12, 14)!

Things get more interesting when we start talking about verses 4 and 5 and who or what is being "chosen." Some insist that the main issue of God's choice here is a plan to save people, and then the elect work into that plan; i.e. those who believe are the elect.

I don't disagree with that really; it is true that those who believe are the elect and that Jesus was the plan for the redemption of God's people from before the foundation of the world (verse ten mentions God's plan to some extent). The question is why they believe. Are they elect because they believe (their belief caused their election, as Page and Hobbs indicate) or do they/we believe because they/we are elect? Further, is verse four really that ambiguous, or is it truly clear what Paul was saying?

In addition to the context indicating that God is doing all of this for His glory and working out the entire process[1], the grammar of the sentence can help us out tremendously here. The verb we have is "chose." Now, what is the direct object of the verb? The direct object cannot be "in Him" as some suggest, and therefore it cannot be that Paul here is talking about God's plan and that everyone who ends up elect is because of God's chosen plan and that they get in if they exert their own faith. The reason is this: direct objects can never be prepositional phrases, which is just what "in him" is! I'll quote briefly from that article I just linked to above:
The direct object must be a noun or pronoun. A direct object will never be in a prepositional phrase. The direct object will not equal the subject as the predicate nominative, nor does it have a linking verb as a predicate nominative sentences does.

Grammar is trans-language in many ways. All languages have nouns, pronouns, verbs, direct and indirect objects, prepositions and prepositional phrases, etc., and they are used in the same way too (though they are not always in the same places; Greek has some odd word order). This is why I keep telling my Spanish students that they need to know their "English" grammar, or what I'm trying to teach them won't make a lot of sense. :)

That being said, the object of the word "chose" is "us." If we break that part of the sentence down, it would be correct to say the following:

1.) God chose us before the foundation of the world.
2.) God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.

Both are true, and they are necessarily linked; the latter (which is just a restating of the verse) simply gives us a bit more information about God's action. Before the foundation of the world, God chose who would be in Christ. This is the teaching of the passage, and that understanding in verse four flows naturally from verse three. God is blessed and is to be praised because of His blessings on us, the first of which Paul mentions is the fact that He chose us. Who is the us? We know from verse 1:
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

So then, the "us" would be Paul[2] and also those to whom he is writing, which would be the "saints who are in Ephesus."

There is a lot more that could be said about this passage, and how God's predestining of His elect to adoption was an act of His love, but this is sufficient to show that God did indeed choose the "who" as well as the "how". I do not want to be rude to Dr. Page in any fashion, but his statement doesn't hold up to the teaching of Ephesians (or the rest of the Bible's teaching on election for that matter). I cannot help but conclude that he is in error.

Second quote:
Noting that Reformed pastor John Piper’s books are among the most read books on seminary campuses, Page said the movement is huge and growing -- “bigger than Texas,” he stated. “We must have honesty about this issue. There are churches splitting across the convention because pastors are coming in quietly trying to teach Calvinism or Reformed theology without telling the pastor search committees where they stand. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it’s causing some serious controversy.”


Well, part of the reason "Reformed" pastors don't often flat out say that they are "Calvinists" is because organizations like the now defunct "BaptistFire" have poisoned the well so to speak, and have cast the term in a negative light -- a light which it doesn't deserve. The truth is, the term is very misunderstood, and if we use the term, chances are we'll be dishonest! The reason for that is we'll merely be telling most people we are something we're not, because in their minds they think a "Calvinist" is "A" (and often includes unfounded charges of being anti-evangelistic) when we know it is "B."

In the last couple of days, I've read some very eye-opening material over at Founder's Blog that deals with this quote more than I could here, and Dr. Tom Ascol's ability to communicate information in a humble, Christlike way is about the best I've seen. I refer you to then to his excellent post on the matter, and the comments that have been put to it. It will take a while to go through them, so if you don't have the time for that, at least read the blog entry. I'm fairly confident that you'd be blessed.

May God be Glorified!

David Hewitt
____________________________________________________________
1. Remember, verses 3-14 are one sentence. When you consider verse eleven, it indicates clearly that God is working all of it out according to His will; there is no room for what Hobbs suggested. Man cannot mess up God's plan; those who come to Christ do so because God predestined them to do so. Those who do not remain in their sin in willful rebellion; they are the ones who God has not chosen.

2. All pronouns have antecedents; that is, there is always a noun (or nouns) that the pronoun is replacing. Since this is a first-personal plural pronoun, the first person must be included (Paul) and also some other noun already referred to. The only other nouns used in passage so far have been "God" and "Jesus Christ," and it makes no sense at all to say that Paul was expressing how awesome God is by saying that He chose Christ to be "in Him (Christ)" or God to be "in Him (Christ)" along with himself (Paul). The only logical answer for the other antecedent for "us" would be the Ephesian believers.

6 Comments:

  • Poor Frank Page is between "a rock and a hard place" because he speaks different things to different audiences at different times. He has lied to us.

    What he needs to do is repent of his lying (in his book or in his interviews of recent days) and make a public apology while telling us what he really and truly believes about Biblical Christianity aka Calvinism.

    You will notice that I am not discussing Frank's MOTIVE for his double talk. Only God and Page know the MOTIVES of any of us.

    PS: Frank knows there is not one hyperCalvinist in the SBC, yet he and others continue to write and speak of the awful danger of this scarecrow strawman!

    Shame on him and all others who use such dishonest tactics to turn people against Biblical Christianity aka Calvinism!

    By Blogger scripturesearcher, at Monday, June 05, 2006 12:30:00 AM  

  • Agreed, ScriptureSearcher, we cannot know his motives really, but it does seem apparent that he's being dishonest in one realm or another.

    The thing that I can't get around is people like himself and others, however nice they may be, deal with the Scriptures in such a terrible manner. Their exegesis is indeed very lacking, with the passage I worked through briefly here and others. Perhaps if we truly do get back to the Bible, and act out our belief of inerrancy rather than just claiming it in name only, there will be some resolution to this in our churches and Convention.

    May God bring it about!

    SDG,
    David Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Monday, June 05, 2006 8:11:00 AM  

  • Dishonesty is wrong in any realm. Accusing someone of dishonesty should be done by those who are not guilty of it themselves. It appears that in your post you are perfectly willing to allow those who hold to the reformed mindset to be dishonest when dealing with churches about their theological leanings. If Dr. Page can't have it both ways,neither can you. I know Dr. Page personally. He has been an honest and upright man in every respect. I think it is very unfair to "dog" him on his theological views when even those who hold to the doctrines of grace as outlined by Calvin's followers don't agree that it is a biblical theology. They can only agree that it is systematic. The problem comes when people claim that systematic theology is Christianity rather than a Platonic method of lining up beliefs in a logical manner.

    Give Dr. Page opportunity to show he is a man of his word before you dismiss him totally.

    By Blogger Hyker01, at Wednesday, June 07, 2006 10:53:00 PM  

  • hyker01:
    Thanks for dropping by! I'm glad you decided to visit and even more elated that you've left a comment. I'll do my best to respond to it below.

    You said:
    Dishonesty is wrong in any realm. Accusing someone of dishonesty should be done by those who are not guilty of it themselves.
    I would agree completely. My full intent was not to be dishonest. I apparently didn't make that very clear though, so please allow me the opportunity to attempt to clarify.

    You further said:
    It appears that in your post you are perfectly willing to allow those who hold to the reformed mindset to be dishonest when dealing with churches about their theological leanings. If Dr. Page can't have it both ways, neither can you.

    I would agree with what you said. If that is how I came across, please allow me to apologize. It is certainly not what I meant. I said:
    "Well, part of the reason "Reformed" pastors don't often flat out say that they are "Calvinists" is because organizations like the now defunct "BaptistFire" have poisoned the well so to speak, and have cast the term in a negative light -- a light which it doesn't deserve. The truth is, the term is very misunderstood, and if we use the term, chances are we'll be dishonest! The reason for that is we'll merely be telling most people we are something we're not, because in their minds they think a "Calvinist" is "A" (and often includes unfounded charges of being anti-evangelistic) when we know it is "B."

    My contention is with the term. If I were to go up to a church who is considering me to be their pastor, and they were to ask me if I were a "Calvinist," my response would be "well, what do you mean by that?" Then, if they give the common misunderstandings of the term, I could respond, "Well, no, I'm not the kind of person you describe, not that kind of Calvinist." If I am asked directly about what I believe about election, the Atonement, how and why (or if!) the saints persevere, I'll gladly answer those questions and point to Scripture passages that indicate as much. I'll also excitedly do some exegesis on those passages on the spot to show that my belief is indeed biblical.

    My intent is not to be dishonest, but rather to avoid using confusing language that would more than likely put the wrong idea into someone's head.

    Consequently, I've contacted two churches in my association who need pastors. I sent a resume to one of them, and I'm pretty sure I listed this blog website as part of it. I know I did to the other one.

    The reason is that I don't want to hide anything. If God wants me at a particular church, then I'll be there. If not, then I won't. I explain in detail what I believe on this site (at least I think I do). :)

    You also said:
    I know Dr. Page personally. He has been an honest and upright man in every respect.

    I never would have accused Dr. Page as intentionally trying to deceive someone. I said that it "really does seem apparent" that he is being dishonest. Perhaps he didn't even intend to do it, and perhaps we just need to hear him out. The issues raised at Dr. Ascol's blog here and here do carry with them some valid concerns, however, and I would love to have the air cleared. Of course, I am not saying I'm personally entitled to have Dr. Page come on here and tell me what he meant; that would be a high honor to be sure, one I am not worthy of in any regard. I would love for him to communicate the resolution though through the Founders medium since that is where the largest discussion of the issue exists (that I am aware of). Again, I am not by any means suggesting that this is a requirement, but it is the hope of a man who often has such grand hopes. :)

    Again, you said:
    I think it is very unfair to "dog" him on his theological views when even those who hold to the doctrines of grace as outlined by Calvin's followers don't agree that it is a biblical theology. They can only agree that it is systematic. The problem comes when people claim that systematic theology is Christianity rather than a Platonic method of lining up beliefs in a logical manner.

    Well, actually it is both. It's systematic in the sense that you can go all over Scripture and exegete passages and find some that support one tenant or another. That's what Systematic Theology does; it grabs every (or most) Scripture that deals with a particular topic and gives the Bible's teaching on the matter.

    Biblical theology on the other hand is a little differnent. From the Nine Marks website:
    "Biblical theology differs from Systematic theology in that the former traces developing themes historically, whereas the latter investigates discrete topics logically."

    Often in Biblical Theology, we work with a particular author or book, and trace that author's theological and doctrinal developments in his writings to see what all he taught. Interestingly enough, all "five points of Calvinism" can be found in John's Gospel in some fashion (John 3, 6, 10). It is indeed a biblical theology, though each doctrine of TULIP and other related doctrines can (and often are) discussed systematically, for there are many other Scriptures that deal with them.

    Lastly, you said:
    Give Dr. Page opportunity to show he is a man of his word before you dismiss him totally.

    That is a completely fair request, and I will happily do so. Thank you again for posting here and reminding us to do just as you have requested!

    SDG,
    David Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Wednesday, June 07, 2006 11:29:00 PM  

  • Thanks David. I appreciate your fair and forthright treatment of my concerns. I believe you would find Dr. Page a partner in the fair treatment of others. I look forward to further dialog. Who knows, I might learn something here myself.

    Hyker01

    By Blogger Hyker01, at Thursday, June 08, 2006 8:03:00 AM  

  • I too look forward to further dialogue. I suspect you will learn something, simply because I am constantly learning. :) The one who is done learning in this world is the one who has died and left it!

    Soli Deo Gloria!
    David Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Thursday, June 08, 2006 10:28:00 AM  

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