Whole Counsel Theology

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dr. Morris Chapman and Calvinism

Dr. Morris Chapman is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Recently in the May 2007 issue of SBC LIFE he had a Q&A column over several issues that are pressing concerns to Southern Baptists today. Not the least of those concerns is what was called a "resurgence of Calvinism" in the SBC and the controversial nature of it.[1] There are some things that he said in his answer to the following question that I wanted to address, because they contain some common errors with regard to thinking about Calvinism that seems to exist in many areas of Southern Baptist life nowadays. In any case, here was the question asked of him:
The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?

Now, I mean no disrespect to Dr. Chapman whatsoever in my writing of this post. He is my loved brother in Christ Jesus. He has been, from what I can tell, an excellent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention for many years. Many of the things he wrote in his responses on other topics in his article (such as the Emergent Church and an important theological issue confronting this generation) I thought to be quite good and helpful.

Yet, at the same time, many of the things he said in response to the above question seem to be the norm of thinking regarding the increasing numbers of Reformed people (or at least Calvinistic people) in the Convention. That being the case, I saw this as an opportunity to address some of the issues he raised.

I realize this was merely a short answer to a brief question meant to be a small part of a Q&A session that addressed several topics in brief, and I don't want to read into it too much. Quite likely then, the answers he gave were likely not as detailed as he would have given had he more time and space to discuss them. With that in mind, I'll simply work with what I have and go through his entire column, addressing what I saw as misrepresentations of Biblical, Calvinistic theology.

Dr Chapman stated:
The resurgence of Calvinism is largely a reaction against the shallowness of Baptist doctrinal instruction during the era of moderate-led seminaries coupled with a strong interconnection of the principle of sola scriptura ("scripture alone") with Reformed doctrine during the Protestant Reformation. Since the principle of sola scriptura resurfaced during the inerrancy debates of the Conservative Resurgence, it is only logical that its relationship with Reformed Doctrine would also emerge.

I heartily agree with Dr. Chapman that there has been a lot of shallow doctrinal instruction in the SBC in recent years. I still think that the problem remains; the seminaries have been largely corrected it would seem (though not completely), but there is still a large theological vacuum that exists in our churches. Solid, expository preaching is very much lacking, and our people in our churches are not hearing what the Bible really teaches for the simple reason that they are not being consistently confronted with the text of the Word of God. Furthermore, it would also be wise for pastors to teach the fundamentals of the faith on a regular basis (maybe Wednesday nights?) so that we can consistently give a response to those who would ask us what we believe and why -- but I digress. :)

His comments about sola scriptura are interesting. He appears to be saying that since the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC focused so much on the inerrancy of Scripture, and that the Reformation principle of sola scriptura was strongly connected with that, it would lend to other Reformational theological distinctives resurfacing as well.

This overlooks a key point, however; yes, the principles are related, but why? Just because they happened to be rediscovered during the same time period of the mid 16th century? Or was it perhaps the application of sola scriptura that led and is leading many people to embrace Reformed Theology (TULIP first and foremost, among other things)? When we let the Scriptures speak for themselves (and of course receive the word of the Spirit through them) and not interject our own ideas and presuppositions, indeed we will arrive at doctrines such as the Total Depravity of man and Unconditional Election, among other things. That, I would submit, is the reason why there has been a resurgence of Calvinism; instead of merely claiming that Scripture is inerrant and leaving it at the claim level, people are digging into it and seeing that their long-held beliefs about things such as man's autonomy and libertarian free-will are not to be found in Scripture.[2] More on that later.

Dr. Chapman further stated:
An additional reason for the resurgence of Calvinism is that a wide-open Arminianism under the guise of Open Theism must be refuted. Generally, where a heresy surfaces its closest theological polar opposites will appear and gain a relatively wide following.

My lack of historical acumen will prohibit me from interacting with Dr. Chapman's statement of polar opposites, though it doesn't surprise me that this is the case. However, I see one problem with his observation: where are the Open Theists/Process Theologians in the SBC? Off the top of my head, I cannot remember a single serious internal controversy of late relating to Open Theism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Further, I don't recall even one article in Baptist Press News[3] about it either, and I check it frequently. On the other hand, I have seen MANY articles on Baptist Press (BP) and more than a few in SBC Life address the issue of Calvinism, not to mention speaker after speaker mentioning (and, sadly, misrepresenting), Calvinism from the floor during the SBC annual meeting. So, given then large amount of talk about Calvinism in the SBC and the almost complete lack of discussion of Open Theism, it would seem that Dr. Chapman's analysis here is in error.[4]

More from Dr. Chapman:
The Scriptures reveal numerous "antinomies" (apparent contradictions between two equally valid principles).

Here Dr. Chapman goes into several examples of what he calls "antinomies." This, from my experience, is a common definition of the term. Indeed, the Bible contains many things that would appear to be contradictions, but really are not. However, if something appears to be a contradiction, we should consider two things.
  • First, we must always go as far as the Scripture does when dealing with a perceived contradiction. The Bible often explains what we see as a contradiction very well by giving explanations. We shouldn't stop too soon.
  • Second, where the Bible stops, so must we and leave something as a mystery in whatever sense the Bible doesn't explain it. We mustn't go here too quickly though; laziness never gained anyone anything, and laziness in searching the Scriptures will net us theological error.

All of that said, let's go into Dr. Chapman's examples:
For example, how can Jesus be fully human and fully divine?

This is an excellent question. Jesus maintained 100% of His divine nature, but was 100% human at the same time. How is this possible? Part of the biblical explanation will tell us that He intentionally made Himself nothing intentionally, choosing to become flesh and dwell among us. However, as Dr. Chapman rightly noted I think, much of this remains a mystery, but the Scripture clearly indicates the truth of what he has said, what theologians have often called the "hypostatic union."

Dr. Chapman continues:
How can Scripture be fully the Word of God and a work to which we must give all diligence?

I must admit, this question confused me a good deal. What does he mean that we must give all diligence to it? Scripture is indeed the Word of God, but God came to man during the times of the writing of the Scripture and spoke through them, moving them along by His Holy Spirit so that everything in the Bible would be perfect, without error, the very Word of God, and useful for all correcting and equipping. What we have to do with it being the Word of God is, well, nothing. It is whether we want to believe it or not. We of course must study it, and this is perhaps what Dr. Chapman was saying, but if it is, the wording he used was a bit ambiguous.

Dr. Chapman continues:
Similarly, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means, and a human response to a divine initiative? Calvinism, drawing heavily on a logical system of thought, seeks to address these questions through the lens of Divine Sovereignty.

Here I am afraid I must take great issue with Dr. Chapman's statement. The simple answer to his question is that God CAUSES the human response. God removes the old heart of stone, replacing it with a heart of flesh with regeneration, causing us to be born again through the Spirit of God and the Word. Coming with this regeneration is a new will which immediately repents and believes (the ability to have faith[5] and to repent are both gifts of God). When we repent and believe in Christ, we most certainly do it willingly, but this is completely dependent on God's work in us. We don't bring anything to the table, and this is why it is completely an act of God, and, in the strictest sense, not merely a human response (though there is a response). Reformed Theologians such as myself like to call this "Effectual Calling" or "Irresistable Grace" because God always succeeds in bringing His elect to Himself. Furthermore, simply saying that Calvinism draws "heavily on a logical system of thought" doesn't quite cut it. Surely, Calvinism[6] is logical in its thought and development, but mere logic is not the reason it is true. The exegesis of biblical texts shows us the truth of each of the points of TULIP, and such exegesis must always be the determiner of what we believe, because it reveals the meaning of Scripture.[7]

Dr. Chapman continues:
The resurgence of Calvinism is both to be expected as a historical reality that surges in popularity every few generations and as a healthy conversation about the sovereignty of God in comparison to the responsibility of man.

This is something that has confused me since I have heard people say things such as the above. Calvinists by no means deny man's responsibility. I have NEVER denied my responsibility for my sin nor anyone else's. For anyone who ends up in Hell, they have no one to blame but themselves and their evil, God-hating, sin-filled hearts. They hate God, and they end up with what they deserve, which is what ALL of us deserve! God choosing to save ANYONE is a tremendous act of His grace. I cannot look to myself at all for anything related to my salvation; I was in rebellion, but God saved me -- ME! Praise God for amazing grace! But back to what I was saying....
Scripture likewise confirms the responsibility of man in his sin and God's total and complete sovereignty -- even over sinful actions of creatures. If ANY chance is allowed to exist in the universe, then God is not sovereign, and He is not God. God has ordained everything that happens, including the fall of man and the sins of man. Note that God doesn't DO the evil -- the PEOPLE do the evil, spurred on by the evil in their own hearts which, left unrestrained, would be a horrid sight indeed.[8] One of the best examples of this is the death of Christ Himself, and how Peter reflects on it in Acts: (all emphasis is mine)
Acts 2:22-23 ESV "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- (23) this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Acts 4:8-12 ESV Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, (9) if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, (10) let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by him this man is standing before you well. (11) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (12) And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Acts 4:24-28 ESV And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, (25) who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? (26) The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'-- (27) for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, (28) to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Here is the point, very strongly stated. Who was held responsible for the death of Christ? The people who crucified Him and delivered Him over to death! However, why was it done at all? It was all done according to God's predestined plan, period. Even the sin of murdering the Author of Life was planned out by God -- but the ones who did it, who plotted and desired it -- they were the ones guilty of the sin. This is the consistent teaching of the Word of God, and we must accept it, even though it can be difficult to understand.

Dr. Chapman continues:
One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept church pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church.

This is an oft stated warning in the Southern Baptist Convention today. The problem is that, unless I am mistaken, the majority of graduates from at least one of our seminaries (perhaps two) are leaning Calvinistic. Given that most churches in the SBC right now are NOT Calvinistic -- what are we to do? Calvinists must accept pastorates in churches that don't share their soteriological convictions, and yes, in a slow, compassionate, gracious, biblical fashion, teach the Scriptures to them so that they can see that salvation truly is God-centered and that the beliefs he espouses are nothing short of the exegetical teaching of the Word of God.

I am not so ignorant, however, to fail to realize that sometimes people come in and try to change things in too rash a fashion. Failure to be gracious and compassionate is not acceptable, ever.

Wiser men than myself have commented more and better on Calvinistic pastors going to non-Calvinistic churches, such as Dr. Tom Ascol of Founders' Ministries. You can find two particularly good (and relevant) articles he wrote about this very thing here and here.

More from Dr. Chapman:
Another danger is that the truly warm-hearted "evangelical" Calvinists often are misunderstood by second-generation successors, potentially resulting in a decline in evangelism and missions. As long as the conversations can remain cordial and warm-hearted, we always have been able to work together for the missionary, educational, and benevolent needs of the Convention and the world.

Here it seems we have the idea that Calvinism, real Calvinism, kills missions and evangelism, or at least has the potential to do so. The truth of the matter is that all real Calvinists are "evangelical" Calvinists. Those whose theology isn't allowing for evangelism aren't real Calvinists at all, but have drifted into the realm of the error of hyper-Calvinism, which I wrote about some time ago and referenced in a previous foot note.

History is full of men who believed firmly in these doctrines and also were staunch evangelists, such as Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, John Knox, John Calvin (yes, CALVIN HIMSELF), Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and moderns just as John Piper, D. James Kennedy, and more and more and more! The list could go on for a good long time. To say that these doctrines take away evangelistic initiative is to fail to understand history and what the doctrines actually mean and entail. I've written (and referenced) some previous articles about this very matter, and they can be found here and here. Take the time to read them and the links from them, especially the link to the post from the Calvinist Gadfly in the second one. :)

However, just being out of step with history isn't the only problem I think we have when it comes to the accusation that Calvinists aren't evangelistic. I think the accusation often comes when we are not willing to employ the same, man-centered techniques that so often passes for evangelism nowadays as well as not being that interested in numbers. Evangelism is GOD's work, as is salvation, and the current mass decisionism and revivalism that exists today which often seems to tell a man the benefits of salvation without telling him that he is a man dead in his sins who will forever bear the wrath of the Thrice Holy God because of his sin unless he repents and trusts is Christ, is largely responsible for the unregenerate church membership of the SBC. We need to get back to the evangelism of Spurgeon and Whitefield, using the Law of God to show people their sin. Evangelism as it is now has actually become an idol in some SBC circles, and we need to regain our God-centered focus in it.[9]

And now the last paragraph in Dr. Chapman's response, emphasis mine:
The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man both are taught in the Bible Both are necessary elements in the salvation experience. A healthy tension (an antinomy) exists in the Bible with regard to these two important biblical truths. Man is often tempted to design a theological theory in light of a biblical antinomy in order to clarify what God is trying to say. Man's system will be inferior to God's system now and forever. Why is it so difficult to accept from God what we cannot fully explain? After all, He didn't begin to tell us everything He knows, but what we need to know to be redeemed and live righteously.

Agreed, man is tempted to design such theological theories, and it is for some reason difficult to accept from God what we cannot fully explain. The thing is, it is the semi-pelagian/Arminian/synergist who is the one devising a theological theory of his own, not the Calvinist.

Of course, Dr. Chapman and others would strongly disagree with what I have just said. I expect that. However, none of this will ever be resolved by "strongly disagreeing" or ultimately even "agreeing to disagree." What we need to do is sit down, open our Bibles, and exegete the text of Scripture together using proper hermeneutics. I know Dr. Chapman didn't say this, but I'll include him here since it is pretty clear that he doesn't like Calvinism very much: If Dr. Chapman and others wish to get rid of Calvinism, then the way to do it is through the proper exegesis of the Word of God, period. Emotional claims, cries of ruining churches, warnings of the loss of evangelism, appeals to current SBC popular opinion -- none of these is authoritative. The text of SCRIPTURE is authoritative, and we are all bound by it. So then -- let's get to it!


1. Another issue that he addressed was "elder rule" which I may discuss at a later time.

2. By "libertarian freedom" I mean the supposed ability of an unregenerate, unsaved person being able to choose anything he is commanded that he must do outside of the direct intervention of God changing him. As is not surprising, I reject this tenant. :)

3. I could of course be wrong; if someone can point me to one I'd be grateful.

4. I do not mean to say that a refutation of Open Theism is completely absent from some of the rationale of Calvinism's resurgence. At the same time, since Open Theism doesn't really exist in the SBC, any refutation of it would have to be in response to external sources. Furthermore, I have never heard any of my Calvinist brethren list "refuting Open Theism" as one of their main reasons (or any of their reasons at all), for embracing Reformed Theology.

5. It is important to note that the "this" or "that" in these verses (follow the hyperlink) is in the Greek neuter, and there is no neuter antecedent, but only masculine or feminine. The neuter is employed in a collective sense, referring back to the whole of salvation, the grace and faith combined. Faith is a gift in the sense that it is God who enables and causes us to believe.

6. I should point out that when I say "Calvinism" here I mean TRUE Calvinism, and not hyper-Calvinism, which is a perversion of biblical Calvinism.

7. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, of course.

8. The fact that God restrains sin in our hearts is clearly demonstrated in the Bible in Genesis.

9. I have written a Gospel tract which I think addresses critical matters of the Gospel properly. You are welcome to use it if you wish, and it is available in PDF format at the bottom of this post.



  • well thought out post. thanks.

    By Anonymous andrew jones, at Monday, June 04, 2007 3:12:00 AM  

  • "One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept church pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church."

    I find this statement being repeated quite often. I find it arrogant. His position (Which is never demonstrated biblically) is assumed to be biblical and therefore Calvinism by nature must destroy healthy churches.

    Of course healthy churches by his definition is a church that evangelizes according to the Finneyite method, which is another assumption of healthy. I reject this unproved assumption. In fact, the evidence is against his definition of healthy. Many SBC churches are not healthy.


    God Bless

    By Anonymous howard, at Monday, June 11, 2007 1:49:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone. I do hope this post proves to be useful.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Monday, June 11, 2007 2:59:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home