Monday, June 25, 2012

More Evidence for Sola Scriptura

Steve Ray errors in his description of Sola Scriptura (link) thereby providing more evidence that only scripture is infallible.  Steve says:

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura states that we should believe only what we find clearly taught in the Bible; the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is found nowhere clearly taught in the Bible; so…???

Sola Scriptura does not say we should only believe what we find clearly taught I the Bible. We learn many things in many different ways, but Scripture is the only Word of God that we have today.  The Bible is perfect, Popes, Councils and Steve Ray make mistakes.  For good reasons to believe the bible see (here).  For good reasons to believe Popes error see (here). Thus we can conclude that the bible is the last man standing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dr. Eric Hankins on the Traditional Statement

Here's a helpful interview of Dr. Eric Hankins discussing the Traditionalist Statement, New Calvinism and the sinner's prayer. His main focus is the objection to the the idea that some people cannot be saved and on the unique identity and history baptists have. I appreciated that Dr. Hankins notes that Calvinists and Traditionalists define terms differently, making dialog difficult. However, Dr. Hankins is seeking open and honest dialog about Calvinism and then letting Baptists process what is said.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New LifeWay Study Confirms that Calvinism is Growing in the SBC

Understanding statistics and Calvinism are two good but painful things to do in Baptist life.  There have been a bunch of recent studies among pastors on Calvinism and here are some key data points.  

Among SBC pastors, 5-Point Calvinism has grown 10% per year from 2006 to 2012. (2006 LifeWay Study) (2012 LifeWay Study)

This is in stark contrast to the 2010 BARNA study which shows Calvinism is not growing amoung Protestants.  

In other words, while Calvinism is not growing in other Protestant churches, it is growing in the SBC.  The reason Calvinism is growing in the SBC is shown by the 2007 NAMB study - SBC seminaries are cranking out 5-Point Calvinists at a growing rate.   

Additionally, SBC Pastors are more likely to hold to double-predestination and limited atonement compared to protestant churches generally.  (2011 LifeWay General Protestant Study(2012 SBC Specific LifeWay Study)

As a minor note, the 2012 LifeWay study mistakenly reports the number of Protestent Pastors who hold to  5 Point Calvinism as 32% when that's the number that say the are Reformed and the number who are 5-Point Calvinists was actual 10%.

While it's helpful to have data on Pastors, I wonder if a study will be done on regular Church Members?  In any case, these studies show the concentration and growth of Calvinism among SBC Pastors - highlighting the need for the Traditional Baptist Statement (link).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Traditionalist Clarification on Article 2

While I was posting to show the that article two of the traditional SBC view of God's Plan of Salvation is not Semi-Pelagain, Dr. Eric Hankins responds to Dr. Mohler on the charge of Semi-Pelagianism (link). He somewhat confirms my theory that what they had in mind was that we have libertarian freedom while responding to the Gospel, not that man is naturally free from sin. He says:

First, we will never concede the charge of Semi-Pelagianism; it is patently false. Semi-Pelagianism is the view that man initiates his own salvation and that grace attends subsequently. Even a cursory reading of the Statement reveals that such an understanding of salvation could not be further from our intention. The language of the affirmation in Article Two is drawn almost verbatim from the BF&M. Most of the criticism has been directed at the “denial,” which is often divorced from its connection to the affirmation and criticized without respect to the rest of the Statement. Here is what we mean and what we will be glad to debate: We are all ruined by Adam’s sin. We are born with a sin nature. We all persistently, perniciously, and at every opportunity want to be Lord of our own lives. We cannot save ourselves. The power of the Gospel through the initiative and drawing of the Holy Spirit is our only hope, and it alone is sufficient to pierce our spiritual darkness and rescue us. But our real response to the Gospel of Christ in the power of the Spirit matters to God.

...Do the authors and signers of the Statement think that people can save themselves? No! Do they think people can do anything to merit their salvation? No! Do they think anyone can trust Christ apart from the initiative of God and the drawing of the Holy Spirit? No! But they also don’t think that most people are predestined to an eternity in hell no matter what. And they do think that every person has the opportunity to respond to the Gospel under the leadership of the Spirit who is willing to move upon the heart of anyone. In this debate, the charge of Semi-Pelagianism is little more than a “bogeyman.” It’s a label that intimidates and confuses, and we emphatically reject it.

Article 2 is unclear, but not Semi-Pelagian

Article two of the traditional understanding of the SBC view of God's plan of salvation (link) has been called Semi-Pelagian  hereherehere and here.

Here's the article:

Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. 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 drawing through the Gospel.

The most criticised phrase is the denial of incapacitation of anyone's free will as a result of Adam's sin and it does sound bad. However, the very next sentence denies sinners are saved apart from the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel. Per Semi-Pelagianism, we don't need the Holy Spirit's drawing - we just need the man up their preaching. Further, 'drawing' is likely an allusion to John 6:44, and John 12:32 - texts commonly cited in support of prevenient grace. So unless the authors of the traditional view are using an abusive definition of drawing, this sentence cannot be read as consistent with Semi-Pelagianism.

So the options seem to be, A) the Traditionalists are secret heretics hiding their views in plain site, B) article two is self contradictory in back to back sentences or C) the denial of incapacitation is consistent with man's need for super-natural previenient grace.

We should give the Traditionalists the benefit of the doubt that they are not secret heretics. They could be inconsistent - given the large number of signers some could be Semi-Pelagians while others are not. That way each sub-group could see what they want in the statement. But that's not a very charitable thing to assume either - but I think the possibility alone is enough to call for a clarification as to the original intent behind article two.

But let's explore the third option, that the denial of incapacitation is consistent with man's need for super-natural prevenient grace. But before digging in, let's look at article 8 on free will.

For reference, here’s the affirmation in 8:

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

This affirmation is interested in two things: 1) defining freedom in libertarian terms and 2) asserting that our acceptance or rejection of Christ is free in a libertarian sense. While this affirmation presupposes freedom from the slavery of sin, the issue under discussion is not so much freedom from sin as it is freedom from determinism.

Freedom from determinism is the idea that we are free in a libertarian sense; nothing determines our actions. Freedom from sin is the ability to obey God’s commands and believe His promises. Let’s for the moment say a person has libertarian freedom, but not freedom from sin. He can’t obey God, but he can still choose between chocolate or vanilla, or choose between sinful alternatives (i.e. should I yell at my wife or go out back and smoke pot). If the person doesn’t have libertarian freedom they can’t – if God predetermines I will eat chocolate, I cannot eat vanilla. I say this only to clarify the distinction between these two freedom’s.

Article 8 asserts that whoever accepts or rejects the call of the gospel does so with libertarian freedom. Compatiblist freedom is not enough. The Calvinist definition of the freedom we have when we choose Christ is not correct.

Now for the denial in 8:

“We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.”

The first sentence is a critique of Calvinism; what they see as the logical implication of man lacking libertarian freedom. Ultimately God is behind the action and it’s not up to us. The second sentence denies the idea of an “effectual call”. Per Calvinism, this effectual call, causes a positive response. If a person is effectually called, their is a positive response. The call is a sufficient cause of the response. The person cannot say no; they are causally determined to say yes. This is a denial of libertarian freedom (at least with respect to salvation). Article 8 rejects this idea.

Back to the denial of incapacitation in article 2. What if they are talking about incapacitation generally and denying the loss of libertarian free will? So when the Holy Spirit's drawing opens responding to the Gospel as an option to us, we are able to choose it. In this way, these back to back sentences can be reconciled without contradiction or semi-Pelagianism.

Now let's address an obvious objection. Calvinists don't believe Adam lost libertarian freedom by the fall because they don't believe he had libertarian freedom before the fall. That's a serious difficulty. If the incapacitation in article two is not talking about the loss of libertarian freedom, but rather the freedom from sin's dominion, then we are back to either the Traditionalists being either inconsistent or secret heretics. About the only answer I can think of is that throughout the document the Traditionalists did not present Calvinism as Calvinists would - they used their own definitions of terms rather than Calvinists definitions. Additionally, Calvinists themselves have not always been clear on the distinction between freedom from sin and freedom from determinism. So just because they didn't hit Calvinism with total precision doesn't mean they didn't have libertarian freedom in mind.

I do think there is a reasonable way to read article two without Semi-Pelagianism. That's not saying much but is saying enough to say those calling the document Semi-Pelagian are jumping the gun. This is especially true, given the Traditionalists are already saying they are not Semi-Pelagian. However, a clarification from the Traditionalist side is in order.

Monday, June 4, 2012

In Between Traditionalist SBC and Calvinist

A large group of Southern Baptists recently signed a statement that defines their beliefs and opposes Calvinism. (link) It takes the name “Traditionalist” which ruffles feathers with Calvinists in the SBC, but at least provides a helpful title other than non-Calvinist. Overall, this may help slow the spread of Calvinism within the SBC by putting names and faces to the opposition to Calvinism and providing an alternative. So overall I think the move is helpful and a good thing.

However, I find my own understanding of scripture somewhere in between this traditionalist statement and Calvinism. For example, Article 2’s statement says: “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.” I do hold that we were condemned in Adam. The denial of “incapacitation” was carelessly worded but based certain statements about the need for grace through the rest of the document; I will give the traditionalists the benefit of the doubt that they are not semi-Pelagians.

Another example is article 6, which states: “We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation."  I am all for corporate election, but not to the exclusion of individual election.” Election is primarily corporate, but it is secondarily individual. If they had said “unconditionally predestined certain people” I would agree wholeheartedly, but they seem to rule out conditional individual election as well. Also article 8’s denial of the distinction between a general call and an effectual one is less than clear and could be problematic.

Finally and perhaps most surprisingly Article 9 states “we deny even the possibility of apostasy.” To my knowledge, no confession (Protestant/Non-Protestant, Calvinist/non-Calvinist) has ever said this. This is a ground breaking statement. Most Calvinists confessions simply say true believers will never lose their salvation but this statement goes beyond that to deny we have the ability to stop believing. While I hold to eternal security, I don’t agree with that statement.

Maybe I am nitpicking, but I would love it if these minor points were changed so I could sign up. Meanwhile I am still somewhere in the middle, which is not all that bad of a place to be.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: Abasciano on Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:10-18

This book follows "Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis" as Dr. Abasciano dives deeper into Romans 9 by examining 9:10-18.  (link to Amazon) The work is organized, in-depth and supported by careful examination of the original languages as well as a broad reading of historic and current scholarship. Its main appeal is to those who enjoy detailed exegetical works and those seeking answers on Romans 9.

A big picture view is in order before digging into the details. Dr. Abasciano holds that Romans 9 teaches corporate election, so his interpretation is not Calvinistic, nor is it like the church fathers who held Romans 9 teaches election based on foreknowledge, nor is it like the dispensationalists who hold Romans 9 describes the election of Israel to non-saving blessings, nor is it like the many classic Arminians who said the passage teaches how God will save (i.e. by faith) rather than who God will save (though Dr. Abasciano’s view has much in common with this view). Rather, Dr. Abasciano defines election as God’s choosing a group to be His people. While the group will certainly be saved, individuals may join or leave the group. God forms the group first and foremost by choosing Christ as the Corporate Head and source of salvation for group members and also by choosing Abraham and the Patriarchs as the vehicle for receiving and establishing salvation in Christ. God also sets the condition for joining the group; faith in Christ. Dr. Abasciano also mentions the condition for leaving the group; unbelieving apostasy from Christ, which applies both to Israel's national apostasy and individual apostasy.

So Paul answers the Jewish objection of “but we are God’s chosen people” with, “no you’re not” or perhaps, “not anymore”. Israel is represented by Esau who traded in his birthright as firstborn, rather than the chosen Jacob; because Israel for the most part has apostatized leaving the true Israel. Now perhaps Dr. Abasciano does see God’s election of Abraham as a multifaceted diamond with some aspects that provide blessings to ethnic Israel, but if so, that’s not the aspect Paul is discussing in Romans 9 and from what I could gather, Romans 11 either (i.e. it does not seem Dr. Abasciano holds to the reading of Romans 11 wherein God will save ethnic Israel in end times). Instead, Romans 9-11 discusses salvation - including corporate election by faith over and against salvation by works or nationality.

Now that we have seen the bird’s eye view, let’s not overlook some of the gems Dr. Abasciano leaves for us along the path. The study starts with helpful background material on Genesis 25:23 and Malachi 1:3, both of which support corporate election to salvation and also hint at the possibility of Esau and the Gentiles rejoining God’s people due to the promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. Paul appeals to Jacob to show God’s right to choose/name whoever He wants for His people. Paul’s argument relies on his audience knowing the original contexts of Genesis 25 and Malachi 1, and even contradicts the interpretive tradition of Jacob being chosen and Esau rejected based on works.

Dr. Abasciano provides a wonderful review of the different ways people understand the phrase "the purpose of God according to election" wherein he finds the phrase most likely means “election as a means to fulfilling God’s purpose” rather than “a purpose to elect” or “election is the basis for God’s purpose”. He views the purpose of election as to save the world.

Dr. Abasciano finds the means of salvation (faith in Christ) implicitly in the phrases “the children of the promise are counted as the seed” and “God who calls” in Romans 9:8, 9:11) and more explicitly in Romans 9:30 through Romans 11. Thus Paul defends justification by faith by discussing corporate election. Interestingly, Dr. Abasciano states he is undecided if Paul presents the election of Jacob as the corporate head as conditional or unconditional though he leans towards conditional and says it doesn't matter much since individuals join the corporate body on the condition of faith in Christ. Dr. Abasciano reasons that since Old Testament election in general and the passages Paul quotes in particular relate a corporate election, then it is most natural to take Paul as holding a corporate understanding of election and conveying such in Romans 9.

In Romans 9:6-13, Paul responds to the objection that God’s promise to Israel failed. The question in verse 14 of “is there unrighteousness with God” refers specifically to God's faithfulness to His promises to Israel, rather than generally to God's character in election. So Romans 9:14-18 repeats and further clarifies Romans 9:6-13 rather than answering new questions about God’s character spawning from his initial response. Thus the main point of the quotation “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” is not that God provides covenant status through mercy instead of works or ancestry. Rather Paul's point of the quote is that God can show mercy in the way He wishes in order to support God's election/mercy being conditioned on faith in Christ.

In Exodus 32-34, Israel lost its elect status and God pronounced He can have mercy on whoever He chooses and in whatever way He chooses. Since Exodus 32-34 is about corporate election, so is Romans 9:15. Willing and running refer to desire and effort to keep the law.

In the Exodus account, God rescues His people to fulfill His covenant with Abraham. God hardens Pharaoh to give occasion for the plagues so people would know the Lord, and this purpose enjoyed immediate fulfillment in a mixed multitude (including presumably some Egyptians) leaving with Israel. Hardening also punishes past sins, including the slaying of the Hebrew children and the refusal to let God’s people go.

Dr. Abasciano analyzes the three Hebrew words for hardening and determines that hardening is a strengthening of Pharaoh against fear of plagues, so Pharaoh can do what he really wants; refuse to let Israel go. Hardening is not the withdrawing of divine grace, but rather God working in an indirect and natural manner. Exodus 9 and Romans 11 show hardening is reversible and Moses' anger with Pharaoh in chapter 11 shows Pharaoh’s responsibility and ability to capitulate. The idea is not that a stubborn person cannot move his own will, but that someone else can't move it.

Paul’s main point in the Pharaoh quotation was God’s sovereignty and to present Pharaoh as a type for rejected unbelieving Israel, who had stumbled on the Stumbling Stone because they wished to be justified by ancestry and works. Secondarily, Paul’s point in the quotation is that just as hardening Pharaoh led to people knowing the Lord, so the hardening of the Jews is leading to the evangelization of the Gentiles. Dr. Abasciano argues that the phrase "raise up" could also be translated as “allow to live”. Given the Romans 9:17 quotation is more like the Hebrew than the Septuagint, Dr. Abasciano provides an interesting excursus on if Paul translates directly from Hebrew at times. Overall, Pharaoh answers the negative side of God’s right to show mercy to whoever and in whatever manner He chooses.

The volume closes by reviewing the connections between this volume and the preceding showing that this study confirms the conclusions of the first book and by looking forward to the upcoming third volume. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to this trilogy.