Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Taz.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Getting Some Definitions Right

One of the things that irks me the most are all these self proclaimed experts on Calvinism who don't seem to know the first thing about what they are talking about. Many leaders in our Convention take exception to the Doctrines of Grace (a nickname for Calvinistic theology) but when you listen to them talk about it, it seems they miss the mark about what Calvinists believe. Indeed, many times I am left wondering if they object to Calvinism or something they made up and called Calvinism. So, over the next few days, I'd like to take a shot at setting the record straight and (at least) trying to define what we mean when we talk about Calvinism.

Everyone has a system of theology. No matter who you are you tend to put religious doctrines (teachings) and thoughts into an order. In the last 2000 years of church history, these systems have come to be recognized and defined. Some are heretical and outside the Christian faith. Some are not. But everyone has a system.

Among Protestant Evangelical Christians there are two major systems of theology. Almost everything else is derived from one of these two systems. They are Calvinism (or Reformed) theology and Arminianism. The major difference between the two (in the largest sense) is that Calvinism is monergistic. It believes that God has done all the work necessary for salvation and then calls men to respond to what He has done for them. Arminianism is synergistic. It believes that man and God cooperate together to bring a person to salvation. All the doctrines that belong to each system are derived from these two overarching thoughts. God does all the work or men and God work together.

There is a third system called pelagianism. Pelagius taught that men are born neutral and so they learn to become sinners. They can also learn to become holy and therefore, essentially, save themselves. His system is considered heretical and outside Christian orthodoxy and so I will not be dealing with it at all in this series of articles. It is enough to say that no orthodox Christian theologian or sect teaches that man can save himself.

John Calvin was a French theologian who settled in Geneva, Switzerland. He summed up his theological teachings in a book called "The Institutes of the Christian Religion." He also wrote a commentary on almost the whole Bible. Calvin's major thought centered on the absolute sovereignty of God over all things and man's submission to God's sovereign rule. Calvin's chief disciple was a man named Theodore Beza. After Calvin died one of the men Beza taught was a Dutch theologian named Jacob Hermann whose Latin name was Arminius. Arminius came to question certain of Calvin's teachings, especially the teaching that God's grace could not be resisted by the human will. When he died, his followers petitioned the national church in Holland to replace some of Calvin's doctrines with those developed by Arminius' followers. These followers were called "Remonstrants" and their petition is called the "Remonstrance." The Remonstrance had five sections each dealing with a doctrinal issue they wanted to replace. The Dutch Church responded by calling a Synod to consider the petition. The Synod met in the city of Dordtrecht (or Dort for short). The Synod wrote five Canons or Standards for proper doctrine. They rejected the Remonstrance totally. They answered with five Canons, to answer each of the five Remonstrances. In English, we remember the five Canons of Dort by the acrostic TULIP. Each letter stands for one the five Canons. It is these five doctrines that I will be defining over the next week or so in this series of articles. I will try to set each Canon in antithesis to it's Arminian counterpart.

I come into this with a bias. I am a Reformed Baptist. I personally tend to use the terms Reformed, Calvinist, and Sovereign Grace as interchangeable terms. I understand that there are some nuances to each term so that they are not exactly interchangeable. A Sovereign Grace Baptist for example, will hold to the "5 Points of Calvinism" (a nickname for the five Canons of Dort), but not to any other Calvinistic theology. Reformed Baptists tend to be confessional, finding their doctrine articulated very well in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Calvinism Proper tends to be more Presbyterian than Baptist (did I mention that I am a Baptist?). But a Baptist who says that he is a Calvinist is generally saying that the holds to the 5 points of Calvinism.

In our Southern Baptist Convention, the majority of folks would be a mixture of Calvinist and Arminian. There are very few pure Arminians in the Convention. But, insofar, as a person holds to a synergistic view of salvation, they stand on the Arminian side of the line. But we take it as a given that the SBC is a mix multitude. Every SBC pastor, Calvinist or not, has to deal with that mixed bunch. But there is a big well of misunderstanding about what Calvinistic Southern Baptists believe. Even some folks who hold doctorates in theology seem to forget what Reformed theology is when they speak. My hope is that this next week or so will clear up some of those misunderstandings.

One slogan of the Reformation was "Ecclessia reformata et semper reformanda." It means "The Church reformed and always reforming." We are never where we should be. No matter how biblical or Christ honoring a Church is, it can always do better. As we all move forward towards Christlikeness, I pray these articles will spark a desire for theological thinking among my Baptist brothers and sisters.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Brother John,

I shall look forward to your series on what Baptist Calvinists believe. I am particularly interested in your opening statement about the "major difference between" Calvinism and Arminianism is "Calvinism is monergistic" and "Arminianism is synergistic" with either "God do[ing] all the work or men and God work[ing] together" respectively.

I have no doubts there are different assumptions about monergism and synergism Calvinists & NonCalvinists embrace. I do wonder if by "men and God working together" you mean to imply Arminians--or, as I prefer, NonCalvinists--embrace a partnership of contribution to redemption. That is, in your view, does Arminianism teach a person is saved by his/her own works?

Grace, Brother John. With that, I am...


P.S. Sorry about the anon. I kinda got feed up with Blogspot making me sign in every time. My URL is:

5:23 AM  

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