R. Albert Mohler Jr. Answers The Calvinism Criticism

by Tony K on January 16, 2008 · 5 comments

Getting into politics is like inviting the whole world to clean your closet, or at least rummage around a bit. For better or worse, this holds true for Southern Baptist politics.

In January they announced R. Albert Mohler Jr. would be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention President at the Annual Southern Baptist Meeting this June in Indianapolis, Indiana. (We need to shorten all those names!)

The Anti-Mohlers wasted little time. Within a week, many questions were raised about his character, theology and leadership abilities. Most of this was excepted. What surprised me was the Louisville newspaper’s sudden interest in soteriology.

Of course, this is old news. Mohler has been answering these concerns about his theology for years. That is the point of this post, to show you one example.

Read this quote from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Response to the Baptist General Convention of Texas Seminary Study Committee Report by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President – October 24, 2000.

6. The BGCT report falsely accuses Southern Seminary and President R. Albert Mohler, Jr. of forcing a Calvinist theological agenda upon the institution.

All Southern Baptists are Calvinists of one sort or another. Anyone who believes in the perseverance of the saints or the security of the believer has Calvinist elements in his or her theology. Those who established the SBC were Calvinists, as were early leaders of the BGCT. Southern Seminary’s Abstract of Principles reflects that Calvinist influence, as does the Baptist Faith and Message (and the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, on which it is based).

In the modern era, as in the founding generation, Southern Baptists have included those who were more Calvinistic, and those who were less Calvinistic. Nevertheless, strong Calvinist elements have been present in the Southern Baptist mainstream throughout our history.

The Abstract of Principles requires all professors to believe in total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance. The Seminary does not require professors to hold a specific view of the extent of the atonement or effectual calling. Southern Seminary’s faculty hold differing positions on these questions, as do Southern Baptists at large.

The President is not forcing a Calvinist agenda other than faithful adherence to the Abstract of Principles. The BGCT report claims that “Calvinism influence is enormous with students being mentored in this narrow theological persuasion.” The committee reached this assessment, apparently without a single interview with a student.

If Calvinism is not to be tolerated by BGCT leadership, then they should make clear their own theological convictions in a responsible manner. Further, they must apologize to BGCT titans such as B. H. Carroll and J. B. Gambrell, who were clear about their own Calvinist convictions.

In a letter printed in the October 23, 2000 edition of the Baptist Standard, the chairman of the BGCT committee, Bob Campbell of Houston, stated: “The Calvinism issue continues and is more prominent at Southern than ever. Baptist Press recently (Oct. 11) announced the hiring of a Presbyterian professor.” This is another evidence of the superficial and farcical approach of the BGCT committee. Baptist Press did indeed announce that SBTS trustees had approved a Presbyterian professor to teach for a limited assignment. Had Mr. Campbell asked for information, he would have discovered that the Presbyterian professor was approved to teach a specialized course in church music—hardly an example of a Calvinist infusion into the Seminary. Men who expect to be taken seriously must act seriously. This is an example of the “research” on which the BGCT report is based.

It’s never dull to see history repeating itself. I expect to read many blog posts sizing up the Mohler nomination over the next few months.

After all, politics is the American pastime.

1 Dr. James Willingham July 18, 2008 at 12:06 am

Dr. Mohler is quite right about Southern Baptists being Calvinist in origin (I prefer the term Sovereign Grace believers due to the fact that some were suffering for the doctrines of grace before Calvin was even converted & he persecuted people, something no Baptist should have a part in doing). They also allow for differences which goes back to the agreement made between Separates and Regulars in 1787 which led to their union and dropping the old distinctions and choosing the term, United Baptists. They allowed for peopl to differ on these issues. Some Primitive Baptists (not all) made the doctrines of grace open doors to fatalism. I had a lady in one of my pastorates whose parents never said a word to her about salvation or did anything at all to encourage her to learn. I have done some study of the issues and that study suggests to me that there is no excuse for such a neglect of compassion for one’s own child. After all, the book does inculcate the duty of teaching our children the truths of the Bible and the God whom it presents. Of course, I know that there are Primitive Baptists who are not like that.
Also, Arminians can be just as unconcerned and uncaring and immoral as any antinomian or as legalist. The truth is that it depends on whether the work of grace is in one’s heart to stir up a sense of responsibility. Some of the most responsible and caring people I have ever known were the strongest believers in Sovereign Grace. But I have also known some just as caring who had a very poor understanding of what it meant to be saved by grace. God grant us the devotion to His cause that our predecesors and, in some cases, ancestors possessed , when they were blessed to experience the Great Awakenings and to begin to develop after centuries of deprivation. My ordaining pastor was a supralapsarian, a hyper calvinist, and yet he founded the American Race Track Chaplaincy. The theology of the Great Awakenings and the Great Century of Missions, at least in its origins, was Sovereign Grace or Calvinism. Like Luther Rice stated in his Memoirs, “Predestination is in the Bible, nd you had better preach it.” But hey, it is not the only subject in the Bible. I spent two years on doing research on I Cors.13, accumulating some 2000 5×8 notecards. The impacty of that studyhaunts me to this day. Our love toward others, for the glory of God, is not to depend on whether they dot the I s or cross the T s like we do or not. Otherwise, Jesus would never have spoken so approvingly of te Good Samaritan. I say that old biblical orthodoxy of the Sovereign Grace and Awakening eras was the most liberal and creative and flexible and balanced that the world has ever seen since the times of the early church. Rock like stability and sacrificial compassion was demonstrated by the first and the most sorry missionary, the one that preceded William Carey and whose convert was the first one that William Carey baptized. I speak of Dr. John Thomas who had been in India 7 years before Carey. Dr. Thomas went insane, when Krishna Pal indicated that he was ready to go all the way with Christ. AND HE WAS A DEVOUT CALVINIST. Huh! I thought those people did not care for any one. Well, obviously we got our wires crossed somewhere. For 35 years I have been praying for a GREAT AWAKENING. Can it be that our present discussions are but the ground swell that preceeds a hurricane, A PRECURSOR BFORE THE ULTIMATE AWAKENING OF THE WHOLE EARTH? HOW MANY DESCENDANTS IS ABRAHAMSUPPOSED TO HAVE BY FAITH?THE BIBLE SAYS THAT THEY ARE TO BE LIKE THE STARS WHICH CANNOT BE NUMBERED FOR NUMBER AND LIKE THE SAND BY THE SEASHORES. STOP AND THINK ALL YOU WHO THINK THE NUMBER IN HEAVEN WILL BE FEW COMPARED TO THE NUMBER IN HELL. I REMEMBER COMING ACROSS AN INCIDENT IN CHURCH HISTORY WHERE A BELIEVER WAS BURNED AT THE STAKE FOR BELIEVING THAT THERE WOULD BE MORE SAVED THAN WOULD BE LOSS! AND HE WAS NOT A U NIVERSALIST! GENTLEMEN AND LADIES, OUR GREATEST YEARS MIGHT WELL BE BEFORE US. AND IF THE LORD COMES BACK BEFORE THEN, THAT WILL BE FINE WITH ME AFTER ALL HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING AND I AM SEVERELY LIMITED IN KNOWLEDGE. SO LETS PRAY AND LABOR LIKE WE MUST TO WIN AS MANY AS WE MIGHT FOR THE AMAZING GRACE OF GOD. INTERESTING THAT THE GREATEST HYMN SHOULD BE THE ONE ON SOVEREIGN GRACE. I HAVE SOME OF JOHN NEWTON’S WORK. AND HEY, LETS NOT BUTT HEADS WITH ARMINIANS OR ANY ONE ELSE EXCEPT AS THEY UTTERLY REFUSE TO LET US BE IN PEACE. EVEN THEN LET US ACT WIH LOVE AND KINDNESS FOR HIS GLORY.

2 Dr. James Willingham November 6, 2008 at 12:34 am

Floods can come two ways: with overwhelming waves like a tsunami or they can come as my grandfather experienced in the 1930s. Sometime during the night he turned over in bed and his arm dropped down. When his arm dropped his hand went into the water, and it awoke him. What had happened? The St. Francis river overflowed that night, and the water reached Grandpa’s share cropper’s house in Arkansas. Quietly the water rose, come under and around the door and through other openings. Silently, it rose. No one in the family was aware of the flood until Grandpa’s hand fell into the water. God’s Sovereign Grace can come in the mildest, most gentle, and the tenderest manner. I was first introduced to the doctrines of grace at East Texas Baptist College in the Fall of 1958 which I rejected at the time along with a friend named Spurgeon (yep, according to a Spurgeon family researcher he is some kin of the famous CHS). In 1965 he and I met again at Lincoln University in Mo. By that time I have been persuaded that total inability, unconditional election, and irresistible grace were actually taught in the Bible. No, I never read Calvin’s Institutes until many years later. In any case, I told my friend of my change and for some reason we talked about irresistible grace which he did not accept then. In any case, he went on visitation and won a young lady to Christ. About 20 yrs of age, she responded so readily to his efforts that he asked her why. She responded, “Oh! It was so wonderful that I could not resist it!” He said that when she said that, what I had said about grace being irresistible flashed in his mind. I asked, “Well, have you changed your mind?” “No,” he answered, “but I’m thinking about it.” Fast forward to 2002-2003 (?), he said he was still thinking about it. Then in January 2007, I called him and he said, “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get hold of you.” To make a long story short he had come to believe as the girl said that grace was so wonderful that one could not resist it. That is what John Newton was saying in the most propular Christian hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace! How sweet the Sound, that saved a wretch like!” By the way Rev. Spurgeon, received his D. Phil. from Oxford Graduate School in Tn. in Sept 2008. He did his Doctoral Dissertation on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan also wrote oone of the great tracts on the subject, “Grace Abounding to the Chiefest of Sinners.” I think the world wide Great Awakening could come quietly, gently, kindly, tenderly, lovingly, winsomely, attractively, wonderfully compelling. If there is anything I want to be absolutely irresistible, it is agape love, God’s unconditional love flooding into our hearts and lives. That would be the most healing thing that could ever occur in this world. I am praying that it shall be so for the GLORY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WHO IS TO BE ADMIRED FOR HIS MAGNETICALLY CHARMING WAY OF WINNING SINNERS FROM THEIR SINS. I really do think that like the old Greek myth of the hero who kept his sailors from responding to the wooings of the sirens by having a musician who could play sweeter music is out done by our blessed Savior, the King of kings. Let us lay seige to the throne of grace for just that very reality to come to pass. Yes, it does involve facing the reality of our depravity and his strong words on Judgment. But Hey! Some people need those words and others need sweet gentle words. God tempers his message to what he knows is our need. Let Him do as He pleases. The will of the Lord be done.

3 Pastor J.R. December 22, 2008 at 11:44 am

Dr. Mohler is a mighty man of God and so is Dr. York, one of his top aides, who is quite right to long for more debate on this issue, rather than just two sides talking past each other. One thing that is not often discussed in this debate is that Southern has recently added many textbooks by Puritan authors to its curriculum since they were, of course, doctrinally inclined toward the Reformed viewpoint.
There is much of value to be learned from the Puritans, but as a matter of historical accuracy, they did have some “faith without works” issues that typically get swept under the academic rug at Southern–for example, the terroristic torture and even executions of Christians both in England and in the American colonies for such matters as holding “Baptist” viewpoints on believer’s baptism or even (historically well-documented in Salem, Mass.) petty property disputes and church politics for which the infamous “witch trials” constituted just the tip of the iceberg.
As great an institution as Southern really ought to come to grips with the dark side of Puritanism and at least include it in the conversation; the Bible clearly, repeatedly states that while doctrines are absolutely essential, a person’s actions are a pretty good barometer of just how efficacious their alleged faith is. In the Puritans’ case, it simply will not do to study Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards without also making a clear, levelheaded, sober assessment of the folks whose notions of “church and state” are absolutely antithetical to those of modern-day Baptists.
This post does not take sides on the Calvinist-Arminian feud that sometimes disgraces modern Baptist witness, with plenty of blame on both sides for biting and devouring, but it does raise the question of why Southern finds it necessary to saturate its curriculum with Puritan authors to the extent it has in many of its courses (not just in history and theology) with considerable reluctance to assess the Puritans’ tragic penchant for religious persecution. If anyone would like to verify the accuracy of this statement, visit Southern’s bookstore sometime and walk through the students’ “textbook tunnel” and you will see what I mean. My credentials in making these assessments include extensive graduate level work in history and being a published author of works including colonial history in addition to an M.Div.

4 Dr. James Willingham March 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Dear Pastor J.R.: Let us give Dr. Mohler and Dr. York a little credit. After all, like you they have also been exposed to the short-comings of the Puritans (who were a people that could be brought to look at and repent of their transgressions…just cosider the witchcraft trials and the repentance for such egregious blunders). My M.A. was in American Social and Intellectual History, and one of the first areas studied was the Puritan period as it comes first. Being taught by a bunch agnostics and perhaps a few atheists who take advantage of every opportunity to point out Christian failures (true as from the beginning when Cain murdered Abel). I use to twit my agnostic professor and advisor, saying, “Ah, ____, your just a dishonest atheist!” And he would laugh as he claimed to be an agnostic and I had been an atheist before my conversion. Now as to the Puritans themselves, setting aside for a moment the fact that like us they had their spots and blemishes (and I really mean serious failures in omission and commission), let us consider what work they did in biblical exegesis. In 1961-62 I entered a book store in St. Louis, Mo. There in that store were two stacks of books as tall, if not taller than I was at the time (6′). They were discards from Westminster College in Fulton, Mo (where Churchhill made his famous Iron Curtain Speech in the mid-forties). It was a stack of Nichols’ Standard Divines (I did not then know the value of the Puritans or I would have begged and borrowed to buy every one of them (for $2/vol…what a deal). In my first pastorate (’62-’64) I began to study what I had purchased, namely 3 vols of David Clarkson’s Works and some vols. of Richard Sibbes. Clarkson’s sermon on original sin (he had every word in the Hebrew wrong according to te editor) was clear in the examples cited (man dead in trespasses and sins, a slave of sin, blind, deaf, lame, helpless) and he brought me to a belief in total depravity. If man was that bad off, then it followed that Grace had to be irresistible and sovereign (other wise no one wuld ever get saved). so I preached my first sermon in th Dixon Baptist Assn. in Mo. on Ephs.1:8, “Amazing Grace”, and three points, immeasurable, irresistible, and I think irreversible (the order in which they were given is not recalled). In any case, John Calvin never had any thing to do with my adopting the views of Grace, the doctrines of grace. And I came to each one very slowly over a period of yrs. Then they were like a club to beat people over the head. In 1972-73 I would learn that these doctrines are the doctrines of invitation, that God holds out an open hand so to speak, and it is that open hand which is so irresistible. After all, if the God who made us, who from His very nature imparts this thing called love as well as many other precious things, offers his hand in friendship and love and intimacy, that is really hard to resist. It is sort of like a friend of mine (last name Spurgeon) who I told I had come to believe in irresistible grace, and he did not. He went out evangelizing. One young lady of 20 or so responded so readily that he ask her why. She said, “OH, IT WAS SO WONDERFUL THAT I COULD NOT RESIST IT!” I ask Gene, “Well, have you changed your mind?” “No,” he said, “but I’m thinking abut it.” Fast forward to 2002-3, and he was still thinking about it. Then to 1/2007, and he said, “Where have you been (I had moved)? I have been trying to get a hold of you.” Yup, he had changed his mind. The message of the grace of God in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is so wonderful that once you get a sight of that glory, you wouldn’t even dream of resisting it. As to thePuritans and their mistakes, let me include John Calvin. I have always paid little attention to him due to the burning of Michael Servetus, but recently I had occasion to begin reading a book about him (John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology). That work by many scholars has begun to alter my thinking. After all, even Baptists who implemented religious liberty made mistakes, Think of Richard Furman declaring, “Baptists would fight in defense of slavery.” circa 1823-4. In 1861 a cannon ball from Ft. Sumter would smash into his grave like a Divine exclamation point, and 650,000+ soldiers from both North and South would perish due to the blindness of Baptists on this issue. Yes, the Puritans made mistakes, dumb mistakes, but God is in the business of saving sinners. This is no tea party; it is battlefield surgery performed by medics in the heat of battle. Ignorant armies clash on plains of darkness. Just consider how hard it has been for Baptists to undo centuries of propaganda about the inferiority of African Americans, when all along they had living examples of God’s ability to save and lift Blacks to heights in the Chrstian Faith that we might never attain as we lack the total depravation they suffered. And, O yes, the Blacks are just as smart as Whites. After all, all of our ancestors got off the same boat, the one the Bible calls the Ark which Noah built. We are falling sinners with hearts deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9). Only God almighty himself, the King of Kings, can put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and that is what He is doing in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have a great future before us, the Great Consummation, the Awakening of the whole earth to our Savior, an Awakening in the freest, gentlest, most loving manner, like the touch of a loved one who loves us. Paradoxically, it shall come as we learn synthetical approaches from God’s word.

Dr. James Willinghams last blog post..The Climax of the Reformation

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: