Editor: Ken Hamrick blogs at “Biblical Realist” and lives in Ohio. I appreciate Ken’ submission of this post. I fully agree that we have to realize the dangers of splintering and polarization.
The quiet majority is being ignored whenever the more vocal proponents of either extreme frame the argument with the assumption that there is no valid, substantial and established middle path. As Southern Baptists, we have never been fully Calvinist or Arminian. If we had been fully Calvinist, we would have been “Reformed Baptist,” with a heavy emphasis on covenants, Calvinism and creedal standards. If we had been fully Arminian, we would have been “Freewill Baptists” or Wesleyans of some sort, with a heavy emphasis on “keeping the faith” so that the believer does not lose salvation by drifting away. Many on either side presume that the two sides own both halves of the field. But as Southern Baptists, we are (generally) neither — we are Baptists and Biblicists, and the two extremes are ditches on either side of this path of truth.
The strength of this convention has always came from its close hold on the truth of God’s Word. This is what has preserved us in an age of liberalism and apostasy, and given us our effectiveness. What many proponents of the polar extremes fail to realize is that the truth is in the middle. It is the nature of men to err and misunderstand, and every important truth seems to have a large group erring on either side. This no different. As Baptists and Biblicists, the extremes are easily recognized as foreign ideas. How many in the average SBC church would not balk at the idea of God sending His saving Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who do not yet believe and have not invited Him in? And how many would agree that Christ’s atoning sacrifice is not universally available to any sinner, but instead atoned only for those whom were chosen? On the other hand, the idea that “so great a salvation” can be lost if not maintained with sufficient “evangelical obedience” is not only foreign to us, but utterly repugnant.
It is not that Calvinism and Arminianism have no truth whatsoever. Each has an important handle on the truth, but both use that handle as an impetus for an unwarranted extreme. It is the truth within both of these extremes that has long made both Calvinists and Arminians feel at home in the SBC, as long as they did not insist that the organization adopt their more extreme teachings. In other words, it has been the strength of the SBC that we center around the truth and work together, regardless of our distinctive differences around the outer edge of that theological circle. It is with this in mind that I suggest the following “center propositions” that should (in my opinion) ring true in the minds of the quiet majority, and around which any Southern Baptist can find common ground between the Arminianism and Calvinism.
First: It should be acknowledged that God is ultimately in control of the destiny of every man. But it should also be affirmed that men have the freedom to choose God or reject Him. Certainty does not invalidate the possibility of the paths not chosen. Whether or not we can understand and explain how that works is secondary to these truths. To deny these truths would be worse than to hold them without explanation.
Second: It should be understood that total depravity does not mean total inability. Sinners are unable to come to God without God’s intervention, but they are not unable in every way. They are unable in only one way. The inability of sinners is moral rather than natural. A natural inability is like a man born blind, who cannot see no matter how much he might want to. Natural inability provides an excuse. A moral inability is like a rebellious child who holds his hands over his eyes and refuses to see. The inability in both cases is just as debilitating. Both will fall into the ditch if they try to walk, but the latter inability provides no excuse. Sinners are unable to come to God as long as they are in rebellion against Him and His truth. The Father must draw them, with the influences and persuasions of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, and the orchestration of events in their lives.
Third: The root of all unbelief is rebellion against God, and not some mere benign ignorance. God hates unbelief. Men are not just blind, but haters of the light. God wants men to repent, come to the light and believe. Because of this, God has made belief the pivotal thing in salvation. Only those who believe will be saved. Men are said to be dead in sin because they stand condemned and separated from the only Source of Life; but sinners are not inanimate. Just as they are able to hate the Light, they are able to embrace the Light… and if God persuades them, they will.
Fourth: Regeneration and rebirth are synonymous terms that describe the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who enters the heart of the sinner when he comes to believe in Christ. It is this indwelling Spirit — the sinner being “born again” — that is the essence of salvation itself. All of our promises in the New Testament are “in Christ” and “Christ in us;” and it is this Holy Spirit’s indwelling that puts us in Christ by putting Christ in us. This is spiritual life itself, and is given only to those who come to the cross in genuine, repentant faith.
Fifth: Atonement and sacrifice are not synonymous. The termatonement is an Old Testament term, meaning to cover, that is a direct reference to the blood covering the Mercy Seat. It is a picture of covering the sinner with the blood of the sacrificial substitute — the interposition of the penalized substitute between the sinner and God. This interposition is God’s response to both the sinner’s faith and the sacrifice of the victim. Unless the sinner has faith, there is no atonement. Christ’s death was not an ipso facto atonement. It was a substitutionary sacrifice which can atone for the sins of anyone putting faith in that Savior and that sacrifice. (Understanding this fact could put away the perpetual debate over whom exactly it was that the cross atoned for).
The usual “already-but-not-yet” language fails to patch this hole. Forgiveness is only withheld where God has not yet been propitiated. Until a man is saved, he remains under the wrath of God. Such wrath is inconsistent with atonement. Until a man is saved, he is not yet reconciled. This also is inconsistent with atonement. Until a man is saved, the penalty for his sin hangs over his head and he remains under the condemnation of God. Does the blood of the sacrifice cover the sins of the rebellious, God-hating sinner before he repents?Atonement is not the mere shedding of the blood of the Sacrifice. Atonement is what happens when the blood is applied to the sinner.
Justice must be satisfied that the Sacrifice and sinner are so joined as to become one within reality. The reason is that justice demands more than that the sin be punished — justice demands that the one who sinned be punished. In the New Testament, God accomplishes this by providing union with Christ (through the indwelling Holy Spirit). This union is sufficient to make us one with Christ and give us title to His righteousness and sacrificial death, just as if we had been the one who had accomplished all that Christ did as a man, including dying on the cross.