If you leave my house and head north on the only highway that runs north out of town (the other way out of town? West) you would take Arkansas Highway 130. Almost any place you intend to go from here, that is the road you want to be on. The first direction you will get is “Go north on 130.”
However, after a certain length of time, if you continue to follow that first direction, you will drive through a caution sign and plant yourself into the middle of a bean field. If your vehicle is fortunate enough to survive leaving the pavement and making the two-and-a-half foot drop into the field, you will bury it up to the axles and be stuck. Your trip will be at an end, your vehicle will be headed to the shop for a while, and you will be the object of much ridicule in the area.
It is basically not something you want to do. And for most reasonable people, it is not something that you would do. Most people would hear the first part of the directions as “Head North on 130” and then they would execute the next maneuver, east or west on 153, when they realized that going north had reached its end.
Yet some people would not make that connection. Some people would look at the map or glance down the road and say “Wait! The logical conclusion to going north on this road lands me in a bean field! Your directions are useless!” These would ignore the clearly marked turnings of the road and the reasonable likelihood that no one would go straight off the road, over the ditch, across the polypipe, and into the beans. Instead, the hidden meaning of the directions would be sought out and determined that the only reason to travel this road is to put someone in the beans.
Others would read the directions, see that there was a turn instructed at the point that 130 runs out, but then hold on to the one phrase: “Go north on 130.” These would insist that the directions were bad, for that one line was of dubious value. After all, if it were followed all on its own, it would lead to a field load of cars rather than beans! The risk of misdirection is too great with such instructions, for that one line could lead astray anyone who could not read either the directions or the signs.
Now, admittedly, some people are impaired and do not make the turn. Others are operating with faulty equipment and cannot make the turn. Yet even the woefully unqualified annual drivers of rice loads know that this turn should be made, even though they only drive double trailers one week a year. Kids know the turn has to be made, as they have seen it done time and again. It does not take a traffic engineer nor a professional driver to know: you do not follow the directions to go north to their logical conclusion. When the road runs out, turn.
A few further comments are necessary here:
First of all, everything I have said about the directions is true: if you go north, unflinchingly, on 130 you land in a bean field. Some years it’s a rice field or a corn field, others it’s a bean field. And 130 is the only road north out of town–the other way out is 130 west out of town. Folks, if you’re in Almyra you are either lost or you meant to be here. You were not just passing through.
Second, and more importantly, this is where we are in the SBC Calvinism/Traditionalist/Whatever-else debate. Here are the frequent accusations:
“The Traditionalists are Semi-Pelagians! Look at this one line right here!”
“Calvinism? The next thing is burning their opponents! That’s the logical result, that’s what Calvin did!”
“Unconditional Election? Might as well stay home instead of doing missions.”
“If God didn’t elect people to salvation, Jesus might have died for nobody.”
I have shortened those statements, but I have seen evidence of each of these either here or at a couple of other mostly famous SBC blogs in recent months.
Here is my problem with these and many of the other forced arguments regarding the soteriological issues in the Southern Baptist Convention. We are picking and choosing one or two lines to do battle with and couching our conclusions as being the “logical outcome” of the other side of the debate.
In the process, we act as if there are no turning points between the starting statement and the end we have defined. Our arguments would be valid if there were no other statements involved in the defining of our theological positions. This is not the case. There is not one Calvinist or Traditionalist who defines themselves first by either Calvin’s Institutes nor Hankin’s Statement. Or by the Southern Seminary Abstract or Patterson’s Revelation Commentary.
Every last one of the people in this argument define themselves as Bible-believing, Scripture-trusting, Baptist-minded Christians. Every one of us is more concerned with Paul than Tom Ascol, the Apostle Peter than David Hankins, John than R. Albert Mohler. And many of us are far more concerned with what happened to Thaddeus, Simon Zealotes, and Philip the Evangelist than we are about Driscoll, Mahaney, or Lumpkins.
The largest group of us are more driven by how we understand the Bible than by how we understand any form of systematic theology, though we use systematic theology in our efforts to understand.
That is how a Calvinist can believe that God has predestined those who will be saved but still believe, and obey, the commands in Scripture to go and tell the world about Jesus.
That is how a Traditionalist can believe that an unsaved person is capable of choosing Christ but still believe that God does the saving.
That is how a Traditionalist can see man as inclined to sin but still believe that all men slide down that incline, without fail.
That is how a Calvinist can believe that God’s love is not incompatible with foreordaining some to eternal damnation.
Because none of us carry the bulk of our single theological statements to their “logical conclusions.” Along the way, there are Biblical evidences that cause us to turn to the left or to the right before we get off the pavement. There are commandments and instructions that show us not to make the leap from a sovereign God to a life of deterministic fatalism. There are clear statements in Scripture that show us not to make the leap from man capable of accepting the Gospel to man capable of earning salvation without Christ’s death on the Cross.
Rather than arguing about what we think a person’s statements might be taken to mean if extracted from every other declaration of faith they have made, could it be beneficial to slow down and listen to what they actually say? Not just listen for the first phrase to argue with but actually listen?
Otherwise, we’re going to find ourselves axle-deep in the bean field. And the worst part? It’s harvest time. Driving a car into the field will only damage the harvest.