Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Traditional Baptists and Calvinism: If We Are Not Calvinists, What Shall We Call Ourselves? Arminians Does Not Describe Us Accurately, and Many Baptists Think Arminians Are People from Armenia. Non-Calvinistic Baptists Is Negative

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Traditional Baptists and Calvinism: If We Are Not Calvinists, What Shall We Call Ourselves? Arminians Does Not Describe Us Accurately, and Many Baptists Think Arminians Are People from Armenia. Non-Calvinistic Baptists Is Negative

Article excerpt

In our book, God So Loved the World, (1) Paul Robertson and I chose to call ourselves traditional Baptists, a name which is controversial and calls for some justification. I think that it is justified because for a quarter of a century the first Baptists were anti-Calvinists (not just non-Calvinists, as is sometimes assumed), and also because for at least the past century, the majority of Baptists have not been Calvinists so that few people today upon meeting a Baptist will assume that she is a Calvinist.

Calvinism

Calvinism is the vision of Christianity that John Calvin held, especially concerning predestination. Calvin said that God sovereignly predestined (foreordained, willed, decreed) everything that happens in the world. In particular, God predestined that one group of people will be saved and the rest will be lost. God did this without reference to God's foreknowledge of those persons' future behaviors.

In our country, the most famous presentation of Calvinism is the TULIP. It came from the Synod of Dort, which met in 1618-19, and it does somehow seem appropriate that the concepts of a group meeting in Holland might be summarized with the acronym of a tulip. The synod was a response to the Remonstrance, a document written by the followers of the recently deceased Jacob Arminius and published in 1610. That was the year after the first Baptist church came into existence (1608-09), also in the Netherlands, and the year before the King James Version of the Bible was first published (1611).

The sequence of TULIP is not logical, and at Dort, it was ULTIP, as it should have been. The first point should be called "unconditional predestination" rather than "unconditional election," because it is about both the unconditional election of some persons for damnation as well as about the unconditional election of other persons for salvation. In my judgment, anyone who accepts unconditional predestination should have no trouble accepting the other four ideas: limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints follow naturally from unconditional predestination.

The Bible

Calvinists rightly claim Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and the Roman Catholic Church as predecessors, but they mostly claim the Bible. In the past, Calvinists have argued that they believe the Bible, and we traditional Baptists do not. We have argued that we believe the Bible, and they do not.

I think that both groups were wrong about this and that the situation is actually as follows. First, some passages (call them the C passages) such as Romans 9, taken at face value, teach Calvinism: Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated sounds like double predestination. Calvinists tend to say we traditional Baptists do not believe the Bible, but the more accurate statement is that we do not take the C passages at face value. We interpret them, that is, we offer an interpretation that differs from the face-value meaning.

Other passages taken at face value teach the traditional Baptist view. Call them the B passages. Examples are 1 Timothy 2:1ff. (God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth) and 2 Peter 3:8ff. (God is not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance). Calvinists interpret these passages, that is, they offer interpretations that differ from the face-value meaning. Naturally neither group finds the non-face-value interpretations of the other group convincing.

What guides the two groups to take one set of passages at face value rather than the other? For some Calvinists, it is a belief that sovereignty entails the idea that God foreordains and controls everything that happens: "All events are governed by God's secret plan," (2) as Calvin wrote. R. C. Sproul expressed it this way: "That God in some sense foreordains whatever comes to pass is a necessary result of his sovereignty." (3) We traditional Baptists believe in God's sovereignty, but we do not think that divine sovereignty entails that God foreordains everything. …

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