Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology: Part 2 of a Traditionalist’s Response to the Founders Ministry

(This is Part 2, links to Part 1 and Part 3)

As mentioned in Part 1, Jared Longshore, posted an article entitled, “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology” at in which he addressed the chapel message of Dr. Rick Patrick at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Having once been a member of the Founders’ ministry and part of one of their church starts over a decade ago, I have great respect for these brethren and appreciate the cordial manner in which they confront these disputable matters within our convention.  In that spirit, this would be a good opportunity to offer one Traditionalist’s commentary on the Founders’ initial response to Patrick’s message.

Longshore breaks down his critique into three sections of study, Patriology (the doctrine of God), Anthropology (the doctrine of man), and Missiology (the doctrine of missions). This article will cover the second of these three sections (Part 1 covered Patriology). Under the heading of “Anthropology,” Longshore writes,

The message at Southwestern also made a point concerning man’s response to the Holy Spirit. The speaker questioned, “Can man made in the image of God freely respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel? … Many Calvinists say, no.”

Scripture: Jesus says a number of things about God’s mighty drawing and man’s subsequent response. He says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). Finally, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

John Calvin: Calvin struck the same rhythm concerning God’s initiation and man’s willing response. He wrote, “For God effectually calls all whom he has elected, so that the sheep of Christ are proved by their faith. And, indeed the reason why the name of sheep is applied to believers is, that they surrender themselves to God.”[5]

Calvinistic Southern Baptists: As with the doctrine of patriology, so here, the 1689 London Baptist Confession advances along the lines of Calvin’s thought. It says of sinners responding to the Holy Spirit, “they come most freely” (10.1). Again, the confession states that man, in response to the call and work of the Spirit, is “enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it” (10.2). Therefore, while Calvinistic Southern Baptists agree that man can resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51), they also strongly affirm that man freely responds to the work of the Spirit.

This is one of those examples Dr. David Allen cautioned us about when he said, “Sometimes Calvinists use the same words, but have a different dictionary.”

What is meant by the word “freely” when it is used by Longshore in his comments above? It certainly does not mean what Patrick means (and arguable not what any objective reader would think it means). The average observer speaks of “freely” in terms of the ability to choose one way or another (contra-causally), but that is not what Longshore or other Calvinists are intending to say here.

For more clarity as to what Calvinists actually mean by the phrase “they come most freely,” let’s look at the context from the London Baptist Confession cited by Longshore:

Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. (LBC, 1689)

Is that clear? Calvinists consider a person “free” even if they are “made willing” by effectual means. I seriously doubt Calvinists would apply this definition in any other context except when defending their theological systematic. For instance, a Calvinistic juror would never acquit a man who used a drug to manipulate the desires of a woman. They would objectively acknowledge that desires cannot be controlled by outside forces in order for a person to be held justly accountable for his or her actions.

Would the average observer consider someone “free” who is acting according to desires that are determined by another person?  For instance, suppose a depressed man standing on a ledge wills to jump off a building to his death but a police officer physically tackles him so as to prevent his demise. Is the depressed man acting freely? We would all agree that he is not. He was physically forced to do something he genuinely did not will to do (i.e. come off the ledge and refrain from jumping).

Now suppose the police officer, armed with a new drug vapor developed by scientists to control human desires, dispels a gas which effectually alters the brain chemistry of the depressed man so that he no longer desires to jump to his death. Would anyone conclude that the depressed man acted any more “freely” in the second circumstance than he did in the first?

I cannot imagine that any objective reader would deem either action as being done “freely.” Whether one is controlled by physical force against their desires or coerced internally by the irresistible manipulation of those desires, no objective person would conclude they are acting “freely.” Yet, it is our contention that Calvinists have redefined this concept to make it fit within their scheme.  Please allow me to demonstrate by examining some teaching of other notable Calvinists on this point.

Dr. Phil Johnson, the Executive Director of John MacArthur’s ministry, Grace to You, sent me a link to this article, which clearly explains compatibilistic Calvinism. You will notice how the author describes the concept of “free” or “voluntary” choice from the Calvinistic worldview:

In order to understand this better, theologians have come up with the term “compatibilism” to describe the concurrence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. It simply means that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. Our choices are not coerced …i.e. we do not choose against what we want or desire, yet we never make choices contrary to God’s sovereign decree. What God determines will always come to pass (Eph 1:11).

 In light of Scripture, (according to compatibilism), human choices are exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism

 We should be clear that NEITHER compatibilism nor hard determinism affirms that any man has a free will. Those who believe man has a free will are not compatibilists, but should, rather, be called “inconsistent”. Our choices are our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures, nor separately from God’s meticulous providence. Furthermore, compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will…

 Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most according to our disposition and inclinations. The former view (libertarianism) is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (the fallen will is never free from the bondage of our corrupt nature, and and not free, in any sense, from God’s eternal decree.) The reason I emphasize this is that compatibilists are often misrepresented by hard determinists at this point. They are somehow confused with inconsistent Calvinists. When compatibilists use such phrases as “compatibilistic freedom”, they are, more often than not, using it to mean ‘voluntary’ choice, but are not referring to freedom FROM God’s decree or absolute sovereignty (an impossible supposition). (emphasis added)

According to Calvinists, one is acting “voluntarily” (or “freely”) as long as they are doing what they want to do. But behind that truth is the Calvinistic assertion that God determines those wants. As Dr. Braxton Hunter so succinctly puts it, “On Calvinism man is free to do what they want, but they are not free to want what they want.” In other words, according to Calvinism, mankind always acts in accordance with their nature, which is unchangeably determined by God.

We would argue this is more in line with animal instinct rather than the moral choices of human beings. Animals act naturally in accordance with preset instinctive desires within a given set of circumstances and stimuli beyond their control. People created in the image of God, however, have the ability to deliberate and decide which of their competing desires they will seek to fulfill. This is one of the reasons people are held morally accountable for their decisions while animals are not.  Mankind is able to discern right from wrong (Gen. 3:22; Rom 2:14-15) and thus stand without excuse (Rom. 1:20). (For a more complete and robust philosophical rebuttal to compatibilistic determinism, please CLICK HERE.)

So, assuming Longshore agrees with this article, when he says Calvinists “strongly affirm that man freely responds to the work of the Spirit,” we must understand him to mean, “Calvinists strongly affirm that man acts in accordance with desires that are determined by God when responding to the work of the Spirit.”  Patrick, on the other hand, would simply mean that man has the ability to respond postively or negatively to the work of the Spirit. Patrick is defending man’s ability-to-respond (responsibility), where as Longshore is ultimately making God responsible for the unbeliever’s rejection of the gospel appeal (i.e. God did not effectually draw, or grant them faith).

So, if I’m interpreting Patrick and Longshore correctly, here is what each of them are actually saying:

Patrick: When a man responds negatively to the work of the Holy Spirit he is doing so by his own choice and he could have chosen otherwise.  The unbeliever has rejected God’s gracious love and provision.

Longshore: When a man responds negatively to the work of the Holy Spirit he is doing so because that is what he wants to do, but what he wants is decreed (or determined) by God. Thus, the man could not have chosen to do otherwise. The unbeliever rejects God ultimately because God has rejected that unbeliever before he was born or had done anything good or bad.

Note: The exegetical interpretations offered by Traditional Southern Baptists of the passages cited by Longshore can be found elsewhere on this site and other sources listed on the Beliefs page. Please use the search feature at the top of this page.

10 thoughts on “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology: Part 2 of a Traditionalist’s Response to the Founders Ministry

  1. It is interesting that for the Calvinist God gave the so-called elect irresistible grace to assure salvation, but then gives sufficient grace to the elect to follow Him after regeneration that can be resisted or accepted.

    If God can give resistible grace to the so-called elect after regeneration that is sufficient to obey why can’t He give such resistible/acceptable grace to everyone before regeneration? It is only loyalty to the idea of an eternally selected group of individuals for salvation that requires the idea of irresistible grace for regeneration.

    So we are back to whether the future is an eternally set entity or not, which may be logical if you want to throw out the normal reading of Scripture which says it isn’t from God’s perspective!

    1. Brian: I would add, perhaps more explicitly, that the ‘calvinistic God’ certainly does appear to work in mysterious ways when it comes to providing sufficient grace. Grace which enables the unrepentent soul to respond so that they ‘freely come’ but not so much that they will ‘freely’ not want to sin afterwards. The bride of Christ might, on occasions, be tempted to think they had been jilted …. somewhat! 😉

      1. It certainly is difficult to resist chiding Calvinists with their God’s ‘ineffective’ grace. It supposedly regenerates the dead nature into a living one, compels the previously unbelieving to believe, yet grants no power to ensure the individual actually lives up to what they now ‘believe’. An atheist might genuinely inquire why God did not choose to make saints rather than self-righteous hypocrites who are able to grasp intricate doctrine but unable to put it fully into practice. If a mechanic did this with our car, telling us to merely view it’s smoke and bangs as if they no longer existed, we would insist that he redo the repair so that the car actually works.

        Now throw in a little genuine freedom of choice, and the understanding that God is promising to assist penitent men in escaping the destructive pitfalls of sin and becoming what He designed them to be, and you have an explanation for why forgiven men still stumble and struggle as they grow to full maturity. In reality, there is no ‘abracadabra’ moment in salvation, but genuine repentance and trust in God puts individuals back in a functioning relationship that leads toward greater understanding and decreasing worship of self. Calvinists give their all-controlling God a bad rap, making him look either incompetent or perverse in omitting a mechanism that would actually overcome sin. Ah, but Calvinism does offer what man most wants – freedom from personal responsibility. The ‘Doctrines of Grace’ give them that most coveted ability – to live any way they choose, even to ‘sin boldly’ and yet believe themselves ‘righteous’ in God’s sight. May God deliver well-meaning believers from this toxic theology.

  2. Calvinists teach that we must be irresistibly dragged to voluntarily repent and believe.

    I can think of a few names for this kind of assertion but “compatible” is not one of them.

    Thanks Leighton

  3. I believe that, if we actually know what grace is, we can see why it CAN either be accepted or rejected. Grace is God’s wisdom .. the gospel is God’s wisdom concerning salvation. No one can receive salvation or blessing unless he/she applies God’s wisdom to their own lives. Will God give salvation to the one who won’t believe and obey the gospel? No. Will He give it to someone who simply believes the gospel? No, because belief in the gospel requires us to act upon what we believe — Acts 2:38, “Repent and … receive….” We can only know the truth of what we believe by putting it into use .. experiencing it for ourselves.

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