I found Steve Lemke’s article “History or Revisionist History?” interesting and yet dizzying at the same time. With all of the various flavors of Baptists mentioned in the article—Southern Baptists, Calvinistic English Particular Baptist, General Baptist, etc.—I couldn’t help but think of the scene from Forrest Gump where Bubba describes the various recipes of shrimp!
It’s a bit of an irony to me that a Baptist would write concerning other variations of the Baptist denomination in regards to who is more Calvinistic. What Lemke might want to research in regards to “History or Revisionist History” is the fact that John Calvin and his early followers persecuted the Anabaptist and Lollards. The act of “Anabaptism” or “re-baptism” of adults by immersion was a capital crime. Typically, Catholics condemned these sects to be burned at the stake, whereas Lutherans and Calvinists condemned them to drowning—apparently much more humane. John Calvin, himself, was instrumental in the condemnation of Michael Servetus, a modalistic Anabaptist who was burned at the stake for practicing “re-baptism” and authoring the book On the Errors of the Trinity. So, a Baptist’s appeal to Calvinism is just beyond me. It seems to me, if Baptists want to appeal to the roots of their denomination, they would reject the teachings of their forefathers’ persecutors, and line up to the theology of their martyrs.
The whole Calvinism—Arminianism, East coast—West coast, mentality is just superfluous to me. Personally, I’m not concerned with how many points Calvin’s TULIPS have, or what the Philadelphia Confession or Second London Confession adopted. My theological views are based upon the Scriptures alone, not a creed or confession. If I understand correctly the history given in the article, the American Baptist churches have been at odds with one another concerning the doctrines of Calvinism and Arminianism since their beginnings. Some Baptists only teach three or four points of Calvin’s TULIP doctrine, whereas other Baptists (I’m assuming the BMA is one of them given what I’ve heard from professors at CBC) teach all five points as “the minimal threshold for Calvinism.” Lemke expressed, “Furthermore, many significant five-point Calvinist thinkers express nothing but disdain for four-point Calvinism” (p.230). This is kind of an oxymoron when you compare it to all five points of Calvinism. If the five-point TULIP doctrine is indeed the TRUTH, then the “irresistible grace” will draw all those who are predestinated to be saved into this “truth.” Which on the flip side would mean that those who never embraced the full five-point TULIP doctrine are/were apparently predestinated to be lost. This revolving proposition also opens the door to the question, “Does ‘irresistible grace’ allow for denominationalism?” In other words, does the “irresistible grace” call some believers to be Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or even Oneness Pentecostals? Or do those that have been predestinated to be saved eventually become one of the five-point TULIP flavored Baptists? It seems like a circular proposition to me.
I, of course, reject Calvinism i.e. the TULIP doctrine. I don’t claim to affirm Arminianism either, whether what I believe concerning the Scriptures is in harmony with this doctrine or not. Again, the theology I believe is not based upon creeds or confessions, but upon sola Scriptura—the Scriptures alone.
The TULIP doctrine is an acronym or acrostic for: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. I will briefly examine each of these points from a Scriptural perspective.
TOTAL DEPRAVITY: In Calvinism, Total Depravity doesn’t just mean that mankind is depraved in the sense of being sinners or that all are sinners. Rather, Calvinism teaches a form of “Total Inability” in that man cannot come to God of his own free will for salvation. This totally denies the Scriptural aspect of Obedience to the Gospel. 2 Thess 1:8 clearly teaches that when Christ returns He will take vengeance upon those who have not obeyed the Gospel. Acts 6:7 describes those who were “obedient to the faith.” Whereas Romans 10:16 describes those that are not obedient to the Gospel. This is the same word (hupakouō) used in regards to servants obeying masters and children obeying parents (Col. 3:20-22). Salvation is a free choice (Rev. 22:17).
UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION: Calvinism teaches that God has already chosen those who are to be saved, and those who are predestinated to be lost. To borrow a political statement, according to Calvinism: “Some lives matter!” 2 Peter 3:9 states that God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should COME to repentance. The active voice in chōrēnsai (come) puts the action upon the person to repent, not an “unconditional” reaction. According to Calvinism, God is not only willing that some should perish, but has actually predestinated that some will perish! Acts 17:30 says that God has commanded ALL men to repent – not just those that He has predestinated.
LIMITED ATONEMENT: Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for “the elect.” This totally contradicts 2 Cor. 5:14-15 that Christ died for ALL. 1 John 2:2, Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and NOT for ours ONLY, but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD. This is not a limited atonement only for an “elect,” but is an atonement available for all.
IRRESISTIBLE GRACE: Calvinism basically teaches that Grace is a force that cannot be rejected no matter if you want to be saved or not. This goes hand-in-hand with total depravity in that supposedly man does not have a choice in salvation. Again, this contradicts the Scriptures that we are to OBEY the Gospel, and those who do not obey the Gospel will be judged (2 Thess 1:8; Acts 6:7; Rom. 10:16). Acts 7:51 specifically mentions those that “resist the Holy Ghost,” thus Grace is something that can be resisted.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS: This is commonly known as the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. 2 Peter 2:20-21 clearly describes conditions of people who AFTER they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are AGAIN entangled therein. It would have been better for them no to have known “the way of righteousness” than to have known it and to “TURN AWAY” from the holy commandment delivered to them. This is explicit proof that once a person comes to “full and accurate knowledge” (Jameson, Faussett, Brown) of Jesus Christ that they can then “turn away” from Christ and “again” be entangled in the sin or pollutions of the world. The word epignōsis (full knowledge) is used all throughout the NT in the reference to “knowing” Jesus Christ through salvation.
Thus, I would personally reject Calvinism as being unbiblical, and given that Calvin persecuted modalistic Anabaptist (Servetus) I wouldn’t appeal to any of his teachings.