Monday, March 13, 2006

Even More Mixed Messages from the SBC...

A few days ago, I commented on the sermon given at SWBTS a few days ago by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, the Director of the Center for Theological Research at SWBTS.

Today, Tom Ascol, commented on a portion of his sermon.

Now, to be fair, there is a lot that's good in this sermon. However, in his comments on "hyper-Calvinism" in the SBC, not only did Dr. Yarnell not bother to tell us who the hyper-Calvinists are, where they are, or what they are saying, he also either accidentally or deliberately misrepresented Dr. Timothy George.

I'll reproduce Tom Ascol's comments here (emphasis mine):

Yarnell uses Timothy George's chapter on John Gill in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition to identify hyper-Calvinism. I think that he has misunderstood George and seriously misrepresented him at a key point. Yarnell writes:

According to Timothy George, hyper-Calvinism is defined doctrinally as the
advocacy of eternal justification, ethically as the surrender to antinomianism,
and evangelistically as the refusal to give an invitation.

This is not an accurate representation of what George has written. While interacting with the common and unjustified charge that Gill is the "paradigm of hyper-Calvinism," George offers an analysis of why this accusation is leveled. He writes, "On three distinct issues Gill's writings were taken to lend support to extreme views which appeared to undermine the necessity of conversion, the moral requirements of the Christian life, and the evangelistic mission of the church" (26). George is not offering a definition of hyper-Calvinism, but rather is offering insights into 3 areas of Gill's writings that have led some to charge him with hyper-Calvinism. George uses the terms "eternal justification" and "antinomianism" in his analysis. But you will search in vain to find the phrase, "refusal to give an invitation." That is Yarnell's terminology and it is not an accurate representation of what George actually has written: "The third issue on which Gill's hyper-Calvinist reputation is based was his presumed refusal to preach the gospel promiscuously to the lost" (27).

Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Yarnell has transposed George's carefully worded analysis into the idea that hyper-Calvinists refuse to "give an invitation." Now, imagine how this sounds to the congregations where this message has been preached (Criswell College, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention leadership and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Founders Day chapel). I dare say that most of his hearers associate Yarnell's "giving an invitation" with the modern practice of giving an altar call. Indeed, one gets the impression that this association may even be in Yarnell's mind as well by the way he continues to use the phrase.

It is the anti-invitation expression of hyper-Calvinism that currently challenges Southern Baptists. Now, it matters not exactly how you conduct the invitation, but we must treasure the divine command to be instruments in the calling of sinners to repentance and faith. The invitation is not to replace baptism, but an invitation to Christ is nonetheless necessary.

The Gospel is not properly preached unless it includes an invitation! But that invitation is to come to Christ, not to come to the front of a building to find Christ, or to raise a hand or sign a card or any other physical activity. There is no doubt that Yarnell knows and understands this distinction, but when he equates hyper-Calvinism with not "giving an invitation" and feels compelled to warn that "The invitation is not to replace baptism," then one is left to wonder just what is in his mind.If not giving an altar call is tantamount to hyper-Calvinism, then Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, William Carey and John Calvin himself (to name only a few), are all guilty of this error. You could also add Rick Warren to this list.

I will simply say this. Dr. Yarnell is the Director of the Center for Theological Research. One would hope that one advertising those credentials would be able to accurately handle his source material. Surely, this isn't too much to ask.

I would find that somewhat forgivable if he had not compounded his error by misrepresenting Dr. John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church, as I discussed in my previous article. He used a summary document, but not the full documentation which is easily available SBC Outpost, Marty Duren posts:

But, according to the faulty page referenced on my post, Dr. Yarnell is a member
at Birchman BC where, incidentally, Paige Patterson and Emir (I think) Caner are
also members. IMB trustee Bob Pearle is the Senior Pastor.

I want to go on record here that I think the connections are less than coincidental. It does appear the IMB policies and the recent comments by certain persons are cut from different parts of the same cloth. On the other hand, in some large churches and educational institutions, having served in one at one time myself, one hand doesn't know what the other is doing sometimes. It does, however, in my opinion, signify a trend, "birds of a feather..."That said, I'm not so sure that the issue with respect to Dr. Yarnell's perception of Calvinism is that he doesn't know how to define it, but rather he doesn't seem able to handle his sources correctly and/or is unwilling to let them speak.

At Founders, a seminarian at SWBTS posted:

As a student at SWBTS, I was at chapel that day for Dr. Yarnell's address. I've
had him for Systematic Theology. He would call himself a calvinist. In fact, in
chapel he mentioned, though I cannot remember in the written version of the
sermon, that he is a 4 Point calvinist.What was said was addressed to those who
no longer give invitations which I was kinda surprised that it was a big deal to
him. Time ran out after the "Calvinist-Arminian" point. But on this
issue he was speaking to the extremes, but was very clear to say that there is
room for both in the camps, to work through the issues.The issue of invitations
being left out as evidence of hyper-calvinism, not sure bout how that is, but he
did associate the two. Hope this helps. I heard. I saw. Some of which I agreed.
Some I didn't

This is a good response.

I do not know Dr. Yarnell, but I would point out that this is the single most often repeated mantra I hear when non-Calvinists talk about their theological position in the SBC, and a 4-point Calvinist will accuse a 5-point Calvinist of being a hyper-Calvinist.

A. To quote Steve Hays, "Labels cease to be useful unless they clearly demarcate a given position and distinguish it from a contrary position. If someone doesn't believe in 5-point Calvinism, he should just find (or make up) a label for his own position rather than stealing ours."

B. I've learned that when people say this, if you probe their statements, you find out they are really 4 Point Arminians who use Calvinist language. They redefine the 5 Points of Calvinism llke Norman Geisler and think this gets them off the hook. Take Ergun Caner. He claimed to be Amyraldian, but then said, "Elected because I selected."

But Amyraldianism (real 4 Point Calvinism) is simply a belief in general atonement. All the other points are defined exactly as in Calvinism. No Amyraldian would dare say, "Elected because I selected." The particularizing decree comes after the decree to atone for sin. All the decrees are enacted before creation, so the atonement is abstractly universal but only particular in its application. I can live with that. I disagree, as I believe that you have to defend too many instances of the extensional fallacy exegetically to defend general atonement, not simply because of more systematic theological considerations. The point is, this is real Amyraldianism, not the position with which these individuals often seek to be labeled.

Now I'm not accusing Dr. Yarnell of error. I'm just saying, "take that with a grain of salt," since the redefinition of terms is such a prevailing tendency these days, even among academics.I know some Amyraldians and they are constantly amazed by the redefinition of historic terms that occurs in the seminaries and Bible colleges when this comes up, because their actual theology is coopted in the process and made out to be something it is not. When I see shoddy research that so openly misrepresent churches, misquote sources, and then see connections between several, how shall I say, common denominators in SBC life that touch on a common issue, I do have to wonder about the veracity of what is being said.

Worse yet, I repeat, he is the Diretor of the Center for Theological Research. If he can't handle such basic information correctly, what are Southern Baptists to think about the quality of work being done at an institution their money funds through the Cooperative Program? For that matter, such work, if uncorrected, stands to be used by outsiders who will point to it specifically to undermine the credibility of what comes out the Center. To further present this to a state convention group and on campus adds insult to injury. True, we all make mistakes, but not all of us are in such public positions or advertising these kinds of credentials.

This year, I will be attending the SBC, as it is meeting not quite an hour from my home. This should be very interesting indeed.

Also, I received an email yesterday that seemed to complain about the IMB policies being tied to the Calvinist-Arminian debate in the SBC. The gentleman that sent it says he's not a Calvinist and isn't going to be convinced and wanted to know "why we can't all just get along."

Let me say this. I have gone on record defending Arminianism itself when discussing the IMB policies. It is no secret I differ with Arminians. However, one need not believe in eternal security to be validly baptized, and any construction that would say that Arminianism is a false gospel is grossly incorrect. Arminians affirm Sola Fide and the centrality of the cross of Christ. At the same time, not all Arminianism is of apiece. I find more in common with genuine Arminianism, however, than the functionally Pelagian and Unitarian soteriology I see prevalent in the more revivalistic SBC churches. A person need not understand the origin of faith or a particular view of the security of the believer to be saved. Ergo, those things need not underwrite baptism. The heart of the gospel and conversion is repentance from sin and faith in the resurrected Christ alone.

At the same time, the Calvinist-Arminian debate in the SBC is part of a larger discussion about the nature of the gospel, and the SBC's philosophy of evangelism and missions. It isn't the Calvinist churches that produce large numbers of baptisms but only raise the attendance minimally. Oh no, the discussion about whether or not our membership is regenerate may be laid squarely at the feet of half a century or more of denominationalism, theological liberalism, and fundamentalist revivalism that sacrificed sound theology in the process. The Calvinists in the Convention aren't producing Sunday School literture for adults that isn't fit for baby Christians much less mature Christians. At one time, this wasn't so, but the problem has only grown. It isn't the Calvinist churches that lob straw men and rhetorical attacks on our brethren from our pulpits on Sunday mornings or in chapel services. If these things were not happening, I would not feel the need to post about Dr. Yarnell's work or discuss Ergun Caner or address the IMB policies at length. My posts are indexed to theirs.

In truth, I believe the reason for the increased debate shows two things: First, the SBC has, by and large, at least at the seminaries, recovered the formal principle of the Reformation. Change is slow. Liberalism entered the churches via the seminaries. It will exit the same way. Reformation takes time. As in Josiah's day and then in the Reformation, when the formal principle is recovered, the material naturally follows. The current discussions are a manifestation of that. Second, God is at work. He is still speaking. I believe He is at work to take the SBC back to its theological roots. How far remains to be seen.

1 comment:

  1. Gene,
    Being in a Baptist church that over the past five years has become Reformed in doctrine, I have seen a many great changes that have made us stronger as a church (you mentioned the "invitation"--we no longer have the alter call, but the call for repentance has always been there). We have a very loose affiliation with the SBC, and I was curious. You mention that now the seminaries have recovered its Baptist roots, but do you think that the selection of the next president (whoever that will be--I have seen names thrown around, but I don't know who anyone is) will have a bearing on whether the SBC itself will be more or less tolerant of the Reformed element within the convention?

    Thanks--you guys are doing great with this blog.