April 2006 Issue
In Light of History
and the Baptist Faith and Message
by Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Ph.D.
The following is a summary of the
"TULIP" of classic Calvinism, set against the backdrop
of its origins and compared to the Baptist Faith and Message,
with the full recognition that Scripture is the final authority
on all beliefs and doctrinal systems.
TULIP's Origins and Emphasis
After the death of John Calvin, Theodore Beza and other Calvinist
theologians reformed their doctrine around predestination in the
matter of salvation and developed their various "doctrines
of grace." Their major emphasis on divine sovereignty led
to theological assertions that caused division in the Reformed
theological community. Jacob Arminius, a Dutch student of Beza,
countered some Calvinist teaching. In 1610, the "Arminians"
crafted five articles which affirmed the election of believers
but disagreed with the Calvinists' interpretation of election.
In 1618, the Calvinists of the Dutch Reformed Church convened
the Synod of Dort in order to condemn the Arminians and their
five points. Dort's "five heads" of doctrine were later
rearranged under the acronym TULIP.
Calvinists at Dort viewed man not simply as sinful, but argued
that every aspect of man's being is affected by sin, including
his will. Some of Calvin's later followers went so far as to say
that God actually decreed humans to become sinners. On the basis
of Scripture (Romans. 3:23), Southern Baptists have consistently
affirmed that all humans are sinners by nature and by choice,
but have generally rejected extreme views of post-Dort Calvinists
that man is incapable of moral action and that God is ultimately
responsible for human sin. The Baptist Faith and Message
states, "By his free choice man sinned against God and brought
sin into the human race .... Therefore, as soon as they are capable
of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation."1
Followers of Calvin argued that God decreed from eternity to
elect some to salvation. Subsequent followers posited a more extreme
view that in conjunction with God's election in eternity past
of some to salvation, He also condemned others to damnation, a
teaching otherwise known as "double predestination."
Most Southern Baptists would counter that it is God's revealed
will that all people experience salvation, citing texts such as:
The Lord ... is patient with you, not wanting any to perish,
but all to come to repentance (emphasis added,
2 Peter 3:9) and God our Savior ... wants everyone to
be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (emphasis
added, 1 Timothy 2:4). In response,
Calvinists argue their system is part of God's "secret will,"
not His "revealed will." but the source of their knowledge
of this "secret will" is unclear.2
Further, Southern Baptists generally reject as unscriptural
the teaching that God arbitrarily chooses individuals to be damned
before they are born.
The Baptist Faith and Message, in simple accord with
Scripture, states: "Election is the gracious purpose of God"
which "is consistent with the free agency of man."3 Southern Baptists affirm diverse understandings
of divine election (cf. Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5-11), but
most would likely reject the view of those Calvinists who narrowly
define unconditional election as double predestination. E.Y. Mullins,
Herschel Hobbs, and Adrian Rogers were the three pastor-theologians
who served as chairmen of the committees which created or revised
the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925, 1963, and 2000.
All three of these founding Confessors held views contrary to
classical Calvinism. Mullins objected to the errors of Calvinists,
whose doctrines are based on a "false premise" about
God's character, leading them to proceed "by a rigid logic
to their false conclusions." Mullins concluded, "God
elects men to respond freely." Hobbs decried the "error
that election relates to certain individuals, with some destined
to salvation and others to damnation." Rogers, a well-known
opponent of "wine and cheese" theology, wrote a pamphlet
aptly titled, Predestined for Hell? Absolutely Not!4
Arminians correctly concluded that Christ "died for all
men."5 They cited scriptures such
as 1 John 2:2: He Himself (Jesus) is the propitiation
for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the
whole world (emphasis added , cf. John 3:16).
Some Calvinists have countered with the assertion that Christ
died only for those who were chosen to salvation from eternity
past. In this view, the atonement is limited to the elect.
The vast majority of Southern Baptists would disagree with
those who claim that Christ's death on the cross was only intended
for "the elect." Complying with the Scripture's silence
in this regard, Southern Baptists did not use the word elect in
the related portion of the Baptist Faith and Message, which
simply states: "in His substitutionary death on the cross
He made provision for the redemption of men from sin."6
Early Arminians affirmed that God begins, continues, and finishes
our salvation. However, because Stephen said that unbelieving
Jews "resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51), Arminians
concluded that men could resist God's grace. The Calvinists of
Dort disagreed, saying that God's grace is ultimately irresistible,
that divine election works unfailingly, and that the depraved
and fallen human will is not exercised in conversion. When the
converted human will is later exercised, it is only because God
"powerfully bends" it.7 Avoiding
this concept of irresistible grace, the Baptist Faith
and Message states that salvation is a "change of heart
wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which
the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the
Lord Jesus Christ," and adds: "Repentance and faith
are inseparable experiences of grace."8
Perseverance of the Saints
The Arminians equivocated with regard to the eternal security
of believers. The Calvinists, however, concluded that God "preserves
true believers" from apostasy.9 Based
upon texts like John 10:28 neither shall anyone snatch
them out of My hand our Baptist confession states,
"All true believers endure to the end" and "will
never fall away."10 Consequently,
this may be the only doctrine from the Synod of Dort which the
overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists support.
The Dort Debate and Baptists
The Synod of Dort condemned the Arminians. Early followers
of Calvin also condemned many Baptist beliefs and perversely argued
for the covenantal baptism of infants.11
Although Jacob Arminius tried to revise Calvinism's extreme predestinarian
doctrines, he also rejected Baptist beliefs. It could be successfully
argued that that the Calvinist-Arminian debate is, at root, a
Presbyterian argument, not a Baptist one. Yet early English Baptists
were also divided over the debate, with General Baptists identifying
more with Arminians and Particular Baptists with Calvinists. These
two streams eventually merged and flowed into Southern Baptist
life. Consequently, there is a fair amount of diversity on the
"doctrines of grace" among Southern Baptists.
Today, few Southern Baptists would accept all five points of
Calvinism's original TULIP. In fact, the original points of TULIP
have been largely redefined, redesigned, and repackaged by some
Baptists. It is not unusual to hear the label "modified Calvinist"
embraced by some within our Southern Baptist family. These would
largely ignore the historical foundations and outright reject
some of the original meanings associated with the five points.
What is disturbing, however, is the recent tendency to grade one
another on how a person lines up with a particular presentation
of TULIP and make agreement a test of fellowship. As Dr. Paige
Patterson rightly observed, "There's plenty of room under
the [Southern Baptist] umbrella for anyone who is anything from
a one- to five-point Calvinist."12
Finally, the greatest tragedy is when adherence to TULIP leads
to division in churches and prevents them from cooperation in,
and urgency for, a passion toward fulfilling the Great Commission.
The greatest safeguard is for Southern Baptists to remain close
to the heart of Jesus whose mission was "to seek and save
those who are lost" (Luke 19:10) and to draw our doctrines
from inerrant Scripture not from a man-made system. Southern
Baptists are first, last, and always followers of Jesus Christ,
not John Calvin.
1 Baptist Faith and Message: A Statement
Adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: LifeWay,
2000), art. iii.
2 "The Canons of the Synod of Dort," First Head, art.
vi; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,
III.xxi-xxiii, especially III.xxiii.1; Wayne Grudem, Systematic
Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 213-16, 683-84.
3 Baptist Faith and Message, art. v.
4 Edgar Young Mullins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal
Expression (Philadelphia: Judson, 1917), 339, 347; Herschell
H. Hobbs, Fundamentals of our Faith (Nashville: Broadman,
1960), 90-91; Adrian Rogers, Predestined for Hell? Absolutely
Not! (Memphis: Love Worth Finding, [n.d.]).
5 "The Five Arminian Articles," art. ii.
6 Baptist Faith and Message, art. ii.b.
7 "Articles," art. iv; "Canons," Third and
Fourth Heads, arts. viii, x, xii.
8 Baptist Faith and Message, art. iv.a..
9 "Articles," art. v; "Canons," Fifth Head,
10 Baptist Faith and Message, art. v.
11 "Canons," First Head, art. xvii. Cf. Dort's affirmation
of the Belgic Confession (art. 34) and the Heidelberg Catechism
(Lord's Day 27 and 28).
12 "Patterson, Pressler caution Baptists against detractions
from evangelism," Baptist Press, November 15, 1999.
Dr. Malcolm B. Yarnell, III is Assistant
Dean for Theological Studies, Director of the Center for Theological
Research, and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern
Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Editor's note: One of the breakout sessions at the SBC Pastors'
Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 12, will address
the differing views of election, featuring seminary presidents
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr and Dr. Paige Patterson. It is our hope
that these articles will help prepare the way for the discussion
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