Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Southern Baptists and Calvinists: A Response to Elmer Towns (Part 3)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 25, 2009 at 10:35 am

Question 3

Towns’ third question is: “Is five point Calvinism a new intolerance?”  I’ll be brief in addressing this question for two reasons.  1st of all, I believe it carries no relevance.  I think this question is one that simply adds emotionalism to the subject.  In a day when the only thing people are intolerant of is “intolerance,” to ask “is five point Calvinism a new intolerance?” is just to bring heightened emotions to a subject that should be addressed biblically and prayerfully.  And if it is insisted that the issue of intolerance be addressed, well there is plenty of that to go around.  Practically, I have seen intolerance on both sides.  On the one hand, I have seen Calvinistic pastors who have been too hard, too rough, and too fast with a congregation concerning these doctrines and have ended up hurting instead of helping the sheep.  With the aim of having their sheep come to love and embrace the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace, they tend to forget that “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).  Yet on the other hand, I have seen congregations, when lovingly, gently, and patiently confronted with these biblical truths, not put up a biblical argument against the doctrines of grace, but instead say, “I see what you’re saying in the Bible, but we just don’t believe that around here.”  Instead of being teachable, willing to listen, and having a “Berean spirit” characterized by “examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), they instead fire their pastor and unlovingly throw an entire family on hardship.  Yes, there has been intolerance and hurt on both sides, which is why I believe Towns’ question carries no relevance.

The 2nd reason I’ll be brief in responding to this third question is, quite frankly, I don’t follow Towns’ argument or understand what he’s trying to say.  He asks the question of Calvinism being “a new intolerance” and then discusses how “the world has become tolerant of any and every religion and almost any and every lifestyle.”  Then he discusses the religious tolerance of early America where different religious groups and cults could freely exchange viewpoints in society, but then not bring them into the church.  He then closes this section with: “However the tolerance that the church showed to other views is not presently reciprocated.  Now anti-Christian views are gaining influence, and they have become intolerant to the Christian church, denying the freedom to teach in public what they have always believed.”  Though I agree with what Towns is saying here, this concerns the culture and the church.  What does this have to do with his initial question?  I must say, this section left me a bit dumbfounded.  But in answer to the question (in the sense I discussed above), I must say “no.”

Question 4

The fourth and final question Towns asks is, “Will five point Calvinism spread?”  Instead of providing data such as the number of Calvinistic students becoming pastors, the growing influence of expository preaching in establishing Reformed theology in churches, the influence of ministries such as Mark Dever’s 9 Marks, Founders Ministries, Albert Mohler’s blog, and other Reformed Southern Baptist media, which would all be indicators of whether or not one might predict the “spread” of Calvinism, Towns instead takes up a discussion of biblical interpretation (after he spends half of this section giving a rather detailed metaphorical illustration of how “Calvinism is like the dandelion”).

Though Towns’ intention in discussing biblical interpretation was not in support of Calvinism, I believe here he gets to the heart of the matter-the Word of God.  This is why Calvinism is growing and this is why I believe it will continue to grow-because people are being exposed to reformed theology and going back to their Bibles to see if this theology is true.  When one gives an honest analysis-setting aside his Southern Baptist traditions and instead letting the Bible alone formulate his thinking, then one discovers what Spurgeon discovered so long ago: that “Calvinism is the gospel.”  Spurgeon, in a sermon titled “A Defense of Calvinism,” said:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism.  It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.  I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.[1]

Steven J. Lawson, Southern Baptist pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church and biblical expositor par excellence, has written:

Over the centuries, seasons of reformation and revival in the church have come when the sovereign grace of God has been openly proclaimed and clearly taught.  When a high view of God has been infused into the hearts and minds of God’s people, the church has sat on the elevated plateaus of transcendent truth.  This lofty ground is Calvinism-the high ground for the church.  The lofty truths of divine sovereignty provide the greatest and grandest view of God.  The doctrines of grace serve to elevate the entire life of the church….For without the theological teachings of Reformed truth concerning God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation, the church is weakened and made vulnerable, soon to begin an inevitable decline into baser beliefs, whether she realizes it or not.[2]

As Southern Baptists take the time to examine the theology of the Reformation in light of Scripture rather than Southern Baptist tradition over the last 80 years, I believe more and more people will come to the same conclusion that Lawson has reached above-that these doctrines that go by the label of “Calvinism” are “the high ground for the church.”

This is precisely why I believe articles like Towns’ that simply deal with pragmatic issues and other articles by Southern Baptist leaders that forecast gloom and doom if Calvinism takes over in the SBC miss the mark.  This is not about losing ground and territorial disputes within our Convention’s organizational structures.  Rather, this is about “handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  And if that is the aim of more and more Southern Baptists, then Calvinism can do nothing but rise, seeing that “Calvinism is the gospel.”

Conclusion

I was told long ago by a writer that if you ever ask a question in a book or article title or in a chapter or section heading, you’d better answer it.  Towns gives us four questions addressing the relationship of Southern Baptists to Calvinists, yet he gives us no answers.[3] I have attempted in my response to give answers to Towns’ questions.

I thoroughly agree with Elmer Towns when he writes, “Southern Baptists believe that every church has the Word of God, and it is that church’s responsibility to study the Word, apply the Word, and live by the principles of the Word of God.”  This is the heart of the issue.  Far too long during this “Reformed resurgence” have there been straw man arguments put forth against Reformed theology.  There has been too much time and ink spilled in order to give ad hominem arguments against Calvinists.  It is time to carry out the responsibility that Towns lists-“to study the Word.”  These discussions and deliberations must not be personality-based nor emotionally-charged, but instead adjudicated by the Word of God alone.  After all, we Southern Baptists are to be people of the Book, right?  Since we have won the battle for the Bible with the conservative resurgence (and praise God for that!), why not begin to ask anew, “What exactly does the Bible say?”

The SBC’s history has shown that she went from being conservative to liberal, and then back to conservative again.  How did this happen?  Southern Baptists in the churches asked the question, “What does the Bible say about the Bible?”  Could it be that the SBC, which has went from being Calvinistic to non-Calvinistic, will once again return to her roots by Southern Baptists in their churches asking the question, “What does the Bible say about the gospel and salvation?”  May we always be a people of the Book who submit our traditions to the Book and derive our doctrines from the Book.

Van L. Loomis, Jr.
Pastor-Teacher
Redeeming Grace Baptist Church
Mathews, VA

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism,” http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm, accessed 3/21/2009.  I would encourage every Southern Baptist to take time to read this passionate sermon by “the prince of preachers.”

[2] Steven J. Lawson, Foundations of Grace: 1400 bc – ad 100, vol. 1, A Long Line of Godly Men (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2006), 22.  I commend the reading of this book to anyone who is interested in “see[ing] whether these things [are] so.”  In Foundations, Lawson traces these God-exalting truths throughout the entirety of the Word of God-from Genesis to Revelation.  It is an immensely valuable biblical theology of the doctrines of grace.

[3] Actually, the only answer he gives is to Question 3, which as I have stated above, goes off topic and really has no relevance to the question which was posed.

  1. Van – Good response to a poorly written article by Towns. If Towns’ article is the best the anti – Calvinist crowd can do, then it is no wonder Calvinism is taking over the SBC. A man with an argument of substance will defeat a man with an argument made up of bluster every time.

  2. I am so thankful for this ‘biblical’ response to a ‘biblical’ issue. I am so drained of asking my non-Calvinistic believing friends for a ‘biblical’ defense of their position and receiving nothing more than an ‘emotional’ justification of their man centered theology. It is encouraging and assuring to know that our defense lies in the scriptures as it’s final authority.

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