Friday, June 07, 2013

R U Saved?

Just noted in passing:

Nearly 35 years after conservatives launched a takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, a new divide is emerging — this time over the teachings of 16th-century Reformer John Calvin — that threatens to upend the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

When Southern Baptist delegates gather for their annual meeting next week (June 11-12) in Houston, they’ll be presented with a report, “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension,” that focuses on the growing popularity of Calvinism among Southern Baptist pastors and seminaries.

At stake are fundamental beliefs on who can be “saved,” the need for evangelism, and whether Baptists will retread familiar battlefields on the proper roles of men and women.

Calvinism, which is traditionally the domain of Reformed churches like Presbyterians, differs from traditional Baptist theology in key aspects, particularly on the question of salvation. The report concludes that those aspects, while important, should not divide Baptists.

About 30 percent of Southern Baptist pastors consider their churches Calvinist, according to a poll last year by SBC-affiliated LifeWay Research, but a much larger number — 60 percent — are concerned “about the impact of Calvinism in our convention.”

Calvinism is already shaping the next generation of Southern Baptist pastors through the influence of R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the SBC’s flagship seminary in Louisville, Ky., and popular charismatic speakers like Minneapolis author John Piper and Seattle’s Mark Driscoll.

Ascol embraces one of the aspects of Calvinism that makes traditional Baptists deeply uncomfortable: the idea that Jesus died on the cross only for humans whom God had elected to save, and not for everyone.

Calvinists call this the doctrine of “predestination” — the idea that a person’s salvation already has been determined. More traditional Baptists say if Jesus died only for the elect, then Baptists’ trademark evangelism becomes pointless.

Eighty percent of SBC pastors disagreed with the idea that only the elect will be saved, according to last year’s LifeWay poll, and two-thirds disagreed with the idea that salvation and damnation have already been determined.

“It is obvious that we all cannot be right,” Ascol wrote on his blog. “At least one of us is wrong. It may be that we both are wrong. … In other words, our differences are real. But they are differences within the family.”
Had I thought they'd understand me back in high school, I could have legitimately asked those Baptists who asked me if I was saved how they knew they were.*

Part of the doctrine of the elect is that you don't know if you are one.  And honestly, the proper theological stance is to consider that you could both be wrong.

And no, despite my childhood, I'm not a fan of Calvinism.  Unless you mean combined with Hobbes.

ADDING:  the distinction here is between those who are "saved," and those who are really saved.

And that was, IMHO, never meant to be the point of the exercise, at all.  Reminds me of the congregation which split over whether or not to buy new carpet for the sanctuary (a true story).

*esprit d'escalier, and yes, real life really is just like high school.


  1. "Part of the doctrine of the elect is that you don't know if you are one."

    I'm pretty sure that one of the marks of Calvinism is the sure knowledge that you are, in fact, among the elect. See, for example, chapter 18 of the Westminster Confession, "Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation."

    I was raised (as you) in the Presbyterian Church, and attended a Presbyterian College, but, by the early sixties, Calvinism was pretty foreign to the mainstream, and I was hardly a Calvinist (though I imagined I was by virtue of being a Presbyterian). I, of course, had no idea of what it exactly meant until I audited a divinty school course on Calvin my third year of law school.

    Still and all, though I'm glad to see the Baptists taking it up in a serious way, I won't really believe it until they start baptizing them babies.

  2. Well, who is elected depends on who you ask (kinda like what is "Calvinism" depends on whether you admit non-Institution texts into consideration). So here's a bit of Calvin on the subject:

    But I advise my readers to adopt no prejudice on either side, till it shall appear from adduced passages of Scripture what sentiments ought to be entertained. In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom He would admit to salvation, and whom He would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on His gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom He devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals His elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of His name and the sanctification of His Spirit, He affords an indication of the judgment that awaits them. Here I shall pass over many fictions fabricated by foolish men to overthrow predestination. It is unnecessary to refute things which, as soon as they are advanced, sufficiently prove their own falsehood. I shall dwell only on these things which are subjects of controversy among the learned, or which may occasion difficulty to simple minds, or which impiety speciously pleads in order to stigmatize the Divine justice.

    But then Dabney sez:

    As concerning his election the sinner is neither commanded nor invited to embrace as the object of his faith the proposition "I am elected." There is no such command in the Bible. The proposition he is invited and commanded to embrace is this: "Whosoever believes shall be saved" (Rom. 10:11.) God has told this caviler expressly, "Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to you and your children, that ye may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29.) Let us not cavil, but obey.

    In the end, the central thesis of the doctrine is that some are saved, some are damned, and while you may believe yourself faithful and among the elect, you can't really know that you are.

    It's a secret!

    So it's a bit of a both and a little bit of neither situation. You are chosen, but the minute you are sure you are chosen, that may be an indication you aren't (how do you presume to know the mind of God?). Calvin, after all, merely speaks of "tokens" of "manifestation."

    Lots of wiggle room there.

    I find it funny the Baptists are taking it up now. Neo-Calvinism strikes me as entirely the wrong way to go; appealing to people who want to be in charge (especially of women; the article notes the more serious power struggle may be about the proper role of women and men, based on neo-Calvinism) is a sure fire way to reduce the number of people who agree with you.

    But then, I'm a power of powerlessness kind of Xian.....

  3. New Advent kind of nicely sums up Calvin's teachings on the matter of election:

    The reprobate have only apparent faith. Yet they may feel as do the elect, experience similar fervours, and to the best of their judgment be accounted saints. All that is mere delusion; they are hypocrites "into whose minds God insinuates Himself, so that, not having the adoption of sons, they may yet taste the goodness of the Spirit." Thus Calvin explained how in the Gospel many are called believers who did not persevere; and so the visible Church is made up of saints that can never lose their crown, and sinners that by no effort could attain to salvation.

    So you may think yourself saved, and yet be a reprobate. You may, in other words, consider yourself elect, and yet not be.

    Calvin's point, as I discern it, is that tokens of manifestation of election are apparent to us, if we know what to look for; that doesn't, on the other hand, confirm who the elect are; just indicates who we should, in a kind of Aristotelian Nichomacean Ethics way, model our behavior on.

    And then we get to the doctrine of the 36,000, or whatever the number is out of Revelation; which is pretty much Calvinism on acid.....

  4. ...real life really is just like high school.

    Lawd, I hope not. Maybe I misremember, but I would not want to relive high school.

  5. I always wondered how predestination could be made consistent with the definite statement that Jesus came to save the world and not condemn it and that Jesus came so that all might be saved. As I recall, in the epistles Paul said that Jesus came to save him and he was the worst of sinners.

    Predestination is foreign to the Catholic tradition that I was raised in, though, through Irish guilt and the Jansinism that was a living force in the Quebecois parish in my town, a non-Calvinist version of it was a feature of my childhood. That it had been declared a heresy hundreds of years earlier didn't seem to filter out into the seminary where most of the French speaking priests came from back then.

    It's downright bizarre that Baptists would be adopting that part of Calvinism, even as Calvinists are giving that up, concentrating on the liberal aspects of Calvin's writing. But such guys seem to have given up even more of what Jesus, the other prophets and even The Law said, to start with. That quotation from Deuteronomy I posted here the other day, for example.

    Blog life is just like high school in most places I know of. When it's not like jr. high.

  6. I always like this quick summary from Chesterton:

    "The Catholic Church believed that man and God both had a sort of spiritual freedom. Calvinism took away the freedom from man, but left it to God. Scientific materialism binds the Creator Himself; it chains up God as the Apocalypse chained the devil. It leaves nothing free in the universe. And those who assist this process are called the "liberal theologians.""

  7. I always wondered how predestination could be made consistent with the definite statement that Jesus came to save the world and not condemn it and that Jesus came so that all might be saved. As I recall, in the epistles Paul said that Jesus came to save him and he was the worst of sinners.

    Calvinists claim they got it from Augustine, which of course is part and parcel of the Reformed idea that they were returning to the "true" church.

    There are even non-Catholic denominations which don't consider themselves part of the Reformed tradition, yet think they are the return to the "true" church.

    Don't know of any that own all things in common or sell all they have and give to the poor.....

  8. Oh, that Augustine again! I don't get why he's held in such high esteem.

  9. "I don't get why he's held in such high esteem."

    It's understandable, but I suspect that the esteem is more historic than contemporary.

    It is not easy to form a true estimate of Augustine, as he contains worlds. In his time he seems to have weighed in on everything--the problem of evil, free will, sexual mores, Christian marriage, the nature of time, primeval sin, the wonder of memory, the meaning of history, the Trinity, the Donatists, monastic rules, philosophical dualism, the end of the world, the exegesis of sacred scripure, his own individual development--and these are just topics I happen to have covered myself in a few of his works.

    Just recently I have been looking at how Galileo appeals to him in insisting that there is no theological offense in his astronomical work:

    "The same disregard of these sacred authors toward beliefs about the phenomena of the celestial bodies is repeated to us by St. Augustine in his next chapter. On the question whether we are to believe that the heaven moves or stands still, he writes thus: “Some of the brethren raise a question concerning the motion of heaven, whether it is fixed or moved. If it is moved, they say, how is it a firmament? If it stands still, how do these stars which are held fixed in it go round from east to west, the more northerly performing shorter circuits near the pole, so that heaven (if there is another pole unknown to us) may seem to revolve upon some axis, or (if there is no other pole) may be thought to move as a discus? To these men I reply that it would require many subtle and profound reasonings to find out which of these things is actually so; but to undertake this and discuss it is consistent neither with my leisure nor with the duty of those whom I desire to instruct in essential matters more directly conducing to their salvation and to the benefit of the holy Church.” From these things it follows as a necessary consequence that, since the Holy Ghost did not intend to teach us whether heaven moves or stands still, whether its shape is spherical or like a discus or extended in a plane, nor whether the earth is located at its center or off to one side, then so much the less was it intended to settle for us any other conclusion of the same kind."

    Augustine has always been a source of Christian reflection, has conventionally been identified as the greatest post-scriptural Christian theologian, yet carries no burden of infallibility. He is catholic and orthodox, but he is not himself Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

    When I was young I approached him with something like fear and trembling--and that's not a bad way to approach him, initially. Bt now I find that, surprisingly, he's rather fun to read, and the City of God strikes me as a kind of patristic Anatomy of Melancholy or Attic Nights, a great miscellany of the simple, the basic, the odd, the curious and the profound.