After a brief hiatus from blogging, during which time A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation was published on SBC Today on May 30 (here), I keep hearing the lyrics of a particular (as opposed to general) song playing in my head:
Well I don’t know why I came here tonight, I got the feeling that something ain’t right, I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair, And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs, Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, Stuck in the middle with you, Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you, Stuck in the middle with you.” (Steelers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle With You,” 1972)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that all New Calvinists are clowns or all Traditionalists are jokers (or is that vice versa). I’m sure that some nifty label can be applied to a few within both camps, especially the 57 leaders who make up the New Calvinist Movement. One need only read comments on certain blogs since the Traditionalist Statement was released to know that what I say is true.
To say that I have been out of the loop the last three weeks would be an understatement. Until this past Saturday, I was completely oblivious that the Traditionalist Statement had even been released. I was therefore also blissfully unaware of the responses to said Statement, including Dr. Albert Mohler’s response which leveled the charge of “semi-Pelagianism” and theological ignorance against the drafters of the document. As you might imagine, Dr. Mohler’s response has not been well received by those who don’t take kindly to an entity President seeming to accuse them of cozying up to heresy. I’m also quite certain that some of the wording in the Statement, particularly in the Preamble, could be viewed by “New Calvinists” (however that term maybe defined) as unnecessarily inflammatory. Thus, the strong and swift response from many within the Reformed wing of the SBC, including the eight-part response (so far) of Founders Ministry Executive Director Tom Ascol (here) and other concerned bloggers/pastors (here and here).
However, you won’t find me naming any names of those involved in the New Calvinist Movement. If pressed, I could probably come up with a few who I think would fit the bill nicely. Neither will you find me casting aspersions upon those who drafted and have signed (over 500 thus far) the Traditionalist Statement. Why? Because I find myself stuck in the middle between these fighting Baptist factions. I have heretofore labeled myself both an “inconsistent Calvinist” and a “cooperating, conservative Southern Baptist.” Put those two together and you get a Calvinistic Traditionalist.
What, pray tell, is that? Someone who both identifies with much of where the so-called Traditionalists are coming from, but who, because of my own Calvinist leanings, simply cannot sign the Traditionalist Statement. There is much to commend in the Statement. I find myself understanding where good, Christian men like Rick Patrick, Bob Hadley, Tim Rogers and Peter Lumpkins are coming from when they view the soteriological issues emanating from the Traditionalist Statement. Perhaps that’s because I have developed relationships with these men (among others) that has allowed us to charitably “agree to disagree” on those minor issues with which we find ourselves on opposite sides.
I also find myself more sympathetic in practice to the Traditionalist Statement, even though in doctrine I would classify myself as Reformed. That’s why I call myself an “inconsistent Calvinist.” This past Sunday, I preached a sermon where I posited that God chose us and that we chose God. Both are true. I have no problem preaching that God so loved the world (yes, that means everybody) that He sent Jesus so that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (I still like John 3:16 in the KJV). I believe that anyone can be a potential “whosoever.” I believe that “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” However, I also believe that, apart from the Holy Spirit regenerating a spiritually dead person (which I believe comes first), that no one will “freely” choose to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.
It’s simply not up to me to try to determine who is and who is not a “whosoever” when I am proclaiming the Gospel. At the age of 45, I have stopped trying to figure out how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (not free will) go together. I didn’t figure it out when I was at Southern Seminary in the mid-90’s debating with various “cage-stage” Calvinists and I don’t expect that I’ll figure it out anytime soon. Maybe this is the central issue that the Traditionalists are trying to get at. Maybe it’s the absolute certainty that some “New Calvinists” try to impose on others that is part of the problem. Of course, this kind of imposition of views is not unique to Calvinists.
But, then again, maybe it’s this part of the Traditionalist Statement that could be a major source of heartburn for both New Calvinists and even for Calvinistic Traditionalists like me:
While we are not insisting that every Southern Baptist affirm the soteriological statement below in order to have a place in the Southern Baptist family, we are asserting that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life.
Whew! That was a close one. I’m glad that the Traditionalist Statement doesn’t “insist” that I have to affirm their soteriological statement to “have a place in the Southern Baptist family.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am not at all comfortable with how that was worded. Is this akin to someone making “an offer that we can’t refuse?” Is there no middle ground? Am I stuck in the middle all by myself? Is there no one else who has such conflicted feelings about the Traditionalist Statement and the Calvinists’ responses to the Statement? Maybe it would do all of us good — regardless of our finely-tuned theological positions — to adhere to this paraphrase of a profound statement included in the Preamble:
The very fact that there is a plurality of Baptist views regarding a Biblical soteriology would seem to call for circumspection and humility with respect to the various systems and to those who disagree with them.