Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com

SBCToday.com has become a fascinating site for me.  In many ways it’s like the Fox News of the SBC world: always on the watch for the Calvinists lurking around each corner, ready to destroy all that is good in the convention.  An honest observer might be tempted to think SBCToday stands for “Scared by Calvinists Today,” with the almost-once-a-day post about Calvinism.  One begins to wonder if they would have anything to talk about if Calvinists were wiped off the earth.  Apparently their ilk would be at a loss for conference topics.

Most of the posts—that have Calvinism as their subject—are rehashed pablum.  The same one-liners.  The same outlandish remarks about the evil God of Calvinism.  The same tired appeals to the “whosoever” of John 3:16.  The same philosophical casuistry.  Et cetera.  Et cetera.  Not much is worth responding to in any depth, because none of the posts are really of any depth (it’s not as though I haven’t written about most arguments against Calvinism anyway, so it isn’t really a great interest of mine to write the same things over and over.  My several posts on a book I reviewed covered most of them: Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist).  However, a recent series of posts has caught my attention, entitled The Five Points That Led Me Out of Calvinism, by Leighton Flowers.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the fact that I actually believe he may have been a former, professing Calvinist—something I don’t believe about most of the other professors.  Or perhaps it’s the reasonable tone he takes in discussing the topic—a rare find on SBCToday.

Whatever it was, it made me want to respond.  So that’s what I plan to do in the next few posts.  Admittedly, there probably won’t be anything new or profound, but hey, it’s good to be challenged and to think over one’s theology every once in a while.  The slight difference in his argumentation makes it worth consideration.

The five points will be the subject of the remaining posts.  But it’s the introduction to his articles that I wanted to write about first, because he does discuss his past experiences with the “Reformed” movement, and it sets up the reader for how to approach the opposition (Calvinism).

 

The Introduction

My first thought upon reading the introduction was: even if Flowers was indeed a former Calvinist, why is that relevant?  When I—or most others—make a case for Calvinism, I rarely appeal to how I was once an ardent synergist, who attended a synergist church, who believed it was my decision and prayer that finalized my salvation.  I just try to make the argument from Scripture.  I get that people may have asked why, but that’s the point.  This is what SBCToday wants—and those writing about Calvinism on their site often state their “formerness”; it’s like the EWTN show “The Journey Home.”  For some reason people feel like it legitimizes their position every time a person moves away from the dark side; their side must be the truth, and the arguments must be so compelling, if it can bring people out of Calvinism.  Maybe it will provide examples or anecdotes to tell that confirm their Calvinism horror stories.

That said, I always try to recognize someone’s legitimate concerns and their willingness to engage the other side with respect—and Flowers, I feel, does that.  So I appreciate his candor and care:

“I do not claim to be an expert in the field nor do I begrudge those who disagree with my perspective. I simply desire to rightly interpret the Word of God.”

And I believe that he truly struggled with it, out of a concern for upholding God’s Word.  I believe it would have been a difficult move.

“For me it [leaving Calvinism] was a painstaking three-year journey after I engaged in an in-depth study of the subject.”

“Even after being presented with several convincing arguments against my long held beliefs, I subconsciously felt I had too much too lose to leave my Calvinism.  My reputation, my friends, my ministry connections–all gone if I recant my views on this!”

Moreover, his warning is a good one: you ought to hear out the other side with respect, and try to understand their position, as you would want them to do for your position.  “If someone disagreed with me, my presumption was that they must not really understand my perspective.  So, instead of attempting to listen and objectively evaluate their arguments, I focused on restating my case more clearly, confidently, and dogmatically.”  And he fulfills his own warning, because it would appear that he did not “objectively” or “carefully” evaluate his first soteriological position (Calvinism) before owning it; a danger far too common in the Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Friendship, tradition, upbringing, or culture are not good reasons to dogmatically hold a theological/ideological position; it should always be evaluated, tested, and measured by the Scriptures and plain reason.  If your beliefs stand on friendships, culture, etc. then those same things can lead you away from it.

Perhaps my greatest concern/criticism of his introduction is its lack of any convincing detail.  Several recent articles (and this one) have spoken about talking past each other, but this articles is really just one example.  If his goal was to show his former Calvinism, it would have been more convincing if I felt he was actually grounded in a “Reformed” church.

If we mean “Reformed” simply as a soteriology (i.e. Calvinism), then I understand.  But historically “Reformed” means a bit more than just the T.U.L.I.P.  It’s certainly not less than that, but it is most definitely more.  The WCF didn’t write five chapters and call it enough.  So when he lists the names John MacArthur, John Piper, Matt Chandler, RC Sproul, J.I. Packer, and Louie Giglio, I raise an eyebrow when he uses the word “Reformed” shortly thereafter.  All great men, all Calvinist (in the TULIP sense), but I’d probably consider 1 (Sproul) a “Reformed” theologian (and it has nothing to do with baptism).

He tells us:

“I grew very convinced in my Calvinism over the next decade of life even helping to start a new ‘Reformed’ Baptist Church that split off from my home church…Later I served on staff at the new Reformed Church and then began working for the Texas Baptist state convention.”

But at this point, I don’t know what he means by Reformed, and I can’t find any record or mention of the church online.  Also, his autobiography makes no mention of being discipled in a Reformed church, he speaks of no appreciation for his time in a Reformed church, and there is no detail about his leadership responsibilities.  All of his mentions make it appear he was in a large social club, a “brotherhood of ministers,” as he calls it.  By his post—and I want to say this as nicely as I can—he appears to be someone who wants to make a name, to always have a leadership role.  And with all of his talk of “objectively” evaluating his position, I’m not sure he ever really took the time to “objectively” evaluate the Calvinism he held to.  Calvinism seems to be the group he fell into, as it appears he still does not really understand the Calvinist position throughout his points (especially the issues of depravity and God’s sovereignty).

But who cares, right?  Well the issue of rushing people into leadership is rather endemic throughout American Christianity.  If a person can speak well, write well, or reason well, then he has all of the qualifications for leadership; forget discipleship, holiness, conviction of belief, Titus 1:5-9 (especially 9).  I’m not saying Flowers wasn’t concerned for these things (because he says he was discipled by Chandler), I’m saying it does not appear he was ever truly rooted in a Reformed church that ought to accompany a Calvinistic soteriology—thus his Calvinism was doomed to be lopsided from the start.  Neither his introduction, nor his 5 points, make it clear that he was ever truly grounded in a Reformed perspective.  And based on his story it appears he hopped all over the place in leadership without that grounding:

+ Ministry position with GRACE at Hardin-Simmons University.

+ Starting a “Reformed” Baptist Church.

+ Working on its staff.

+ Working at the Texas Baptist state convention.

+ Member of “The Founders”

The lack of grounding becomes somewhat apparent in his reading of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer.  While both are geniuses in their own right, I would hardly consider them theological heavyweights.  In fact, there is much in Lewis that scares me (i.e. his undermining of the Scriptures in the imprecatory Psalms; Reflections on the Psalms).

Furthermore, the things he feared losing for giving up his Calvinism tend to reveal where his Calvinism was grounded.  “My reputation, my friends, my ministry connections–all gone if I recant my views on this!”  Again, he never seems to have been convinced of his theological beliefs from the truth of Scriptures—or worried that changing his views might fundamentally change his understanding of God’s glory, holiness, sovereignty, etc.—these seem to be the things I’d be worried about, not so much what people might think of me for trying to honestly deal with the Scriptures.

More could be said on his introduction, but as he says, “my goal…is that you [Calvinists] simply understand the reasons I left Calvinism…and I mean REALLY understand.”  I read his post to REALLY understand, the problem is I don’t think he REALLY helped me to understand.

The brevity, ambiguity, and lack of Scripture proof have made it difficult for me to be even slightly convinced that he made the right decision.  But that’s for the next few posts…

Here’s a preview of his 5 Points that led him out of Calvinism:

Point #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.  

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”

Point #3: I realized that the decision to humble yourself and repent in faith is not meritorious. Even repentant believers deserve eternal punishment.

Point #4: I accepted the fact that a gift doesn’t have to be irresistibly applied in order for the giver to get full credit for giving it.

Point #5: I came to understand that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God that would be compromised by the existence of free moral creatures.

 

SDG,

Jon

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~ by TSL on January 7, 2015.

 
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