Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Doctrine of Inerrancy's Oblique Terminology and Virtual Meaninglessness

What does “inerrancy” actually do?

by Roger Olson
June 9, 2012

During this week’s brouhaha over possible semi-Pelagianism among Southern Baptist theologians (see the previous two posts and the comments here), one response has stuck in my mind and given me reason to worry. It worries me more than the possibility of semi-Pelagianism in the ranks of the theologians.

I confess that throughout this budding controversy I have occasionally broken a personal policy. Normally I do not go to other blogs to see what others are saying about the subjects we talk about here. But the policy isn’t iron clad; it’s not a rule, just a rule of thumb to protect my time. If I went to every blog someone recommends I read, I’d never get anything else done. So, normally, I only go if the blog is by someone I respect or whose opinions I consider influential and the subject is directly relevant to a matter I’m working on here.

This week I followed a link one commenter provided to a blog containing quotes by leading Baptist theologians about this issue of possible semi-Pelagianism among non-Calvinist Southern Baptist theologians. One of those quotes was from a Southern Baptist seminary president’s blog. (Don’t try to drag a name out of me or even mention possible ones; I’m not interested in personalities here. I’m talking about ideas.)

The well-known seminary president began this particular blog post by congratulating the Southern Baptist theologians he was about to criticize for at least believing in the inerrancy of the Bible. He said he was glad to be having this conversation with them (over grace and free will) because at least they and he agree on biblical inerrancy.

Two things caught my attention about that and made me worry. First, why didn’t the seminary president begin by saying at least he and his debate partners agree about Jesus Christ or salvation by grace? Why jump immediately and directly to the Bible—and a particular theory about the Bible?

Yes, I know what some will say and probably he would say: There’s no point in even discussing doctrine unless you first agree about the Bible. Still, that reveals to me a kind of fixation on methodology and epistemology that, in effect, demotes Jesus Christ, God’s personal self-revelation, to status secondary to the Bible.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Would the seminary president say to JWs at his door “Well, at least we agree on the inerrancy of the Bible” before proceeding to discuss doctrine with them? I doubt it. (I’m not comparing semi-Pelagian Baptists with Jehovah’s Witnesses; I’m just making a point about inerrancy.)

It seems to me that the most important thing the seminary president and his possibly semi-Pelagian fellow Southern Baptists have in common is not inerrancy but the deity of Jesus Christ. I do worry that the fundamentalist and neo-fundamentalist penchant for jumping directly to biblical inerrancy as the litmus test for who’s worthy and not worthy of being taken seriously for theological dialogue reveals a latent, implicit bibliolatry which concerns me more than latent, implicit semi-Pelagianism.

Second, appeals to inerrancy without clear definition of it seems useless. There are so many definitions of “inerrancy” that, without agreement about what it means, simply uttering the word does nothing other than affirm a shibboleth that functions as a symbol of belonging to a tribe. But how much of a tribe is it if the shibboleth doesn’t really mean anything? And, as I’ve argued here before, what good is it if all who use it qualify it to death?

I assume that the seminary president’s mention of inerrancy as something both he and his possibly semi-Pelagian fellow Southern Baptists share in common was an attempt to affirm common ground so that they have something to use as an authority for settling doctrinal disputes. The problem is, of course, that bare “inerrancy” doesn’t do that. That is illustrated by the fact that he, a TULIP Calvinist, and they, at least leaning toward semi-Pelagianism, claim to adhere to the same inerrant authority and yet they disagree about its meaning around a very basic doctrinal locus.

My point is that “inerrancy” by itself doesn’t guarantee doctrinal orthodoxy. Would this seminary president say to a group of open theists “Well, at least we agree on inerrancy?” I doubt it—even if they did agree on it. But what does “agreeing” about inerrancy even mean?

“Inerrancy” is such a disputed concept that appeal to it does very little good without clear agreement about what it means. And once it’s defined, usually, at least among biblical scholars and theologians, it boils down to “authority for doctrine”—sola or prima scriptura. Even that, however, doesn’t guarantee doctrinal agreement (obviously!).

What the seminary president should have said (after mentioning their common faith in Jesus Christ) is “We agree that salvation is all of grace.” That’s true and meaningful. By itself, of course, it doesn’t settle the issue, but it provides substantial common ground on which the parties can discuss what that implies about human ability or disability, prevenient grace, etc.

Suppose the seminary president met someone with whom he agreed about everything except inerrancy? What would he do? Would he have Christian fellowship with him or her? Would he consider hiring him or her to teach at the seminary? Somehow I doubt it.

“Inerrancy” has simply become an over-inflated concept in neo-fundamentalist circles. It functions mainly as a shibboleth, a marker of belonging to a tribe. It’s too disputed (i.e., admits of radically diverse interpretations) and simplistic really to function as more than that. And even with that use it simply papers over important doctrinal disagreements that touch on the gospel.

To test this thesis, I once entered into a lengthy e-mail exchange about inerrancy with a president of a professional society of evangelical scholars that requires affirmation of inerrancy for membership. After many e-mail exchanges it became apparent to both of us that our agreement about biblical authority was substantial. I simply do not think “inerrancy” is the right word for what we both believe. (I suspect the vast majority of lay people and pastors in that scholar’s constituency have no idea how radically he and others qualify inerrancy—what they think it is compatible with.) So I asked him if I could join his professional society. He said no. To me, that proves “inerrancy” is, often, at least, merely a shibboleth [excluding others from a fellowship's fellowship - res].

My real worry about all this is the danger of bibliolatry. I suspect there is a sophisticated kind of latent bibliolatry at work among fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists. Of course, they don’t explicitly worship the Bible. But a certain theory about the Bible is turned into a litmus test that divides Christians who agree on all the essentials of the Christian faith. “Faith in the Bible as God’s inerrant word” leans toward worshiping the Bible. The Bible itself should not be an object of veneration and that comes too close to it and opens the door to popular magical treatments of Bibles as talismen.

I once saw a television program that included a segment about Christian contractors who hide Bibles inside the walls of houses they are building. I grew up in a church where that would probably have been greeted as a great idea. (I was punished for putting a book on top of a Bible more than once!) I have a nagging feeling that contemporary fundamentalist and neo-fundamentalist treatment of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy easily flows over into such practices.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Further thoughts on why “inerrancy” is problematic

by Roger Olson
June 11, 2012

Notice I put “inerrancy” in “scare quotes.” That’s to indicate that what I am talking about is the term, not precisely the concept. Or, to put it another way, my concern is that the term is used for many different concepts and therefore, without definition, is virtually meaningless.

Now I am going to quote a leading evangelical theologian’s definition of biblical inerrancy. I’m not revealing his name first; his identity as the definition’s author is below it. I challenge you to read the definition first and only then see who wrote it. And before peeking at the author’s name, formulate an opinion about it. Is the definition what you thought “inerrancy” means? Is it what leading conservative evangelical inerrantist theologians mean? How many would agree with it?

Here is the definition which is copyrighted, but the author’s web site gives permission to disseminate it with the copyright line following. I also provide, as requested, a link to the source of the definition at the author’s web site. (However, I first encountered it elsewhere; it was given to me by a colleague many years ago.)

The definition:

“I. The Word of God

“The Bible is…without error in the original manuscripts…” Since there is a wide diversity of opinions on the meaning of “error” in such an affirmation, it is appropriate that I give my understanding of the word in this context so that you know what I am affirming.

I will suggest two definitions of “error”, the first of which I consider proper for judging the reliability of any literature including the Bible and the second of which I consider improper. According to the first I believe the Bible is “without error”.

1) A writer is in error when the basic intention in his statements and admonitions, properly understood in their nearer and wider context, is not true. (In reference to indicative statements, “true” means they correspond to reality; in reference to admonitions “true” means that obedience of these admonitions is in harmony with reality, i.e., it accords with the will of God.)

2) A writer is in error if any of his individual statements are not literally true.

The difference between these two definitions and my own understanding of the truth of the Bible may be clarified by three illustrations from Scripture. (To many of my fellow theologians the following would sound elementary to the point of being superfluous. But in my tradition it is a necessary starting point if we are to come to properly understand our affirmation on Scripture.)

A) God says about Jerusalem through Jeremiah (15:8), “I have made their widows more in number than the sand of the sea.” This statement is “literally” false. But according to definition 1 above, it is not false since the basic intention of Jeremiah is to press home (by an exaggeration which had become a commonplace analogy in the Old Testament) the tragically large number of widows as a sign of God’s judgment.

B) Jesus says in Mark 4:31 that the Kingdom of God “is like a grain of mustard seed which when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth…” According to definition 2 above, Jesus erred here because the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on the earth. But according to the first definition he did not err because his basic intention was not in the least botanical. The point is the great contrast between the smallness of the seed and the largeness of the full-grown shrub. Jesus capitalized on the proverbial smallness of the mustard seed (TWNT, VII, p. 288) to make a perfect, inerrant point about the Kingdom of God.

C) If we used definition 2 above the Gospel writers would have to be accused of error in their chronology of events of Jesus’ life. Just one illustration: The story of the healing of the paralytic (Mt. 9:1-8 = Mk 2:1-12 = Lk 5:17-26), the call of Levi (Mt 9:9-13 = Mk 2:13-17 = Lk 5:27-32), and the question about fasting (Mt 9:14-47 = Mk 2:18-22 = Lk 5:33-39) follow back to back in all three Synoptics and so refer to the same events. Again, the stilling of the storm (Mt 8:23-27 = Mk 4:35-41 = Lk 8:22-25) and the Gesarene demoniac (Mt 8:28 = Mk 5:1-20 = Lk 8:26-39) follow back to back in all three Synoptics so that with the verbal parallels one can see that the same sequence of events is being referred to in each Gospel. But Matthew has these last two events before the three cited above. While Mark and Luke have them after these three events. It cannot be both ways.

But the Synoptics are not in error here according to the first definition above because it was not their basic intention to give a rigid chronology of Jesus’ ministry (which Papias said already in the second century, cf. Eusebius, E. H. III, 39, 14ff). Their intention was rather to give a faithful presentation of the essential features of Jesus’ teaching and deeds. In this particular instance Matthew probably felt he could best do this by including the storm stilling and Gesarene demoniac scenes in his composition of chapters 8 and 9 where he has gathered ten miracle stories. This presentation of Jesus’ miracle working is then bracketed together with the Sermon on the Mount with the identical summary statements in 4:23 and 9:35. Thus we have a literary unit which beautifully and inerrantly sets forth the essential features of our Lord’s ministry.

These three illustrations should suffice to clarify my understanding of the affirmation: “The Bible is without error.” I thus gladly align myself with the long-proved tradition: perfectio respect finis (perfect with respect to purpose). I know no better statement of my own position on this matter than that of the Second Baptist Confession of 1677: “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience…”

But I think just as important as agreeing with "Affirmation I" in detail is my deep commitment to the spirit of it. From history and from my own experience I can say that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Bible. We humans are incapable of finding out what we need so much to know: how to overcome sin, to escape the wrath of God, to become new creatures, to walk pleasing to the Lord. God must reveal this to us or we perish. This he has done and continues to do by means of the written Word, the Bible. When a man has understood the Bible he has understood the revelation of God infallibly, inerrantly, and verbally.”

End of the defintion. Please don’t peek at the author’s identity (below) until you’ve considered what you think about this definition. Then read on.


The author is John Piper. The definition may be found at the following web site:


Here is the requested copyright statement: By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

Notice that, in essence, what John Piper says is that the Bible’s “inerrancy” means “perfection with respect to purpose.” It does NOT, he says, require literal interpretation. In fact, it is compatible with blatant errors INSOFAR as the author’s intention was not to be technically precise.

I once showed this definition of inerrancy to Carl F. H. Henry [(without mention Piper by name)]. I have his hand written letter responding to it. He said the author is well intentioned but needs help because the exceptions and qualifications leave inerrancy too open, too imprecise.

Precisely. That’s my point. Even strong inerrantist theologians do not agree among themselves about what inerrancy means. I believe I could affirm John Piper’s definition of inerrancy. But I would be willing to bet that if I produced it without John Piper’s name as its author and said it is what I believe “inerrancy” means many conservative evangelical (neo-fundamentalist) gatekeepers would reject me as not believing in inerrancy.

It is my personal opinion, based on thirty years’ experience “in the thick” of evangelicalism that much of the debate over inerrancy has to do with personalities, situations and contexts. One proof of that, to me, is that Harold Lindsell, author of The Battle for The Bible, signed the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy even though it contains qualifications he explicitly rejected in his book as incompatible with real belief in inerrancy. (The specific issue was Robert Mounce’s column about inerrancy in Eternity magazine. Lindsell attacked it in his book for qualifying inerrancy too much. Then, when Mounce’s qualifications were included in The Chicago Statement, Lindsell signed it anyway.)

I think John Piper’s definition of inerrancy as “perfection with respect to purpose” is good EXCEPT most people would not think that’s what “inerrancy” means. The vast majority of people who hear about “biblical inerrancy” THINK it means technical, precise, exact correspondence with reality with no room for estimates, rounding up or down of numbers, reliance on errant sources, etc., etc. During thirty years of teaching theology I have had the constant experience of showing students the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and conservative evangelical theologians’ qualifications (e.g., Millard Erickson’s) and having them laugh. When I asked them why they laughed they always said “That’s not ‘inerrancy’.” Exactly.

What has happened is that conservative evangelical theologians and biblical scholars like Piper and Erickson and others have realized, as a result of their higher educations and researches, that the Bible DOES contain what most people (including they in the past) consider “errors.” But they want to hold onto the term “inerrancy” because it is such a useful litmus test for excluding “liberals” and other undesirables from the evangelical movement. So, instead of simply discarding the term “inerrancy,” they redefine it to death. But, almost no lay person and few pastors understand that’s what’s happening. They think the leading defenders of “inerrancy” believe what THEY do. The secret is, the scholars don’t.

Prevenient Grace and Why It Matters to Arminians and Calvinists Alike

Prevenient Grace: Why It Matters

by Roger Olson
June 7, 2012

This is a follow up to my earlier post regarding the statement of the traditional Southern Baptist view of salvation by certain Southern Baptist non-Calvinist, non-Arminian pastors and theologians. If you have not read that post, go back and read it before reading this one. Here I am picking up where I left off there and taking some comments subsequent to it into account. (This article may also be found below at the bottom of this present article; and yes, it is a very short read and should be read first before preceding - res).

Also, here, I am not delving into the debate between Calvinists and Arminians over the nature of prevenient grace as irresistible or resistible. That’s certainly interesting and much discussed in evangelical and Baptist circles, but here I am simply talking about prevenient grace AS IT IS BELIEVED BY BOTH CALVINISTS AND ARMINIANS.

Most people associate “prevenient grace” with Arminianism, but that is something of an accident of historical theology. Calvinists also believe in prevenient grace.Prevenient grace” is simply a term for the grace of God that goes before, prepares the way, enables, assists the sinner’s repentance and faith (conversion). According to  (i) classical Calvinism this prevenient grace is always efficacious and given only to the elect through the gospel; it effects conversion. According to (ii) classical Arminianism it is an operation of the Holy Spirit that frees the sinner’s will from bondage to sin and convicts, calls, illumines and enables the sinner to respond to the gospel call with repentance and faith (conversion). [It does not however demand that the sinner converts, only that s/he may now be enable to convert through the properly freed use of her/his free will. Consequently prevenient grace is given to all men, both elect as well as non-elect.  - res]

Calvinists and Arminians agree, against Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, that the sinner’s will is so depraved and bound to sin that it cannot respond positively to the gospel call without supernatural grace.

One commenter here attempted to use 19th century Methodist Arminian theologian William Burton Pope to say that Arminianism does not necessarily believe what I wrote above. However, here is a quote from Pope that absolutely contradicts that and affirms the necessity of prevenient grace because the fallen will of the sinner is helpless without it: “No ability remains in man to return to God; and this avowal concedes and vindicates the pith of original sin as internal. The natural man…is without the power even to co-operate with Divine influence. The co-operation with grace is of grace. Thus it keeps itself for ever safe from Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism.” (A Compendium of Christian Theology [New York: Phillips & Hunt, n.d.] 2:47) (I provide other quotes from Pope to support my contention that he believed in the necessity of prevenient grace due to bondage of the will to sin and inability to cooperate with grace on page 152 of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities).

All agree that Pelagianism is rank heresy. It was outrightly condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Both the magisterial and radical reformers (at least the leading Anabaptists) condemned it as it is traditionally understood to mean (which Pelagius may or may not have meant—he was often ambiguous) that the human person, even after the fall, is capable of achieving saving righteousness apart from supernatural grace.

What is more often misunderstood and debated is the nature of semi-Pelagianism. The only monograph in English that I know of is Divine Grace and Human Agency: A Study of the Semi-Pelagian Controversy by Rebecca Harden Weaver (Union Theological Seminary of Virginia) (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996). Weaver recounts the whole history of the debate over original sin and grace that took place among monks between c.426 and 529. “Semi-Pelagianism” is a theological term coined much later to describe the teaching of certain semi-Augustinian monks of Marseilles (the “Massillians”) led especially by John Cassian. The essence of semi-Pelagianism is that, although humans are fallen and bent toward sin, and cannot achieve righteousness without supernatural grace, they are able apart from supernatural grace to exercise a good will toward God and God awaits that first exercise of a good will before he responds with forgiveness and regenerating grace. The initiative is on the human side. [To which both the classic Calvinist and the classic Armenian would hotly disagree, together, and with one accord.  - res]

As I demonstrate in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, Arminius and his faithful followers (Episcopius, Wesley, Fletcher, Watson, Summers, Pope, Miley, Wiley, et al.) adamantly rejected semi-Pelagianism and all, to a person, affirmed the necessity of supernatural grace for the first exercise of a good will toward God. I provide numerous quotes to that effect in the book. It is simply a blatant theological error to equate classical Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism. Unfortunately, there is a long history of making that error among Reformed theologians. Most of them rely on each other for their information about Arminianism and have not read Arminius. Some of them have read some of Wesley and try to single him out as an “inconsistent Calvinist.” That’s nonsense. There is no substantial disagreement between Arminius and Wesley on this or most other subjects (with the possible exception of so-called “eternal security” correctly called “inamissable grace”).

What have Baptists traditionally believed about prevenient grace? Well, of course, Particular Baptists (who appeared about forty years after the Baptist founders Smyth and Helwys and were Calvinists) have always emphasized the necessity of supernatural grace for the beginning of salvation. That’s not in debate. The question is: What have non-Calvinist Baptists believed about prevenient grace (which includes the question what have they believed about the incapacity of the will apart from it)?

It very may well be that the majority of Southern Baptists have believed and do believe that Adam’s fall did not result in the incapacitation of anyone’s will to respond to the gospel apart from supernatural grace. I have argued for a long time that semi-Pelagianism is the default theology of most American Christians of most denominations. The Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963) does not settle the issue as it does not speak directly to it.

So, let’s look back at the most important statement of faith of early General Baptists. (“General Baptist” is a term traditionally used for non-Calvinist Baptists.) The Orthodox Creed was written in 1678 in response to Second London Confession of Particular Baptists in 1677. The Orthodox Creed was written and signed (initially) by fifty-four messengers, elders and brethren of General Baptist congregations in England. (See W. L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith [Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1959], pp. 295-334)

Most scholars consider The Orthodox Creed a relatively reliable guide to what General, non-Calvinist Baptists believed in the first century of Baptist life. (Or its second century if you count Anabaptists such as Mennonites as baptists and forerunners of Baptists which I do.)

The Orthodox Creeds says that “man,” as a result of the fall of Adam, “wholly lost all ability, or liberty of will, to any spiritual good, for his eternal salvation, his will being now in bondage under sin and Satan, and therefore not able of his own strength to convert himself nor prepare himself thereunto, without God’s grace taketh away the enmity out of his will, and by his special grace, freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, enabling him to will freely and sincerely, that which is spiritually good….” (XX. Article “Of Free-Will in Man” Lumpkin, p. 312)

Clearly, unequivocally, 17th century Baptists believed in the incapacitation of the will due to sin and the necessity of special (supernatural) grace for the first movement of the will toward God.

Why? The consistent, constant testimony of Scripture is that human beings do not seek after (the true) God: Psalm 14 and Romans 3 are stand out passages to this effect. At the heart of Paul’s message is that all boasting is excluded because the person has nothing good that he or she has not received (from God). (1 Corinthians 4:12)

Theologically, semi-Pelagianism is shallow and opens the door to Pelagianism; it does not take seriously enough the helplessness of humanity or humanity’s total dependence on God for everything good. It also attributes an autonomy to the human being that elevates the person too high in relation to God. It also reduces the gift nature of salvation and opens the possibility that salvation can be at least partially earned or merited.

Only the doctrine of prevenient grace matches what Scripture says about the human condition and about salvation and protects the gospel from humanistic dilution.

Semi-Pelagianism was condemned by the Second Council of Orange in 529—as Calvinists love to point out. (Usually they use that against Arminianism as if it were semi-Pelagian which it is not. They often gloss over the fact that the council ALSO condemned belief that God ordains anyone to evil! [per Calvinism. - res])

Back to the statement of the traditional Southern Baptist belief about salvation. I am not accusing the authors or signers of semi-Pelagianism. But, as it stands, the statement affirms it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It begs correction. When corrected, however, if it is ever corrected, to include the necessity of prevenient grace due to incapacitation of will, it will be an Arminian statement whether that term is used or admitted or not. The only reason I can think of why the authors won’t amend it is to avoid being Arminian. Is that good enough reason to rest in theological error?

*I would also add that the statement in its essence is built upon negatives... consequently, I would rewrite it as a series of positive affirmations rather than negative denials. - res

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Thoughts about “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”