Monday, June 4, 2012

Calvinist or Not - Could You Possibly Be Wrong?

Over the last five days since SBC Today released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”, I believe we have witnessed a watershed moment in Southern Baptist Life.  As soon as I saw Tom Ascol’s attempt at a pre-emptive framing of the statement, I knew this was going to be big.  From the literally thousands of responses, it is obvious we have a big divide not just in how we view soteriology within the SBC, but also how we view those who don’t share our soteriology.  The reactions and counter-reactions have been swift, strong, and often vitriolic.  Sarcasm, straw-men and contempt have been the currency of the realm in much of this discussion.  I’ve been trying like everyone else to understand why.

On one blog written by David Miller at SBC Voices, he asked the question:  What do “Traditionalists” (as they have started calling themselves) want from Calvinists?  While I am not ready to call myself a “Traditionalist”, I am close enough that I felt I could answer that question.  I stated in a comment:

This is easy for me. After 20+ years of searching, studying, seriously considering, teaching and interacting directly with many, many people on this topic, I’d only like to see one thing. I’d like to see the general, normal response of Calvinists to the “Traditionalist” view (or anything less than 5 points) to be: “I still believe the stronger case is made for Calvinism, but I see how you can be consistent and Biblical and view it that way. Maybe you’re correct.” That’s all I want. 
If that became the standard response, any issues I have are solved. If that can’t be said, then it’s hard to cooperate.
I didn't give a lot of explanation as I thought the comment spoke for itself.  I've thought about it some more as I've seen the explosion of opinion and controversy on this.  I can genuinely reverse the statement above for my position - I really don't think Calvinism is the strongest Biblical view of soteriology, but I can see how Calvinists get there.  I don't agree, but I see they are working to be Biblical.  I think they miss the whole of Scripture, but I hear them.  I leave room to be wrong myself, but I don't see changing my views.  

Can my Calvinist brethren say the same?  Can you say that you see how I can be Biblical and not accept your view of soteriology?  Can you admit you may be biased and may be seeing things incorrectly?  I think if everyone could show some humility in their positions and a little respect for others, we might be able to get past some of the rancor.

Is it possible?  I don't know.  My fear after reading all these posts is that many on both sides don't even think it possible they could be wrong.  The truth is, Calvinism and "Traditionalism" are significantly different in their views of the ultimate purposes of God.  Calvinism sees every action, predestined as they are, designed in purpose to bring glory to God through his Sovereignty.  "Traditionalism" sees God's sovereign purpose as bringing human beings freely into relationship with Him.  I know, I know -- you can poke at these generalizations in a thousand different ways and show me how wrong I am, but stay with me on the point I'm trying to make:  this much difference in our views of ultimate purpose makes it difficult to admit the possibility that the other side could be right.

I call this statement a watershed moment because for the first time in my lifetime, I'm witnessing the non-Calvinist side show a significant level of organization.  I'll admit, there's a part of me that understands why.  The Calvinist side has been organized and methodically working to change minds for some time.  They've made enough progress that that the non-Calvinist side has taken notice.  In many ways, this is quite a victory for Calvinists.  In many other ways, it has led to a potential loss for us all.  I believe the organization and forming of tribes is just beginning.  This much effort snowballing this quickly into a new movement does not bode well for cooperation.

If we don't all put down our sabers soon, a battle may be inevitable.  If cooler heads don't prevail, we've got the late '80's on our hands all over again.  So Calvinist brothers, can you say it?  Can you even fathom that others could be right?  Same for you "Traditionalists" - is it possible God's sovereignty works in ways that your view of freedom can't conceive?  Better yet, can we all admit that we're probably all wrong about God's workings?    Can you or I take the high road when the other "side" takes what we think are cheap shots?  Can we follow Christ's teachings and forgive?  Can we show some humility, or should we just go our separate ways now?

If you really can't admit that the other side has a Biblically defensible and consistent view, I fear we're in big trouble.  That much dogmatism in this much Biblical ambiguity is just not warranted.

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