Yesterday we began looking at what the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) has to say about the Scriptures and commented on its wonderful handling of the authority, inerrancy, centrality, and theme of Scripture. With all that out there that we can heartily agree on, I do want to take a few minutes to poke the beehive on a part that may cause some contention, that part being the claim that, “[Scripture has] salvation for its end.”
Now, on the surface this doesn’t seem so contentious, and it is easy to see the justification for placing such a claim in the BF&M. Romans 1.16 says that “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Acts 4.12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven [than Jesus] given among men by which we must be saved.” Thus, if it is only by Jesus’ name that we are saved, and Jesus is the central theme of Scripture, then it would make sense to say that the end of the Scriptures is to reveal the name which will get you saved, or simply “salvation.” This is also confirmed by Romans 10.17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” since it is by faith alone we are saved and by the Scriptures alone that the gospel concerning Christ is revealed.
But I claim this is contentious. No, not because I disagree with it. No, actually, it is because I agree with it that the problems arise. See, as we have hammered and hammered and hammered here, there is a fierce divide in some parts of the SBC right now over whether or not a Southern Baptist should hold to Calvinistic beliefs. And, after hearing many of these non-Calvinist Southern Baptists express their opinions a few months ago at the infamous John 3.16 Conference, I came to realize that because of the limited role of man in the Calvinistic view of salvation, many non-Calvinists believe that their Calvinist brethren deny that the end of the Scriptures is salvation. Or to say it another way, they believe that Calvinists see other means to salvation aside from simply faith in the hearing of the gospel and God’s Word, or maybe even no human means at all. This, in general, could not be any further from the truth.
I will give the benefit of the doubt here and say, yes, there do exist types of Calvinists who believe this. They are more popularly known as hyper-Calvinists, and, to the best of my knowledge, I do not personally know one. The typical hyper-Calvinist view of salvation maintains that God effectually saves the elect irregardless of earthly circumstances, rendering a general call to repentance and faith as well as to global evangelism pointless. As good 5-point non-hyper-Calvinists we must be prepared to call out this form of hyper-Calvinism as unbiblical, and thus, if this were the majority view of “Calvinism” that the SBC non-Calvinists were upset over then we should be in full agreement with them on that point.
However this is not in general what they are referring to. Instead, this claim that Calvinists deny the end of the Scriptures as being to reveal God and Christ to us that we may believe seems more or less to be directed at all SBC Calvinists. Engaging recently in a dialog with a well-known non-Calvinist blogger, he kept trying to establish the point that Calvinists who hold to a view of God effectually calling the elect and the elect only and working regeneration before faith, must then necessarily deny that their is any merit in the proclamation of Scripture. He was adamant that it is contradictory to claim on the one hand that God is sovereign in election and regeneration and on the other that gospel teaching and hearing is necessary for faith. But, to the true Calvinist this is not contradictory at all. To a Calvinist who believes that God is sovereign over all of providence (say as claimed by Proverbs 16.33 or Romans 8.28), then there is no difficulty in rectifying man’s necessity to hear the Word preached and respond in faith with God’s independence in working the salvation of the elect. God has decreed that it is by the preaching and hearing of the name of Jesus Christ that men shall be saved. That was his prerogative to decide, there was no necessity in such a charge. However, once he commanded that, it then became essential to salvation. Thus, if God is to see men saved, even if he is sovereign in the entire salvific act, then he is bound by his Word to seeing salvation occur within the context of believing on the gospel. God could have willed that it is simply true that some men are saved from birth and some aren’t, irregardless of any events in their lives (as is maintained by hyper-Calvinists), but he didn’t. He chose to use the means of the gospel call to be the environment in which his Spirit moves, and so be it. This does not add to or take away from the role of man in salvation, God is still sovereign to see that his will gets accomplished.
Therefore, though there seem to be many voices speaking to the contrary today, I do not see any problem of either Calvinists or non-Calvinists affirm the words of the BF&M as it pertains to the Scriptures and their end.