What We Believe- Article V, God’s Purpose of Grace (part 2)

February 7, 2009

Last time we dealt with the section of Article V which addressed election. Today we will be looking at what it has to say about perseverance/eternal security:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-8; 1 Samuel 8:4-7,19-22; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31ff.; Matthew 16:18-19; 21:28-45; 24:22,31; 25:34; Luke 1:68-79; 2:29-32; 19:41-44; 24:44-48; John 1:12-14; 3:16; 5:24; 6:44-45,65; 10:27-29; 15:16; 17:6,12,17-18; Acts 20:32; Romans 5:9-10; 8:28-39; 10:12-15; 11:5-7,26-36; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:4-23; 2:1-10; 3:1-11; Colossians 1:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:10,19; Hebrews 11:39-12:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:2-5,13; 2:4-10; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:19; 3:2.

[Note: These are the verses for both the portion on perseverance as well as the previous section on election.]

In a turn of irony, we follow the previous section to which no consensus was given and most all options were left on the table with a section that all of us should be able to be on-board with.  Many non-Calvinist Southern Baptists will argue that they are not Arminians (the traditional Calvinist counterpart) because Arminians deny eternal security while no Baptist would do such a thing.  So, let’s take a moment to enjoy this brief period of agreement.

Most of this article consists of standard yet solid lines like “All true believers endure to the end.”  This is nice, and particularly when it comes to an issue of such critical importance to the Christian life as security, it’s straightforwardness is appreciated.

One place where it gets interesting however is when it says, “Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation. . . .  yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”  There are a number of people today who still hold to a theology which says Christians who live in sin must have never been Christians to start with.  This is both wrong and dangerous.  Instead we must replace this incorrect notion with the proper biblical teaching that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.38-39).

Other than that, as I said, the section on eternal security is nice, simple, and straightforward.  It is an excellent outline to witness from when dealing with someone who struggles over their own righteousness and if they have done enough to merit salvation or pay penance.  I am thankful that, though it happens quite infrequently, we can at least come to one mind on the doctrine of perseverance within our convention.

What We Believe- Article V, God’s Purpose of Grace (part 1)

February 6, 2009

The sixth article of the Baptist Faith & Message is over two topics I find quite interesting: election and perseverance/eternal security. We will tackle each separately.

V. God’s Purpose of Grace

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

To have been a fly on the wall when this was discussed.  Of all the points of contention between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, Election has to be the most violent (with the extent of the Atonement coming in a near second).  So, faced with such a hotly contested topic, what did the Study committee do?  They punted.

Honestly, this article could not be any more general.  It is a great illustration of the way the earth must have looked in the beginning: without form and void (Genesis 1.2).  To their credit, this rendering does not put anybody on the outside (save those who would deny election at all, which is clearly unorthodox).  Also, to be fair, it was not this committee which chose such nondescript descriptions for this doctrine.  Yes, they did perpetuate it, but this type of catch-all doctrine of election has been the standard in the BF&M ever since the first drafting.

Historically, we see that the Abstract of Principles clearly affirmed the Calvinistic view of Unconditional Election (“Election is God’s eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life-not because of foreseen merit in them, but of His mere mercy in Christ”).  Upon first look at the New Hampshire confession, one would think that it is the same as what we find in the BF&M, and they would be write mostly.  However, the second half of the NH election article is largely left out of the BF&M and it is in perusing this part that we find out how the NH authors perceived God’s decree.  In saying things such as election  “is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence,” the New Hampshire confession shows its hand, since if they allowed election by foreknowledge of a future choice then how does our election provide “assurance” or benefit in “ascertain[ing]” it?  Clearly they are affirming Unconditional Election as well.

I will say, though I think this is basically a useless article since it gives basically no theological guidance, I am at least pleased to see the statement made that “[election] excludes boasting and promotes humility.”  This should be the prevailing attitude with election, particularly among Calvinists, and any person who attaches pride to their election demonstrates just how poorly they understand what they are really saying.

What We Believe- Article IV, Salvation (part 1)

January 31, 2009

In our fourth week of looking at the Baptist Faith & Message we find ourselves walking directly in upon the tightrope act that this document is traversing in trying to maintain its status as a neutral document on the issues of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. The article itself contains an exposition of salvation in general, and then further detail as we explore the four broad components of salvation, which are regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.

IV. Salvation

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Let’s talk about the good stuff first. Speaking of salvation as including “the redemption of the whole man” is a very strong statement. There should be no part of our life untouched by salvation. God is not redeeming our souls while condemning our bodies. It is a total, all or nothing deal here. Also, making it clear that “eternal redemption” was obtained by Christ’s “own blood” is a statement which, unfortunately, many people who say they are Christians would reject today, even though it is clearly affirmed in Scripture (Hebrews 9.11-14). I agree whole-heartedly with the four broad aspects of salvation, and am thankful that justification, a key component of God’s working of salvation, is recognized individually in this version instead of as a piece of regeneration as in 1963. Lastly, that “[t]here is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord” is a beautiful idea and coincides with Peter’s wonderful declaration of such in Acts 4.12.

With all of that good, unfortunately there comes some bad as well. Already from the beginning we catch the awkward language being used here. We are told that “Salvation . . . is offered freely to all who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.” That just sounds weird. It makes it seem as if we accept Jesus as Lord and then God says “Now, do you want salvation?” It seems as if salvation is guaranteed of all who accept Jesus by faith, and instead what this is trying to say is that, “We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel,” as it is stated in the New Hampshire Confession. I;m not sure why this change was made, though we can look back and see that it first arose in the 1963 version, so possibly the reasoning has passed us now.

Also, saying that Christ, by “His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer” makes me curious. Certainly the last doctrine which the authors of this text would all agree on would be limited atonement, or else called particular redemption, and yet by way of not saying anything more, one may be left with this impression from what is written. My instinct is that they would argue that it is the word “eternal” which makes the difference. A person holding to universal redemption would simply claim that Christ obtained redemption for all and eternal redemption for those who believe on him, but still here, the eternal part of the redemption is conditioned upon the receivers faith, not the givers work, and persists in sounding funny in a passage which is talking solely about what the giver has done. Again, this is a creation specific to the 1963 version and later.

I will now list parts B, C, and D of this article as they are all solid and I really have no complaint on any of them. I am saving part A, Regeneration, for another post because it will require substantially more space than I would devote to it in this post.

B. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.

D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

Genesis 3:15; Exodus 3:14-17; 6:2-8; Matthew 1:21; 4:17; 16:21-26; 27:22-28:6; Luke 1:68-69; 2:28-32; John 1:11-14,29; 3:3-21,36; 5:24; 10:9,28-29; 15:1-16; 17:17; Acts 2:21; 4:12; 15:11; 16:30-31; 17:30-31; 20:32; Romans 1:16-18; 2:4; 3:23-25; 4:3ff.; 5:8-10; 6:1-23; 8:1-18,29-39; 10:9-10,13; 13:11-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18,30; 6:19-20; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; 5:22-25; 6:15; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-22; 4:11-16; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:9-22; 3:1ff.; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 2:1-3; 5:8-9; 9:24-28; 11:1-12:8,14; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:2-23; 1 John 1:6-2:11; Revelation 3:20; 21:1-22:5.

These are all three excellently done pieces, maybe the nicest theology we’ve seen so far in the BF&M. My favorite part is the statement in the blurb on sanctification which says, “Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.” I don’t know that all Baptist’s actually believe this (like those who hold to Free Grace Theology) but I believe it to be the truth and am happy to see our confession take such a clear stance on the matter.

What We Believe- Article III, Man (part 2)

January 22, 2009

Continuing now with the elements of the third article that I disliked, I will focus on three statements; two I think just say too much and one I feel is doctrinally inadequate and inconsistent with other statements that are made.

In the opening thought the writers add the sentence, “The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.” This strikes me as awkward and, seeing as how it is an addition to the 2000 version over and above what is said in the 1963 version, it seems like this must be in essence meant to deal with some bad teaching which would be addressed by such a statement. I am unaware of what controversy this might be, unless it is meant to counteract any charges of sexism from the outside as pertains to certain issues of marital submission and women in ministry. Still, seeing as these concerns are also addressed in articles XV and XVIII later on I do not see a reason for including such an unusual statement in this place, nor am I familiar with any passage of Scripture which they would be using to justify this remark.

Similarly, at the end of the article we see the statement made that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.” Again, this is not saying something I disagree with in any way, but the placement of it in a church affirmational document just hits me kind of funny. I understand that there is a historical record of real and/or perceived racism in the SBC, but I question (1) is it the place of a confession of faith to address cultural, pragmatic issues of a certain day?, and (2) is this not covered later in article XV? If the BF&M chooses to have articles covering untraditional topics such as the fifteenth one,”The Christian and the Social Order,” then that seems like a more appropriate place to put statements of this nature than forcing it into a more traditional article on anthropology and the fall of man.

Next, the place where I take issue with doctrinal clarity is at the end of the following statement:

Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. [emphasis mine]

This just comes off to weak to me. I know it may be a symptom of my conviction towards a Calvinist doctrine of man’s total depravity, but saying this in the way they did makes it sound like man is simply in a situation where the odds are against him not sinning, though his hand is not forced. But then this seems to contradict the following statement which says, “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” If man is only “inclined toward sin” then what is it that makes him sin “as soon as [he is] capable of moral action”? There is no “therefore” unless the statement of him being inclined actually means that he is incapable of not doing it, which I am sure they are not trying to say since that would for all intents and purposes be the doctrine of Total Depravity. This is one of the nuances of the non-Calvinist view which makes it untenable to me.

I like better what we see attested in regards to this in two prior Baptist affirmations, the Abstract of Principles and The New Hampshire Baptist Confession:

God originally created Man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors. [Abstract of Principles, emphasis mine]

[A]ll mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil. [The New Hampshire Baptist Confession, emphasis mine]

It is unfortunate that we have seen the SBC move away from such strong, orthodox confessions in recent years and beginning to affirm weak, seemingly inconsistent attempts at putting man in greater control of his salvation.

What We Believe- Article III, Man (part 1)

January 21, 2009

This week we are picking up on the third article of the Baptist Faith & Message, the section concerning anthropology. It reads as follows:

III. Man

Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Genesis 1:26-30; 2:5,7,18-22; 3; 9:6; Psalms 1; 8:3-6; 32:1-5; 51:5; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 16:26; Acts 17:26-31; Romans 1:19-32; 3:10-18,23; 5:6,12,19; 6:6; 7:14-25; 8:14-18,29; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; 15:19,21-22; Ephesians 2:1-22; Colossians 1:21-22; 3:9-11.

To be fully honest, this is the first article of the BF&M which I really just don’t like.  It is not that I disagree with what is said in toto, but just that I feel an agenda was being brought to the table in this article which led to the writers simply saying too much.

Let’s begin with some positive stuff though.  The statement that “By his free choice man sinned against God” is well received, even by Calvinists such as myself, who recognize that the fall was wholly attributable to Adam’s failure during the probationary period in the Garden.  There may be a deeper philosophical argument as to why Adam failed, but the fact is we see this as being the free choice of man to deny God.

As well, we must heartily affirm the fact that “Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”  Again, an area where Calvinists and Non may disagree on the specifics, but where we should all stand in accord on the principle.

Finally, the statement that “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image” strikes me as a very powerful understanding of the imago dei.  What does it mean to be created “in [God's] own image”?  Surely we know we are not claiming that God looks like us, since God the Father is not even flesh and bones.  Then what we are left with is that man is consciously in the image of God, reflecting God’s attributes in our spirits, not our bodies.  We can love like God, we can be angry like God, we desire justice like God, we desire unity like God.   It is the spiritual aspect of our being, not the physical, which shows the glory of the image of God in us.

That is the basic extent of the pieces I found positive and enlightening here.  Tomorrow I will try and show which parts I think are either wrong or just unnecessary for the development of this article on man.

What We Believe- Article II, God (part 3)

January 16, 2009

The final subarticle of Article II of the Baptist Faith & Message deals with the last member of the eternal Godhead, the Holy Spirit:

C. God the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.

Genesis 1:2; Judges 14:6; Job 26:13; Psalms 51:11; 139:7ff.; Isaiah 61:1-3; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 1:18; 3:16; 4:1; 12:28-32; 28:19; Mark 1:10,12; Luke 1:35; 4:1,18-19; 11:13; 12:12; 24:49; John 4:24; 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7-14; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4,38; 4:31; 5:3; 6:3; 7:55; 8:17,39; 10:44; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6; 19:1-6; Romans 8:9-11,14-16,26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 3:16; 12:3-11,13; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 3:16; 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:14; 3:16; Hebrews 9:8,14; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 John 4:13; 5:6-7; Revelation 1:10; 22:17.

I am not afraid to admit it, and I am sure that my past statements have revealed this, but I am a big fan of the Holy Spirit. Now, I know that sounds weird, and truly I am a big fan of the whole Trinity, it’s just that I feel like the Holy Spirit is oft neglected and we as Southern Baptists would do well to pay attention to just what it says about him in Scripture. As the BF&M states, the Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit, conviction is administered by the Spirit, and regeneration is “wrought by the … Spirit” (this actually is quoted from Article IV). It is the indwelling of the Spirit which endows believers with and empowers them to execute spiritual gifts. This indwelling occurs at the moment of regeneration and perseveres until our final reconciliation with God.

One part that I would like to address is near the end when the BF&M states that “[the Holy Spirit] seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ.” This most definitely comes from the the passage in Ephesians 1.13-14. As you may have seen here before, this issue of assurance is a big deal for me, and what we have here in the BF&M is a statement which I feel I can be fully on-board with.

This does then however make me wonder about how a person who espouses a Free Grace theology could stand under this confession? Here is how I see it: the one phrase that was added to the Holy Spirit subarticle in the 2000 that was not in the 1963 is where it says, “At the moment of regeneration [the Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” This would then be the baptism of the Holy Spirit referred to by Christ in Acts 1.5, a process in which the Holy Spirit comes down to take residence inside the believer. This would also allow for a theologian who holds to decisional regeneration to say that at the moment of decision then regeneration is effected and from that point the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer’s heart. Thus, when they speak of the presence of the Spirit as being “the guarantee” of salvation they have no need to require the Spirit “bear[ing] witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8.16) but instead are able to fall back upon their claim that the Holy Spirit is only around because the person believed in the first place.  Therefore, it really is just the persons knowledge of trusting in Christ which is their assurance, not some subjective spiritual experience. Coming at it this way it is no wonder the Spirit is so impotent in many baptist congregations.

No, I am certainly in favor of a much more sovereign Holy Spirit. How is God sovereign and yet the Spirit constrained by human decision? Was it not Jesus who said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3.8)?

What We Believe- Article II, God (part 2)

January 15, 2009

Following the prologue and general overview of God that we looked at previously the BF&M moves into a subarticle concerning God the Father:

A. God the Father

God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

Genesis 1:1; 2:7; Exodus 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 19:1-3; Isaiah 43:3,15; 64:8; Jeremiah 10:10; 17:13; Matthew 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; John 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:6; 12:9; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 5:7.

I do not believe that this statement could be improved upon. They accurately represent as God as sovereign over “human history,” directing things “according to the purposes of His grace.” I particularly like how they emphasize the nature of adoption, saying that “God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

The final comment, that “[God] is fatherly in His attitude toward all men” is interesting in the fact that I think there is an increasing movement among evangelicals to include more here. Just look at all of the arguments around for “God the Mother,” drawing off of brief images and nuances of speech in certain OT passages (cf. Isaiah 49:14-15; 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3). Even supercool Rob Bell has a supercool Nooma video out entitled She which asks “”When we omit the feminine, are we missing a very fundamental part of [God's] nature?” However, what I think people are missing here is that the idea of God the Father is most prevalent from the way that Christ relates to him. Yes, God may and does have “feminine” characteristics, but in relating to his people, say for instance in “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6.9-13), God is portrayed as Father alone. There is a major difference between displaying feminine qualities and assuming a feminine role and when we overlook that or ignore it we begin to venture off into awkward, if not bad, theology. It is simply a symptom of our hyper-perverse and scatterbrained culture that we become so adamant to force this secular egalitarian philosophy into everything, even places were it clearly does not belong.

The second subarticle has do with God incarnated as Christ:

B. God the Son

Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5, 21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.

Again I believe this is a wonderful description of the life and workings of Jesus Christ. The writers make sure to emphasize his virgin birth and full deity, two aspects of Christ which many Christians throughout history have felt were up for debate, particularly in our current period of modernity and “scientific enlightenment.” We are also treated to the triple picture of Christ as prophet (he “perfectly revealed and did the will of God”), priest (“He is the One Mediator . . . in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man”), and king (“He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God”). As well, his second coming in glory, “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 12.28 ) among other things, is foretold.

One important addition that we find in the 2000 revision of the BF&M is in the passage that talks about Christ’s death. The 2000 version reads, “in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.” Where this differs from the 1963 version is in the inclusion of the word “substitutionary.” Such a small word but such a big deal. There are so many theories abounding today which proclaim Christ’s death on the cross as simply an example of suffering or as a mistake which God later turned to his good, all the while trying to deny a substitutionary atonement on claims that to necessitate Christ going through such a thing would be nothing more than “cosmic child abuse” by the Father. We can breath a sigh of relief then knowing that, at least on paper, the standard of orthodoxy in the SBC recognizes that not only did Christ die on the cross, but that it was foreordained and necessary for him to do so in order that he might be “made to be sin” on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5.21a) and so “the record of debt that stood against us” may be canceled (Colossians 2.13-14), allowing us to “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21b).

What We Believe- Article II, God (part 1)

January 14, 2009

The second article of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 has to do with our beliefs concerning God. After a brief prologue this article breaks down into three subarticles, one for each member of the Godhead. In this post we will handle the prologue of Article II and in the following days we will go through the subarticles on God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

II. God

There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

This prologue serves as a most basic statement about the God of the Bible, the “one living and true God.” We are introduced to him first by his characteristics (“intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being”) and then by his offices (“Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe”). God’s infinite nature is proclaimed, as well as his omniscience. We attest God’s worthiness to be praised and obeyed. Finally, we are informed of God’s triune nature, God in three persons, as the hymn says; each part distinct and functioning, and yet at once in whole accord and coeternal unity.

Of the general descriptions given here of the Godhead there is only one thing that really sticks out to me as unusual and that being the insistence in the middle of the paragraph that “[God's] perfect knowledge extends to all things . . . including the future decisions of His free creatures.” In understanding the history of the BF&M we must know that it was simply an adoption of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, “revised at certain points and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs” (from the Preamble of the BF&M 2000). That said, the New Hampshire Confession makes no mention of God’s perfect knowledge. Neither did the 1925 or 1963 incarnations of the BF&M.  It was only in this 2000 revision that we get talk of God’s perfect knowledge, and to such an extent. I would be curious as to the reason for this new inclusion, as I can see only two.

The first reason I would see for including this would be to combat the teaching of Open Theism. This is highly likely since the real firestorm over this idea kindled in evangelical circles around 1994 and so would have been pressing at the time of the BF&M revision. The second reason I might see for such language is to accommodate the Arminian view of election, which typically speaks of God’s foreknowledge (as seen in Romans 8.29 and 1 Peter 1.2) as God’s knowledge of our future free willed decisions, allowing proponents to say that election is simply God choosing those that he foreknows will freely choose him (an interpretation of foreknowledge which I would emphatically reject). This is likely given the makeup of the theologians assigned to update this document.  In the end, I believe it was probably both of these things that played a part in the decision to include the new sentence in the BF&M 2000.  In as much as it shoots down Open Theism I support the claim, but to the extent that it is used to argue against unconditional election I am still weary of its inclusion.

What We Believe- Article I, The Scriptures (part 2)

January 8, 2009

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.

What We Believe- Article I, The Scriptures (part 1)

January 7, 2009

This is the first in the posts I mentioned last week that we are going to embark on in working through the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). It is over the first article of the BF&M, which concerns itself about the general heading of “The Scriptures.” Here is what our confession states about the Scriptures (including the supporting texts):

I. The Scriptures

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine

Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

We must first note importantly what things this statement affirms. It affirms the inerrancy of Scripture (“It has . . . truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter”), it affirms the centrality of Scripture (“[It is] the true center of Christian union”), and it affirms the authority of Scripture (“[It is] the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried”). To be honest, coming right out of the gate, this is one of the reasons why I am proud to be a Southern Baptist. I myself am too young to recall a time when the SBC seriously questioned the inerrancy or authority of Scripture, though I know it did occur, but now, in a “Christian” realm full of men like Brian McLaren and Bart Ehrman, I am thankful that this issue does not even seem to be considered in our SBC congregations or seminaries.

I am also enamored by the final line of the statement: “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” There are few things more important in this present age of emergent/post-modern confusion to understand than that it is not just the four gospel accounts of the incarnation of Christ that matter, but that we also need to be focusing on the other 62 books which have Jesus, though not necessarily the incarnate son, as their subject matter. It is easy to look at the Jesus who healed blind men and ignore his wrath in the coming judgment. It is not so easy to do that when looking at the Jesus of Revelation. It is easy to blame the cross on the foolishness of man when seeing Judas, in a moment of time, sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It is not so easy to deny God’s sovereignty in crucifying his son when reading Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53. Jesus and his work, both in incarnation and exaltation, are supremely the focus of the whole Bible and unless we treat it, read it, and preach it as such we are doing a great disservice to God’s glory in manifesting his revealed Word to us.