In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Southern Baptist Convention endured what was called the “Battle for the Bible.” It was, by most accounts, a well-fought stand that the Bible is in fact the inerrant Word of God. Now thirty plus years later, there is a new conflict that cannot help but be the logical extension of that previous problem. It is no longer a contention over what the Bible is; but it is the sequel to that problem which is what the Bible says.
The ultimate reality of any real discussion among Baptist brethren will always find it’s way back to the issue of what the Bible actually says. The current tension between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists, sits squarely on that question. Still looking for a “compromise among brethren” without “conceding Biblical truth”, there are men on both sides of the issue insisting that the “contradicting theologies” of Calvinism and Non-Calvinism can coexist in the same gospel pulpit,however both sides are starting to realize that is more difficult then many want to admit.
That being said, there are other men, on both sides, that are starting to see that the conflict is getting deeper than the issue of Calvinism. Voices are rising that are insisting, essentially, that correct Salvation Theology is not something anyone should, or even can know enough to “insist on.” There are those who have the idea that we fallible people cannot know with absolute certainity infallible truth. Furthermore, if we do, or claim to, we are being arrogant, judgmental, stubborn, self-righteous, etc. Realizing it or not, they have, in the name of humility bought into the world’s idea that “truth” cannot be known, and therefore all ideas should be validated as equal.
While all ideas are not equal, certainty does not have to come at the expense of humility. Certainty and humility are not mutually exclusive. The truth is that they ought to be kissing cousins. Certainty without humility is arrogance, humility without certainty is ambivolence; which is one primary problem in the world today. The world has told us “we don’t have the truth” and now men on the inside are believing that with the idea towards compromise, so that no one is “right” and no one is “wrong.”
It is my intention to say this with gentleness, and not arrogance or with a taunting attitude; if we are talking about Adam’s belly button, then yes, your guess is as good as mine. If we are talking about who Jesus died for, your guess has no place in the conversation, neither does mine; the Bible clearly says what it says; He died for the sins of the whole world. Period. I will not put that down, add water to it, or tag line it with an ‘as I see it;” nor will I help get out a contradictory message. Furthermore, I will always speak against a contradictory message, and do what I can to keep people from believing it, or propagating it. Why? – Because it “just ain’t so.” Not all messages are equal, or are compatible.
Here is where we will ultimately wind up every time we have the discussion. Can the truth of Salvation theology be known with unbending certainity, and if so can it, or can it not be proclaimed as such? Of course everyone says yes, but . . .
I may be having an electrolyte malfunction, but I cannot reconcile the idea (under the premise of compromise) that we can “know the truth” but “don’t insist on it.” Or, that we are to “preach the truth” but do not be “dogmatic” about it. That is tantamount to telling my kids, “yes you can go swimming, just don’t get wet.” That idea, and philosophy hamstrings any semblance of fundamental gospel preaching.
That being said, we can and should stand flat footed and proclaim the truth of the gospel, that Jesus died for all men, and whosoever will may come. Some have the sentiment that Non-Calvinist preachers should not insist or pressure their congregations to reject Calvinism, and/or vice versa. For both sides, that flies in the face of what preaching and teaching are about. Every time I preach my goal is to turn people from error to truth. While clearly there are many mysteries in the Bible, and I am a fallible preacher, there aren’t as many mysteries as some would have us to believe, and the most ignorant criminal in man’s best prison can still insist that two plus two is four. We do not have to be infallible people to recognize infallible truth.
I will readily admit that free discussions and debates can be had about many things within the scriptures. Eschatology is certainly a mystery. (Although I’m certain of a Pre-Tribulation rapture) Discussions can be had about all the unsaid things between the lines of our Bible. However, Salvation theology is not a “between the lines” matter; it is front and center, and an issue that people on both sides insist is clearer than the other side wants to admit.
No doubt there are many men who are “Calvinist” that are infinitely superior to me intellectually. If I ever had to meet them in a match of wits, I would only be half armed. In many cases their minds are bright, their knowledge is deep, they can exegete, analyze, and apply texts with the skill of a rocket surgeon. I only wish I was as intelligent as a number of them are. However, I do not have to have a triple phD, or a four hundred IQ to see as clear as the noon day sun, that “whosoever will may come.”
Settling what the Bible is, has just pushed the discussion back further. At some point, every man has to stand on the truth, AS the truth, and not as his best opinion. While we are completely fallible, the truth is not, and in it’s infallibility it reveals itself to us through the text in ways that we cannot deny. I will not deny that a Calvinist sees it differently than I do. But neither will I deny what I see. Nor will I say that it is merely a matter of my perspective. Regardless of where I stand, the sun is still bright. Regardless of which way I turn my head, or whose shoes I stand in, or whose glasses I look through, Unconditional Election is not Biblical truth, Limited Atonement is not Biblical truth, and Irresistable Grace is not Biblical truth, and I say that in complete confession that I am a fallible person, proclaiming an infallible truth. With all that is in me, I say it not with hostility, arrogance, or self-righteousness, but with a settled certainty and an intended gentle tone. Division is nowhere near a desire of my heart, but setting aside the doctrines of Salvation theology so there can be room for other messages is not a change worth making.