Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology: A Traditionalist’s Response to the Founders Ministry

(This is Part 1, links to Part 2 and Part 3.)

A good Calvinistic brother, Jared Longshore, posted an article entitled, “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology” at Founders.org in which he addressed the chapel message of Dr. Rick Patrick at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Having once been a member of the Founders’ ministry and part of one of their church starts over a decade ago, I have great respect for these brethren and appreciate the cordial manner in which they confront these disputable matters within our convention.  In that spirit, this would be a good opportunity to offer one Traditionalist’s commentary on the Founders’ initial response to Patrick’s message.

Longshore breaks down his critique into three sections of study; Patriology (the doctrine of God), Anthropology (the doctrine of man), and Missiology (the doctrine of missions). This article will cover the first of these three sections with the hope to address the other two at a later date. Under the heading of “Patriology,” Longshore writes,

In the message, Patrick claims that the Calvinistic system minimizes God’s love for unbelievers: “Under Calvinism, He [God] possess a very weak love for the reprobate.”

Scripture: Scripture continually affirms God’s abundant love for mankind in general. Psalm 145:8-9 says, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and his mercy is over all that he has made.”

John Calvin: Calvin, too, spoke of God’s powerful love and goodness to all mankind. He considered this love as that which steadily flows down upon those made in God’s image. He affirmed that God “is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it.” Calvin, also, saw a connection between Christ’s work of salvation and the Father’s love for mankind for “Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.” Calvin placed the responsibility on sinners for rejecting the loving-kindness of God, since “we drive God’s goodness away from us by our sins.”

Calvinistic Southern Baptists: The 293 delegates who gathered in 1845 to organize the Southern Baptist Convention all came from churches and associations which held to a robustly Calvinistic Confession.[4] It is no surprise, then, to see them continuing in Calvin’s doctrine of the love of God. The confession to which they subscribed says God is “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness” (2LBC 2.1). “He is the alone fountain of all being, of who, through whom, and to whom are all things” (2LBC 2.2). God’s great love for unbelievers is seen in that all they have has come to them from His kind hand.

Longshore, like most Calvinistic brethren when discussing the sincerity of God’s love for all people, seems to distance himself from the inevitable conclusions drawn by the implications of his own systematic. While attempting to maintain some semblance of divine love for those unconditionally rejected by God in eternity past, he appeals to God’s common provisions such as rain and sunshine. But can such provisions be deemed as genuinely loving given the Scripture’s own definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13?

Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly explains what love is not when he writes,

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

So we can conclude love is not:

  • Having the power and ability to do all things (vs. 1)
  • Having knowledge of all things (vs. 2)
  • Giving gifts and showing kindness to the weak and poor (vs. 3)

Omnipotence without love is impotent. Omniscience apart from love is worthless. And even benevolent gifts, like the provisions of rain and sunlight, apart from love are nothing. We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient and graciously benevolent to all humanity, but we also know that these characteristics do not necessarily reflect the true nature of love.  God, through his servant, tells us what true love is:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

No Bible believing Christian questions the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8).  “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:9). This biblical truth is simply undeniable, which is why the Founders ministry offers this rebuttal in defense of God’s love for all people from their Calvinistic worldview. But, can one objectively conclude that God’s treatment of the reprobate within the Calvinistic system is truly “loving” according to God’s own definition above?

  • Is God patient with the reprobate who he “hated” and rejected for salvation “before he was born or had done anything good or bad.”
  • Is God kind to those he destines to torment for all eternity without any regard to their own choices, intentions, or actions?
  • Does God honor the non-elect by allowing them to enjoy a little rain and sunlight before they spend an eternity suffering for something with which they had absolutely no control over?
  • Is God not easily angered by those who are born under His wrath and without hope of reconciliation?
  • Does God keep the record of wrongs committed by reprobates?
  • Does the so-called “love” of God for the non-elect fail or does it persevere?

By Paul’s definition it would appear Dr. Patrick was being gracious to even concede that the Calvinistic version of divine love for the non-elect is merely “weak,” rather than all together non-existent. Yet, Longshore attempts to make the case that God’s love for all unbelievers is actually “great?” I must ask, as Dave Hunt so succinctly inquired, “What love is this,” and by what measure can it ever be deemed “great!?”

Lest someone accuse me of being uncharitable, it should be noted that some “higher” forms of Calvinism do not even attempt to defend the idea that God sincerely loves everyone. In a work titled, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink, he wrote, “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody.” He further argued that the word “world” in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…“) “refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from ‘the world of the ungodly.'”[1]

 The issue comes down to how one defines the characteristic of love. According to Paul, “love does not seek its own,” and thus it is best described as “self-sacrificial” rather than “self-serving” (1 Cor. 13:5). As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It seems safe to say that love at its very root is self-sacrificial. Anything less than that should not be called “love.”  One may refer to “kindness” or “care” in reflection of some common provisions for humanity, but unless it reaches the level of self-sacrifice it does not seem to meet the biblical definition of true love.

Given that biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice,” let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).

The meaning is undeniable. We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.

In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worst enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.

Now, we know that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in every way (Matt. 5:17-18), which would have to include the greatest commandment. Christ’s self-sacrificial love for His enemies was certainly as encompassing as what He demanded from His followers in Luke 10. Without a doubt, Jesus loved everyone, even His greatest, most undeserving enemies; otherwise, He would have failed to fulfill the demands of the law.

Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  And again in Romans 13:8: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Thus, to deny Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for everyone is to deny that He fulfilled the demands of the law. This would disqualify Him as the perfect atoning sacrifice.

If we accept that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law by self-sacrificially loving all people, then how can we conclude that God’s love is any less far-reaching than that which is reflected in the Son? Would God expect our love to be more encompassing and self-sacrificial than His own?

When God invites His enemies to be reconciled (Isa. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:20; Mt. 11:28-30), He is making an appeal from a sincere heart of self-sacrificial love. “‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11). “The Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:1). Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace.


[1] http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/grace-to-you/read/articles/does-god-so-love-the-world-9312.html

24 thoughts on “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology: A Traditionalist’s Response to the Founders Ministry

  1. If I may, a “tu qoque”:

    (Paraphrasing your own questions)

    Is God patient with the lost whom he condemns eternally after only a few short years on earth with which to decide whether they will believe? Why not extend their life and opportunity to repent for much longer?

    Is God kind to those he punishes in hell for eternity?

    Does God honor the free will of those who never heard the Gospel and never had a chance to decide?

    Is God not easily angered by those who go into eternity under His wrath and without hope of reconciliation, based on the mere fickleness and uncertainty of a thing like “free will”?

    Does God keep a record of wrongs committed by the lost, who perish in their sins and suffer in hell?

    Does the so-called “love” of God fail in the case of those lost sinners he tries in vain to save, but apparently cannot?

    As a side note, I believe any such a line of questioning is inherently blasphemous, and offer this only in order to show the folly of it, and to urge repentance from it.

    As a former anti-Calvinist, I find a great deal more of the Biblical love of God in the Calvinistic viewpoint than in any other. Then again, I would consider His love to be ultimately incomprehensible, being an attribute of His very essence, so who am I to judge? I do think this project is an exercise in futility, and a misapplication of the Text from the start. Nevertheless, the force of your arguments against Calvinism will be taken up by atheists, and used against your own view, in just the manner I have illustrated above.

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    1. Hi Derek (it’s Derek isn’t it?) – Would your answer to an atheist be to questions like that be – “I would consider His love to be ultimately incomprehensible, being an attribute of His very essence, so who am I to judge?”

      I would say that His love continues in grief for those that are perishing in hell and that they did have sufficient enlightenment that they actively rejected. They rejected His declaration of love and did not seek His mercy even knowing that their choice was tied to everlasting consequences, but they didn’t trust that enlightenment. Would these answers be reasonable and should be helpful to an atheist?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Brian,

        Thanks for your reply. Yes, my name is Derek. If I was responding to an atheist, I would just try to preach the Gospel and call him to repentance. No point in arguing theology at that point.

        Your answer is a fine one, and there are also good answers to be offered by the Calvinist to Dr. Flowers’ questions. Non-Calvinists will not find the Calvinists’ answers convincing, and vice versa. And atheists will find neither set of answers convincing — unless God sovereignly and graciously opens their eyes. 🙂

        Blessings,
        Derek

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      2. Brother Derek, I agree that it should be a priority to give the Gospel to the unbeliever, and I agree that God’s enlightenment is necessary for the unbeliever and believer alike.

        It appears from your explanation that enlightenment doesn’t automatically happen when truth is given to the unbeliever or believer. This is a unhealthy idea found in Calvinism.

        I think you would agree that unhealthy ideas should be confronted firmly and lovingly. That confrontation is God’s sovereign will.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Of course we would argue the consistency of our answers to the posed questions do reflect the character of Gods love for every person and thus reflect the biblical revelation of God as love.

        The consistent Calvinistic response has to acknowledge (in my view) that God does not love everyone and obviously that presents a problem for the lower forms of Calvinism (as Longshore and the Founders are).

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    2. Derek, I’m not quite sure what you hope to gain by posting the above list of questions. Quoting a bit of Latin does nothing much for your argument either except maybe to provide a better example of tu quoque than you yourself claim to have found.

      The questions all demonstrate a lack of understanding on the part of the questioner, which if it had been an atheist might be understandable but coming from a self confessed former anti-calvinist is somewhat perplexing. I don’t intend to go through all of them but the first one is a good example of how odd these questions really are.

      You question God’s patience in terms of how long he is prepared to wait for a person to repent? Yet you must know that God doesn’t treat anybody according to their sins or actions. If he acted with summary justice there would be nobody left standing! Each person’s life experience is different, so trying to equalise time would be futile if not impossible. Essentially you would be arguing for everybody to live for exactly the same life span. So to measure the opportunity to respond in terms of time is surely a basic error. In addition, you have examples of parables where Jesus specifically deals with the question of time! Jesus explained that those hired for just one hour were entitled to receive the agreed sum of money even though others had worked through the heat of the day.

      In addition if you remember the parable of Dives who requested that somebody be sent back from hell to tell his brothers just how bad it was? Jesus was firm in his answer that this was not possible and that his brothers would not believe even if somebody had been sent back from the dead! Trying to buy time does not work with God. The day of salvation is always ‘Today’ because God never guarantees us a tomorrow. Trying to equate more time with more patience is not credible.

      If you think that “this project is an exercise in futility, and a misapplication of the Text from the start” you are welcome to your opinion but your questions lack any cutting edge. Personally, if an atheist were to come out with these kind of questions I would be only too pleased to discuss it with them. I’m not so sure I have the patience to do the same with fellow believers though!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Barker,

        We meet again! 😊

        Your observations are astute and I find them encouraging. You are thinking as a believer should! The way you feel about my questions is rather similar to the way I feel about Dr. Flowers’ questions:

        The questions all demonstrate a lack of understanding on the part of the questioner, which if it had been an atheist might be understandable but coming from a self confessed former Calvinist is somewhat perplexing.

        Blessings,
        Derek

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  2. Pastor Flowers (and pretty much any non-Calvinist who argues on the “love” of God) borrows heavily from the Universalist. The Universalist argues that God does indeed love all people equally – God loves His enemies – and God will save everyone.

    The Universalist would also conclude, along with Pastor Flowers, that, “Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace.” Thus, the Universalist concludes that God saves even His enemies. If God turns His back on those “who turn from His provision and grace,” what kind of love is that. It is our enemies who turn their backs on us yet we are commanded to love them, so should not God continue to love those who are His enemies and still save them?

    It is Universalism that has God saving babies because they are innocent and the mentally challenged because they are simple and those who never hear the gospel because they never had a chance. Even Pastor Flowers, and the Traditionalists, would think it wrong for God to deny saving such as these (as Harwood’s argument for babies shows).

    The fault of those who hear the gospel and reject it is that of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – thereby incurring death by hearing the gospel that they reject. Paul tells in 2 Corinthians 4, that Satan “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Should not the love of God override Satan and bring unbelievers to salvation. Of course, as some might argue, God gave them their chances and they blew it so they deserve what they get. Even if people do deserve what they get, shouldn’t the love of God still be unsatisfied with anything less than their salvation?

    If one is going to take one’s cues from the Universalist, then take it all the way. If some are to be lost, don’t make it their fault because they weren’t smart enough to know better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Roger – It is interesting that you used the SB translation of 2Cor 4:4. It certainly has a Calvinistic slant. But like most Calvinists you take this verse out of context. Just add the previous verse where the sentence begins to see what I mean – NKJV 2Cor 4:3-4 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

      Paul is talking about his gospel being veiled, the gospel they already heard in Corinth. I even think the NKJV should have translated the ἐν τοῖς in verse 3 as “by whom” and the ἐν οἷς in verse 4 as “by whom”. I believe both phrases point to the activity of those false teachers in Corinth that are countering Paul’s gospel and veiling it in the hearts and minds of those who have not believed yet. “… it has been veiled by those who are perishing, by whom the god of this age has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving (in Corinth) so that the enlightenment of the gospel of the glory of Christ does not shine on them…”

      They “cannot” see the light of this gospel as long as they let Satan use these false teachers to undermine Paul’s gospel which they have already heard. But if they turn to the Lord to seek the truth the veil will be taken away (3:16). That turning is not passive… being turned to the Lord, but active… turning to the Lord. Paul’s appeal in this epistle is to get the believers to see how harmful these false leaders are with their false gospel, veiling the true one.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. My arguments were clearly based on scripture. Where the universalist agrees with the revelation of scripture there certainly may be some overlap but to assume (as you have) that a point can’t be biblical because the Universalists agree with it is fallacious. You need to deal with the biblical arguments that were actually presented. Thx

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  3. This disparagement of the incomparable, unlimited, indescribable love of God, proclaimed repeatedly throughout scripture, and demonstrated in the sacrificial sending of His Son to make atonement for the sins of man, is perhaps the most troubling aspect of Calvinism. All attempts to defend the corrupt ‘love’ of Calvinism’s god are vapid. The indisputable fact is that if Calvinism is true, God’s love is limited, partial, and, frankly, of no value to those whose receipt of such ‘love’ gains them an unavoidable, predetermined eternity in hell. No one is going to spend eternity saying, ‘Oh well, even though I was never granted the chance for forgiveness and eternal life that a select few received; even though I was reprobated before I was born, selected to suffer endless punishment for the same sin that others were freely forgiven forgiven, I did have sunshine and rain while I was on earth, which proves that God loves me as much as he loves those chosen for special treatment.’ All who spend eternity in heaven will endlessly, sincerely proclaim the glories of the love of God that genuinely, mercifully paved the way for forgiveness, restoration and eternal joy. Any who spend eternity apart from God will gnash their teeth in deep regret over spurning the offer of love and forgiveness that was freely, repeatedly made to them in exchange for temporal, selfish pleasure. No honest man would or could love a God that chose to condemn men that he could have saved; who in partiality declared some would live and some would perish, for no other reason that to supposedly display his own glory. All will one day acknowledge that the God who so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that none need perish is just to punish those who deliberately rejected what was freely,graciously offered to them as well as those who received it thankfully. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. Nor does any man, most of whom would do anything to save their own child, have greater love than God. Evil would be the man who bore one child to love and nurture, and another only to punish and destroy so that the loved one could see how ‘great’ his father’s ‘glory’ was. There is no such thing as disposable people; God desires that none of his children perish.

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    1. And, no, God’s sovereignty does not demand that he deterministically control the decisions of his creatures. God is the sovereign Creator of the world, and would have been so whether he had created the controlled robots Calvinism wrongly asserts he made or whether he created men as scripture describes, with genuine reason and freedom to choose. This he did, of his own sovereign will, even knowing that this would lead to the entrance of evil into his otherwise perfect creation and require his own sacrificial intervention. God cannot be painted into Calvinism’s ugly corner, for scripture assures us that he does not desire that any man choose evil or perish in their sin, and he most definitely did not ‘ordain’ any to do so. Nor need any man perish unless they choose to reject God’s loving plan of salvation, laid carefully out in scripture and demonstrated by he who was lifted up so that all men would know of God’s love. How tragic it is that Calvinism masquerades as genuine christianity, blaspheming the true nature of God and corrupting the true message of his gospel, the good news that was given to all men. Whosoever will may be saved.

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  4. As a former one second Calvanist. (I accepted that I was chosen and was driven mad the next minute almost renouncing my faith altogether because all the implications
    that came crashing through) I told my dad that I didn’t want to be chosen. I was ready to go to hell for someone else and how much more did Christ not do for his true enemies when he went to the cross and was separated from the Father. I knew that that was not love and I wqa either programmed to question it or I just did. I almost lost trust in God because of the character He says He is and what he supposedly does in secret. But sanity prevailed in most of my family. My father quickly also had the logic crashing down and my mom never really believed it. My brother became deterministic. It had a big impact on my life. After that he became what I call a logicially challenged determinist instead of a love challenged one. The former being those who claim paradoxes whenever the traditionaliats point out flaws. The latter, like Piper, almost destroying Gods love and making God responsible for the sin of men. So one is logical and untrue and loveless, the other is illogical, more untrue to itself and with implication ,though denied, loveless.

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    1. You represent the minority who think through the logical conclusions of the Calvinist theological system, which inevitably leads to either rejecting the system or the cruel God it depicts. The rest, the majority of those unfortunately exposed to Calvinist indoctrination, memorize the prepared script given them, rote answers that fend off the rational thinking that exposes the hideous (Calvin’s own description) nature of Calvinism’s false god. Only when something propels these persons outside of their comfortable, insular community will they be able to genuinely see and question those things they once convinced themselves must be true because certain revered persons said so. As the infamous King James I, yes, that King James, put it:

      “This doctrine is so horrible, that I am persuaded, if there were a council of unclean assembled spirits assembled in hell, and their prince the devil were to put the question either to all of them in general, or to each in particular, to learn their opinion about the most likely means of stirring up the hatred of men against God their Maker; nothing could be invented by them that would be more efficacious for this purpose, or that could put a greater affront upon God’s love for mankind, than that detestable formulary, by which the far greater part of the human race are condemned to hell for no other reason, than the mere will of God, without any regard to sin; the necessity of sinning, as well as that of being damned, being fastened on them by that great nail of the decree [Calvin’s decree of predestination] before-mentioned.”

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  5. “Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    This throws up a rather interesting link with what Jesus said when he was asked this very same question. It turns out that those who thought they had been chosen and who were part of a privileged elite were in fact the ones who had failed to understand God’s nature. In contrast it was the outsider the Samaritan who demonstrated God’s love by his actions. Jesus was in fact demonstrating that God’s love extends to everyone. Unless of course you believe Jesus was being disingenuous when he said ” go and do likewise”!

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    1. Oh dear, Barker’s Woof, you sound terribly ‘social gospelly’. Don’t you know that Jesus died so that we could just go carelessly on in our sin, or, if you prefer Luther’s version, sin all the more boldly? Why, you make it sound like Jesus is going to say ‘as you did it to one of the least of these’ as if our actions genuinely matter!

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      1. Ha ha. You can do better than ‘social gospelly’ surely. Frankly, I can’t see what you mean either, but given the choice I’d certainly choose Jesus over Luther. I mean, he wasn’t exactly ‘social’ to his neighbours, at least not if they were Jewish! 😮

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  6. Sorry, Barker’s Woof, if my sarcasm was confusing. Calvinists often defend their lack of ‘works’ as a desire to not reduce the gospel to a ‘social gospel’. I believe their conception of justification as being an unconditional, irreversible ‘get out of jail free’ pardon is in error, and Luther’s famous charge to ‘Sin boldly’ to be the logical manifestation of that error. James puts it in perspective, assuring us that although our ‘works’ will not save us, they most definitely will manifest themselves as the result of a genuine relationship with the God of selfless love.

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