Dear Dr. Nettles,

Yesterday I wrote this article in response to a publication authored by Dr. Tom Nettles which called churches to “get a Calvinist Pastor.”  Today I received a response from Dr. Nettles in the comment section that I would like to interact with more fully here.  He begins by responding to one sentence from my article:

Leighton: “I think it is obvious why Nettles did not address any of these actual distinctives of the Calvinistic worldview.” 

Dr. Nettles: Seemingly it was not obvious enough. I don’t think you actually would contend that I have ever hidden the distinctive views of historical Calvinism, but am very glad to state them plainly and defend them sincerely.

Dr. Nettles is correct on this point, I do not believe he would ever hide his own support of historical Calvinistic distinctives. Of course, he is not looking for a job either. In fact, he has become pretty well known in Southern Baptist life as one of the most outspoken defenders of uniquely Calvinistic doctrines. But, we are not talking about the esteemed Dr. Nettles applying for a leadership position at one of our pastorless churches. We are talking about countless unknown pastors being interviewed by countless Pastor Search Committees who are trying to discern which applicant is a good fit for their congregation.

Does the Founders ministry instruct those applicants to “state their distinctive views of historical Calvinism plainly and defend them sincerely” when in the local church?  I will let you be the judge. In a section subtitled “The Quite Revolution” from the Founders website there was an article giving Calvinistic pastors instructions on how to “reform their church” without stirring up suspicions. Here are some troubling quotes from this Founders’ article, which can be downloaded in a pdf by CLICKING HERE:

Practical Suggestions for Local Church Reformation

The following practical suggestions for local church reformation are offered for your consideration. As I mentioned earlier, I learned these lessons the hard way.
Spiritual credibility. Don’t try to reform a church until you have first earned spiritual credibility…
Don’t tackle the whole church at one time. Choose a few men who are sincere, teachable and spiritually minded and spend time with them in study and prayer. They will help you to reform… Avoid terms such as Calvinism, reformed, doctrines of grace, particular redemption, etc. Most people will not know what you are talking about. Many that do will become inflamed against you. Teach your people the biblical truth of these doctrines without providing distracting labels for them.” (emphasis mine) 

 

Richard Coords, of examiningcalvinism.com, asks,

“But why avoid those terms? If they accurately describe your theological beliefs, why conceal it? Sometimes what will happen is that a Church will be looking for a new pastor, and the candidate will conceal the fact that they are aggressive Calvinists, arriving with a secret Calvinist agenda. The result is an eventual Church-split and a lot of heartaches, but the Calvinist will deem any pushback as persecution for doing the work of God.”

A well known Arminian Theologian, Dr. Roger Olson, warns, 

Some Calvinists are attempting to impose Calvinism on Christian organizations that have traditionally been neutral with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism and have included both. They are often doing this under the guise of warding off open theism. Arminians need to band together, in spite of our differences over things like open theism (whether it’s a legitimate evangelical option or not) and push back when this happens. <Beware of Stealth Calvinism!>

So, while we can all rest assured in knowing that if Dr. Nettles himself applies to one of these local churches they will likely already be fully aware of his stance on Calvinistic soteriology, I am not sure the same could be said of all the lessor known adherents to Calvinism who are secretly apart of the Founder’s “quiet revolution.” The point was not to suggest Dr. Nettles is unclear about his particular views on this subject, but that Calvinists in general, when being considered by a search committee, are not always so forthright about their actual distinctives. Dr. Nettles goes on to write,

“As you have properly discerned, I was interested in looking at evangelical doctrines upon which we agree, hopefully. That is why you could identify with each of the points. So I must have been clear on at least that much. My intent was to argue that the synthesis of doctrines historically given the nomenclature of ‘Calvinism’ would more consistently sustain those doctrines than a non-Calvinist system would. You, of course, would argue otherwise and I would be glad to see it.”

I appreciate the clarification of his intentions and once again he is correct in that I would argue otherwise.  And, since he asked so nicely, here we go:

In my last article I already demonstrated why it would be more logically consistent for a Traditionalist to stand against manipulative means than it would be for a Calvinist, but unfortunately Dr. Nettles did not comment at that portion of my article.  Maybe he was glad to see it, but not so glad to respond to it? 😉

Let’s look a few more from Dr. Nettles list of commonly held doctrines:

Inspiration of Scripture: Nettles writes, “Calvinism provides a more consistent rationale for inerrancy than other theological systems. One of the most often repeated objections to the divine inspiration of Scripture is that its assumption of perfect divine control of the process runs roughshod over human freedom and does not give sufficient room to human finiteness or human sin.”

A more consistent rationale? How is it more consistent to defend the uniqueness of divine inspiration by divine control when your system teaches that EVERY BOOK THAT HAS EVER BEEN WRITTEN was sovereignly and unchangeable brought about by an all controlling God for His own glory?

Certainly Nettles believes that his last published book is true, otherwise he wouldn’t have published it. And if he is consistent within the claims of Calvinism he would also have to admit that his book was “sovereignly and unchangeably brought about by God’s divine will.” Therefore, if Nettles is consistent, he must conclude that God sovereignly and unchangeably brought about the writing of truth by his own hands. So, on what basis does Nettles determine which truth is of God and which truth is not? Isn’t it all “of God” under the view of meticulous divine determinism being promoted by Calvinists today?

<NOTE: Before you accuse me of misrepresenting Calvinists as being overly deterministic, please READ THIS>

Traditionalists have a much higher view of God’s inspired truth because we believe it’s authorship was UNIQUELY CONTROLLED by God and that it actually accomplishes the purpose for which the apostles say it was sent, “so that you may believe that He is the Christ and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). On Calvinism, the inspired word of God remains insufficient to enable the lost to respond willingly to it appeals. That seems to be a much lower view of the power of divine inspiration than that which we affirm. 

Maybe Dr. Nettles can explain why God sovereignly ordained the scribal varaints within the manuscript copies we have today without appealing to mistakes brought about by libertarian free will? If the inerrancy of the autographs is so crucial to maintaining the Christian faith wouldn’t it make sense for God to sovereignly and unchangeably preserve those original inerrant documents? Could it be that libertarianly free creatures made errors in transcribing God’s word and that is not something “God sovereignly brought about for his own glory?”

Trinity: Nettles goes on to argue that Calvinists are more staunch defenders of the doctrine of God’s triune nature. Yet, I would suggest that Calvinism, if consistently applied, actually pits Christ the Son against God the Father with regard to His love for all people. Allow me to demonstrate what I mean by this because I realize that is a fairly serious charge. 

Given the biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice” (1 Cor. 13), 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 worse 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? Consistent five point Calvinists cannot claim that God self-sacrificially loves everyone in the manner Christ did, which demonstrates a blatant inconsistency within the Divine Godhead.

Atonement: For the sake of brevity I will refer my reader to Dr. David Allen’s ground breaking book entitled, “The Extent of the Atonement,” in which he more than sufficiently answers the objections brought by our Calvinistic brethren. 

Religious Liberty: Need I point out the unavoidable and troubling conclusion that God sovereignly and unchangeably brought about the lack of religious liberty and the abuses associated with it for generations if Calvinism’s claims are true?

Beyond that, let’s consider at least one of the first stalwart defenders of religious liberty, Balthasar Hubmaier. His contribution is especially significant because of the stark contrast that his soteriological belief had on his faith and practice as compared to that of more Calvinistic leaning theologians of popular renown during his day.

In Geneva, for example, where Calvin ruled, a child was beheaded for striking his parents and his own step-daughter and son-in-law were executed for adultery. Jacques Gruet dared to disagree with Calvin, calling him “ambitious” and a “haughty hypocrite.” Calvin ordered Gruet to be nailed to a stake by his feet where he was tortured until eventually beheaded for “blasphemy and rebellion.”[1] A friend of Calvin, Sabastian Castellio, rebuked his intolerance and cruelty by saying in part, “If Christ himself came to Geneva, he would be crucified. For Geneva is not a place of Christian liberty. It is ruled by a new pope [John Calvin], but one who burns men alive while the pope at Rome strangles them first.”[2]

In contrast, lessor known leaders, like Balthasar Hubmaier, laid the foundation for the Reformation while standing for religious liberty, believer’s baptism and many of the same Christ-like values we hold to today. Before the rise of Luther or Calvin, Hubmaier and others like him, took on the abuses of the Catholic church while defending even the atheist’s right to live in peace. While Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and many other reformers who left Catholicism continued to rely on state powers for the execution of “heretics,” great men like Hubmaier stood for Christian love and respect, even for his enemies, which sounds a lot like Jesus.[3]

Hubmaier was a popular preacher in his day and is said to have baptized around six thousand persons in Nikolsburg alone. Not long after enduring months of torture under the rule of Ulrich Zwingli, for teaching believer’s baptism, Hubmaier and his wife were arrested by authorities and tried for heresy. On March 10, 1528, he was burned alive and three days later his wife was tossed into a river with a large stone tied around her neck.[4]

Hubmaier taught a non-Calvinistic soteriology. Much like Traditionalists today, he believed that it was by the means of the gospel that God takes the initiative in drawing all people to himself. As the gospel is proclaimed, God’s Spirit convicts human hearts and leads them to confess Christ. While God takes the initiative, he does not make the decision for man.  By His “attracting, drawing will . . . God wills and draws all men unto salvation.  Yet the choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion.” [5] According to Hubmaier’s own testimony, his belief that God genuinely loved and desired the salvation of all His enemies influenced his views on religious liberty, arguing “a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer.”[6]

Shall I go on? I would love to tackle the other doctrines on Nettles list and maybe I can in a later article, but for now this much will need to suffice.

In conclusion, I briefly wish to reply to this final comment Nettles made in response to my first article:

“As for your footnote recitations of Calvinist affirmations of crushing providences I can provide several others. ‘This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men’ Acts 2:23; ‘And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.'”(Revelation 17:16, 17)

Let it be noted that Nettles does not seek to contend with the troubling claims of “crushing providences” quoted from notable Calvinistic scholars, such as the first one listed in my footnotes by Desiring God Ministries with John Piper, which says, “God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory… This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child… Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside God’s ordaining will. Nothing, including no evil person or thing or event or deed. God’s foreordination is the ultimate reason why everything comes about, including the existence of all evil persons and things and the occurrence of any evil acts or events.”<link>

Instead of denouncing this quote, Nettles “adds to it” by citing two passages from scripture:

(1) Acts 2:23: “This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men.”

How does a passage that demonstrates God’s working to bring about the redemption of sin by means of Calvary likewise suggest that God brought about all the sins that were redeemed on Calvary? Was God merely working to redeem his own determinations or was he working to redeem our sinful determinations? <more on this HERE>

(2) Rev. 17:16-17: “And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.”

For the sake of time and space I will refer you to THIS PODCAST where I respond to Matt Chandler going through many Calvinistic proof texts, including this one reference by Nettles. I recommend listening to the entire episode to fully understand the context, but if you wish only to listen to the portion where I cover this passage in specific you can fast foward to 33 minute mark. I pray this is helpful.


[1] All of the above information about Geneva can be found in Will Durant, The Reformation, pp. 472-476. Durant cites his sources. See also Calvin’s Geneva: An Experiment in Christian Theocracy – published in The Radical Resurgence and Calvin’s Geneva: Applied Critical Thinking – published in The Radical Resurgence

[2] Quoted in How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West by Perez Zagorin.

Many of the citations and quotes on Luther and Calvin can be found in journal articles submitted by Frank Viola under his series, “Shocking beliefs.” Viola puts these facts in right perspective saying, “The point is not to put the greatest influencers of the Christian faith in a bad light or disregard their legacy. Rather, it’s the opposite. It’s to show that even the most influential Christians who have changed the lives of countless people for good — Calvin [or Luther] being one of them — believed things that were surprising, shocking, and even outrageous. So tread carefully the next time you come across another follower Jesus who doesn’t believe just like you do on every doctrinal point.” Web site accessed: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/

[3] Hubmaier’s treatise, Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524), was the first treatise on behalf of complete freedom of religion produced in the sixteenth century.  He argued that the nature of the gospel precludes coercion and insisted that the state has no jurisdiction in religious matters.  He extended liberty even to law abiding atheists, “It is well and good that the secular authority puts to death the criminals who do physical harm to the defenseless, Romans 13.  But no one may injure the atheist who wishes nothing for himself other than to forsake the gospel.” (Estep, Anabaptist Beginnings, p. 51)

[4] Bergsten, Torsten. Balthasar Hubmaier: Anabaptist Theologian and Martyr. Translated and edited by Irwin Barnes and William Estep. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1978.

[5] Balthasar Hubmaier: Schriften. Edited by Gennar Westin and Torsten Bergsten. (Heidelberg, Germany: Guetersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1962), 322

[6] Hubmaier’s treatise, Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524), 202

 

12 thoughts on “Dear Dr. Nettles,

  1. You really seem to be living a particular situation in the SBC. I wonder how you will all live it out. The existence of two contradictory kinds of theology in the same association is a difficult thing to manage.

    How do we live the unity of Christ in those kind of situations?

    Like

    1. It’s funny, we used to do it fine. We had respect for one another and realized that our views were very different, but we honored our commitment to Christ, loved and respected one another, and didn’t close one another out. Unfortunately there has been a change in the SBC. Southern and Southeastern Seminaries have systematically removed all non-Calvinistic professors with what is known as the Abstracts of Principles. Leaders in our different entities seem to be appointing only Calvinistic leaders. (That may just be a perception and wrong.) And Dr. Nettles is writing entreaties to churches urging them to only hire Calvinistic pastors. You are right that if that mentality continues, we can not continue to exist together. It’s a shame.

      Like

  2. Good responses, Leighton, to this article from Founders. Nettles is advocating deception and arrogance, in my view. Not surprising, however, as Calvinists conflate Calvinism with the Gospel regularly.

    Like

  3. Dr Flowers:

    Once again you have hit close to home for many of us.

    In the country where I serve it is very stealth.

    It first starts with: Don’t you want to honor God? Are you teaching a man-centered salvation by works?

    Horrified people say no and then little by little they learn that Christ did not really die for their neighbor, just the tiny few who meet on Sunday.

    “Christ did not die for their neighbor”… their living neighbor they dont know yet, but the one who just passed away w/o Christ…no! Even though they witnessed to him for years, apparently Christ did not die for him since he never responded. Starts to seem like wasted time, running this fool’s errand.

    Then they move into “we must purify the church” phase. We dont need to in any way make it interesting or attractive!

    Then bring back the old hymnals, beards, and strong stance on most anything.

    The non-TULIP in the tiny churches call for moderation, suggesting to agree to disagree… but NO! we must move forward and reform!

    One by one the tiny churches split into tinier ones….but, alas, that must happen because we must protect our pure doctrine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. These church splits remind me of the story in 1 Kings 3:16-28 – where Solomon reveals God’s perspective via divine wisdom.

      Two parties figures assert their “supposed benevolence” in their relationship to the child (symbolic of the church in this case)

      God puts the two parties to test – cut the baby in half (symbolic let the church be split)

      One party says “Let the baby be cut in half – at least I will get something out of it”
      The other party says “Let the baby live – I will sacrifice all personal rights I have to the child in order for it to have life”.

      Which party resembles the god of Calvinism”
      1) The party who sacrifices all rights over the child so that the child may live.
      2) The party who (as Jonathon Edwards would say) dispose of it for the sake of his glory, that his sovereignty may be made manifest.

      In the scriptural text, the party whose urgency was the well being of the child at the price of personal sacrifice was chosen by God.
      This story flies in the face of the model of god presented as raw unrestrained voluntaristic power we find in classic Calvinism.

      And what we see in church splits brought about by Calvinist ministers, is a parent-ministry happy to cut body in half, in order to get what’s his.

      Like

  4. FROMOVERHERE, it looks exactly the same in America. These are the exact sort of ‘stealth’ tactics used to sneak ‘Calvinist’ theology into unsuspecting churches and into the naive minds of men. They never come right out and acknowledge the foundation of their theology, which they know full well most men always have and always will reject. So they constantly invent new tactics, new ‘threats’ to the church that their ‘orthodoxy’ must fend off. Then, the naive believers who have been successfully indoctrinated, without fully understanding the underlying assertions of their adopted system, run out and preach it to all the world as if it was the actual gospel. It really is no different that the way Calvin played it from the start.

    Like

    1. This does happen, and I have experienced the nuanced way Calvinists, in church, attempt to say they are not Calvinists, while still affirming the doctrines. In fairness, they are not being militant about it, but it is at a minimum disingenuous. The Doctrines are disguised to appear more palatable to the layman.

      Like

  5. I read Dr. Nettles’ article a while back, and I thought it was silly and presumptuous. If anything, it is far more likely for a non-Calvinistic Baptist church to be open to hire a Calvinist pastor than a Reformed church to be open to hire a non-Calvinist one because for whatever odd reason, Calvinists tend to be far more tribalistic than others. Given that that’s a far greater phenomenon, where was Nettles’ article telling those churches, in the spirit of SBC unity, that non-Calvinists also have a high view of Scripture, the Trinity, and God’s sovereignty? Obviously, Nettles’ intent is not so much these other doctrines or beliefs that all conservative Baptists would hold but the spread of Calvinism, which makes his article a bit disingenuous.

    Like

  6. Why did not Dr. Nettles when he told Churches to hire Calvinistic Pastors not also tell the Churches that Calvinism teaches or affirms that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to eternal torment.Why did Dr Nettles not tell the Churches that Calvinism renders a person guilty before he has personally sinned and that a persons free will is incapacitated to respond to God unless God imposes upon him a effectual irresistible grace.And that God is unwilling that all men be saved.John Piper who is a very popular Calvinist said that may even include his sons that God may be unwilling to save.Why did Dr Nettles not tell the Churches that he wanted to hire Calvinistic pastors that Calvinism teaches.that Christ only died for the elect and Christ was not a ransom for all as 1 Tim.2;3-6 tells us.Why did he not tell us that God predestined certain people to salvation and others to eternal damnation before anyone did anything good or evil as Calvinism clearly teaches.I think it is very easy to understand why Dr Nettles would tell Churches to hire Calvinistic pastors but not also tell those same Churches what Calvinism teaches.Because if Dr Nettles told Churches about the doctrines or teachings I just listed that Calvinism teaches.Then those Churches would not hire Calvinistic Pastors

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely correct!!!

      Language is an excellent barometer of Modus operandi!!

      The very fact that observers consistently recognize duplicitous, obscurantism, equivocations, and double-speak – all of which is language designed to mislead people, is a tell tale sign that Calvinists are highly aware of the problems in they have embraced.
      In order to retain that vested interest, their language of subtleties is the tell-tale sign they are also willing to live with a degree of dishonesty.
      In sociology, this model is called “altruistic” dishonesty.

      Like

  7. Hubmaier was the most biblically consistent evangelical reformer in the 16th century… or better… evangelical restitutionist of Christianity back to its biblical foundations.

    And yet the Calvinist wants to say that their deterministic doctrines are clearly taught in Scripture and are important for a Pastor to believe and teach to produce a healthy spirituality in the flock! Their loyalty to so-called scholarship and traditionally defined deterministic “orthodoxy” by state run denominations still seeks to destroy the authority and influence of the clarity of Scripture. They want, imo, to maintain their power and control!

    To them God supposedly uses stealth to hide His real intentions they think are found in His secret will when He reveals Scripture’s universal commands and invitations and verses about things being possible for the future and about His own decision making continuing after creation began. If God uses such wide ranging stealth, they reason, why can’t they use stealth to get a pastoral role in a congregation that would reject that teaching?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s