A Theological Assessment of 2012 Southern Baptist Statement
What follows is a theological commentary of the recent doctrinal statement penned by Southern Baptist pastor, Dr. Eric Hankins. Already the creation of this document has created quite a stir among Southern Baptists. Jerry Vines, Jimmy Draper, Paige Patterson, Malcolm Yarnell, David Allen, Eric Hankins (the author himself), Mark Howell, Steve Horn, Emir Caner, Adam Harwood and Chris Justice (among others) have already signed the document signifying their approval of its doctrinal content of affirmations and denials (see http://blog.founders.org/2012/05/res...aditional.html). Others within Southern Baptist ranks, understandably, are not exactly exuberant about the doctrines being affirmed or denied in the statement (including Calvinists Tom Ascol and Albert Mohler, Jr.). I have not affixed the preamble of the statement. See links below in order to view the contents independently.
A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation
(Dr. Eric Hankins,
Pastor of First Baptist Church
The first article affirms the universal saving (or salvific) will of God. The language of God having "made" or provided, "a way of salvation" through Christ's redemptive work is pointing us to the potentiality or possibility of salvation for all persons without exception, not its actualization (or universal application) for the world including every single individual. Notice here the concern is not with the benefits of atonement being "secured" for a pre-chosen group, but with the indiscriminate provision or availability of salvation.
Articles of Affirmation and Denial
Article One: The Gospel
that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.
that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.
Genesis 3:15; Psalm 2:1-12; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; Luke 19.10; Luke 24:45-49; John 1:1-18, 3:16; Romans 1:1-6, 5:8; 8:34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 4:4-7; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-16; 2 Peter 3:9
The first article's denial's attack is apparently against double predestination, or more specifically, divine preterition (God's passing over, or withholding of, effectual [saving] grace to the non-elect or reprobate).
There appears to be some ambiguity in the second article's affirmation. By "every person" inheriting "a nature and environment inclined toward sin" does the author of this statement mean to affirm universal inherited depravity? The language in this article, however, to my mind, is not entirely clear as to the author's precise meaning or intent. On the other hand, the assertion, "Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God" points us clearly to personal or actual sins only rendering individuals liable to eternal condemnation. (It should be noted that the language "eternity in hell" does not likely allow for an annihilationist interpretation. Here, then, is an affirmation also of final punishment defined as eternal conscious torment or punishment.)
Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man
that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.
that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
Genesis 3:15-24; 6:5; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 6:5, 7:15-16;53:6; Jeremiah 17:5,9, 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:19-20; Romans 1:18-32; 3:9-18, 5:12, 6:23; 7:9; Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 6:9-10;15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:11-15
Furthermore, this is confirmed in the second article's denial that "Adam's sin . . . rendered any person guilty" apart from personal or actual sins. This is a clear denunciation of imputed Adamic guilt (or "inherited" guilt). The assertion, "While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort," appears to serve as a denial of salvation by works. The conclusion to the statement, "we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel," seems to (even if implicitly) affirm (1) prevenient or enabling grace ("the Holy's Spirit's drawing"); (2) that the grace proffered through the gospel call is resistible (i.e., resistible grace); and (3) the sinner's "free response" is libertarian in nature (i.e, libertarian free will). I believe we will see this further spelled out in subsequent articles below.
Article three's affirmation hardly needs any comment, as it is an unequivocal acceptance of the Western penal-satisfaction theory of the atonement.
Article Three: The Atonement of Christ
that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.
that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.
Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12; John 12:32, 14:6; Acts 10:39-43; Acts 16:30-32; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:10-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-20; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:12-15, 24-28; 10:1-18; I John 1:7; 2:2
The denial in this article again stresses the sinner's "free response" to the gospel proclamation. "We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will," poorly stated and I would ask for careful elaboration by the author as to what precisely his intended meaning is in regard to this statement. "We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved" is clearly a denial of limited (or particular) atonement (the view that Christ's death on the cross secured salvation for the elect alone [those unconditionally chosen to salvation before the foundation of the world]). Though not explicitly stated in this article (though alluded to in the affirmation), by default universal (or unlimited) atonement is implicitly endorsed (the view that Christ died for all persons without exception, though the application is particular [those who receive Christ by faith and repentance alone are justified]).
The primary significance of the fourth article's affirmation is in its assertion of divine "initiative" in the provision of salvation.
Article Four: The Grace of God
that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.
that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.
Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 3:34; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 19:16-30, 23:37; Luke 10:1-12; Acts 15:11; 20:24; Romans 3:24, 27-28; 5:6, 8, 15-21; Galatians 1:6; 2:21; 5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:2-9; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 4:16; 9:28; 1 John 4:19
The denial in this article immediately stresses the "free response" of sinners to the gospel of grace and irresistible (or invincible, "effectual") grace is repudiated.
Some ambiguity could perhaps be alleged in the fifth article's affirmation of the precedence of repentance, faith and regeneration, but is immediately cleared up in the denial: "We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel" (emphasis added). Clearly, the doctrine of regeneration preceding faith is repudiated. Repentance and faith are prior to regeneration.
Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner
that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.
that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.
Luke 15:24; John 3:3; 7:37-39; 10:10; 16:7-14; Acts 2:37-39; Romans 6:4-11; 10:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20; 6:15; Colossians 2:13; 1 Peter 3:18
The sixth article's affirmation apparently (?) endorses conditional election by foreseen repentance and faith. Unfortunately, due to the lack of specificity in this article, we are left to deduce from prior articles in the statement that, as limited atonement and irresistible grace are denied and apparently libertarian free will is affirmed, that the divine election thus spoken of is conditional. However, it may not be the author's intent to totally deny unconditional election or outright endorse conditional election to salvation. Thus the ambiguity may be intentional.
Article Six: The Election to Salvation
that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.
that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.
Genesis 1:26-28; 12:1-3; Exodus 19:6; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 24:31; 25:34; John 6:70; 15:16; Romans 8:29-30, 33;9:6-8; 11:7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:11-22; 3:1-11; 4:4-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 7:9-10
Unfortunately, article six's denial is equally unclear, suffering from a lack of specificity. We are left, however, to deduce from the rest of the articles that the denial is in reference particularly to unconditional reprobation. The denial, then, is that God "[unconditionally (?)] predestined certain people for salvation and others [unconditionally] for condemnation".
The affirmation of article seven points us to absolute divine foreknowledge (or God possessing exhaustive definite foreknowledge [EDF]). God's sovereignty over the salvation of the entire human race is asserted, but the particular exercise thereof is not elaborated.
Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God
God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.
that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.
Genesis 1:1; 6:5-8; 18:16-33; 22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; 1 Chronicles 29:10-20; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Joel 2:32; Psalm 23; 51:4; 139:1-6; Proverbs 15:3; John 6:44; Romans 11:3; Titus 3:3-7; James 1:13-15; Hebrews 11:6, 12:28; 1 Peter 1:17
The seventh article's denial seems to direct us to a repudiation of the notion that God's knowledge must be grounded on his decree. The implication is that God does not necessarily foreordain all things, including who will come to repentance and faith in Christ. Yet it is assumed (based on article seven's apparent affirmation of EDF), that God indeed does know for certain who will and who won't respond savingly to the proclamation of the gospel. So God's knowledge is (at least) partially conditioned on the creature. (Unfortunately, article seven is far too vague in order to spell these doctrines out.)
Here we have it! In the eighth article, an explicit endorsement of human libertarian free will (see comments on "Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man").
Article Eight: The Free Will of Man
that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.
Genesis 1:26-28; Numbers 21:8-9; Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; Esther 3:12-14; Matthew 7:13-14; 11:20-24; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 9:23-24; 13:34; 15:17-20; Romans 10:9-10; Titus 2:12; Revelation 22:17
First, the denial of article eight, in so many words, is that "faith is a gift of God" (at the very least, in the strict Calvinistic sense). Second, this article rejects the distinction of a general/outward call and effectual/inward call of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel (the former "call" not being saving in nature, insufficient for one to respond positively to the gospel in Reformed-Calvinist theology).
In summary, in article nine a form of eternal security (or "once saved, always saved") is affirmed. However, my assumption is that the author of this statement is not endorsing a kind of eternal security where a believer may cease to be a believer (i.e., walk away from the faith) and remain in a state of salvation (as adherents of the Grace Evangelical Society, who deny "lordship salvation"). I take it the belief is that a believer must and will persevere in faith in order to attain final salvation. The possibility of apostasy is explicitly denied in this article.
Article Nine: The Security of the Believer
that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.
that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.
John 10:28-29; 14:1-4; 16:12-14; Philippians 1:6; Romans 3:21-26; 8:29,30; 35-39; 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:12; Colossians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:19; 3:2; 5:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 13:5; James 1:12; Jude 24-25
The tenth article affirms the biblical imperative for worldwide evangelism.
Article Ten: The Great Commission
that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation.
that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 51:13; Proverbs 11:30; Isaiah 52:7; Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:6; Acts 1:8; 4:12; 10:42-43; Romans 1:16, 10:13-15; 1 Corinthians 1:17-21; Ephesians 3:7-9; 6:19-20; Philippians 1:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Article ten's denial apparently is rejecting outright any possibility of the salvation for the unevangelized. This would be a denial of any form of soteriological inclusivism and, by implication, an endorsement of exclusivism (or restrictivism). (This also would seem also to be preclude any option of postmortem evangelism.)
Arminian Affirmations, Calvinist Denials?
Our findings thus far regarding the document ("A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation") above are this: Dr. Hankins' statement is essentially anti-Calvinistic in nature in both its denials and affirmations. Limited (or particular) atonement is explicitly rejected, along with the imputation of Adam's guilt to entire human race. Human beings are liable to condemnation based on personal or actual sins alone. Irresistible grace is denounced, as is a distinction between an inner and outer "calls" with the proclamation of the gospel. Libertarian freedom and resistible grace are affirmed, as stress is made throughout of man's "free response" of repentance and faith to the gospel call. Repentance and faith (the sinner's "free response") precede regeneration. Universal (or unlimited atonement) is implicitly accepted as limited atonement is denied, though unfortunately (to my mind) is not clearly enumerated). Similarly, enabling or prevenient grace seems to be presupposed (though not distinctly spelled out), as grace is presented as resistible and the "drawing" of the Spirit is apparently required in order for one to come to repentance in faith in response to the gospel. Thus far in our review, the affirmations and denials denote a general kind of Arminianism. Somewhat puzzlingly, however, the author denies the possibility of apostasy for those who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, affirming that those who have been saved will never be lost (which is a clear departure from typical Arminian thought). (In other words, those who inherit initial salvation will certainly attain final salvation in glorification.) The penal substitution (or satisfaction) view of the atonement is clearly promoted, along with eternal conscious punishment for the lost. Likewise, a restrictivist (or exclusivist) understanding of salvation concerning the destiny of the unevangelized is endorsed.
Human Depravity, Divine Sovereignty, Foreknowledge & Election to Salvation (?)
Ambiguity, however, remains as to precisely what the nature of the fallen human condition is. Without a doubt, the practical effects of traditional total depravity and total inability are denied throughout the document (either through the affirmation of libertarian free will or denial of irresistible grace). Full-fledged Augustinian original sin, consisting of imputed guilt and inherited depravity is clearly denounced. Article two requires serious elaboration: "We affirm, that because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin . . ." To my mind, it is not entirely clear if Hankins' is assuming all humanity is born with a sinful nature or what exactly he is intending to say here; the language simply is not specific enough. What precisely does he mean?
This issue (i.e., lack of clarity) is one that, in my judgement, plagues much of the document. Too much guess-work is having to be done which we all would have been spared if the articles had simply run the risk of being prolix, as opposed to ambiguous and vague. The lack of precise theological terminology, frankly, becomes irritating. Article seven leaves us with many questions also pertaining to divine sovereignty, how or in what ways God has chosen to exercise his sovereignty in relation to humanity and whether or not (or in what way is) God's foreknowledge is conditioned upon his free will creatures.Furthermore, it is not clear from Hankins' wording whether conditional election or unconditional election to salvation is being affirmed. Unconditional reprobation is clearly rejected and from his essentially Arminian affirmations and denials throughout the document, one would assume the affirmation of conditional election would follow. But, as noted above, could it be that the ambiguity is deliberate (or worse, careless)? We are left with major questions dangling in the air regarding the nature of human depravity or sinfulness and the nature of election to salvation in this statement.
Well, I hope you enjoyed the assessment. What do you think of the above statement? Any fruitful discussion would be welcome, from whatever the perspective. I personally am not a Baptist, but as you can (and I believe will) see, disagreements, discussions and debates are underfoot as the divergence of beliefs among Southern Baptists regarding anthropology, soteriology and the doctrine of God is quite apparent.