The confusing conversation continues over the recent SBC statement positing a “traditional” view of salvation. Just do a quick search on “SBC traditional statement” and you’ll see a lot of hubbub. Even my blog was read a few times on the issue.
One of the big problems with the so-called “traditional” statement is that it occasionally steps over into Semi-Pelagianism. Some Baptist leaders are notorious for avoiding labels (except “Baptist,” of course). When a conversation comes up about predestination, some will claim Calvinism in the SBC, but the rest often say that they just believe the Bible (an ignorant and arrogant statement, by the way). The truth is, a better label for many in the SBC is Arminian. Now before you get offended, thinking that this is an insult to Baptists–trust me, it is a compliment. You see, an Arminian understands that the human heart is very, very evil and incapable of embracing the Gospel without the Holy Spirit‘s direct influence upon the human heart. The Arminian believes that God positively influences and enlightens the darkened human heart so that it can really see the Gospel for what it is. God helps the heart so it can make a decision it was unable to make before. Now that the heart is enlightened, it is able to accept the Gospel, but the human heart may still choose to deny it. Thus, God enlightens the heart and human ‘freewill’ is intact. If the Gospel is rejected, the unregenerate heart falls back into darkness and again is incapable of trusting the Gospel.
The Calvinist has a different take on this, but agrees that (1) man’s heart is desperately evil and incapable of embracing the Gospel; and (2) the Holy Spirit must engage/influence the human heart so that the man can accept the Gospel.
So when a Calvinist calls a Baptist an Arminian, he’s complimenting him, because the only other alternative is Semi-Pelagianism or worse, Pelagianism. [Well, there’s Molinism too, but I consider that a variation of Arminianism]
The Semi-Pelagian believes that the heart is not incapable of embracing the Gospel, but it is very, very weak. It needs divine encouragement. So in this case, the Holy Spirit stands outside the door of the heart and knocks. You’re eating your evening meal and are agitated, but you get up and answer the door anyway. When you do, the Spirit introduces himself and gives you his best sales pitch to convince you to accept the free gift he offers. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? As the saying goes, “God is a gentleman, and will never make you do something against your will.” And who would turn down a free gift, right? Well, the big problem with that is mountain of scriptural evidence that man is hostile to God (Rom. 8.7; Col. 1.21), his black heart is overflowing with evil (Matt. 15.19; Mk. 7.21-23), he has abandoned God altogether (Rom. 3.9-19) and he is incapable of choosing the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2.1-3). We will always reject God, unless God does some work within the heart. God isn’t selling anything at the doorway of your soul, he invades the heart on a rescue mission. The Calvinist and Arminian both agree on this–that our sinful hearts demand that God take such action. But the Semi-Pelagian really doesn’t think that God has to be that forceful, or that our hearts are really that bad. We’re just weak. That’s all.
It’s that kind of language we find in the SBC statement on “Traditional” salvation, and that’s why many aren’t just disagreeing with it, they’re rebuking it. Consider Article 2:
We deny 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.
There are a few things that bother folks about this statement. One is the brazen denial that man’s free will (that is, the will to accept the Gospel) is incapacitated. Calvinists and Arminians believe the will is truly bound and incapable of responding to the Gospel. God must directly engage the heart , making it able to respond. Only then is there hope.
But that’s what the rest of the article says, right? ‘A sinner cannot respond without God’s help!’ No, it does not say that. It actually says this: “…no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort…” Man can’t do it on his own, he’s too spiritually weak! He needs the Holy Spirit to stand at the door to encourage and convince him of why he needs the Gospel. The Spirit will “draw” one to himself through divine persuasion. Further, “…we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.”
At the very least, Pelagian ideas are given a green light. How much influence does the Spirit have on the person? Is he just trying to sell the gospel to the human heart, or does he transform the human heart so that it can respond to the Gospel? The Arminian and Calvinist both say that your own free will response to the gospel will always be a rejection unless God resituates and repositions the heart, directly affecting it. The Semi-Pelagian denys that this is the case.
So which does the SBC statement affirm? To me and others, it tends to so zealously affirm freewill that it denies that scriptures which make the reality of a completely darkened human heart a non-sequitur. It seems to say ‘The heart is not that evil and hostile to God!’ Both the Calvinist and Arminian find such an idea repulsive.
The rest of the statement seems squarely Arminian. I suggest signers accept this compliment and honestly deal with the Semi-Pelagian language in the document.