Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles (Whole Paper)

Andrew Fuller

Andrew Fuller

[9100 words...] The focus of the debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists returns ever more often to Andrew Fuller. His theology is ideally suited to bringing the two closer together—not merely by a spirit of cooperation, but closer in doctrinal view—the usual argument over his meaning notwithstanding. There is indeed a middle ground, and it is more Biblical than either side alone. It simply needs to be well articulated, and Fuller is as articulate as they come. It is true that Fuller thought of himself as a standard Calvinist; but his arguments go well beyond Calvinism and toward the center with a Biblical depth and penetrating clarity that has given his writings great value across the last two centuries. Of course, Calvinists want to proudly include this bright light in their number, since he defeated the Hyper-Calvinism of his day and was instrumental in founding the Baptist Missionary Society. But to do so, they must paint over those differences in which he shined the brightest.

Dr. Tom Nettles, a Calvinist and professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted a series of articles on Fuller, at the Founders Ministries blog. Having “taught on Fuller for three decades,”[1] Dr. Nettles seems to have been prompted to post these latest articles by the prospect, offered by Traditionalists, that Fuller’s teachings can be used as a bridge by which Calvinists can become Non-Calvinists.[2] As a Baptist Centrist (one who holds to both unconditional election and the freedom of men to “choose otherwise”), I see Fuller as a bridge by which both sides can gain a better understanding. Continue reading

Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles, Part 3 of 3

Andrew Fuller

Andrew Fuller

Other Posts in This Series:      Part 1;       Part 2;       Whole Paper.

In his second installment, “Fullerite: Doctrine of Inability,” Dr. Nettles’ fundamental misunderstanding of Fuller is seen in how he has taken some of Andrew Fuller’s sentences out of context, and turned them around to imply what Fuller actually was teaching against:

In answering both the hyper-Calvinists and the Arminians in The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation, Fuller pointed out that both believed that “it is absurd and cruel to require of any man what it is beyond his power to perform.” In their ardent desire to steer clear of each other, they finally concur in their attitude toward duty and grace—where there is not grace, there is no duty. “The one [hyper-Calvinists] pleads for graceless sinners being free from obligation, the other admits of obligation, but founds it on the notion of universal grace.” Fuller carefully distinguished, as he did in his earlier confession, between natural inability and moral inability, and asserted that the “inability of sinners is not such as to induce the Judge of all the earth . . . to abate in his demands. It is a fact that he does require them, and that without paying any regard to their inability, to love him, and to fear him, and to do all his commandments always.” Both hyper-Calvinists and non-Calvinist-partial-Arminians find this assertion to imply some kind of contradiction, or at [least] impose on any normal sense of fairness. In spite of all the rantings and reasonings against him and his view, however, Fuller continued to affirm both the absolute moral inability of man and the remaining duty of perfect obedience and cordial love to God and consequently a belief in the gospel.[29]

This axiom, that “it is absurd and cruel to require of any man what it is beyond his power to perform,” is not what Fuller argues against (as if only the hyper-Calvinists and Arminians held to such a thing) Continue reading

Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles, Part 2

Andrew Fuller

Andrew Fuller

 
Other Posts in This Series:      Part 1;       Part 3;       Whole Paper.

It will be helpful, prior to addressing further differences with Dr. Nettles, to establish what Andrew Fuller means by his distinction between natural and moral inability. Speaking of himself in the third person, in the preface of Gospel Worthy, Fuller explains that he was introduced to the difference between natural and moral inability by studying Jonathan Edwards:

He had also read and considered, as well as he was able, President Edwards’s Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will, with some other performances on the difference between natural and moral inability. He found much satisfaction in this distinction; as it appeared to him to carry with it its own evidence—to be clearly and fully contained in the Scriptures—and calculated to disburden the Calvinistic system of a number of calumnies with which its enemies have loaded it, as well as to afford clear and honourable conceptions of the Divine government.[10]

Fuller’s adoption of this distinction does not establish that he adopted the theology (and philosophical baggage) of Edwards in toto. It would beg the question if one were to argue, that because the meaning of Edwards carries a certain nuance and philosophical bent, then Fuller’s meaning must carry the same. To understand Fuller, we must look to Fuller and how he understood this distinction.

The main difference between moral inability and natural inability, to Fuller, was that in natural inability, one is unable no matter how much one might be willing; whereas, moral inability consists only in one’s unwillingness due to “an evil bias of heart.” Natural inability is “the want of natural powers and advantages,” while moral inability is merely “the want of a heart to make a right use of them.”[11] Continue reading

Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles, Part 1

Andrew Fuller

Andrew Fuller

 
Other Posts in This Series:      Part 2;       Part 3;       Whole Paper.

The focus of the debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists returns ever more often to Andrew Fuller. His theology is ideally suited to bringing the two closer together—not merely by a spirit of cooperation, but closer in doctrinal view—the usual argument over his meaning notwithstanding. There is indeed a middle ground, and it is more Biblical than either side alone. It simply needs to be well articulated, and Fuller is as articulate as they come. It is true that Fuller thought of himself as a standard Calvinist; but his arguments go well beyond Calvinism and toward the center with a Biblical depth and penetrating clarity that has given his writings great value across the last two centuries. Of course, Calvinists want to proudly include this bright light in their number, since he defeated the Hyper-Calvinism of his day and was instrumental in founding the Baptist Missionary Society. But to do so, they must paint over those differences in which he shined the brightest.

Dr. Tom Nettles, a Calvinist and professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted a series of articles on Fuller, at the Founders Ministries blog. Having “taught on Fuller for three decades,”[1] Dr. Nettles seems to have been prompted to post these latest articles by the prospect, offered by Traditionalists, that Fuller’s teachings can be used as a bridge by which Calvinists can become Non-Calvinists.[2] As a Baptist Centrist (one who holds to both unconditional election and the freedom of men to “choose otherwise”), I see Fuller as a bridge by which both sides can gain a better understanding. Continue reading

Does Your Anchor Hold Within the Veil?

Heb. 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil…” (NKJV)
Col. 1:27, “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (NKJV)
1 Cor. 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (NKJV)

To hear that someone we thought of as a brother in the Lord—a pastor, a teacher of sound doctrine and a contender for the faith—has now renounced his faith… well, it weighs on my soul, as I’m sure it does with many of you. So we bring this burden before the Lord, praying for this man’s salvation. But we can’t help asking with exasperation, how could this happen?!  Continue reading

LORD and SAVIOR: The TRUE GOSPEL JESUS

Jesus is both the Lord of all, and the Savior of all who believe. He is not just Lord of those who believe, but he is Lord of all those who do not believe. Understanding His role as Lord as we proclaim the Gospel can help us better understand the Gospel and help make us more appreciative of our roles as His witnesses.

And His witnesses we are to be for he told His disciples that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

Now as His witnesses, we are to witness to Him as He is, both to us, and to those we are witnessing to. Taking our cue from both Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in Romans 1, we see how to do this, first Peter in Acts 2:

This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at My right hand,
35 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’

36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

To the religious Jew, the Lord was Jehovah. Peter had already directly referred to God as Lord in verse 20 where he spoke of the great and glorious day of the Lord in quoting the Old Testament. Also in verse 21, where he again quoted the OT and declared that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. And then again Peter quoted from the Scriptures in the above quoted passage, where a little part of the mystery of the Trinity is revealed. The point is that Peter used the same word to describe both Jehovah and Jesus. Continue reading

Interesting Series on Andrew Fuller by Tom Nettles

What Do Southern Baptists Believe about Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Salvation?

by Charles L. Quarles
Former Vice President for the Integration of Faith and Learning
Former Dean of the Caskey School of Divinity
Former Carter Research Professor of New Testament and Greek
Louisiana Baptist College

Over the last several years, discussions about divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation have intensified in our Southern Baptist context. Labels like “Calvinist,” “Arminian,” and “semi-Pelagian” have been tossed around, often too freely, and this has brought more confusion than clarity to important doctrinal discussions in which we cannot afford to leave room for misunderstanding. I have always resisted these labels. My experience is that people define them in very different ways. My refusal to accept any of the above labels is not prompted by any desire to deceive others or to hide my views. I refuse to accept the labels simply because the issues are too important to leave room for being misunderstood by someone who is using a different “dictionary.” Continue reading

God’s Infallible Foreknowledge

Dear Reader,
This blog post is for those Christians that believe God sees/knows the future. It assumes that you also believe that is so. Of course,all are welcome to read this and respond in any way they see fit and proper.

Continue reading

To Moderators of Public Forums: Power & Rights are NOT Synonymous

Moderators of public forums, take note: rights do not come from having power but from being in the right. While you may have the power to delete all comments that threaten your position, you do not have the right to do so. Deception is immoral; and maintaining the false image that your forum allows dissenting opinion and discussion (as long as the comments remain friendly and decent), while deleting posts merely because they oppose your position—underhandedly, or without publicly posting your actions—puts you in the wrong. If you want to have biased discussions where toleration of dissent is limited or nonexistent, then declare that plainly in your rules. Continue reading

Beyond Traditionalism: Reclaiming Southern Baptist Soteriology

Ken Hamrick:

In light of the SBC Today article by Eric Hankins, posted yesterday, “Savability: Southern Baptists’ Core Soteriological Conviction and Contribution,” I thought it would be a good time to repost this paper.

Originally posted on SBC Open Forum:

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Toward Theological Reconciliation: Atonement

What you will find below is neither an argument for the Calvinist view nor one for the Traditionalist view of atonement. Both ends of the spectrum have been asking the wrong questions, and the best perspective transcends that old debate. By emphasizing that Christ stood in our place, the debate has perpetually turned on the question of whose place Christ stood in—all or only some? But what has been missed by such an emphasis is that Christ stands in us—and until He stands within a sinner through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, nothing that He did is considered to have been in that sinner’s place. Christ’s death was not an immediate transaction of atonement regarding the sins of those for whom His death was intended to atone, but is instead a universally suitable, one-for-one substitution that must be applied through spiritual union with Him by faith. Continue reading

Recent Fiat Creationism: Rendering Evolution & Old-Earth Evidence Irrelevant

This article was written to answer the questions, “What if evolution were proven to be true? How would that affect your faith?” 

One of the best ways to defeat an opposing argument is to render its evidence irrelevant—establish that even if their evidence is accepted for the sake of argument, your position remains intact. Of course, this is rarely possible. But when it comes to defending a recent fiat creation (RFC), rendering the evidence for evolution and an old earth irrelevant is indeed possible, as we will see below. While I do not accept the theories and conclusions of evolutionists, I think it could be instructive to show how the RFC view remains solid even if the evolutionary evidences are given as true. Continue reading

Serious Reservations About the Global Faith Forum

The 2013 Global Faith Forum (GFF) was concluded Nov. 16, and was held at the NorthWood Church in Keller, TX, where the senior pastor, Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr., founded and leads the movement. I was unaware of such a forum until Dr. Joel Rainey, Director of Missions at Mid-Maryland Baptist Association and a panelist at the GFF, published his glowing support in a recent article on SBC Voices, entitled, “Talk With the World, Not Just About It: Reflections on the Global Faith Forum.” I found Dr. Rainey’s article to be somewhat troubling, and I registered my initial objections in the comments section. In the discussion that followed, I was driven to look further into this movement and its teachings.

Hoping to find that my misgivings were unjustified, I instead found them reinforced rather frequently as I watched many of the videos of the forum that are available Continue reading

How Long Will You Falter Between Two Opinions?

1 Kings 18:21 NKJV, “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.

If the Lord is a God of supernatural actions, then believe Him; but if not, then in whom do you believe? For all of us who claim to believe in Christ, this issue should have been settled beyond all question at the empty tomb. Continue reading

Southern Baptists Need Their Sovereign Grace Heritage (by Dr. James Willingham)

“Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….” In 1972 that statement by Dr. John D. Eusden in his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ The Marrow of Divinity focused my attention like a salmon fixes the eye of a soaring eagle. Continue reading

A Compatibilistic View of Regeneration (Intro)

Regeneration is perhaps the most difficult topic to be debated between the opposing views, due to the intertwining of such topics as spiritual death and life, depravity, rebirth, faith, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc. Call me an optimist, but I still see the potential for fruitful discussion. Continue reading

The Missing Balance in Calvinism

Any time that some truth which is held in balance in God’s word is given an emphasis on only one side, then misunderstanding and error result. It is true, as the Calvinists emphasize, that election in eternity past is unconditional. But the neglected Biblical balance is this: salvation in this temporal world is conditional, and God blesses no one with the saving, justifying, regenerating, life-giving union with Christ until they drop their rebellion, humble themselves, and come in genuine, repentant, fully surrendered faith. It is true, as the Calvinists emphasize, that faith is the gift of God; but it is just as Biblically true that faith is the requirement of God for salvation. Continue reading

Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism: A Response to J.W. Wartick

“Young Earth” creationism (YEC), as part of the Christian faith, stands on certain presuppositions, such as the existence of God and the divine, verbal inspiration of Scripture. The kind of apologetic argument that acknowledges that such presuppositions are assumed, and does not attempt to prove them, is presuppositional apologetics. Continue reading

Compatibilism: A More Immanent Grace

Immanence is mostly forgotten as an attribute of God and a method by which He works in the world. Calvinists and Traditionalists argue over the limits of God’s transcendent acts of grace and the limits of men without such transcendent grace. Both sides, it seems, have a presupposed agreement to frame the debate around a transcendent grace, while the solution sits dust-covered in the theological closet. Continue reading

How We Lost the High Ground: The Delegitimizing of Christian Truth Claims

As we approach 2014, Christianity is under attack as never before in this country. These are troubling times. The evangelical Church has always been in the minority, and the world has always been opposed to the Church; but, here in America, at least, the world seemed to tolerate the Church Continue reading

The Necessity of Good Works

Originally posted on Revcort's Ramblings:

After the Protestant Reformation, there were 5 major tenets of faith  which emerged to help explain what the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wycliffe, Tyndale, et al) were protesting about the Church of their day. These have come to be known as the 5 Solas of the Reformation. They are: Sola Scriptura (by Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (by Faith alone), Sola gratia (by Grace alone), Sola Cristus (through Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).

Over the nearly 500 years since the time of the Reformation, many of these ideas have come to mean things that were unintended by the Reformers. One of those thoughts is a combination of Faith alone and Grace alone teachings. The Reformers taught that it was by grace alone and through faith alone that a person comes to Christ. They were protesting against the concept of meritorious works, which teaches that…

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How was worship Sunday?

Originally posted on Revcort's Ramblings:

Please, pardon my title. It is an attempt to capture the shallow thinking of our time when it comes to weekly worship gatherings. “How was that sermon?” “Oh, it was great! Our pastor can really bring down the house! He’s such a good speaker!” “The worship was so good today. Those songs are such a blessing to me! Our praise band just knows how to minister to us, don’t they?” I wonder what would happen if the Apostle Paul came to preach in one of our churches next week? I fear he’d be ashamed of much of what he would see and his approach to preaching might not fly. I feel many would leave thinking he was not too impressive. Many in Corinth thought the same thing of him: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.’”…

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Insurmountable Problems with the Angel-Human Hybrid Theory of the Nephilim

This is an article from my archives of 2011.

Ordinarily, I would avoid topics such as this, which are a kind of “tabloid theology” for those obsessed with such things.  But this particular issue has grown in such popularity and its speculative errors are propagated with such tenacious authority that a voice of reason is desperately needed.  Continue reading

The Lost Doctrine of Suffering

Originally posted on Revcort's Ramblings:

When I read the Scriptures, I can’t help but notice a common theme throughout that seems to be lost in American Christianity today. The theme is “the necessity of suffering.” I might have also said, “the benefits of suffering.” No matter how you state it, it’s very clear that Jesus and His Apostles taught clearly that suffering is an expected part of the Christian life. Now, before I write another word, I want to mention something very important here. Some have taken this concept of suffering in Scripture and become almost obsessed with the notion, even going so far as to inflict pain upon themselves in order to somehow increase God’s blessing. The entire idea of purgatory that is taught in some circles is based around some similar thoughts. The idea is that we are purged of sin and uncleanness through suffering. Therefore, if we have not suffered enough in…

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God’s Sovereignty in Evangelism

Originally posted on Revcort's Ramblings:

I’ve been reading through J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and came across a section of the book that beautifully sums up what God has been working in me in recent years regarding our evangelistic efforts and tools. Here is the excerpt:

“While we must always remember that it is our responsibility to proclaim salvation, we must never forget that it is God who saves. It is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: it is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument. We must not at any stage forget that. For if we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the Gospel is preached…

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How Much of Christ’s Suffering and Death Did YOU Owe?

I owed it ALL. ALL of His blood was needed to wash away my sin alone. I cannot look to His cross and say that only one stripe on His back or only one drop of His blood was for me—He suffered my penalty and all of it was for me. So how is there any left over to save you? Continue reading

Who is Guilty of Adam’s Sin? A Centrist Response to Adam Harwood, Part 3 of 3

Part 2 can be found here.

Dr. Harwood rightly advises,

We don’t want to build a theological system on a single text. Continue reading

The Only Hope for Rebels

By Pastor Alan Davis

Imagine a good king who is asked to forgive a rebel who has rebelled against his kingdom. The king asks if the rebel has a desire to quit his rebellion and pledge allegiance to the king. The answer is no; the rebel wants a pardon for his crimes but will not quit the crimes nor pledge allegiance to the king. Continue reading

Who is Guilty of Adam’s Sin? A Centrist Response to Adam Harwood, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

By dismissing as insignificant the Augustinian principle of a spiritual participation of all men in Adam’s sin, Dr. Harwood (with agreement of both Calvinists and Traditionalists) discards that which offers the most hope for bringing Southern Baptists closer together (and closer to the Biblical truth) on this issue. Continue reading

Who is Guilty of Adam’s Sin? A Centrist Response to Adam Harwood, Part 1

Adam Harwood spoke at the 2013 John 3:16 Conference, and the paper he presented there is available on the conference e-book at SBC Today. Like Dr. Harwood, I deny that anyone is born condemned for Adam’s sin; but unlike Dr. Harwood, I find in Scripture such a real union of mankind in Adam as to justify the inheriting of all the temporal penalties for Adam’s sin, including the spiritual death and depravity that all are born into Continue reading

Southern Baptists and The Numbers

Years ago, when I was a student in Dr. J.P. Dane’s Church Administration class at Grand Canyon University, which was then a Southern Baptist-related school, he made a statement that I will never forget.

“Southern Baptists are intoxicated by numbers.” Continue reading

The Certitude of Christian Faith

We know with certainty that the facts about God and Christ, as testified in Scripture, are true by revelation, and we accept (or embrace) that truth by faith. We can choose to accept by faith what God has revealed, or we can choose to deny by unbelief what God has revealed. Continue reading

Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 8 (Final): Unifying Propositions on Determinism

See all the posts in the series, Toward Southern Baptist Unity»

The area in which Calvinists and Libertarians are farthest apart is that of determinism. Yet, as we have seen in other such areas, the root of this disagreement can be found in a single faulty premise upon which both sides agree. In this case, it is the premise that if God meticulously controls the events and actions of men, then such divine determinism eliminates all alternative possibilities (and thus “freedom to do otherwise”) for men. This premise is false; and once it is eliminated, there is much room for agreement, by which the two sides can be brought closer together. Continue reading

Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 7: Unifying Propositions on Atonement

See all the posts in the series, Toward Southern Baptist Unity»

There is much room for agreement on atonement… and misunderstandings to avoid on all sides. Libertarians (both Traditionalists and Arminians) can find unexpected common ground even with a Reformed theologian, such as Charles Hodge Continue reading

Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 6: Unifying Propositions on Regeneration

See all the posts in the series, Toward Southern Baptist Unity»

There are two profound changes that happen to a man as he is converted: first, the man is changed from a man who hates God to a man who is ready to repent and turn to God (this is what the Calvinists focus on—how profound it is that a man who shakes his fist at God becomes a man on his knees at the altar!); and second, God responds to the man who turns from his sin and justifies him, indwelling him with the Holy Spirit and bringing life back to his spirit (this is what Libertarians tend to focus on—the “new creation,” being “born again” and restored to communion with God). Continue reading

Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 5: Unifying Propositions on the Inability of Sinners

See all the posts in the series, Toward Southern Baptist Unity»

At every point of doctrinal disagreement between Calvinists and Libertarians (both Traditionalists and Arminians), there are Biblical propositions that can pull the two sides closer together without leaving the moorings of their particular theology. Continue reading

Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 4: Discarding the Faulty Premise that Divides

See all the posts in the series, Toward Southern Baptist Unity»

The Southern Baptist Convention is unique in its composition of a wide range of approaches to the doctrines of salvation. As was shown in Part 3, the basic presuppositions of Calvinists and Libertarians (Traditionalists as well as Arminians) are seemingly irreconcilable; and yet, these groups have found enough on which to agree that we as a convention have remained unified for a very long time. Continue reading