Saint Augustine and Southern Baptists (by Jim Gifford)

Dr. Jim Gifford posted this series of articles at SBC Tomorrow. Dr. Gifford states in the introduction: “…In this post and a few subsequent ones, I will try to highlight Augustine’s thinking as it influences Baptist life in the doctrines stemming from his views on God’s providence and nature and grace.” He further describes his thesis:

For our purposes, Augustine introduced some novel ideas into Christian doctrine—ideas that had never been taught by Christians before his time. These include:

  • Meticulous divine providence (God wills all that occurs)
  • Original sin via the real headship of Adam (all humans present and participant in the first sin)
  • Original guilt (eternal damnation spread to all humanity via real-participation original sin)
  • Unconditional election of some to salvation based upon God’s choice alone
  • Irresistibility of the grace of God

That these are Augustinian innovations will be shown in this series of posts. It is rather easily verifiable that no Christian before Augustine ever taught anything that resembled what Augustine and his followers made of these doctrines. One just has to read the Fathers thoroughly and closely and not yield to the temptation (as John Gill did, for example) and read his or her own thoughts back into them.

Of course, I strongly disagree with his assessment and his critique of Augustine. At first, I wanted to do a formal critique of Dr. Gifford’s series; however, after careful consideration and study, I realize that the historical nature of his thesis is beyond my current abilities to properly refute. But I do think his criticisms of Augustine and Augustinianism are important and deserve to be addressed.

Below are links to the entire series:

By reblogging this on SBC Open Forum, I hope to enable a discussion that is free from biased constraints. Feel free to comment below on any part of the linked series. I have contacted Dr. Gifford by email, and he may reply to your comments as time allows.

Ken Hamrick

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5 Responses to Saint Augustine and Southern Baptists (by Jim Gifford)

  1. parsonsmike says:

    As to Dr. Giffords conclusions:

    Meticulous divine providence (God wills all that occurs)
    Original sin via the real headship of Adam (all humans present and participant in the first sin)
    Original guilt (eternal damnation spread to all humanity via real-participation original sin)
    Unconditional election of some to salvation based upon God’s choice alone
    Irresistibility of the grace of God

    The 1st, the 4th, and the 5th do not need Augustinian influence since they are easily shown to be Biblically based.
    The 2nd and 3rd are disputed but the proponents use the Bible, not Augustine to defend their positions.

  2. Ken Hamrick says:

    Mike,

    Did you read Dr. Gifford’s article? If there’s one thing that makes an argument a worthy one, it is substance. A substantive argument, even if wrong, deserves a substantive answer.

  3. parsonsmike says:

    I suppose if substantive means quantity, i would have to disagree with you. Substance built on false premises only needs one to refute the premise.
    Thus his premise is:
    “For our purposes, Augustine introduced some novel ideas into Christian doctrine—ideas that had never been taught by Christians before his time. These include:
    Meticulous divine providence (God wills all that occurs)
    Original sin via the real headship of Adam (all humans present and participant in the first sin)
    Original guilt (eternal damnation spread to all humanity via real-participation original sin)
    Unconditional election of some to salvation based upon God’s choice alone
    Irresistibility of the grace of God”
    If the Bible teaches any of these points, and it does some, then it is pure imagination to conclude that Augustine was the first to teach these. What he means is that according to his research [and/ or others] he can find no one who has taught these truths before Augustine.
    But who needs Augustine to prove, for example, meticulous divine providence?

    His basic premise is fraught with uncertainty and error. Therefore no substantive reply is needed.
    So Ken, have you found historical proof that others taught any of these things before Augustine, or do you agree with his premise?

  4. parsonsmike says:

    Augustine has no more authority than Ambrose or Tertullian or Calvin or any other divine whether from the early church fathers or since. They are fallible men who all made mistakes. Real authority resides in the Scriptures as the Spirit enlightens.

    We read in one place: But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

    In another: I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

    And still in another: These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

    And again: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

    Thus the premise that many in the west have a skewered understanding of truth because they agree somewhat with a certain man is a false premise.

    Likewise a false premise is that all truth was revealed in the years of the early church fathers. Certainly the canon is closed and was closed then, but still we read:
    Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For
    “All flesh is like grass,
    And all its glory like the flower of grass.
    The grass withers,
    And the flower falls off,
    But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
    And this is the word which was preached to you.

    And as the church matures, so too should its understanding for we read: but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

    The Word is not stagnant but alive. God grows the church.

    Does this mean that every thing Augustine said was true? Of course not. Thus it is an overreaction to throw out western theology because Augustine was imperfect. And how do we know he was wrong at times? Because we study the Word of God and see his errors.
    Now how does Mr. Gifford know Augustine is wrong? Does he know it only because other men of old disagree with Augustine or does he know it because he knows the Word of God and can point out the man’s errors?

    Well if the former. than Mr. Gifford is in a no better place than those he decries who follow Augustine.
    Of the latter, then if men can study the Scriptures and find the errors, then they can study the Scriptures and find the truth.

    If Mr. Gifford shows by proper exegesis that the Bible has God not willing all that occurs, or any other point he disagrees with Augustine on, let him produce his study and those that disagree with him can debate with him as to the truth. Otherwise, there is no merit in his study.

  5. Regarding Divine Omnipotence, would it be incorrect to say that God’s providential governance of the natural universe includes the superintending function of Natural Law of which God is the sole Author and Director. For example, the Laws of Physics govern the movement and action of mass and energy in the universe, Genetics govern the heredity of traits among living organisms, etc. Now, to be abundantly clear this Universe had a beginning before which it did not exist except in the mind of God and in which God spoke and everything came into existence – including these Natural Laws. God, as the Author of these Laws and this Universe is the final Authority Who can and does override these Laws from time-to-time (e.g., miracles) but the normal and usual occurrence is that all things function under and within these Natural Laws.

    Man was created as a free moral agent with the capacity and freedom to make genuine choices – even choices that are contrary to the expressed will of God – hence the Fall. Though man is free to choose, nevertheless God can and does on occasion overrule man’s freely exercised choice so that His ultimate will is accomplished but that is God frustrating the will of man – not causing it or eradicating it. Man’s ability to necessarily work out his choices is limited – first because he is a creature and under a Sovereign, and second because the Fall has in fact affected his ability to work out his choices or perhaps even see the wrongness of them but that is a different thing I think than Augustine’s bondage of the will and God being the cause of every choice.

    Precisely because God IS sovereign and omniscient, He uses even the sin of His creatures to bring about His desired will (Romans 8:28) so that as creatures created in His image with a will and reason, we can choose to disobey His Law but even in so doing He still works the actions of our sinful free will to eventually accomplish His Perfect Will. In my estimation that actually is a higher view of God’s sovereignty that simultaneously allows for man’s real and free will.

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