by Ken Hamrick
This will be a series of informal posts chronicling my quest to understand and engage Jonathan Edwards on the ideas of necessity and certainty, and to establish where Andrew Fuller departed from Edwards’ view. In this, I’m seeking to expand the argument made in the paper, “Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles.”
Edwards defines necessity in the following way:
Philosophical Necessity is really nothing else than the FULL AND FIXED CONNECTION BETWEEN THE THINGS SIGNIFIED BY THE SUBJECT AND PREDICATE OF A PROPOSITION, which affirms something to be true. When there is such a connection, then the thing affirmed in the proposition is necessary, in a philosophical sense; whether any opposition or contrary effort be supposed, or no. When the subject and predicate of the proposition, which affirms the existence of any thing, either substance, quality, act, or circumstance, have a full and CERTAIN CONNECTION, then the existence or being of that thing is said to be necessary in a metaphysical sense. 
He treats necessity and certainty as the same thing Continue reading
by Dr. James Willingham
The ground work or foundation for awakening prayer as well as for the visitation that we call an awakening is to be found in the theology we find linked to the First and Second Great Awakenings and the Launching of the Great Century of Missions as the late historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette called it or the Modern Missionary Movement as it is called today. That theology with few exceptions must be described as Sovereign Grace or Calvinism. The latter term actually diverts attention from the reality that Sovereign Grace is taught in Holy Scripture, and the very term is predicated on the use of the word, “reign,” used in Romans 5:21: “That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Reign or rule, of course, suggests the very idea of sovereignty, the authority and power to demand that things be done with a certainty. Sin abounds. Grace superabounds. The enemy comes in like a flood, and God raises up a standard against him, a counter flood, a greater flood. Like Noah’s flood of old which covered the whole earth, the deluge of grace shall fill the whole earth with His knowledge and glory. The stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth.
Interestingly enough, all of this is to be accomplished not by force but by persuasion Which brings us to the statement from a work which began my journey toward this understanding of God’s design. In his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (the first textbook in theology used at Harvard, so I understand), Dr. John Eusden stated; “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….” That statement was like a light turned on in my mind and heart. Continue reading
The very claim Christians have always made is that at some day God will judge us all. Every.last.one.of.us. The great, last judgment. The question many have against that claim is this: Is it all that simple, that God will save the Christians and all the non-Christians will be banned from God’s good, eternal blessedness?
Yet, I think this one of the great issues of our day — so great it has become politically incorrect (theologically, socially) to talk about a final judgment. No one who fights for justice today can abandon the hope for a final judgment without losing the foundation on which they stand. Two ironies: many who fight for final judgment betray the cruciform God whom they believe in while those who fight for justice too easily surrender the cosmic system of justice found in the final judgment theme. Continue reading →
by Ken Hamrick
The theology of Andrew Fuller, as set out in his greatest work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, is centrally located between those Calvinists who see sinners as walking corpses—no more able to believe than a dead body is able to raise itself from the dead—and those of the other side who see sinners as fully enabled by God’s grace to choose (their will being the determining factor). To Fuller, men are able to believe, but will nonetheless remain unwilling until God does a supernatural work of grace to reverse their unwillingness. Regeneration only causes a man to do what he otherwise could have and should have done but refused. This puts the feet of the universal gospel offer on much more Biblical ground, and removes much of the repugnance of the Calvinist doctrine. The gospel is to be preached to all men because all men do have the ability—and the warrant—to embrace it; and that gospel would save any who do—even the unelect if they would but be willing. Continue reading
God promises grace to battle sin and to overcome sin. We believe that God gives that kind of grace to his people. This is not something we deserve; it is not something he owes us, but he gives it anyway. It is undeserved, the overflow of his love for us.
And we long for that grace—the grace to put sin to death, the grace to bring righteousness to life, the grace to be who and what God calls us to be. Continue reading →
I have expressed my own concerns about reparative therapy on this blog in the past. But Heath Lambert has perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from an evangelical perspective that I have yet seen. He focuses his attention on the work of Joseph Nicolosi and writes,
I am convinced that one of those unbiblical approaches to change is reparative therapy. Reparative therapy (RT) is infamous in the current cultural context. It has received scorn in the media, politics, and psychology. Many people, including Christians, have embraced it because of the promise of change it holds out to homosexual men and women. Continue reading →
The Jesus of the Gospels is offensive because of how inclusive He is.
The Jesus of the Gospels is offensive because of how exclusive He is.
The church is offended by His inclusivity, and the world is offended by His exclusivity.
Thus we are inclined to weaken the offense, either by minimizing His inclusive call or by downplaying His exclusive claims. Unfortunately, whenever we lop off one side or the other, we wind up with a Jesus in our own image.
Instead, we should celebrate both Jesus’ inclusiveness and His exclusivity, for this is the polarity that makes Jesus so irresistibly compelling. Continue reading →
The author lays out a way to witness after churches have lost their cultural privilege.
Interview by Amy Julia Becker/ November 14, 2014
In his landmark 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey challenged fellow evangelicals to act in a way that matches their language and beliefs about grace. He returns to this theme in his latest book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? (Zondervan), updating the call to grace-filled living within a culture whose Christian consensus has frayed. Author and Christianity Today blogger Amy Julia Becker spoke with Yancey about putting grace into action in contexts where Christianity no longer holds sway. Continue reading →
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Every generation of Southern Baptists has the duty to articulate the truths of its faith with particular attention to the issues that are impacting contemporary mission and ministry. The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.
While Calvinists have been present in Southern Baptist life from its earliest days and have made very important contributions to our history and theology, the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Calvinism. Even the minority of Southern Baptists who have identified themselves as Calvinists generally modify its teachings in order to mitigate certain unacceptable conclusions (e.g., anti-missionism, hyper-Calvinism, double predestination, limited atonement, etc.). The very fact that there is a plurality of views on Calvinism designed to deal with these weaknesses (variously described as “3-point,” “4-point,” “moderate,” etc.) would seem to call for circumspection and humility with respect to the system and to those who disagree with it. Continue reading →
by Michael WhiteRonnie Rogers’ paper was published on Friday, 07 November 2014 04:30 at SBC Today.
To be a consistent Calvinist, a person must believe that the Bible teaches God limits His redemptive love toward His creation and that limited love is more reflective of God being the sum of perfect love than God extending His salvational love to all of His creation.
That statement is Brother Rogers’ opening remark. Of course it is just as true that to be a consistent Arminian or a consistent Traditionalist or basically a consistent anything evangelical Christian, one affirms that God does not save everyone.
But herein lies the difference: I, as one who holds to all 5 point of Calvinism, believes that it is the love of God that saves. God’s love is not just an inefficient force that makes it possible for men to save themselves, but is what draws people to God and delivers people from their sinfulness. Continue reading
Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK
To be a consistent Calvinist, a person must believe that the Bible teaches God limits His redemptive love toward His creation and that limited love is more reflective of God being the sum of perfect love than God extending His salvational love to all of His creation. Of course, the perennial problem with the Calvinist’s perspective is the explicit claims of Scripture to the contrary. The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus provides an example of God’s universal salvational love and sets the context for probably the most well-known and beloved verse in the Scripture, which explicitly declares God’s universal redemptive love for all of His creation (John 3:16).[i] I intend to set the context by briefly summarizing vss. 1-13. Then I will note some observations drawn from vss. 14-15. The illustration of vss. 14-15 serves a twofold purpose; first, it provides illumination for properly understanding some of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in vss. 1-13; second, it serves as Jesus’s chosen introductory and illuminative illustration for vss. 16-21. Continue reading →
There is much talk in this modern age of medicine about what to do with terminally ill patients. If you know you are going to die and it’s not going to be a pleasant death, is it ok to take your own life so you can “die with dignity”? I wanted to talk about this concept of having dignity, is it something we should even strive for? What is the deal with dignity?
When you and I came into the world, we did so without a shred of dignity. If you have ever been part or even an observer to the birthing process, you know there are lots of things, but dignity isn’t among them. There is a great deal of nakedness, noise, mess and sometimes some confusion depending on how quickly things go. My kids were are c-section, so it was as dignified as it gets, but all of my kids came into the world the same way. Messy, naked and crying. There is no dignity to the way we enter this world. We have to be cleaned up, clothed and cared for, and the beauty is that as an infant, we don’t care. Continue reading →
Recently, I published a Centrist response to Dr. Tom Nettles’ series of articles on Andrew Fuller. He has replied to that critique, but only in brief comments (one initial and one final). I had hoped he would step up to the task of a substantive engagement. Be that as it may, I will in this rejoinder address his comments and show the continuing inadequacies of his defense.
Dr. Nettles states:
I agree […] that human sin in the fallen state is certain. I also agree that Fuller resisted capitulating to any concept of mechanical, or natural, necessity or impossibility in the issue of sin or, on the other hand, of faith and repentance. I disagree with [Hamrick’s] argument that certainty in the area of moral choice is substantially different from moral necessity. He states, “The philosophical lens of Centrism is that of a determinative certainty. In other words, God determines all things by making all things certain, but not necessary.” Given the entire fabric as to how humans make decisions in light of the inflow of motivations to the understanding, and that it is impossible to demonstrate that any decision ever goes contrary to the prevailing motivation, then how to separate certainty from necessity in this moral realm I must leave to Mr. Hamrick for I cannot do it. He must argue for contra-causal choice, which I don’t suppose he will want to do; or he must say that one’s choice has no cause at all, which will immediately contradict, in both of these cases, our Lord’s description of the human heart as the fountain of all moral choice.
Contrary to Dr. Nettles, in this moral realm, necessity can be distinguished from certainty as surely as sovereignty can be distinguished from justice—as surely as might from right. Continue reading
Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK
This article seeks to address the question: does physical birth demonstrate the Calvinist idea that faith precedes spiritual birth? Calvinists argue that the new birth (regeneration) precedes and provisions faith, whereas I contend that faith precedes and provisions the new birth. Calvinists frequently seek to demonstrate their belief by employing an argument based on the analogy between physical and spiritual birth. They thusly claim that just as man did not contribute to his physical birth, he does not contribute to his new birth; hence, regeneration precedes faith. I find the Calvinist analogy to be both unnecessary with regard to the creation of life and dis-analogous to the relationship of faith to the new birth, which is the point of the analogy.
I find it to be unnecessary with regard to the creation of life, new or otherwise. Here I gladly agree with my Calvinist brothers and sisters that man did not contribute to his human birth (creation), and therefore, analogically, he does not contribute to the new birth, the creation of his new spiritual life. Continue reading →
It is, by far, the most contested of the Five Points. And confusion over the term makes it all the trickier.
“Limited Atonement” is the middle letter in TULIP, but as author and pastor Douglas Wilson explains, that name might give the wrong impression.
“The problem with ‘limited atonement’ is that it makes everybody think ‘tiny atonement.’” And, of course, no good Christian wants to cast the cross-work of Christ as diminutive.
The better term, says Wilson, with a growing number of voices, is “Definite Atonement.” Same doctrine, better name. This way of putting it emphasizes the extent of Jesus’s accomplishment, rather than its restriction.
Dr. David L. Allen | Dean of the School of Theology
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Definite Atonement & the Free Offer of the Gospel.
Piper asserts his belief that the free offer of the gospel to all people is one of the “benefits” or “intentions” of God in the atonement (657-664). Scripture teaches the “free offer” of the gospel to all. But this is not something that the atonement itself “accomplished,” especially on Piper’s view of things. In fact, this is one of the key problems with definite atonement and is one of two main reasons why so many in the Reformed tradition like Bruce Ware (see Part 1) reject it (the other being the exegetical evidence is clearly against limited atonement).
Piper correctly states that Shultz argues one cannot preach the gospel sincerely to all people on the platform of definite atonement: “If Christ did not pay for the sins of the non-elect, then it is impossible to genuinely offer salvation to the non-elect, since there is no salvation available to offer them” (658). Piper takes strong umbrage at this claim. We need to note that this claim articulated by Shultz has been made by many in the Reformed tradition since the days of the ascendency of limited atonement in the late 16th century.
Piper, quoting Roger Nicole, totally misses the point of Shultz’s argument: “if the terms of the offer be observed, that which is offered be actually granted” (658-59). Continue reading →
Dr. David L. Allen | Dean of the School of Theology
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The final chapter in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her covers the subject of preaching and definite atonement. John Piper does the honors. This chapter is a fitting conclusion to the book as Piper attempts to show that preaching definite atonement redounds to the glory of God.
Piper asserts three things as foundational for his chapter:
- The glory of God is the heart of the gospel and the end for which God created the world.
- The central task of ministry and preaching is the magnifying of the glory of God. Every sermon should be expository according to Piper, to which I utter a hearty “Amen!”
- The cross is the climax of the glory of God’s grace.
No qualms here.
Definite Atonement is a Significant Part of the Glory of God’s Grace (637-639).
Piper thinks that the wording of Ephesians1:4-6 and Revelation 5:9 point to definite atonement. Continue reading →
by Ken Hamrick
[13,200 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,” 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. 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
Other Posts in This Series: Part 1; Part 2; Whole Paper.
by Ken Hamrick
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.
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
Other Posts in This Series: Part 1; Part 3; Whole Paper.
by Ken Hamrick
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.
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.” Continue reading