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Discussion Forum : Scriptures and Doctrine : Who is the Enemy?

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 Who is the Enemy?

By JAMES A. SMITH SR.

"The Son of God came down from heaven on missionary assignment 'to seek and to save that which was lost' (Luke 9:10). He came to show the Father (John 1:18) and to reveal how all of Scripture is fulfilled in Him (Luke 24). No man ever spoke or taught like our Lord. He saw no dichotomy between being a passionate evangelist and a committed theologian, and neither should we."

To all of which I offer a hearty, amen. (For more on the meeting, see page nine in this issue. Audio of all of the presentations offered by opponents and advocates of Calvinism can also be found online at: www.lifeway.com.)

It's only appropriate that in addressing such a controversial subject I put my own theological cards on the table. I expect that some will be disturbed by what I have to say. I don't ask for agreement, but merely a careful reading.

As this is not an editorial on the tenets of Calvinism, I will not rehearse the specifics of that doctrinal formula here. I believe the five points of Calvinism best explains God's work of salvation, although I hold loosely to limited or particular atonement, finding the case for it to be the least convincing. I do not put a man, Calvin, above Scripture, and I certainly do not agree with all that Calvin taught. After all, I'm a Baptist—which, by the way, is not historically inconsistent with a Calvinistic understanding of the doctrine of salvation.

More important to me than how many points of Calvinism we hold is the answer to this simple question: in the end, am I responsible for my salvation, or is God? I believe, as indeed I believe virtually every Baptist would have to agree, that "salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). Without God acting first there would be no salvation of any person. In my view, the rest is just details.

I'm convictionally a Baptist Faith and Message Calvinist. I embrace without hesitation its doctrinal affirmations in Article IV on Salvation and Article V on God's Purpose of Grace. As Akin said, "The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a well-constructed canopy under which varying perspectives on the issue of Calvinism can peacefully and helpfully co-exist."

I enthusiastically affirm and aspire to live up to Akin's challenge: "I believe significant headway can be made as we depart from this conference if, in heart and confession, it can be said, I am a 'Carey Calvinist.' I am a 'Judson Calvinist.' I am a 'Spurgeon Calvinist,'" referring to the great Baptist missionaries and evangelist/preacher who were five-point Calvinists. Akin continued, "I am a Calvinist who embraces with my whole being our Lord's command to take the Gospel across the street and around the world. Anything less puts a person outside the camp of Southern Baptists. It is to deny our heritage and misunderstand our identity. It is to neglect Christ's command, disobey his last words, and miss the promised blessing that attends all who take up this holy assignment."

I do not offer these brief comments to be an advocate for Calvinism, for I am not. Instead, I do so as a matter of integrity. The reader has the right to know my own views on a controversial subject since I willingly choose to address it, even though I'm not doing so to promote that position but am instead addressing how Southern Baptists ought to debate the issue.

Florida Baptists can rest assured that there is no Calvinist agenda here. It has taken me nearly seven years as Witness executive editor to write an editorial about Calvinism - and I hope there isn't another for at least as long. The Witness will continue to be a newspaper that welcomes both sides of this debate and will continue to carefully report the matter—not to stir controversy, but to fulfill our duty "... to justly report news, events and features of general interest to Florida Baptists. Such reporting necessitates the inclusion of news generated by controversy," as our Statement of Editorial Policy stipulates.

Reporting on the Calvinism debate for me is like the faithful expository preacher that I love to hear and aspire to be. Such a preacher simply preaches the next text of Scripture—verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, book-by-book—faithfully exposing the Word of God to his people and letting the Holy Spirit do His work. Every sermon is not about a theological or political or moral pet peeve, but is merely what God discloses in that text.

Such is the duty of the Witness. We have a responsibility to report the important matters of discussion in Southern Baptist life—not obsessed with certain pet peeves, but faithfully reporting the next "text"—issue-by-issue, event-by-event, movement-by-movement allowing good Southern Baptists to have the information they need to make wise decisions.

Any regular reader of this column would know that I recently lost my Dad after a relatively brief illness and in a manner that was quite unexpected. His death has affected me profoundly—there's not a day, sometimes not a waking hour, that goes by in which I don't think about him.

Dad and I did not agree on Calvinism. But he and I never allowed our disagreement on even such an important theological matter to change our relationship because we were family. If he and I disagreed on the nature of Scripture or even more critically on the deity, resurrection and/or the exclusive nature of salvation in Jesus, I would have been obligated to strenuously disagree with him and attempt to persuade him of his error, knowing that eternity hung in the balance. Indeed, I would have even been duty-bound to break my fellowship with him if I was required to choose him or Christ (Matt. 10:32-39). Of course, he still would have been my father and I his son, but our relationship would have been merely biological kinship. Thankfully, we enjoyed a wonderful relationship unaffected by our disagreement on Calvinism.

I recognize the analogy is not perfect, but it does seem helpful to me in the Southern Baptist Calvinism debate. One-point Calvinists all the way to five-point Calvinists really are part of the same family—and virtually every Southern Baptist is some sort of Calvinist, whether or not they recognize it. At the very least, we ought to act like we're part of the same family, granting love and tolerance for each other where we disagree on matters that are not contrary to Scripture, our common confession of faith and our Baptist identity and history.

Once again, I strongly affirm Akin: "Because many of us are in the habit of fighting, we are now fighting, not the real enemy, but one another. The real enemy is Satan, the world and the flesh. What we need to do is get back on the battlefield and engage once again our real opponent and adversary."

 2007/12/14 13:10





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