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One Man’s Suggestions for Calvinists and Non-Calvinists, Part 2

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by Ronnie Rogers

Non-Calvinism’s challenge is to develop systematic theologies and comprehensive systematic interpretive approaches that seek to explain the soteriological perplexities of Scripture biblically, consistently, and comprehensively.

This suggestion is not intended to depreciate nor ignore works in this area (particularly some superb individual books addressing various aspects of Calvinism), but rather to draw attention to the need for considerably more to be done. I am primarily thinking of theologies that can be used in SBC theological training of students and pastors who, when aware of the disquieting realities of Calvinism, reject Calvinism.

It seems clear to me that Calvinists have, quite admirably, written voluminously in this area whereas those who are neither properly classified as Calvinists nor Arminians have done little in comparison. I think this is a grave shortcoming. Further, I believe that the written systemization of such beliefs, readily available in Calvinism, is very appealing to people who value systematic thinking. I am one such person, and that was a particular draw of Calvinism for me. I could actually see the systematic outlay of the interrelationship of individual concepts.

It has been my experience that professors who clearly demur to being called a Calvinist are left to rely far too heavily upon Calvinistic theologies while merely noting their disagreements with such. This approach is neither fair to Calvinism nor does it offer a viable alternative to other than a personalized Calvinism. It seems obvious to me that Calvinist theologies voluminously outnumber comparable works by those of us who rightly shun being labeled an Arminian or Calvinist. While correcting this deficit will clearly take time, it is nevertheless essential that it is corrected. There are many exceptionally qualified theologians to admirably accomplish this task if we can disabuse ourselves from an unhealthy reliance upon easier paths, which can only perpetuate the status quo.

Some of the characteristics of the approach that I am proposing:

First, this approach moves beyond merely the deconstruction of or noting disagreements with Calvinism. By this I am not suggesting the abandonment of serious critiques of Calvinism, but rather that along with exposing its weaknesses, much more time must be given to constructing thorough and systematic biblical alternatives for our schools, pastors, and serious laymen. Particular attention must be given to soteriology. While critiquing the weaknesses of Calvinism is essential, it is a woefully inadequate theological destination. For example, it is one thing to biblically critique Calvinism’s view of predestination, but it is quite another to offer a biblical alternative as a part of a thorough systematic approach.

Second, this approach does not rely merely upon Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, etc., nor does it shun any understanding associated or compatible with any of them merely because it is so associated. Simple agreement with certain components of a theological system neither makes nor necessitates one being identified with said system—all such dismissive labeling notwithstanding. Theological designations (Calvinist, Arminian, Traditionalist, etc.) of one’s position should be determined by the adherent rather than by his adversaries. Then, we can freely and respectfully engage one another’s biblical fidelity and internal consistency based upon a person’s chosen identification.

Third, this approach develops positive theological designations to replace popular negative terms such as non-Calvinist, and 1, 2, or 3 point Calvinist. I think some are seeking to do this with terms like “Traditionalist”[1] and “Biblicist” without an adjective, which is not to say one cannot be a “Calvinistic Biblicist” unless one so intends, and I do not. It is to say, just because one chooses to reject being a Calvinist Biblicist or Arminian Biblicist, one should not be banished from using the designation Biblicist.

I have identified those who claim to be 1, 2 or 3 point Calvinists as Minor Calvinists. Although I once accepted such designations as valid and helpful, I no longer see them as such. I have used such designations to describe myself during the latter days of my migration away from Calvinism. I now believe these designations to be invalid since they represent such personalized understandings of “Calvinism” that they become incapable of correctly reflecting the essence of Calvinism; consequently, they obscure what true Calvinism teaches and thereby obscure the disquieting realities of Calvinism; thus, they necessarily facilitate the dialogue to nowhere.

I think the following problems inherent in using “non-Calvinist” or 1, 2, or 3 point Calvinist as a theological designation beckon disabusing ourselves from their use. First, they make Calvinism, ipso facto, the standard (or starting point) from which all perspectives are derived and evaluated. Second, they are by their nature negative appellations, which seem at best to be a somewhat lazy way to describe one’s biblical perspective (although I have been guilty of such in the past). Third, they create an unnecessary and prejudiced trajectory toward Calvinism within Baptist life; for example, when one becomes a Baptist or enters into ministry, the only question to be decided is what kind of Calvinist one is or is to become. Lastly, they are fecund terms for double talk.

I only refer to myself as a Disenchanted Calvinist, when emphasizing my migration from Calvinism. As far as my soteriological position, I would label myself as either a simple Biblicist or an Extensivist. By calling myself a Biblicist, I do not mean, in any sense, that someone who disagrees with me may not be a Biblicist. I use Extensivism as a descriptive of how I would more particularly summarize my precise soteriology.

An Extensivist “believes that man was created in the image of God with otherwise choice and that God’s salvation plan is comprehensive, involving an all-inclusive unconditional offer of salvation and eternal security of the believer; reception of which is conditioned upon grace-enabled faith rather than a narrow plan involving a limited actual offer of salvation restricted to the unconditionally elected, or any plan that, in any way, conditions salvation upon merely a humanly generated faith from fallen man.”

Extensivism may have some things in common with Calvinism, Arminianism, or Molinism, but it neither relies on nor seeks consistency with any of them. Further, similarities do not equal sameness. Extensivism seeks only to present a comprehensive, consistent system of soteriology that is reflective of the totality of Scripture.

I have sought to articulate the ideas of Extensivism in my book, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist: The Disquieting Realities of Calvinism. I am continuing to develop these ideas, which I hope to write about in another book at some point in the future.

One final thought, and I am not seeking to be overly reductionistic; it seems to me that if someone rejects unconditional election, then he cannot be an actual Calvinist for that is at the heart of Calvinism. If a person accepts unconditional election, then he can rightly don the title Calvinist, which then moves the question from one of legitimacy to one of consistency. I do not even believe that four point Calvinism actually addresses the most troubling aspects of Calvinism if it maintains unconditional election; although, it seems to at first glance because of its acceptance of unlimited atonement.

© 2013 Ronnie W. Rogers

Ronnie Rogers is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla.

[1] As defined in “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”

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