Monday, June 11, 2012

Why I Have Not Signed "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation"

A person or two has noted the absence of my signature on "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation" and has contacted me to learn my thinking. I am planning to produce something more substantive in the days to come as a collaborative effort with several of my peers, but in the interim, I thought it might be beneficial for me to give some of the reasons why I am not among the signatories

  1. I take the signing of documents very seriously. Among the greater evils of the pre-CR Southern Baptist Convention was the flippant or downright disingenuous affirmation of statements of faith. Although, if I were to sign the statement, it would not be as any condition of employment or denominational service, I still have come to regard the placement of my signature upon a statement of faith as a matter of personal integrity.

  2. I'm trying to know the limits of my own knowledge and intelligence. Tom Clancy once said that the most difficult sentence for a Ph.D. in anything to utter is "I don't know." I think that Clancy has an insight there into human nature, and I concur with the timeless wisdom of Harry Callahan that "A man's got to know his limitations." It's embarrassing for me to admit this. Somebody will doubtless use my words against me. So be it.

    In some elements of the debate over Calvinism I feel some sense of certainty from my own study of the Bible and of Church History. At points I agree with certainty with the Calvinists, and at other points I disagree with certainty with the Calvinists. A third category of doctrinal elements are those for which I am not certain in one way or the other. I may have leanings, but leanings alone will not bring about my signature on a doctrinal statement.

    I freely confess that the certainty of other people in areas where I am uncertain may very well indicate that those people are more intelligent and more informed than I am. When I read debates over the philosophical grounding of truth claims related to middle knowledge in Molinism, my head hurts. Other people consider this to be light reading.

    And so, upon reading the statement, I encountered statements that I felt went beyond my own level of certainty and comfort. I'm not smart enough to be a participant in some of these discussions. For this reason, among others, I have not signed the statement.

  3. Although I do not believe that Calvinism has adequately comprehended the relationship between election and God's foreknowledge, I do believe that election is personal. The statement seems to me to emphasize the plan of salvation and the person of Christ as that which was elected. I acknowledge this as a mainstream option held by people whom I respect who are precious and valuable to me. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the usage of "the elect" as a noun in the New Testament seems to point toward the conglomeration of individuals who have been redeemed. And so, although my view of election is not Calvinistic, I do not know that this particular statement articulates it well. Or perhaps it does, and I misunderstand it (see the previous point).

  4. Although Article Two has received the most criticism, that article does not pose a difficulty for me. Allow me to elaborate. First of all, as prophesied in Jeremiah 31, I believe that it is a feature of the New Covenant that people face condemnation for their own actions and not for the actions of any others (explicitly not because of their ancestry). This same principle is reiterated by Christ Himself in John 3:18-21, where Jesus identified the grounds of judgment for condemned humanity as their rejection of the Light, the only begotten Son of God. The rejection of Christ is something that each person does for himself, and in the New Covenant, I do not believe that anyone's teeth are set on edge by the sour grapes of his or her father.

    What about Romans 5? Well, I do believe that all die in Adam. The consequences of the Fall are ubiquitous. Death itself, the very thing mentioned in Romans 5, is among them. Romans 5:12 does seem to say that death spread to all men because all men sinned. It seems explicitly to contradict those who deny that "we are all sinners because we all sin." Romans 5:12 tells us that death has spread to us all because we all have sinned.

    Frankly, I've never heard or read an explanation of Romans 5 that made sense to me. Consider, for example, the way that Romans 5:15 seems clearly to indicate that the spread from one to many of the death in Adam is inferior to—less abundant than—the spread of the free gift from the one to many. And yet the spread of death from Adam is ubiquitous, while the spread of the gospel is not…is lesser than the spread of death in extent. There are portions of Romans 5 that read much like universalism, and yet universalism is clearly not the teaching of the New Testament. If you wanted to make a Calvinist of me, I think a great starting place would be for somebody to give me a coherent, convincing analysis of Romans 5, but I've certainly not seen one yet that wasn't more convoluted than a half-hour game of Twister (and that goes for non-Calvinist analyses, as well). There's no clear statement in Romans 5 that eternal damnation comes to infants because of the sin of Adam. Death? Yes, and that certainly because of Adam's sin. Eternal damnation to Hell? Romans 5 doesn't say so explicitly, and in light of Romans 7:9, I think we have reason to believe that Paul held a view of moral accountability similar to my own. I don't think that Romans 5 necessitates the eternal damnation of infants. If it says anything like that, it doesn't say it very clearly.

    Jeremiah 31:29-30, on the other hand, couldn't be clearer, neither in its frame of reference (the New Covenant) nor it its declaration about it (that people will not longer die for the sins of their fathers). I do not deny that we are born dying in the physical sense. I do not deny that we are born with a sin nature. I do not deny that we are born into a sinful, fallen world. I do not deny that, because of these factors, it is a safely foregone conclusion that all of us who live long enough to do so commit actual transgression. All of these truths I affirm. I do, however, deny that there is a single soul in Hell who was not first on Earth an active transgressor against God. Many forms of Calvinism, of course, assert a Hell filled with infants who have never transgressed personally, and the explicit justification for this belief is the notion that Jeremiah 31 somehow does not apply to them and that they die for the sin of Adam and Eve. Since Jeremiah 31:30 is clearly a declaration about those who will perish for sin, I do not see how it can refer only to the elect. I believe that it applies to all people. Those who die, die for their own iniquity. I believe this because I believe in the inerrancy of scripture.

    As far as the freedom of the will goes, I do believe that it has been impaired by the Fall for all people. This is at least part of what it means to have a sin nature. I do not, however, believe that it has been totally incapacitated forever. This is at least part of what it means not to be a Calvinist. With Augustine I would urge us all to "put [our] faith in the meanwhile in the inspired word of God, and believe both that man’s will is free, and that there is also God’s grace." I am happy to affirm that man can only choose to respond favorably to the gospel when he is the beneficiary of the prevenient grace of God, even if I believe that he can also choose not to respond favorably to that grace. No one can come to Christ apart from Holy Spirit conviction, for even with free will, "without [God's] help man’s free will can neither be turned towards God, nor make any progress in God."

    I believe that the viewpoint that I have articulated here is biblical and is compatible with Article Two of the statement. I know that some of you differ with me on this point. I love you anyway.

  5. Although I do harbor some concerns about the "New Calvinism," I would articulate those concerns differently than this statement does. Indeed, I would articulate them in a way, I think, that would win the affirmation of many Calvinists who are Calvinists of a different sort (viz., those who have managed, while finding Puritan soteriology, to find the Puritan doctrine of sanctification along with it).

  6. Finally, this statement raises some trust issues in me. I was reluctant to sign because I didn't trust what some virulent anti-Calvinists might try to do with it. Dr. Hankins is not of that ilk, but such creatures exist in our convention. I was also reluctant to sign because I didn't trust (I don't know how else to say it) the maturity of some Calvinists in the convention to permit anyone who is not a Calvinist to dare to articulate a soteriological viewpoint. For this very reason (the latter one), there is probably a need for people to dare to make statements like this one and to teach our Calvinistic brethren to get over it, but some of my best friends signed this statement, and some of my best friends despise it, and I feared that this would be a big mess, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a part of it. Call me a coward. Perhaps that's what I am.

None of these are major areas of disagreement. Some of them are perhaps hardly worth mentioning. Certainly none of them prevent me from maintaining a spirit of cordiality toward the statement and its signatories. But, cumulatively considered, they are enough to prevent me from signing the statement. I hope that answers the questions of anyone who cared in the first place.

Because of the indisputable truth of the second point, it is possible that you, my readers, will come into this comment stream and show the pure foolishness of every other point listed. But it will take more than your showing me that I'm wrong to get me either to sign the statement or to condemn it. You're going to have to show me why you're right, and to do so in a manner that convinces me so thoroughly as to get me over the hurdle of the first point.


Todd Benkert said...

Thanks, Bart. I like your reasoning here. I personally am tired of the so-called Calvinist controversy in the SBC and so I'm just not going to engage in it or contribute to it, for many of the same reasons.

I'm moving on. See you next week :)

Joshua Breland said...


I've seen others state that Jeremiah 31 somehow alters the doctrine of original sin but have never seen it defended.

Can you explain biblically how all the world is receiving the blessings of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31?

Thanks for this post. Many of your concerns are my concerns.

Dave Miller said...

I've actually wondered about the absence of your name on the list. Thanks for the explanation.

Bill said...

I'll be honest, I'm a little embarrassed by some of the Calvinist reaction to this statement. I have my concerns and obvious disagreement with the statement, especially the preamble, and like you I'm a little concerned about where this might be going or how it will be used, but we (Calvinists) can do better.

Bart Barber said...


I don't know that I'm your man. My degree is in History, not Old Testament. And I don't know how much more explanation I can give beyond what I've given in the original post. But I'll try nonetheless.

Within the passage itself, I think the thesis statement is "everyone will die for his own iniquity." This statement comes not technically within the description of the New Covenant but as a statement of something God will do in the days of the New Covenant. The next sentence declares the promise of the New Covenant.

The statement that I have in view, "everyone will die for his own iniquity," is perhaps supportive of the following points of analysis:

1. It is not a statement of gospel hope. It is a statement about the basis of death, not the basis of life. The subsequent promises about the New Covenant provide the basis of the gospel hope.

2. It is clearly the promise of some sort of change from what the affairs of mankind once were. Clearly, the suggestion is that this proverb about sour grapes will cease to be accurate only in the days that are coming, from Jeremiah's perspective.

3. It is the one statement in this pericope that is not explicitly limited to the House of Israel and the House of Judah. It seems to be more universal in scope. Another argument for its universality is my first point given above…that which speaks of dying for one's own sin cannot be a statement about Christian believers, right?

4. So, how does this work, in detail? I'm not entirely sure, but here are some possibilities. Perhaps this is the explanation of some of the more universalist-sounding phrases in the New Testament. Perhaps this is the way in which Jesus Christ is "the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man." Could this "every man" sort of "enlightenment" found in the Savior constitute, in some major portion, a change by which people bear the damning responsibility solely for their own transgressions?

5. Might this be some part of the way in which the scope of the atonement is general? Perhaps the atonement is effective for everyone—for some as a grounds of salvation and for some as a grounds of condemnation. Wouldn't this be a reading highly compatible with Jesus' own words to Nicodemus in John 3 about why people are saved and why people are judged/condemned?

6. Clearly remaining intact are many consequences of Adam's Fall—the fact that we all die, the fact that we all survive by the sweat of our brow, the fact that we all sin, but Jeremiah 31 makes it clear (to me at least) that if one winds up in Hell, one will not be able to blame it on Adam. For each person there, the cause will respectively be each person's own transgressions.

cb scott said...

Thanks for this post, Bart.

As has been the case on some things in the past, your thinking is very similar to mine on this particular issue.

Of course, the very gravity of me making such an observation may cause you to grab the first pen available and rush to sign the document.

Nonetheless, our reservations are close, very close.

peter lumpkins said...

Hi Bart,

Thanks for the explanation. Some have questioned me as to why I have not signed the document, especially since I have supported the document One reason coincides with yours--the weight of a signature.

Confessedly, I would have written some of the parts differently but wouldn't we all? I had to read some of it especially careful, but, in the end, and unlike you, there remains no theological glare which actually would prohibit my name were I of a mind to sign it. As for the implication you mentioned about election, For me that is a small problem since the document's obvious focus more more about the so-called applied redemption.

Even so, Dr. Hankins has made history, so far as I am concerned, in getting 500+ signatures on the document, signatures which expand every level of denominational life.

In the end, if I do not sign it, it will not be because I do not support the thrust of the theological statement for I do (interestingly, I'm encouraging others to sign it!). Rather it will be because I am an odd duck, so to speak, when it comes to confessions. I have inherited, from my Separate Baptist ancestors (and perhaps some Anabaptists before them), an aversion to faith statements. Frankly, they just down water my garden. But, if I do decide to sign it, I will sign it as a reluctant duck :^)

I will say, if I may, it saddens me you are thinking about taking a confessional plunge yourself, along with some like-minded individuals, in producing a document (assuming I read you correctly). Please hear me: what I am not suggesting is you shouldn't. We've got guys going around questioning why we "let" Hankins et al produce a faith statement. "Let"? Guys like this can kiss my Baptist grits (punning on what Flo used to say). The thought is so fundamentally warped so far as free church ecclesiology is concerned, one wonders if we should "let" someone with those erroneous ecclesial notions be a member in good standing of a Baptist church. So it's not that you shouldn't do it.

Rather I am only expressing my disappointment that you are doing it. From my standpoint, it can only add a more confusing layer to the mix--an "I'm of Paul" and "I'm of Apollos" sort of scenario; or rather, "I'm of Eric" and "I'm of Bart" to be more melodramatics. Not that we don't have that now, perhaps. But for heavens sake, do we not see the wisdom in stopping at some point?

That's my two cents--no wait!--eight cents worth.

Grace brother. Maybe we'll catch up in NOLA.

With that, I am...

Debbie Kaufman said...

Thank you for this Bart.

The most important message whether Calvinist or not is that Jesus freed us from the power of sin, Satan and death lost it's sting. That is what the atonement did. I still get goosebumps knowing that.

Like CB's testimony, The Apostle Paul's testimony, David Worley's testimony I was the Chief of sinners. Christ changed me and saved me and now I am no longer the same.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Bart, like Dave I had noticed you had not signed the statement and wondered what you thought about it. Since I think the statement has some problems, I was glad to find you were not among the signatories. I'm now glad to read your thoughts on the matter (because what you think matters to me).

Taking the signing of documents very seriously is extremely important, and (I think) in the religious realm should be done at with extreme caution (and almost never). In this matter I have seen some state that they signed it as a matter of general agreement. I would not question the integrity of those who for various reasons may choose to sign a statement of faith they don't completely agree with, but I have a very hard time with the concept of signing something I don't agree with.

Unlike you, I think Article Two is quite defective. Like you, I believe that Romans 5 is much more difficult than many Calvinists (or non-Calvinists, Traditionalists, Arminians, Pelagians and even Campbellites) are willing to admit! I had a short written debate with a Church of Christ minister and Romans 5 was, of course, one of the sticking points. I won't say I got it right, that I elaborated in detail, or that my view wasn't made to look questionable by my opponent. I'm not sure I even now agree with all I wrote. But I do think I argued something you might find compatible with Jeremiah 31 -- "His righteous act took away the Adamic sin for all." Therefore, people face condemnation for their own actions and not for the actions of another (specifically, Adam).

On the general subject, have you read Mike Bergman's A Common Ground Soteriology, and, if so, what do you think of it?

Keith Sanders said...

Very well writtten, my brother. Would that your tribe of circumspection increase. I support the right of any group to articulate their point of view and sign documents. When they do, they must be willing to accept the consequences of such actions. This is particularly true of those whose institutions and salaries are supported by the faithful gifts of those their documents are targeting.

Bart Barber said...


I have led you astray if I have led you to believe that I am working on a competing statement. I am not. The thought has never crossed my mind. I'm merely not signing this one.

Bart Barber said...

Also, Peter, I agree that Dr. Hankins has made history. I believe that he will continue to make history. He is a remarkable man and he has my full support.

Bart Barber said...


Now I know what gave you the impression that I'm working on a confession of faith. Let me clarify.

What I'm working on is a blog post, not a confessional statement. I'm trying to get together a couple of Calvinists and a couple of guys who are not Calvinists to record and publish a podcast dialogue about THIS statement, not to author another one.

My apologies for being unclear.

Bart Barber said...


You're welcome.

Bart Barber said...

R. L.,

I haven't read Bergman. I'll need to do that. The idea that Adamic sin is real, but has been counteracted universally in some way by the work of Christ, is exactly the neighborhood in which I think I might buy a house someday once I've accumulated my intellectual down-payment. I didn't fully address that idea in my post because it was already long enough, but I lean in that direction.

Bart Barber said...


As you well know, my brother, I am not only a proponent of godly cooperation across soteriological lines but also someone who tries, in his own way, to model it and set an example. May God grant victory to those of like mind. Thanks for your encouragement.

Joshua Breland said...


The text is all about a New Covenant with Israel and Judah that will come. Not sure where a world context can be gleaned from the passage.

Thanks for responding, though.

Here is the text I was referring to.

"27"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast.

28"As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant," declares the LORD.

29"In those days they will not say again, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge.'

30"But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.

31"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,

32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.

33"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Bart Barber said...

Good point. I think OUR New Covenant is the New Covenant with Israel and Judah. I think we (Gentiles) have been grafted into it by the grace of God.

Joshua Breland said...


I agree, but this only for those who are in the New Convenant. Those outside of faith in Christ are not in the New Covenant thus the blessings are not theirs to possess.

Praise be to God we are in the New Convenant!

Bart Barber said...

Indeed, I praise God for that. With regard to Jeremiah 31:30, however, it is difficult for me to take this statement about the grounds for perishing due to sin as a statement about New Covenant believers. It seems to me that we are being taught about a New Covenant that is different from the Old not only in what it means to live by it, but also in the terrible truth of what it means to die by it.

Joshua Breland said...


The text is addressing blessings of being in a better covenant. Building, planting, law written on their hearts. These are all promises for the covenant people which are the only people group in view in the text.

I'm not sure how one could insert pagans outside of covenant relationship with God into the text, much less as benefitting from God's New Covenant.

Thus, I see using this text as a "world scope" text to be outside of what it is saying regarding the "dying for one's own sin." The text is addressing a promise to God's covenant people alone, not every person who is living in the time of the New Covenant.

Bart Barber said...


I really want to understand your viewpoint. How is it a promise to God's covenant people that they will die for their iniquity? That doesn't sound like much of a promise to me, nor does it comport with what I believe about perseverance. I would say that NONE of God's New Covenant people die for their own iniquity.

Joshua Breland said...


"I would say that NONE of God's New Covenant people die for their own iniquity."

Then why do they die?

peter lumpkins said...

My apologies to you, brother. I should have just posed a question rather answered my personal assumption. But it was a good answer wasn't it :^)

Grace brother. See you at NOLA.

With that, I am...

Jeff said...


I have always enjoyed your writings, and generally always are in agreement.

My own mind may be too convaluted right now to make sense, but I am hooked now in trying to understand what you are talking about in Romans 5.

As you stated in your article, "There's no clear statement in Romans 5 that eternal damnation comes to infants because of the sin of Adam. Death? Yes, and that certainly because of Adam's sin. Eternal damnation to Hell? Romans 5 doesn't say so explicitly. . ."

Desperately hoping not to sound like an idiot, how then do you view verse 18, "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation;"?

I am also curious as to how the "Death" spoken of in the "spiritual sense" is not tantamount to the eternal condemnation that is to come.

We were "dead" in trespasses and sins, and "He that believeth not is condemned already."

I believe man's problem is what he is, not primarily what he does. He does what he does, because he is what he is, and when Adam fell, the race BECAME a race of sinners.

I am very interested in your understanding of chapter 5. (Not for argument sake, but for insight.)


Jonathan Melton said...

We should have no problems being cordial (friendly) to ANYONE. However, Calvinism in its basic expression is that Christ died for only those He arbitrarily chose; that those He chose, He saves (with no personal response involved from the sinner), that undoubtedly will persevere in good works because of this election, and that unless you are chosen to salvation you are damned to hell. This is UnBiblical, repugnant, and those who believe in Biblical salvation (against Arminianism on the other hand) need to stand their ground against this heresy.

Jonathan Melton said...

If you read Hebrews 9:15-17, it is quite clear that the New Covenant is simply a relative term contrasted with the Old Covenant (Law), and is simply the implementation of the promise first made to Abraham secured through faith, and applies to ALL believers, O.T. and N.T. It's not really that complicated.