Earl Blackburn: Why All the Buzz? Further Thoughts on the Present Calvinism Conversation

March 12, 2013 — 9 Comments

The article below is written by Bro. Earl Blackburn, Senior Pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Bro. Earl is the author of Covenant Theology: A Baptist DistinctiveJesus Loves the Church and So Should You, John Chrysostom, contributed to the book Denominations or Associations, and numerous periodicals including The Founder’s Journal, Reformation Today, and Banner of Truth, and has authored several booklets published by Reformed Baptist Publications including Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Overview, Unconditional Election, Why You Should Join A Church, and Which Church Should You Join.

A slightly edited version of this article is scheduled to appear in the March 14 edition of the Baptist MessageIt is posted here, by permission, in its entirety.

Earl-BlackburnWhy All the Buzz? Further Thoughts on the Present Calvinism Conversation

Southern Baptists are people of deep conviction, fiery passion, and great heritage, which formed us into a working consensus of cooperation. Sometimes, these traits have caused divisions. Calvinism has been one of the controversial issues, but definitely not the most divisive. For the past 75-80 years there has been a détente between non-Calvinists and Calvinists. From time to time, skirmishes erupted, but eventually we settled down and went back to fulfilling the Great Commission. However, in the past 5-7 years the peace has been disturbed. So tumultuous has been the furor that attempts surfaced to build bridges and restore peace. Two examples were the Building Bridges Conference at Ridgecrest (2008) and Dr. Frank Page’s appeal at the SBC in New Orleans (2012) in which he passionately pled with us to stop the in-fighting about Calvinism and get on with fulfilling our Great Commission mandate. He told us that he was forming a commission to present a report at the 2013 Convention on how Calvinists and non-Calvinists can continue to work together, as we have done “decade upon decade upon decade.” It seems some are not listening to Dr. Page. Instead, some are following powerful people, who are behind the scenes manipulating an agenda to rout Reformed and Calvinistic people out of the Convention. Hence, the buzz and dis-harmony and it begs the question – why?

There are at least three reasons for this. One, for over 50 years the evangelical world has been theologically poverty-stricken. Christian colleges and seminaries for decades have not focused on teaching biblical foundations and the whole counsel of God’s Word, which has produced ministerial professionals rather than Bible scholars. Then with the subtle influence of postmodernism there was a mixing of theological terms. For example, anyone who is moderately Calvinistic is almost automatically branded a hyper-Calvinist, which is apparent in recent interviews where the terms Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism were wrongly used synonymously and interchangeably. Theories taught in our institutions have filtered down to our churches. What began this root of change?  One source is the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the early 20th century, which caused a paradigm shift in Evangelicalism from being primarily a theology-centered faith to an experience-oriented faith. This shift is pointedly illustrated for many Evangelicals (and Southern Baptists in particular) in the well-documented teachings of E.Y. Mullins, former President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The decades that followed his installation in 1899 were impacted by his legacy that led away from exegetical and systematic theological studies to a personal-experience oriented religion. Heavily influenced by the Liberal European theologies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl, which is clearly evident in Mullins’ The Axioms of Religion, Mullins shifted from the Christ-centered, evangelical Calvinism of J.P. Boyce (SBTS’s founder), John Broadus, and Basil Manly to the Liberal man-centered pragmatism of William James of Harvard and the personalism of Bordon Parker Browne of Boston University. This shift left a black hole in evangelical theological training and education, especially among Baptists. The effect is that subjective experience has become the sine qua non of evangelicalism, instead of objective biblical, theological truth.

Two, there is a subtle intermingling of Greek philosophy with biblical truth. Many times, philosophical presuppositions are assumed before the Bible is read. God is sovereign, many will adamantly confess, but not absolutely. As a young Christian I often heard, “God can’t do anything unless you allow Him.” God is powerless unless man’s will allows Him to work is the standard view among many Southern Baptists. God is more like Aristotle’s “unmoved Mover” than the God of Daniel (Dan 4:34-35). Man is viewed more like what Protagoras of Ardera stated, “Man is the measure of all things.” Pelagius, whose teachings were condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431), constructed his view of man and sin from Greek philosophy and then added occasional Bible references to reinforce his beliefs. This is man-centeredness, not God-centeredness, and it arises out of Greek philosophy instead of biblical exegesis. Greek philosophy so plagued the early church (as it does us today) that Tertullian shouted “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Still a good question to ask!

Three, there is a paranoia and unfounded fear in some circles that Calvinism stifles evangelistic zeal and missions. Some of the greatest soul-winners, missionaries, and revivalists were all staunch Calvinists and Reformed in their doctrine of salvation. Study the life of the father of modern missions, William Carey, and Adnoriam Judson, the first missionary sent from America. Both were Baptists and fervent five-point Calvinists. Read also of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield of the Great Awakening, John Newton of Amazing Grace fame, and especially read of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (whom Billy Graham called the greatest Baptist preacher ever to live); all were passionate Calvinists and zealous soul-winners. History shows that biblical Calvinism inflames, rather than quenches, evangelism.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, let’s stop the buzz. Stop the concealed agenda, stop firing godly professors and renew their contracts, stop threatening students, stop the in-fighting among us, and let’s get on with preaching Christ crucified and carrying out his last command – the Great Commission.

Ken Fryer

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I currently serve on the staff of Riverside Baptist Church in Denham Springs, Louisiana and serve on the faculty of Sequitur Classical Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

9 responses to Earl Blackburn: Why All the Buzz? Further Thoughts on the Present Calvinism Conversation

  1. A concise and convicting summary of the issues. May God use this to encourage and challenge our pastors and teachers.

  2. “all were passionate Calvinists and zealous soul-sinners.’… Assuming you mean soul winners. Lol, you might want to repair that little typo!

  3. As usual, Earl Blackburn has written a bulls eye accurate observation and assessment of the issues at hand at Louisiana College and in the Louisiana Baptist Convention. As someone who served churches in the LBC from 1978 through 2005, it grieves me greatly to see people whom I otherwise respect as Biblical conservatives calling for the ejection of evangelical Calvinists in positions of influence at LC. We were able to work side by side in committed co-belligerence during the conservative resurgence in the LBC, the success of which (due to the blessing of God upon our joint labors) paved the way for people like Joe Aguillard and David Hankins to serve in their present leadership capacities. The apparent inquisition now underway at LC, directed at evangelical Calvinists, only fulfills the predictions of the moderates that given enough time the conservatives would turn on one another and devour one another. Though I do not pastor in Louisiana any more, my heart aches to see brother turn against brother and bring reproach on the name of Jesus and His cause. My prayer is that the sound and sane observations of Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike will win the day at LC and in the LBC, and that what appears to be misinformed, if not mean-spirited Fundamentalism will be forced to release its choke hold from the Great Commission emphases and initiatives of Louisiana Baptists.
    Bill Ascol, Senior Pastor
    Bethel Baptist Church
    Owasso, Oklahoma

    • I also served Louisiana churches and on LBC boards/committees during the period Bill mentions and was branded moderate/liberal for openly opposing the agenda of Leon Hyatt and LIFE for both Lousiana College and the LBC. The label didn’t bother me nearly as much as what the Hyatt-French-Aquillard coalition had in mind for all Louisiana Baptists…Calvinists, Armenians and everything in between. Too bad that there were a lot conservative and theologically astute reformed pastors in the mix who couldn’t see the same thing. The prophecy of which Bills speaks is naturally self-fulfilling. My prayers are with you and all who once held an interest in Louisiana College.

      • By the way, I have always been Calvinist leaning and conservative in my theology. Have never had a problem with the Abstract of Principles nor the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. Did have problems however with the 2000 BFM.

      • Scott, I hope you are well. While I disagreed with you back in the LIFE days, I have often said that our recent actions have proven you to be a prophet. What is happening today is definitely Fundamentalism running amok.

        • Good to hear from you as well Ken. Have enjoyed my sampling of this website and the articles you’ve posted. By the way, have a set of very old John Gill commentaries you might be interested in. Could drop them off next time I’m visiting family in Northwest LA (Shreveport). I agree with you … Pure unbridled and uneducated Fundamentalism has never been quite able to grab the horns of common sense.

  4. Send me your Email address again dear brother

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