Is the church today on the edge of encouraging people to slid down a slippery slope? I came across an article written for Christianity Today, through the Society of Evangelical Arminians website, that looks at how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has put together a document that “aims to more carefully express what is generally believed by Southern Baptists about salvation.”
The Statement that has caused debate:We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
The Objection: Olson, a classical Arminian and author of the book Against Calvinism, is unaffiliated with the SBC, but has long asserted that most evangelicals—not just Southern Baptists—adhere to a sort of semi-Pelagian “folk religion,” whose origins can be traced to the Second Great Awakening and revivalists in the mold of Charles Finney. He believes the new document proves his thesis. “Traditional Christian doctrine, since Augustine anyway, has always been that people need a special infusion of God’s grace to be able to respond to the gospel—both Calvinists and classical Arminians agree on that,” he said. “They haven’t addressed that here at all.”
SBC Reply: Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, denies the charge. “We are obviously not semi-Pelagians,” Patterson said. “We do believe that the entire human race is badly affected by the fall of Adam. However, we don’t follow the Reformed view that man is so crippled by the fall that he has no choice.”
Primary Author’s reply: Eric Hankins, the primary author of the statement, said he expected backlash when he posted it to the SBC Today website. “The statement’s language displeases our Calvinist and Arminian friends not because it is heterodox, but because their terminology and categories are not employed,” he said. “That’s all the charge of semi-Pelagianism really means: ‘You aren’t following our rules. You have to pick.'”
“Well,” Hankins said, “we beg to differ.”
Hankins said his formulation, which was an adaptation of a paper he wrote for the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry earlier this year, “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology,” was an attempt to make a complex topic more accessible to pastors and laymen.
An Associate Pastors response: “I don’t necessarily think the floor of the convention would be the best place for the cool-headed, rational debate that this issue deserves,” he said. “Even if doesn’t come up, this has already created a sense of unease in the SBC.”
What’s the big deal?
Denying “that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation [to deprive of capacity or natural power] of any person’s free will” opens doors to paths that lead us away from the Gospel. They follow it up with “While no sinner is remotely capable…” Of course no sinner is capable of saving themselves, but following this logic until they are a sinner they are capable to save themselves. At what point are you a sinner? How you understand the idea of original sin and our guilt lays the foundation for our reliance on Christ’s work and the need for a savior. Our sin is more than what we do, Christ made this clear in Matthew 5, therefore anytime we entertain sinful ideas we sinned long before we act on it. Sinfully ideas are also more than just bad things. Anything that takes glory from God and puts it on something else is sinful. Our innocence was lost with Adam and Eve. Sin replaced that innocence and it is built into us so that we need to be born again, recreated, and sanctified. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John.3.3). God must stripe us bare and rebuild us because sin has affected us to the very core. The price Christ paid covers an infant as much as it covers an adult (how this happens is a different discussion than original sin). That is what it means when it is said that we are totally depraved and that is what Christ has come to save us from. It lays the foundation of how we view our walk with God, his role over us, and our complete and total depravity. That foundation is what defines our everyday actions and our reliance on Christ.This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. 1 Timothy 1.15-16