Are Colleagues Confusing Critiques with Being Critical?

Posted: December 7, 2010 in Arminianism, Baptist, Calvinism, Dr. Ken Keathley, Dr. Paige Patterson, Dr. Tom Ascoll, Dr. Tom Nettles, Founders Ministry, SBC Issues

When I was growing up I was taught, by my father, a very important life lesson that has stuck with me to this day.  We were in a quandary before leaving for school one morning because my oldest brother’s shinny new belt buckle could not be found.  You see we were wrestling advocates and we would get new belt buckles and wrestle for them.  My brother had purchased one and we wrestled for it but I could not win it from him.  However, when he was not looking I was able to seize upon the opportunity of seeing that it was mis-placed from him.  We just finished placing plastic on the windows to keep the cold wind out for the winter and I punctured a hole in the plastic and dropped the buckle between the plastic and screen with the thought I would get it later after everyone stopped searching.  Well, it was getting late and the school bus was coming and daddy informed us no one was going anyplace until the buckle was found. I was never accused of stealing the buckle, but I protested loudly and with great passion that I did not take it.  After some time of being interrogated by my daddy I broke and confessed I had taken it and where I placed it.  After the punishment period was over (Daddy placed me in time-out.  He said; “you sit there until I can get the leather strap”.) I spoke to daddy about the incident.  I asked how he knew I was the one who took the buckle?  He responded that I insisted too passionately that I was not the one who took it and my protesting told him that I did not want him investigating me.  While I announced I was not the one, I was announcing loudly that I did it.

It is much the same whenever one sees a statement like; “When this is done with respect for each other and devotion to God’s Word, such engagements can be tremendously profitable”.  Whenever I see a statement concerning a desire to interact with something with which one disagrees I immediately become suspicious that a negative ad hominen argument in on the horizon.  My suspicions are brought to reality in the review of Whosoever Will found in the latest Founders Journal.  The entire journal is dedicated to covering the scholarly critique of Calvinism and I want to cover briefly three reasons for my suspicions becoming reality.

My first concern is Tom Ascol’s defense in the introduction of the issue.  Ascol entitles his introduction as “Theological Debate Within the Family” which certainly reminds us that we are debating this within the family and as such we should give the benefit of the doubt to our family members.  In this it means extending more grace than might normally be the case.  So, in a book review we should, within our family, allow for enough room to respond in order to accurately present a cogent response when the review is less than positive.  In Dr. Ken Keathley’s brief response to Dr. Tom Nettles “extended critique” of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach we see no extra grace extended.  Dr. Keathley is given only about twelve hundred words in which to reply.

Second, we see something of a back door slam against Dr.s Allen and Lemke.  The review of their chapters respectively come from two Ph.D. students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  There is nothing wrong with Ph.D. students responding to various scholars and their articles.  But when it is “within the family” should we not extend a level of courtesy for a noted scholar to review another noted scholar?  Should a student’s critique of articles written by the Dean of Provost of a major theological seminary be published with the “atta boy” pat on the back given by the Founders ministry?  In their critique of the individual chapters, the Ph.D. students began violating the principle that Ascol presented in the introduction; “Love requires that we not simply label the contributors to Whosoever Will “Arminian” when they plainly reject that characterization.”  Ph.D. student Barrett uses for his subtitle, “A Response to Steve Lemke’s Arminian Objections.”  The very subtitle calls into question the characterization that Dr. Lemke has openly stated–he is not an Arminian.  As a matter of fact Dr. Lemke contributed to a White Paper titled “Neither Calvinist nor Arminian, but Baptist.”  In this White Paper the authors effectively respond to Dr. Roger Olson.  It seems the Ph.D. student must have overlooked this response. One other concern presented in this entire Founders Journal issue.  When was the last time that the good folk over at Founders used Dr. Roger Olson as a source of truth?  This issue of the Journal relies heavily on his position that certain scholar members of our SBC family are Arminian, even when these scholars have said they are not.  What happened to extending love within a family?

The other back door slam comes from another Ph.D. student .  In Dr. David Allen’s chapter; “The Atonement: Limited or Universal”, Allen took the position that John Bunyan did not affirm the point of Calvinism known as “Limited Atonement.”  In the introduction of the Journal, Ascol states that “Ben Rogers exposes some of the historical inaccuracies” concerning Dr. Allen’s chapter.  When one reads this Ph.D. student’s critique one finds he acknowledges that Dr. Allen is not the only one to express that John Bunyan did not adhere to the doctrine of “Limited Atonement.”  Quite a large leap, especially for someone “in the family” to accuse Dr. Allen of being historically inaccurate.  It gives the appearance that Dr. Allen is cooking up this stuff hunkered down in a dark corner deep within the confines of his voluminous library.  Dr. Allen is a scholar par excellence and when he documents something one can certainly find that he has done his historical research.  Also, the other scholar mentioned by the Ph.D. student that John Bunyan does not affirm the historical position of Limited Atonement makes the same claim concerning John Piper.

The third concern, for me, raises the level from critique to critic.  It also reveals the biased approach of Founders Journal.  Dr. Tom J. Nettles provides a very informative ten page review of the entire book Whosoever Will.   Dr. Nettles paints with a broad brush in this critique.  For example, in his review of Dr. Richard Land’s discussion on election Nettles says; “An Arminian believes that election based on God’s knowledge of the various responses of every individual…” Notice that Nettles has now assigned the station of Arminianism to those who hold to other positions, such as Molinism or a traditional Baptist view.  Not only that, but certain Calvinists, like D.A. Carson ascribe to middle knowledge (Page 50) and thus would affirm the statement that Nettles ascribes to only Arminians.  Thus, as Nettles begins his critique one observes the broadness of the brush he seems to be painting.  But the icing on the cake that reveals the biased approach is found in Nettles’ closing statement.  He says; “Though they have resisted this, the writers should accept the judgment that they defend a classically Arminian, or openness, position.”(Bold emphasis mine)  This statement begs a question that needs answering.  What is an “openness position”?  The only thing I can find on “openness” when it comes to theology is “Openness Theology”.  One specific article that defines “Openness Theology” is here.  In this article, found in the Western Reformed Journal, Eric Lasch presents a clear critique of Open Theology.  Thus, it is easily deduced that Dr. Little, according to Nettles, is defending Open Theology along with all who contributed to Whosoever Will.  I mean, really, does anyone believe that Dr. Paige Patterson defends “open theism”?  Let’s face it, call Dr. Patterson what you would like, but the charge of open theist is not something anyone anyplace would charge. However, it is more alarming that such a charge is coming from a Professor of Historical Theology in a sister SBC seminary.  Do we have people in the pews of the SBC that believe we have professors that are Open Theist?   But, Nettles is not just referencing sitting professors, but a seminary president who has openly and publicly opposed open theism.  As I remember it was Dr. Patterson that led the charge in the Evangelical Theological Society to get Open Theist evangelicals ousted.  Second, what happened to the “family” motif that Ascol opened this issue of Founders Journal?  It seems very evident to this writer that the Introduction was merely words with no meaning.  If the words had meaning then neither the article subtitle charging Arminianism nor the charge of defending Openness Theology would have made it through the editorial review.

I openly call on the Founders Ministry to either re-write these articles or remove them all together.  This issue is not about disagreeing as much as it is about smacking down an opposing view by assassinating someone’s character.  As family we will disagree all along, but when a disagreement becomes an outlandish charge and one that could lead to heresy, something needs to be spoken.  I also call on Dr. Mohler to call into account Dr. Nettles for his public charge against a sitting president and professors from sister seminaries.  To place a charge of open theism against someone is very serious especially when it comes from colleagues.  However, what makes it even more serious is that it comes from within our ranks.  Thus, to open a publication by calling attention to a family motif and then presenting what Founders Ministry classifies as “scholarly” is nothing more than a veiled critical attack of wolves on family members wrapped in the sheep clothing of a critique.

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Comments
  1. Robin Foster says:

    Tim

    Great post. Wondering what the reaction will be.

    Robin

  2. Tim,
    Interesting post. Interesting how Calvinists love to call non-Calvinist Baptists, Arminians.

    To those wondering about this issue, my advice would be – Instead of reading the critique, or only the critique, why not just read the book itself, “Whosoever Will” by Allen & Lemke, B&H.

    It is a great book that clears up a lot of confusion. Once they’ve finished it, they need to get “Salvation and Sovereignty” by Kenneth Keathley, B&H.
    David R. Brumbelow

  3. Byroniac says:

    I think the Founders and many Calvinists have a very narrow definition of what defines a Calvinist (which, with all due respect, I tend to share). If someone holds to Christian faith, and is not a “Calvinist” or a “Pelagian” or some variation thereof, about the only category left would be “Arminian.” Of course, I am biased, but I don’t think that the word “Arminian” is tossed out there as a perjorative every time it is used. Typically, at least whenever I have read the Founders and others like them, their use of theological terms is consistent with their beliefs and the soteriological context of the discussion. I think the real disagreement comes in the definition of the terms themselves (and, BTW, I am a fan of Roger Olson even though I completely disagree with his soteriology).

  4. Leo says:

    Tim,

    As an Open Theist it is interesting to observe that the same bitter and evil spirit that is attempting to destroy “the family” of the evangelical movement is also alive and well in the nuclear denominational family of SBC. It’s not so nice when it’s happening to you, is it? If you want this type of ugliness to stop in your family you’ll have to change how you treat other families. That’ll take some leadership. Up for the challenge?

    – Leo

  5. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Robin,

    Thanks.

    Brother David,

    I commend you. I have both books and still and trying to figure it out. I find myself reading and re-reading chapters. They are both great books.

    Brother Byroniac

    I agree with you somewhat. It was the “Classical Arminians” that defined the terms at the Synod of Dort. What people fail to remember is the Remonstrants were Dutch Protestants that disagreed with John Calvin’s followers.

    Brother Leo,

    I am not sure I follow you. I honestly do not know of any “open theists” within the ranks of the SBC.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  6. Byroniac says:

    I think this reveals part of the problems with labels, because the term “Arminian” has a strict historical definition according to the Synod of Dort. Problem is, Calvinism tends to be defined pretty narrowly too by Founders and others, so labels tend to be applied wherever they fit best (even if not exactly). I have not kept up with this particular debate, but I think the Founders are basically saying that labels can be applied with a fair degree of accuracy even if there is not exact agreement with the theology of the applied label.

    Founders may be guilty of defining Calvinism more narrowly than other theological systems, perhaps (I know I have been, at least). On the one hand, you want to be accurate in the use of theological labels, and on the other hand, you strive to avoid the use of a thousand qualifications for time and convenience’s sake. I do not know where the happy medium is between the two, but I suspect the perceived negative connotations of the “Arminian” label influence how readily it is accepted or denied, but that is just my personal opinion as always.

  7. Tim,

    Very good. I plan on putting up a couple of posts. A few things. I think you’re right to raise the question whether Ascol was only being rhetorical when he mentioned “Love requires that we simply not label the contributors “Arminian” when they plainly reject that classification. Historical accuracy and theological integrity, however, require that we identify many of their arguments and positions other than that.” Hence, for Ascol, love for the brethren is, according to Ascol, trumped by insisting on a mere labeling of a theological position. How interesting.

    Again, because one argues similarly to another position does not make one equal to that position. If so, then high-Calvinists like Ascol, Nettles and most of the Founders crowd should have no problem whatsoever in being dubbed Hyper-Calvinists for many of their arguments are very similar to if not identical with Hyper-Calvinism’s position. Of course, none of that for them; they will immediately inform you to stop bearing false witness against them and breaking God’s Law in the 9th Commandment (Ex 20:16). However, if those among the alleged “Arminians” like Professor David Allen employ “historical accuracy and theological integrity” to demonstrate Hyper-Calvinism exists among some of Ascol’s closest associates (a.k.a., James White), then why did Ascol throw a temper tantrum about it? (Bold edited by blog owner)

    Why not cite for David Allen then as he did for himself now:

    “Love requires that Allen simply not label James White “Hyper-Calvinist” when White plainly rejects that classification. Historical accuracy and theological integrity, however, require that David Allen identify many of White’s arguments and positions other than mainstream Calvinism [i.e. hyperism]”?

    The duplicity is striking.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    P.S. As for Leo’s point, there is no making peace with Open Theism in the SBC for several reasons not the least of which is our own confessional document theologically places it outside of Southern Baptist consideration…

  8. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Peter,

    Thanks for dropping by and I look forward to your posts on this issue. Also, I edited your statement to say the same as you were saying. It just seems to read better my way. Of course, you know, as blog owner I get to take that prerogative. :)

    Blessings,
    Tim

  9. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Byroniac,

    I submit to you that the problem we have is not the strictness of the definitions but the openness of the definitions. Now, I am not speaking about open theism, but I am speaking about the looseness of the terms. The questions usually asked is, “are you a 3, 4, or 5 point Calvinist?” Problem with that is not that someone is affirming the various points of Calvinism, but that they see themselves as a Calvinist adding the points they affirm. The openness that we see today is someone can affirm 2 points of the Remonstrants arguments and still be considered a Calvinist. Saying someone is not a Calvinist because they do not affirm all 5 points is not strict, it is historical.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  10. Byroniac says:

    I see a fault of mine, I think, from your comments and Peter’s. I define Calvinism so strictly that if someone is not an atheist, Pelagian, or a (five-point) Calvinist, then one is an Arminian. I suppose that is a bit unfair, and I ought to be more consistent: either define all my terms strictly, or all of them loosely. That’s why I would have considered Dr. Allen and Dr. Lemke to be Arminians as best as I can tell, even though that’s admittedly not the most accurate. So I don’t know whether I need greater accuracy in theological labels (requiring more labels), or defining labels more loosely (meaning I would probably never even use them). So I suppose I should opt for Door #2. Unless you have a Door #3 to suggest to me.

  11. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Byroniac,

    This may have happened after you originally read my article because I tightened up some of the arguments after I released the article. Thus, you may not have seen this White Paper in the article when you read it originally.

    Having said that, this link will take you to an article that Drs. Lemke, Allen, Yarnell and others put out interacting with Dr. Roger Olson. I believe they clearly lay out a “Baptist” position concerning our discussion.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  12. Byroniac says:

    Thank you. I disagree with the White Paper (of course), but I see its point, and I even think that there may be some merit in having a Door #3 entitled “Baptist” if for no other reason, to have accuracy in labeling. Personally, if I had to choose between Baptist and Calvinist, I would have to choose Calvinist, except that I believe credobaptism is the only biblical method (for whatever that’s worth). OK, thanks for the information!

  13. Tim,

    Why how dare you take control of your own blog! I have a right to post what I want to post whether you agree or not. That’s the law of blogging. Perhaps censorship is not too strong a word…

    Now for a more serious note, Ascol claims SBTS PhD student Ben Rogers “exposes some of the historical inaccuracies in David Allen’s chapter on the atonement.” When I read that claim I actually thought Rogers was going to “review” and “respond to” David Allen as Ascol claimed even if it would be “selective.” Well, bust my britches! Rogers in no shape or form “responds to” Allen’s paper. Instead he merely denies Allen’s assertion John Bunyan was less than a high-Calvinist. Such is the only interaction with Allen whatsoever. The rest of the “review” of and “response to” Allen is Rogers’ understanding of Bunyan’s position.

    What is one to make of a full third of the Founders Journal issue (Rogers’ contribution) dedicated to answering Whosoever Will? It posits an alternate understanding of *one* historical figure Allen identified as a moderate-Calvinist, while overlooking 35 others! This is supposed to represent the expose’ of Allen’s “historical inaccuracies” in his paper? Even granting Rogers having a point, such concession hardly affects Allen’s overall historical survey.

    Even so, the most Rogers’ paper does toward “answering” Allen is showing John Bunyan’s view on limited atonement is disputed among scholars. That’s all. Like you indicated, Tim, Allen is not the only scholar who deems Bunyan less than a high-Calvinist. You mentioned Wenkel (as did Rogers). Also notable Calvinist scholar Curt Daniel as well as Tyndale Seminary professor, Paul Henebury take Allen’s view.

    Thus Ascol’s point that Rogers’ paper in the Founders Journal “exposes some of the historical inaccuracies in David Allen’s chapter on the atonement” is quite misleading. Dr. Allen stands with reputable scholarship when he posits Bunyan’s view on the atonement was not limited.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

  14. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Peter,

    Thanks for the addition to the scholarship concerning Bunyan. Your point is even stronger than mine. Certainly a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary would read other Calvinists scholars before assigning “historical inaccuracies” to a noted theologian and scholar. Especially when that noted theologian and scholar is within the SBC family. The way that critique reads is that Dr. Allen is holed up inside his office at SWBTS reading only the people he has agreement with. If this is what Founders calls “scholarly” responses I am, to say the least, surprised.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  15. Dr. James Galyon says:

    Tim,
    I appreciate this post. While I believe I do not believe it is in any way a disparagement against Drs. Allen and Lemke for PhD students to critique their positions (as opposed to having “established scholars” critique them), I believe tossing out labels such as “Arminian” (not to mention “Hyper-Calvinist”) can cause “family” discussions to break down. It’s interesting to note that Iain Murray points out in his fine work, ‘Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism’, how the Prince of Preachers stopped tossing out such labels as he matured in the ministry. He still held the same position as he did earlier, but he dealt with others in a much more conciliatory manner and refused to employ monikers which he believed would create dissension. I fear few will follow his example, and continue to toss out “Arminian” and “Hyper-Calvinist” with great frequency.

  16. Dr. James Galyon says:

    I should add… Spurgeon merely began referring to brothers and sisters in Christ as simply that, brothers – sisters – fellow Christians. He stopped utilizing the labels of “Calvinist”, “Arminian” and so forth.

  17. Tim Rogers says:

    Dr. Galyon,

    If I were to present a “scholarly” response to one of Dr. Nettles articles and it were some Ph.D. student that was critiquing it on a “scholarly” level, many would be the comments criticizing my definition of “scholarly critique”, and they would be correct to criticize me. Drs. Allen and Lemke are not only scholars, but a head of a Theology department and a Provost of a Theological Seminary. For a “scholar” to be critiqued from a “scholarly” perspective is it not logical that the one doing the critique be a “scholar”?

    As to the labels. When one defines one as a “hyper-Calvinist” or an “Arminian” one should do so based on certain criteria. When one says they are not a ‘hyper-Calvinist” or an “Armnian” one should give proof they are not and interact with those that say they are. Drs. Lemke and Allen did just that with Dr. Olson’s article. But, did the Barrett even acknowledge such an article existed? Not that I saw. Still Barrett deduced that Lemke was defending Arminian thought.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  18. Dr. James Galyon says:

    Tim,
    1) In the academic world, PhD students are considered academics. Their work is considered to be done on a scholarly level. Therefore, logically, a “scholarly critique” has been presented. So, no disparagement has been leveled. If a PhD student from SWBTS or Liberty or some other institution critiqued an article by Dr. Nettles, for example, then it would not be a disparagement of him.

    2) I agree, labels are assigned to individuals/systems based upon certain criteria. My point is that those very labels may begin to be used in such a manner where they are no longer simply examining the criteria. They may be utilized in a manner which maligns those being so labeled.

    I have not yet read Mr. Barrett’s article, but I would say that assigning the “Arminian” label to Drs. Lemke and Allen is less than helpful in discussing differences regarding soteriology within the SBC family. It would be entirely appropriate for him to discuss why he believes Dr. Olson is correct (or incorrect) in his assessment, however.

    When people are treated as labels rather than those created in the image of God, especially when they are fellow Christians, then problems exist on a much deeper level than simply holding differing theological views. When certain “Calvinists” treat non-Calvinists with disdain, regarding them as “Arminians” (i.e., “heretics” and not as Christians), then such “Calvinists” have a deep heart issue which needs to be rooted out and decimated. The same holds true for others, whether non-Calvinists (as opposed to Calvinists), Dispensationalists (as opposed to non-Pre-Trib/Premils), Baptists (as opposed to non-Baptists), etc., etc., etc.

    Civil discourse within the family requires family members treating other family members as family members, and not as proverbial red-headed step-children. I read your blog to see what you have to say, knowing we have differing views on such topics as election, eldership, etc. Nonetheless, I trust that my comments here are always gracious and respectful. I view you ultimately, not as a non-Calvinist prohibitionist (though you are) or some such, but as a brother in Christ. I rejoice for God’s grace in your life, and I’m glad that you are laboring for the sake of our Savior’s kingdom in the state of NC.

  19. Tim, thanks so much for posting this article. This is one that I pray many within the ranks of Baptist life particularly will read.

    I have had Dr. Bruce Alva Little as a professor at Southeastern Seminary for three semesters now…and I can tell you that he holds very strongly to the sovereignty of God as well as to libertarian freedom. I’ve taken his “Intro to Philosophy” course as well as his “Problem of Evil” class, read his book titled “Creation-Order Theodicy” (which I highly recommend), as well as his “Christian Faith and the Arts” class, which I took this past Fall 2010.

    Regarding the attacks, you’re right; where is the spirit of Christian love? I attack my mentor, Dr. Ken Keathley, a great deal at my blog; however, if you’ve noticed, I also write about my great respect for him and his gracious role as a professor and a friend in my life. There’s nothing wrong with attacking a system; but, as Roger Olson has said in his book, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities,” we must understand a point of view before we critique it. And, with your comment about Roger Olson, I think he should get to have more writing in Baptist journals, etc. As a classical Arminian myself, I see so much discrimination against those of us who hold to a different point of view. And I think that’s sad…how can believers claim to know of the love of God when we live as though we know nothing (or so little) about it?

    Thanks again, and may God bless you in your future endeavors. Happy New Year!