What is an Arminian?

Arminians and Calvinists have coexisted in the Southern Baptist Convention from its inception in 1845. While individuals from both camps have not always played nicely with each other, the general cooperation among the majority has been arguably quite productive over seventeen decades. I celebrate such cooperation, and I acknowledge that secondary matters (those doctrines that are not primary or essential to the Gospel) do not have to divide us.

In an earlier post, I argued for patience and kindness among Southern Baptists who might disagree on some secondary matters of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). In addition, I also suggested that deeper investigation would be helpful for anyone seeking to participate in the ongoing conversation. In an effort to spur on such investigation, I offer this brief introduction to the Arminian position.

Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian during the later period of the Protestant Reformation. Arminius and his followers opposed Calvinistic theology. His followers (the Remonstrance) organized their opposition to John Calvin’s system around five particular disputed points, which became the five-pointed dividing line between Arminianism and Calvinism. Interestingly, the “five points of Calvinism” were not a bulleted theological structure until the Remonstrance made them the focus of their opposition (more on this in an article to come).

The Remonstrance presented the Arminian case at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), and codified the theological position. The Five Articles of the Remonstrance are:

1) Conditional Predestination: God predestines some sinners for salvation, and this predestination is conditionally based on God’s foreknowledge about each person’s anticipated faith or unbelief.

2) Universal Atonement: Christ died for all humans, and God intended His sacrifice for all humans, but only those sinners who accept this atoning work will be saved.

3) Saving Faith: Sinful and Fallen humanity is unable to attain saving faith, unless he is regenerated and renewed by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

4) Resistible Grace: The grace of God is effective, but it is resistible, so man must cooperate with God’s grace to bring about personal salvation.

5) Uncertainty of Perseverance: Although God’s grace is abundant, the sinner can lose that grace and become lost even after he has been saved.

Arminianism has enjoyed both a minority and majority position among Southern Baptists over the years. It is also important to note that some Arminians may not affirm all five of these articles, or they may not affirm each of them with the same fervor. In recent history, the Arminian system (or some variation of it) has been the most commonly held view in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Arminian view is widely embraced among Methodists, Nazarenes, and Wesleyans today. C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tower, and Adrian Rogers are three notable men who affirmed (at least generally) an Arminian position. There are others, but these are significant voices, and each represents a distinct platform among culture and Christianity.

This brief article is only intended as a very simple introduction to this theological system. I suggest much further investigation for the interested Christian, and there are numerous books and articles that might be a help. In my estimation, Wayne Grudem’s book, Systematic Theology, does a good job of explaining the various views of biblical salvation. This would be a great starting point for further study.

Whether you embrace this view or not, it is vital that all believers look to the Bible as the ultimate authority. It is also important that we humbly and graciously investigate the Bible alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ.

May God correct, shape, and encourage us all as we dive more deeply into His Word.

Southern Baptists, Arminians, and Calvinists

Within Southern Baptist churches there exists a variety of people who claim to be Arminians or Calvinists. In my experience, many of these individuals do not actually affirm many of the propositions that are included in the historic theological systems represented by those names. Instead, the shorthand references seem to have been drained of some substantial theological cargo. More often than not, “Calvinist” and “Arminian” now simply float as hollow battleships representing differing views on the doctrine of salvation. This is unfortunate and less than helpful.

The rise in number and influence of those who might call themselves Calvinist has also caused no small amount of concern for many Southern Baptists. The reasons for all of this heartburn may be many, but I think that one major contributing factor is unfamiliarity. Anytime something is unfamiliar, it tends to make us uneasy – at least a little.

Ask the average Southern Baptist what he or she knows about Arminianism or Calvinism, and you are likely to get a puzzled look followed by a confused reply. Moreover, if some Southern Baptists do seem to know something about either or both of these camps, they will often have only a truncated or twisted perspective. If the Southern Baptists of today were as disinterested in theological investigation as the Southern Baptists of the 1950s-1990s (activity was their greater focus), then this misunderstanding would not be as much of a problem. However, there has been a dramatic rearrangement of the American cultural landscape, and the congregations who live and work on this new terrain have changed as well.

Since the Southern Baptist Convention was first formed in 1845, there have been both Calvinists and Arminians in the family. Particular Baptists (Calvinistic) and General Baptists (Arminian) both joined in cooperated efforts to proclaim the Gospel far and wide. Because of this diversity in the SBC, there have also been various times in which each theological camp has enjoyed the more prominent role in the convention. Of course, there have been vigorous debates and even family fights, but Southern Baptists have never shied away from a healthy debate or fight. The point is that the disagreeing sides of this particular theological debate have cooperated significantly in the past. I believe that we would be childish and foolish to think that this kind of cooperation cannot continue.

In order to work towards clarity and civility in the current situation, it will be helpful for everyone to investigate, think, and then speak (with patience and humility). By God’s grace, Southern Baptists (Arminians and Calvinists alike) can continue to unite under the banner of the Gospel, and we may continue to defend those Biblical distinctives that have made us Baptists.

 

Is the NIV Bible good or bad?

My first Bible was the NIV

I began my Christian journey at 19 years old, and I was reading through “The Student Bible” New International Version (published in 1996 by Zondervan). It was given to me at some point during my teen years, but I never had any time for the Bible until I was miraculously converted in my college dorm room. One afternoon I noticed that I was just sitting on my bunk bed reading the Bible, and this had been a regular occurrence for several days. This was totally unusual for me, and so I began to notice other changes in my affections too. God saved me from my sin, from myself, and from His wrath.

I continued to read this “Student Bible” for some time, but someone gave me a burgundy, leather-bound New American Standard Bible (NASB) with my name engraved on the cover when I was in my early twenties, and my old paperback “Student Bible” was shelved. At the time, I did not know much about the various Bible translations, but I felt I had crossed a maturity threshold when my Bible was covered with leather and no longer had the word “Student” splashed across its face. Over the years, I have come to understand much more about translations and the intent behind each one. It has been more difficult to keep up with all of the more recent translations, but I try to keep my awareness at a reasonable level. As a pastor, church members will occasionally ask me a question about Bible translations, and I like to give them a quality answer as often as I can.

As I became more aware of the intentionality that drives each Bible translation, not to mention the various texts consulted by interpreters, I actually continued to like the New International Version (1984 NIV). Some translations seek to be more of a word-for-word translation, others seek to be a thought-for-thought translation of the original language, but the NIV aimed for a middle ground between the two. Some translation committees (the groups of scholars investing time and effort into translation) hold a higher view of Scripture than others, and this too has a dramatic effect upon their translation. The NIV (published in 1973 and revised in 1978 and 1984) sought to be “a contemporary English translation of the Bible.”[1] In this translation, the committee also remained conservative in their scholarship and maintained a high view of Scripture.

I believe that the 1984 NIV is a good translation of God’s Word. It is not my favorite for personal study, nor is it my first choice when reading Scripture publically, but I still like it. I have even recommended it to some readers at times. This is why the developments of the NIV over the last decade have been so disappointing.

New International Controversy

In 2005 there was a controversial translation published by Zondervan called “Today’s New International Version.” Among the scholars listed on the Committee on Bible Translation for this project were some noteworthy individuals (Gordon Fee and Douglas J. Moo). This particular translation was in line with the general philosophy of the NIV translation from the beginning, but it also made significant changes to gender-specific language, which earned this translation the moniker “the Gender-Neutral Bible.” While those who investigate the TNIV may view the debate from varying perspectives, it is clear that gender-inclusive language was intentionally an aim of the translators.

A Washington Post article depicts the controversy over translations with a reference to one of the less significant passages. Pointing to Mark 4:25, the article cites the 1984 version of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible where Jesus is quoted saying, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” The article goes on to say, “Today’s New International Version [2005 TNIV], changed that to: ‘Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’”[2] There seems to be little here for major concern. No violence appears to have been done to the meaning or intent of the text. But this is an example from a passage that blurs the translation’s design to pull away from the purposeful language of the biblical text.

The 1984 NIV translates Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The 2005 TNIV translates the same passage “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This too may seem less than offensive in the eyes of many, but there is great significance to the words God intended divinely-inspired authors to write. It is no small matter that both maleness and femaleness are distinctions under the original creation of “man.” There is much more to delve into here than a brief article will allow, but gender-neutral language leaves much theological import on the table.

In spite of the controversy (maybe precisely because of this gender-neutral language), the TNIV has sold well from the shelves of Christian bookstores. One might understand that widespread trust and acceptance is one of the major rubs of the controversy to begin with. Many people like and trust the NIV Bible, so it is not a surprise that many would also embrace the newer translation in the same vein. Those who advocate against the gender-inclusiveness of the TNIV seem to sound their alarms in the direction of deaf ears.

Even though the TNIV did sell fairly well, the Committee on Bible Translation sought to reattempt a better launch of an updated NIV. It may be difficult to show that the committee was motivated by the stinging reception that the TNIV got when it was published, but it would seem that the experience likely provided at least some provocation for the 2011 NIV translation. This latest translation has done away with 25% of the gender-inclusive language adjustments from the 2005 TNIV, but that means that 75% of those adjustments remain.

We are not free to do as we please

The serious question that one must consider is not, “Is there room to allow for more gender-inclusive language in the biblical text?” Instead, one should ask, “Should anyone feel at liberty to adjust the biblical text where it may better fit the cultural norms of the day?” No doubt, many will argue that the gender-neutrality of many passages is no significant adjustment. However, it may also be argued that it is precisely in the gender-specific language of the biblical text that we are able to see the only rationality that will undergird value and distinction for both males and females. There is much at stake here for the observant Christian, and there is good reason to avoid gender-neutrality. God has created “man” in His image, and He has created “man” male as well as female (Gen. 1:27). This truth is more profound than most understand, and it is exactly what our gender-confused culture needs to know.

Like the TNIV, the 2011 NIV has also sold very well in Christian bookstores. Most Christians do not seem to have much difficulty accepting this translation as one of quality, and many celebrate the gender-neutrality of the 2011 NIV. After releasing the 2011 NIV, the Zondervan Publishing House discontinued both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV. The New International Version of the Bible is now exclusively the 2011 NIV. Even my favorite online Bible study tool (biblehub.com) displays the 2011 NIV as simply “NIV.” For these reasons, I no longer use the NIV Bible.

I still like the 1984 NIV, and I would still encourage anyone who enjoys this translation to keep reading it. It saddens me to be forced into including the 1984 NIV with the 2011 NIV, but because of the confusion between the two (both are called NIV) this is what I must do.

Therefore, I cannot endorse the 2011 NIV, and thus I cannot endorse the NIV anymore.

 

The Southern Baptist Convention Statement on the NIV

It may also be helpful to note that the Southern Baptist Convention (that is the collective of Southern Baptist pastors and church representatives from all over the nation) has publically and adamantly denied an endorsement of both TNIV and 2011 NIV (See the SBC Resolutions below). I am not one to follow a crowd just for the sake of avoiding what usually accompanies a solitary stand, but I appreciate the significant effort regarding biblical fidelity of the SBC.

Over the years, the SBC has ebbed and flowed, as have the Southern Baptists who comprise the group. But, the SBC has earned Southern Baptists the identity of being a “people of the Book” for good reason. Southern Baptists are a people who are constantly going back to the Book (the Bible) to reaffirm adherence to it, and to submit to God’s Word rather than to cultural expectations. God’s holy Word is too important to capitulate to the socially acceptable language of the day. It is my strong conviction that the Bible should be readable and accessible to all people everywhere, but this does not mean that it should be made more palatable or inoffensive to all people everywhere.

 

SBC Resolutions

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender-neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.[3]


[1] http://www.bible-researcher.com/niv.html

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/17/AR2011031703434.html

[3] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1218

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?

When is the right time to witness to someone?  What does a Christian need to know before witnessing or evangelizing?  Must a Christian wait to witness to someone until he or she is burdened or compelled by some inward sensation?  This question may be phrased in numerous ways and yet ask basically the same thing.  I think asking and answering three larger questions will help us answer these and others more definitively, as well as guide our understanding of evangelism or witnessing in general.

What is evangelism or witnessing? 

Essentially evangelism and witnessing are two ways of labeling the same activity.  Evangelism comes from the word evangel, which is a transliteration of the Greek word euangelion, meaning good message.  The message called good is that singularly wonderful message of how God promised and performed all that was necessary to save sinners in the person and work of Christ.  Therefore, evangelism is the activity of proclaiming or telling of that great message.

Witnessing carries the same idea.  To witness to someone is essentially to attest to those propositional statements, which make up the good message or Gospel.  So, evangelism is the telling of the Gospel (the good message of salvation through Christ), and witnessing is testifying to the trustworthiness of that message.

There is a common ambiguity in our day concerning both the Gospel message itself and what it means to convey that message.  There are those who would attempt to expand or condense the Gospel in order to enhance or improve it, but any adjustment to the Gospel is a violent attack upon it (Galatians 1:6-9).  Many are not satisfied to only adjust the message; they even seek to thwart the communication of any real substance.  Some would claim that the Gospel message may (and in many cases should) be delivered in action rather than speech.

Well-intentioned preachers and Christians attribute a saying to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”  This phrase is not a direct quote because there is no actual record of St. Francis ever saying or writing these words.  Yet, even if there were such record, the statement would remain utterly nonsensical.  While bringing a meal to an individual in need of nourishment may be an illustration of what implications the Gospel message has, it is an extremely poor substitute for the Gospel message itself.  A sinner with an empty belly, after eating a marvelous meal, remains still an enemy of God and destined for eternal destruction.

Only the verbal (audible or otherwise) communication of propositional statements concerning God, sin, Christ and His eternally saving work will suffice as a means by which God brings dead sinners to life in Christ and saves their souls (Romans 10:13-14).

What role do Christians play in evangelism or witnessing? 

Wrapped up in the desire to tell people about the Gospel is usually the Christian’s aspiration to see at least someone believe that message.  So, one would do well to understand how much a witness or evangelist can contribute to the conversion of another before they set their contributive goals.  If the evangelist’s goal is to save sinners, then he or she has set a goal unattainable by anyone but Christ.

The Apostle Paul says to those to whom he had been a witness, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  He says that he had been the recipient of a message and he had also passed that message along to them.  The message he speaks of is that message concerning Christ and His work that was ‘according to the Scriptures.’  The Apostle Peter refers to the “good news” that was preached and received or believed (1 Peter 1:12, 25), thus resulting in “the salvation of souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

There are a number of passages that would lend themselves to this discussion, but in these two passages we may understand at least a couple of things.  One, the Gospel or good news is a message of a particular content that is to be transmitted by someone (or more than one) through the use of words.  Two, the believing or receiving of the message is distinct from the message itself and this is the delineating line between those who experience the salvation of which the Gospel speaks.

It is not an overstatement then to say that the best and most an evangelist can do is transmit the good message or Gospel.  There are far reaching and profound implications in this simple phrase, not the least of which is the idea that the highest goal of the evangelist is to transmit the message accurately – without addition or subtraction.  This short address of another issue will not give enough space to map out all or even most of the implications in the statement above.  Yet, the fact remains that the role of the witness is to transmit or communicate the message.

Successful communication of the Gospel, then, is nothing more and certainly not less than accurate communication of the content of that preeminent message.  In other words, whether one believes the message upon hearing it has nothing whatever to do with the role of the evangelist.

What is the ultimate purpose of evangelism or witnessing? 

If the purpose of witnessing to someone is not to try to convert them (as we established above, this is not the role of the evangelist), then what is the purpose?  The short answer is to glorify God.  One cannot read through the first 14 verses of Ephesians chapter one without surmising that what God has done in the salvation of sinners is for His glory and according to His will or good pleasure.

There is no doubt that some will perceive this goal as too rigid, lifeless, or uncompassionate, but this is the highest goal that anyone might have.  In fact, this is the chief goal of everything in life.  The Christian is privileged to participate in God’s work of glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners.

Thanks be to God that He has given Christians any part to play at all!

So, evangelism is telling people of the message of Jesus Christ’s redeeming work, and the witness’s role is simply to transmit that message accurately and regularly.  The ultimate purpose of witnessing is to bring glory to God in an accurate proclamation of what He has done in revealing Himself through the Gospel.

Because these are true, it seems easy to answer the questions listed at the beginning.

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?  NO! 

Why would one need to wait for anything like that at all?