A Brief Response to David Allen's Explanations and Rejoinder

Drs. Malcolm Yarnell, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and David Allen, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, and Dean of the School of Theology, both serving at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have each recently deemed words written by me on this blog worthy of public “responses.” Dr. Yarnell’s is basically an amped up version of his final comment in the meta of this post. It so is rife with innuendo and misrepresentation that I will not take time to respond to it.

Dr. Allen’s comments, however, are worthy of a response. It is refreshing to read comments from a denominational employee who has not forgotten that the seminary where he works is “owned and operate[d], through the trustee system, by the churches of the SBC.” It is also encouraging to read these words from him:

Dr. Ascol and I not only differ and disagree on the subject of Calvinism, but in fact, our disagreement in certain areas is quite strong. However, for the record, let it be known that I do not view Dr. Ascol’s critique of my words as an attack on me personally.

My critique of Dr. Allen’s review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, was never intended to be personal and, for the record, I do not take his criticisms of me and my views personally, either. I acknowledge him as a brother who is seeking to honor our common Lord and who deserves both my love and respect, which he has. My further interaction with some of his public comments is for the purpose of promoting understanding, accurate representation of the views we hold and mutual accountability–things that I sense Dr. Allen values as much as I.

I am grateful that Dr. Allen has willingly altered his manuscript to remove some of the condescending language he employed when describing Tom Nettles and Nathan Finn.

I am sorry to see Dr. Allen continue to defend his accusation of James White being a hyper-Calvinist. What I originally wrote has been largely vindicated. Thinking people are not impressed. The juxtaposition of the two following sentences by Dr. Allen does not help his case:

Incidentally, the attempts of Phil Johnson and James White at parsing words, nuancing or otherwise skirting the main issue at hand, have failed to show my initial statement concerning White to be false, in my opinion. I am willing to concede Johnson’s point that his Primer does not state what I interpreted it to state.

Dr. Allen concedes that he has misinterpreted Johnson’s primer on hyper-Calvinism, which misinterpretation is the basis on which he leveled the charge against Dr. White. To acknowledge that one’s premise is false while refusing to admit that the conclusion built upon it is in any way affected does not make sense. Here is the way that it comes across to me.

Original argument:

  1. According to Phil, anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist
  2. James is bald
  3. Therefore, James is a hyper-Calvinist

After Phil debunks the assertion that he has stated that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist:

  1. I admit that Phil has proven that he never said that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist and that when I said that he said that, I was wrong
  2. Nevertheless, this does not prove that my conclusion about James White is false

What is it that makes one want to maintain the conclusion that is admittedly built on a faulty premise? The rationale escapes me.

On November 24, under a heading that says, “Why I said James White is a Hyper-Calvinist,” Dr. Allen wrote,

My main point, which seems to have been lost on so many people, was not to focus on James White and his hyper-Calvinism. My point was to show the unwisdom on the part of Tom Ascol in his willingness to team up with James White to debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. Many non-Calvinists within our convention are concerned not only about Calvinism, but about some hyper-Calvinistic tendencies in the convention.

Anyone who knows me well can vouch for my “unwisdom” in various areas. Dr. Allen could have chosen any number of ways to highlight it, had he wished. I am glad that he pointed out that this was his “main point” because I also was among the “many people” that missed it. Of course, if, as has been sufficiently demonstrated by Phil Johnson and James White and asserted by me, James White is NOT a hyper-Calvinist, then Dr. Allen’s main point is not only hard to recognize it is without merit.

This sheds light on why Dr. Allen thinks that I continue to miss the point. He writes,

Apparently Ascol is either 1) unaware of this difference between White and himself, or 2) does not believe there is a difference between his own views and White on this subject, or 3) is unwilling to conclude that such a difference makes White a hyper-Calvinist, or some combination of the three.

I am fairly aware of what James White believes. He speaks and writes very clearly. He and I do not significantly disagree on this subject. We might state things a little differently, but we both agree that God’s will must be seen in terms of decree and precept and we both agree that God will not be frustrated at the end of history. Dr. Allen simply does not understand James White’s views nor, it appears, the theology of hyper-Calvinism.

Furthermore, Dr. Allen writes, “Can anyone say that Steve Camp does not meet Phil Johnson’s criteria on hyper-Calvinism?” Yes. I can. Dr. Allen has conceded that he misunderstood and therefore misrepresented Phil Johnson’s criteria. Thus, once again, the conclusion which derives from the faulty premise also falls.

The brotherly thing for Dr. Allen to do is to retract his statements, apologize to these men for bearing false witness against them and continue studying hyper-Calvinism.

Dr. Allen transcribes his comments from the John 3:16 conference with the following:

Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don’t need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It’s fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism.

I find this admonition incredible. Founders Ministries has been decrying hyper-Calvinism longer and louder than ANYONE in the Southern Baptist Convention. Anyone who has ten minutes and knows how to use the search engine on our website could learn that. Let me just set the record straight on this.

  1. In 1996, the Founders Journal published a letter I wrote to a father whose son was caught up in real hyper-Calvinism, trying to counsel him on how to help and evangelize his son. In that same issue, an excerpt from a small book I wrote was included under the title, “Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism: Issues Shaping Our Identity as Southern Baptists.”
  2. In 1996, Founders Ministries gave away 2000 copies of Iain Murray’s book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. We were ridiculed, chastised and questioned by friend and foe alike for “stirring up trouble when there is none.” We pressed on with this effort because, as students of history, we know that hyper-Calvinism is a parasite and it only emerges where true Calvinism lives. Because we saw the danger of what might attend the resurgence of true Calvinism, we sought to educate as many people as we could about the issues.
  3. We have, on this blog and elsewhere, repeatedly addressed the error of hyper-Calvinism, calling it pernicious, damnable, and unbiblical.

When I read Dr. Allen’s words that “it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism” I want to laugh and say, “Welcome to the party, I am sorry it took you so long to get here.”

In his review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, Dr. Allen raises concerns about my involvement, and Founders Ministries’ involvement, in the Building Bridges Conference and raises a question about “two Southern Baptist entities (LifeWay and Southeastern Seminary) partnering with a non-Southern Baptist entity (Founders Ministries) for this kind of conference.” He writes,

My concern is with the involvement of the Founders Ministries. For them to be a co-sponsor legitimizes their agenda within the convention, an agenda which is counter productive in my judgment. For SBC entities to partner with any non-SBC group that is polarizing and that represents a small fragment of the convention is problematic.

In response to this, I made the following points: 1) Why then would he tolerate his own seminary’s partnership with a non-lordship salvation group like Grace Evangelical Fellowship by hosting them on campus? 2) Why would he support and participate in the John 3:16 conference, sponsored by 3 “Southern Baptist entities” in partnership with Jerry Vines Ministires, a “non-Southern Baptist entity?”

Here is Dr. Allen’s rejoinder to this:

First, Dr. Jerry Vines is a Southern Baptist with every right to express his theological disagreement with Calvinism through his own ministry.

Amen. No one is questioning this point. The same is true of me and Founders Ministries.

Second, there is a significant difference in Founders Ministries partnering with SBC entities for a bi-partisan conference, and SBC entities co-sponsoring a partisan conference.

Let me get this straight. If SEBTS and LifeWay had partnered with Founders to sponsor a partisan conference (let’s call it, the “Acts 13:48 conference” 🙂 ), then Dr. Allen would have us believe that he would have had no problem with that? That strikes me as unlikely.

It gets even more confusing. He continues:

Furthermore, since non-partisan SBC entities partnered with partisan Founders Ministries for the Building Bridges Conference, it would seem to me Dr. Ascol would have no grounds to question non-partisan SBC entities partnering with partisan Jerry Vines ministries on this or any subject.

I didn’t question him on this. I used his actions (participating in the J316 conference) as an example of doing the very thing that he protested about the Building Bridges Conference. For him to suggest that I was the one who raised this question is convoluted.

I am grateful to read of Dr. Allen describe himself as “one of those who genuinely want to bridge our doctrinal divides and live together with my Calvinist brothers and sisters in true unity and love.” I believe him. My critique of what he has written and said do not address the question of his motives. Motives belong to God. I have simply tried to point out that much of what he has written and said has been detrimental to his own stated desire.

I have been informed that an open forum on Calvinism is being hosted tomorrow by Dr. Allen for students and interested parties in the Truett Conference Room on Southwestern’s campus. This seems to me to be a good step and I will pray that it will go a long way to clearing up confusion and building more bridges. I recommend that you read Quincy Jones’ admonitions at the link above if you plan to attend.