Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation, Part 4

The authors offer 10 “Articles of Affirmation and Denial” in setting forth what they believe “most Southern Baptists” will find acceptable and true to the teachings of the Bible on the nature of salvation. Obviously, the articles should be understood as summary statements and not detailed explanations of the doctrinal positions asserted. An impressive array of Scripture citations follows each one. A suggestion that I would make to the authors and signers of the document is that they provide a document that includes exegesis of the texts cited. This would further promote understanding of their views by and demonstrate the interpretive approach that has led them to their doctrinal positions. It would also provide opportunity for further dialogue by allowing those who differ with some of their positions to interact with their interpretation of Holy Scripture.

I will give my thoughts on each of the 10 articles, noting areas of agreement and elaborating the points of disagreement.

Article One: The Gospel

We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are
predestined to an eternity in hell.

Genesis 3:15; Psalm 2:1-12; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; Luke 19.10; Luke 24:45-49; John 1:1-18, 3:16; Romans 1:1-6, 5:8; 8:34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 4:4-7; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-16; 2 Peter 3:9

I also affirm that the gospel is good news that God has made a way of salvation through the person and work of Jesus though I think that statement stops short of declaring what the gospel actually is and does. I affirm that God has actually provided salvation for sinners through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The language of this article seems to lean away from an objective provision of salvation and toward a mere potential provision of a “way” of salvation. It is the difference between clearing a road in the jungle so that any who are lost may find their way home by it and actually going to those who are lost and bringing them home along the road. Jesus did not merely make salvation possible. He actually accomplished salvation by His life, death and resurrection.

Paul speaks in objective terms about the gospel when he defines it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 by asserting “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” “For our sins” indicates an objective accomplishment. Similarly, in Romans 1:16 Paul calls the gospel “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Not potential power “for any person” (as article 1 states), but real power to all who believe. Certainly, “any person” who believes the gospel will be saved, though the article does not qualify their affirmation that way.

I can also affirm “God’s desire for every person to be saved” though I suspect that my reasons for doing so would differ from those who have framed this document. In His law God commands everyone to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3) and in His gospel He “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This revealed “desire” of God in no way mitigates His eternal purpose as expressed, regarding salvation, in the doctrine of unconditional election. This latter doctrine involves the “secret things that belong to the Lord our God” while the former “desire” is part of “the things that are revealed” which “belong to us and to our children” (Deuteronomy 29:29). God has revealed His will that all people be saved but He has purposed that His chosen people will infallibly be saved.

The denial seems to have in mind the following idea which I have never heard anyone assert as a conviction: that only a select few (the elect?) are capable of responding to the gospel while the rest are predestined to hell. Assuming that by “capable” the authors mean “the spiritual ability to repent and believe” (which is the only saving response to the gospel) then I think they have denied too little. Scripture teaches that no sinner has the innate ability to repent and believe the gospel. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44; cf. 6:65; emphasis added). Paul said, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7–8; emphasis added). Faith pleases God. “Can” (dunatai) is a word of ability. These verses teach that no unconverted person–regardless of whether he is predestined in any sense to any destination–has the spiritual ability to respond to the gospel by his own free will. This is at variance with the denial which necessarily implies everyone–and “not only a select few”–has the ability to repent and believe.

This first article signals the authors’ and signers’ understanding that the human will was not terribly affected by the fall. Their views on this are stated more plainly in Article Two.

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