Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 1

I have been swamped the last several days and have not had time to post my promised evaluations of Dr. Garrett’s articles before today. In the meantime, several commenters have expressed many of my own views about them. I will offer only some summary thoughts in a several-part response.

I write as one who is grateful for Dr. Garrett’s influence in my life. The Lord used him to help keep me in the PhD program at Southwestern at time when I was so discouraged I was ready to quit. His example as a Christian scholar has been one to which I have pointed many times when discussing theological education with students and pastors.

First, three preliminary notes:

1. I refuse to question Dr. Garrett’s motives and would admonish all who are tempted to do so to resist such temptation. I suspect he wrote in response to a specific invitation and I have no reason to believe that his motivation was anything other than an accurate and fair assessment. I do not think that he achieved accuracy or fairness at every point, but not because he intentionally tried to spin the material. There is nothing in my knowledge of or experience with Dr. Garrett that would lead me to believe otherwise. In fact, I have many reasons (besides the biblical teaching that love hopes all things) to believe the way I do about this. Motives belong to God. No one can discern them infallibly. We are to deal with arguments and evidence.

2. As I disagree with many of his arguments and claims, I hope to do so in a gracious manner because I owe him that. This is a discussion among brothers and not a war between enemies. Those of us who believe the doctrines of grace must press each other to remember that it is never enough to be right. We must also be loving. Even to our enemies. And Dr. Garrett is far from an enemy. He is a brother–an elder brother who deserves to be treated with the utmost respect even as what he has written is scrutinized with the utmost care.

3. Dr. Garrett is a serious student of the Bible, theology and history and would want his writings on these subjects to be taken seriously. When I had him for classes and seminars, he was never offended at a student’s disagreement with his own views. What he demanded, however, was careful research, argumentation and documentation of one’s position. Some of the critiques offered in by commenters over the last week have done just that. Others, however, have not risen to that level.

I have discussed Dr. Garrett’s articles with various friends and have been the beneficiary of their insights. My response integrates those insights at many points.


Dr. Garrett implies that the Canons of Dort deemphasize human responsibility in their defense of divine sovereignty when he writes that, “Dort and the Arminians provided very specific answers–Dort in the direction of divine sovereignty and the Arminians in the direction of human accountability.” Yet, consider a sample of what Dort actually says about man’s responsibility (the first number refers to the “Head of Doctrine,” the second to the specific article under that head; thus “1.1” refers to First Head of Doctrine, article 1). The bold emphases are mine.

“Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)” (1.1).

The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man” (1.5).

Concerning those not elected for salvation, God chose “to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves” (1.15).

God’s “justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body.” (2.1)

“However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault” (2.6).

“Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts.” (3/4.1)

“The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13)” (3/4.9).

“However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and–in a manner at once pleasing and powerful–bends it back” (3/4.16).

“This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints” (5.12).

Do these words suggest that Dort in any way slights man’s responsibility before God? Hardly. Dr. Garrett does not specifically make that claim, but his words do leave that impression. One of the great misconceptions about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the former emphasizes God’s sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility and the latter emphasizes human responsibility to the neglect of God’s sovereignty.

But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish human responsibility at all. Granted, hyper-Calvinism does this, but it has always been regarded as an error by true Calvinists (as Spurgeon or Andrew Fuller). The point of departure comes because historic Calvinism does not make human responsibility depend on moral ability as Arminianism does. Calvinism teaches that, in the fall, man lost his moral ability to choose righteousness and carry out the duties of faith and repentance. Thus, these duties must be worked in a person by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (thereby making them gifts as well as duties).

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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