Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 4

Dr. Garrett helpfully distinguishes the internal, effectual call of God from the external, general call. Many less thoughtful critics of Calvinism fail to recognize this distinction and, consequently, often wind up dismissing a straw man in their critique of “irresistible grace.” Garrett writes,

Dortian Calvinists normally differentiate the external, or outward, call of God from the internal, or special, call of God to salvation. The external call includes the public preaching of the gospel. It can be rejected. In fact, we are told that it is uniformly rejected by nonelect human beings.

The internal call, on the contrary, cannot be rejected and always results in conversion because the Holy Spirit is at work. Neither the new birth (John 3:8) nor the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) nor “God’s workmanship” (Eph. 2:10) can be resisted, according to Edwin H. Palmer in “The Five Points of Calvinism.” Furthermore David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented” cite as proof-texts for irresistible grace numerous texts that specify God’s internal call: Romans 1:67, 8:30, 9:2324; 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2, 9, 2331; Galatians 1:1516; Ephesians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:15, 2:9, 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1; and Revelation 17:14.

However, these allusions to God’s effectual internal calling apply only to the irresistible grace that relates to internal calling. They do not invalidate the rejection of the outward call and indeed of the gospel of Christ by those who persist in unbelief (John 3:18, 5:47, 6:64; Rom. 11:23; Heb. 3:19).

I don’t disagree with Dr. Garrett in his treatment of this point. His final comments on it, however, leave me wondering why he included them. Again, he writes,

We should never tell an unbeliever who scorns the message of the gospel that he or she can never be saved. Remember how the unbelieving, persecuting Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle!

No Calvinist would disagree. And no non-Calvinist would disagree. It may be that Dr. Garrett felt compelled to include this statement in case some might tempted to entertain the notion that rejection of the Gospel at any point means the forfeiture of any hope of ever being saved. With him, I renounce any such thought.

In his treatment of “unconditional election” Dr. Garrett makes the following helpful observation when commenting on Romans 8:29-30,

Dortian Calvinists are probably correct in interpreting “foreknew” as “loved beforehand” rather than “knew beforehand.”

Furthermore, he observes,

The standard Arminian answer to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is to posit that God knew beforehand who would repent and believe and hence chose such persons to be the elect. As noted, such a position may rest on a faulty understanding of the biblical term “foreknew.”

His main point of critique comes when he questions whether “the Augustinian-Calvinist tradition has over-individualized the doctrine of election and downplayed the corporate or collective aspect of the doctrine.” While that may be demonstrable in certain writers, it is certainly true that belief in both is not mutually exclusive.

Dr. Garrett does not address perservance of the saints because, he says, “most Southern Baptists hold to this doctrine.”

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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