The Trouble with Frank Page's The Trouble with the Tulip

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Since hearing several weeks ago that Frank Page might be nominated for the office of president of the SBC I have been trying to secure a copy of his book, The Trouble with the TULIP: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism. I had read excerpts and a careful summary of the book by a trusted scholar, but I wanted to read the book for myself before commenting on his purported views. The book, which came out in 2000, is out of print and copies are hard to locate. Through the kindness of a friend I received a copy in the mail a few days ago.

It is only 80 pages long and is written in a popular style. The tone of the book is, for the most part, very gracious toward those who are convinced Calvinists. After reading it, I have no reason to alter my original assessment that Dr. Page is a very kind man, faithful pastor and would be wonderful to know as a friend. He is convinced, however, that people who believe the doctrines of grace are wrong and are guilty of following “manmade” teachings. While there are a few novel things in the book (such as his interpretation that Romans 9:10-13 proves that election is to service not salvation since it says that the older shall serve the younger! [63-64]), for the most part his views are little more that restatements of positions that have taken long before now, including the confusing of “Five Point” Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism (75-76).

It is unfortunate to see him decidedly agreeing with the late William Estep’s gratuitous claim that “This newfound fascination with Calvin and the system of theology that bears his name is both intriguing and puzzling, since most of the ardent advocates of this movement have only a slight knowledge of Calvin or his system as set forth in the Institutes of the Christian Religion.” He further agrees with Estep in saying that Calvinism is “a system of religion without biblical support” (74).

These quotes come from an article Dr. Estep wrote in 1997 entitled, “Doctrines lead to ‘Dunghill’ Prof Warns.” The Founders Journal dedicated nearly a complete issue to refuting Dr. Estep with responses by Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. Roger Nicole and me. If you only have time to read one of these articles, read Dr. Nicole’s. It is devastating. I wish Dr. Page had read these responses before he wrote his book. Perhaps he would not have been so enamored of Dr. Estep’s assertions.

Page also rehashes the old canard that Calvinism always kills evangelism. He writes,

If one does follow the logic of Calvinism, then a missionary or evangelistic spirit is unnecessary. If irresistible grace is the truth, then there is no need to share Christ with anyone, since those persons whom God has elected are irristibly going to be drawn into his kingdom anyway. If one studies the pages of history, one will see that Calvinistic theology (Five Point) has encouraged a slackening of the aggressive evangelistic and missionary heartbeat of the church (74-75).

One cannot help but wonder what pages of what history he has in mind. One can easily point to readily accessable pages of history that overwhelmingly refute this myth (see the section entitled, “Gratuitous Historical Assertions” in the link). These kinds of claims raise huge question marks over his response to Tad Thompson about the resurgence of reformed theology in the SBC. Page said:

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a Calvinist. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not Arminian. I do believe that this issue needs to be discussed openly and honestly.

I have also stated publicly that I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is big enough for all conservative Christians who have a kind spirit and an evangelistic heart, as well as a deep belief in the integrity of God’s Word.

I have attempted to be kind to all groups. As I have said in another interview, I have Calvinists within my church with whom I work well. One of my dearest friends in this state is a five-point Calvinist. I can work with almost anyone if they have a sweet spirit, an evangelistic heart, and a commitment to the integrity of God’s Word.

Furthermore, his pledge “to involve Calvinists and non-Calvinists who meet the criteria he has proposed for appointment” to leadership positions in the SBC, should he be elected president leaves on wondering exactly what he means. Is Page saying that he is willing to work with people who follow “manmade doctrines,” whose religion is “without biblical support,” whose theological convictions mean that “there is no need to share Christ with anyone” and encourage “a slackening of the aggressive evangelistic and missionary heartbeat of the church?” I would not work with such people and I would not want a president of the SBC who would, either.

I appreciate the spirit that comes through in Dr. Page’s book. I believe him when he says that he has attempted to be kind to all groups. That is the type of spirit that we need more of as we discuss our differences in the SBC. But kindness is not a “get out of jail free” card that allows theological judgments and arguments to be ignored. If Dr. Page genuinely believes what he has written about Calvinism, then no amount of kindness can justify his willingness to work with the kinds of people he has described in his book! It is as if he is saying that truth does not matter, and that is a position that no one who loves God’s Word should be willing to tolerate.

Here is my point. You cannot have it both ways. If you believe that a man’s theological conviction kills evangelism and missions and is built on manmade doctrines, then out of loyalty to Jesus Christ you cannot go on and say, “but I am willing to work with that man in Gospel enterprises.” Furthermore, do not expect those whose theological views are accused of opposing evangelism and missions to overlook such charges because they are made with gentleness and kindness.

I believe that Calvinists and non-Calvinists can and should work together in the SBC. I believe that Dr. Page does as well. His book, however, by confusing Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism and charging five-point Calvinism with being inherently anti-evangelism and anti-missions, does not contribute to that goal.

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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