Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election (3)

T.U.L.I.P.

Top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have legitimate concerns for disregarding the Calvinistic doctrine of election. Some of these concerns have merit, but many of them are inappropriate due to a lack of understanding or abuse of theology. Therefore it is important to get a full-picture understanding and background on Calvinism before diving into the doctrine of election solely.

The acronym of T.U.L.I.P. has been devised to summarize the five points of Calvinism.[1] The five points are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Preservation of the saints. Total depravity means that all men are sinners by nature. Baptists have agreed that men are naturally born sinners but have disagreed with some Calvinists on degree. More extreme Calvinists would say that all aspects of man are sinful therefore man, on his own power, he is incapable of making any moral choice without God regenerating them first. Baptist Faith and Message say “By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race …. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”[2] Baptists agree that men are sinful and fallen but they leave the matter of moral action up for interpretation, leaning in opposition to Calvinism.

Concerning “Unconditional election,” the Baptist Faith and Message, in simple accord with Scripture, states: “Election is the gracious purpose of God” which “is consistent with the free agency of man.[3]” General Calvinists argued that God decreed from eternity to elect some to salvation. The more extreme Calvinists taught “double predestination” which means God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate.[4] God preordained those who would be damned to sin and Hell just as God preordained those who would be elect. It is a long stretch even for a hyper-Calvinist to explain this Biblically. The Faith and Message leaves this point open for discussion and debate, more on this issue will be discussed in much more detail below.

In regards to “Limited atonement,” the Baptist Faith and Message, simply states: “in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.[5]” This is an issue where Christians of many sects and denominations struggle to see where John Calvin is coming from theologically, because the silence of any Scriptures advocating a Calvinistic view on this topic. Calvinists believe that atonement is limited to the elect only. Christ’s blood pays the price for those who were elected to Heaven. Arminius, Baptists among so many others believe that atonement is not limited an “elect” but that His blood covers everyone’s sins. John 3:16 states “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Emphasis mine).[6] It does not say “For God so loved the elect…” implying that Jesus died for all, not just the elect. Although, the issue gets more complex in light of what one believes about the doctrine of election. This kind of thinking is also dangerous because if Christ died for all, why aren’t all going to be saved? Leading to universalism… Or is it merely a desire of God to see all people saved and Christ’s blood is sufficient to save all people? If the Calvinist view of the doctrine of election is true and there is an “elect” then logically it is more possible that Christ’s blood only covers that “elect.”

On the doctrine of “Preservation of the saints,” the Baptist Faith and Message says “all true believers endure to the end” and “will never fall away.[7] Baptists confidently agree with the Calvinists on this point. Eph. 1:13, 14 says, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.[8]” When salvation is real, the Holy Spirit seals us as Disciples of Christ and guarantees us our eternal inheritance.

In General, the Southern Baptists Convention is not too concerned or legalistic about which (or any of the 5 points of Calvinism) a believer chooses to accept. There is room for diversity of beliefs.[9] Southern Baptist do not want to divide amongst themselves but instead desire to keep the main focus on following the Great Commission whether anyone chooses to be a one-point Calvinist, complete Arminan or 5-point Calvinism.[10]


[1] See appendix A

[2] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism.” SBC LIFE. (2009). Baptist Press. Retrieved from http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=22971 accessed on Aug. 1st, 2009, pg. 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] R.C. Sproul, “Double Predestination.” Ligonier Ministries: renewing Your Mind. Retrieved from http://www.the highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html , Accessed on Aug. 10, 2009, pg. 1.

[5] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism,” pg.1.

[6] Unless otherwise noted all scripture is from the NASB (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995), John 3:16.

[7] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism.” Pg.1.

[8] NASB, Eph. 1:13,14.

[9] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism,” pg. 1.

[10] Elmer Towns, “WHAT SHOULD SOUTHERN BAPTIST DO WITH CALVINIST?,” pg. 12.

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