Article entitled “Churches, Get a Calvinist Pastor!” by Tom Nettles (original source here)
Southern Baptists inherited the most compelling aspects of all the Baptist Calvinists that preceded them. James P. Boyce summarized this well. He encouraged every preacher to get theological education in some way, even if it could not be at the Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. If no other means were available, he advised, “work at it yourself.” The fathers of the convention did this, Boyce claimed; “They familiarized themselves with the Bible, and Gill and Andrew Fuller, and they made good and effective preachers. God is able to raise up others like them.”1 The irony of Boyce’s appeal to the grassroots for support of theological education was this: the seminary would not interrupt, but would perpetuate, the work of pastoral ministry, preaching and theology consistent with the Gill/Fuller tradition.
But this is the very difficulty that we face at this moment in Southern Baptist history. God indeed is raising up others like them, that is, like the fathers. Whether self-educated or seminary-educated, Boyce and all his contemporaries viewed a Bible theology that reflected a blend of Gill and Fuller as normal and expected. Churches should have no other kind of pastor.
These are the ones that would maintain the spiritual and doctrinal health and fervor of the churches. Today, however, some Southern Baptists are warning the churches against them. This is a mammoth historical irony that many find difficult to appreciate.
The Charleston Association in its adoption of the 1689 Confession and in the preaching of such men as Oliver Hart, Richard Furman, Basil Manly, Sr., bequeathed the theology of the fathers to James P. Boyce. In his analysis of the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, Boyce wrote, “This doctrine is inseparably associated with the other doctrines of grace which we have found taught in God’s word. So true is this, that they are universally accepted, or rejected together. The perseverance of the saints is a part of every Calvinistic confession. . . . All the evidence, therefore, of the truth of the doctrines already examined, may be presented in favour of this which is a necessary inference from them. In like manner, all the independent proof of this doctrine confirms the separate doctrines, and the system of doctrine, with which it is associated.”2 Boyce’s conviction at this point challenges the contemporary position of many Baptists who still maintain a doctrine of perseverance but separate it from the rest of the biblical pattern, the doctrinal system, of which it is intrinsically a part. Those that have departed from the historic view, and the theologically consistent view, now warn churches against those that that are true-blue, dyed in the wool, 100 proof Southern Baptist.
They are faulted when they contend that, though of Reformed viewpoint, they don’t want to wear that label. That is not because they are less than sincere in that conviction or because they don’t believe it to undergird healthy church life both in evangelism and the sanctifying influences of truth. It’s because of the caricatures presented in the instructive documents given to pulpit committees. Even the ridiculous charge of bringing in infant baptism to a Baptist church has been made. It’s also because a marvelous array of biblical truths, to which there should be no objection, is vitally connected to the distinctives of Calvinism. Their power, in fact, flourishes in that doctrinal context.
If pulpit committees and churches would look below the façade of scare-tactic accusations and warnings being rolled out like taffy at the Mississippi State Fair, they would discover something healthy and very desirable in the men and the message preached by those against whom they are warned. No one wants a nasty confrontation between church and pastor that leads to a confused and often divided congregation and a battered pastor and his family. These are charitable warnings. Some congregations, however, might desire to consider why Baptists for so long guarded their confessional Calvinism with great care and endured many storms undergirded by that foundation. They might consider that opening themselves to embrace that which is truly “traditional” could elevate the sense of the divine presence of grace in their lives.
The twentieth-century slide into liberalism rode on the back of a growing indifference to the doctrines of grace, because the doctrines of grace are tied vitally to more biblical doctrines than just perseverance of the saints. The recovery of a fully salubrious evangelical preaching ministry depends largely on the degree to which the doctrines of grace are recovered and become the consciously propagated foundation of all gospel truth.
If a church, therefore, gets a Calvinist preacher, she will get a good thing. Several issues will be securely settled and the church will not have to wonder about the soundness of her preacher on these items of biblical truth and their soul-nurturing power. Calvinists have stood for more than just their distinguishing doctrines; they have held steadfastly to other doctrines that are essential for the health of Baptist churches in our day. Let’s look at a few of these.
1. A Calvinist firmly believes in the divine inspiration of Scriptures. A large number of cogent defenses of the inerrancy of Scripture have been written by Calvinists. Some would say that these are among the most profound ever produced in Christian literature. Calvinism provides a more consistent rationale for inerrancy than other theological systems. One of the most often repeated objections to the divine inspiration of Scripture is that its assumption of perfect divine control of the process runs roughshod over human freedom and does not give sufficient room to human finiteness or human sin. These were objections, concurrent with the decline of commitment to Calvinism, that landed many leading voices of twentieth-century denominational life in a position opposed to inerrancy and verbal inspiration. Virtually every defender of inerrancy has to discuss the relation between inspiration and each of these supposed difficulties. The Calvinist system poses no contradiction between the freeness of human personality, the limitations of human finiteness, and the mental darkness of human sin in their relation to verbal inspiration. God’s particular providence over all events includes every choice of every moral creature without diminishing the free moral agency of the creature. God in his sovereignty can gives words to a donkey as well as an unwilling prophet (Numbers 22:28-30, 38). Through the use of a variety of means, God works all things, including inspiration, “according to the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).In the same way that God’s sovereignty brings about the fulfillment of his prophecies according to his decree with no violation of human freedom, and no limitation from human weakness or badness (Acts 2:23), so he inspired Scripture without suspending the individual personality traits of every biblical writer. If a church gets a Calvinist pastor, she can be sure that her pastor never will deny the full truthfulness of the Bible but will be tethered to the text as the word of God. He will have this conviction, not as an act of will unrelated to his theological system but as an intrinsic and coherent outflow of his view of God and man. Continue reading