Free Will Baptists and the Evangelical Theological Society: Part 2

W. Jackson Watts

In my previous post I discussed the value and significance of Free Will Baptists being involved with the Evangelical Theological Society. In this post I will focus more specifically on the 2018 Meeting and what it, and future meetings, may offer for our people.

The 2018 Program

This year’s program will be held in the beautiful city of Denver on November 13-15. The current cost to attend for non-members is only $85, a reasonable fee given the vast amount of content on the program. The Exhibit Hall is perhaps worth the price of the conference alone. It has displays from a number of parachurch ministries, some of which provide free resources to attendees. More significantly, book vendors from dozens of companies, publishing houses, and other ministries are present selling discounted books (as in, cheaper than Amazon). So whether you want to purchase a commentary set, apologetic resources, or books for your local church’s men’s group, there is something for everyone. More information on attending the meeting can be found here. [i]

I’m excited about this year’s plenary speakers, which include Michael Haykin, Michael Horton, and Craig Keener, all great scholars in their own right. Also, Dr. David Dockery will be giving the Presidential Address. Some will know Dockery and Haykin’s names as they have both been guest speakers at Welch College in recent years.

So which Free Will Baptists will be presenting? Below are the presenters, their paper titles, and the sections they will be presenting in.

Baptist Studies

Matthew Pinson – “The Holy Spirit in Seventeenth-Century General Baptist Theology.”

(Pinson also serves on the steering committee for the Baptist Studies study group)

Church History

Jesse Owens – “Matthew Caffyn, Thomas Monck, and English General Baptism Creedalism.”

Old Testament Backgrounds / Ancient Near East

Matthew McAffee – “Lexicography and the Comparative Method: Some Methodological Considerations.”

(McAffee will also be moderating this session, and serves on the steering committee of the Old Testament Backgrounds/Ancient Near East section)

Septuagint Studies

Zach Vickery – “The Translation Technique of LXX-Ruth.”

Pastoral Epistles

Jeff Cockrell – “The Good Deposit in 2 Timothy: Its Content and Trust”

There is truly something at ETS for everyone. Now as a pastor I am the first to realize that one can only attend some many conferences, retreats, and/or seminars each year. We all have to make choices. Some of those are aligned with our personal interests, some with our vocational goals or needs, and some with the expectations of our churches. While these are all different, they often (and probably should) overlap. I find ETS to be an event that is beneficial on all three fronts, so I try to attend the annual meeting at least every other year. Usually flights can be booked to these cities for reasonable prices, hotel rooms can be shared with other Free Will Baptist brethren, and the actual conference fee isn’t too expensive, especially the earlier you book.

Imagine going to a conference every year where there is something there for you whether you are preparing to preach through Hebrews, or getting ready to start a church-based missions program. Maybe you’re a business person who simply teaches Sunday School—there are usually sessions on economics and Christianity. Imagine there is some debate developing in your church around questions of gender, sexuality, and male-female roles in the church or home. There is something at ETS for you. Just about anything in the areas of theology, church history, biblical studies, ethics, and more can be found on the ETS program.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of such a broad program is that one has the opportunity to not just attend paper presentations that appeal to areas we are already interested in, but areas where we have little interest or knowledge. I think it’s helpful to pick a few paper topics (as best as you can discern them from the title in the program) that you think are probably relevant and important, but ones you know little about. Between listening to the paper and interacting with presenters as time allows, one can further their education and equipping for ministry on the spot.

I’m thankful that Free Will Baptist brethren in the past like Dr. Robert Picirilli, Bro. Leroy Forlines, Bro. Ralph Hampton, and Dr. Garnett Reid got involved with ETS and put it on the radar of younger pastor-scholars who now have a chance to grow and serve, hopefully more effectively in the years ahead.

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[i] Each year the Evangelical Philosophical Society also has its meeting concurrently with ETS. And for the few who may be interested, the Academy of American Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature sometimes holds its annual meetings in the same city, usually right before or after ETS.

Free Will Baptists and the Evangelical Theological Society

W. Jackson Watts

In past posts on this blog I have highlighted the increased involvement of Free Will Baptists with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). According to their website, ETS is a professional academic society of biblical and theological scholars, pastors, and students. As part of the society’s work in fostering Christian scholarship, they hold regular meetings (both regionally and a national one), and they also produce a quarterly journal known as JETS.

ETS dates back to 1949, and so they have been in existence long enough to exert a fair amount of influence on the shape of evangelical scholarship, both in America and abroad. In many ways ETS is very conservative due to its massive numbers of members who are Southern Baptist and Presbyterian (PCA), for example. On the other hand, the organization has a fairly “big-tent” approach to evangelical identity. I happen to be a full member in the society, and each year the statement I must sign to continue with my membership is limited to two affirmations. First, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Second, “God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

Beyond these affirmations, there is quite a breadth of views represented among the society’s members. However, as the organization is an academic society and not a church or denomination, this is to be expected.

I think that the Free Will Baptist presence in ETS is notable for several reasons. First, for papers to be accepted onto the program they usually have to clear some hurdles in the review process that typically ensures they are of a certain quality. Like anything else, the range of papers presented across a program with hundreds of papers includes some which are more or less convincing, more or less cogent, more or less academic. Still, simply to be on the program is a positive sign as we assess the state of Free Will Baptist scholarship.

Second, the annual ETS meeting usually gives some indication of trends in the broader Protestant and evangelical world. To be a participant in the meeting gives one access to the discussions that are shaping not just the academy, but also the church. Being plugged into these discussions, and trying to influence them in one direction or another, is a way to promote and preserve theological integrity. As one of the Theological Commission’s stated purposes is “to alert our people of theological trends that could threaten our theological integrity as a denomination,” being a participant in ETS helps us be keenly aware of those trends, at least as they arise from academic circles.

Third, participating in ETS allows our scholars, whether they be younger graduate students, pastors, or professors, to meet and network with people doing meaningful, Christian scholarship in other parts of the country and the world. We all know that we learn best in the context of community. Similarly, such relationships are vital for the cultivation of our own ability to think, write, and minister well.

One fact that should encourage many of our readers is how often a person will attend the presentation of one of our Free Will Baptist presenters, and during the Q&A time or after the session we learn of people interested in Classical (or Reformed) Arminianism. Or we encounter people from other denominations who affirm our view of apostasy, and are looking for dialogue partners in better articulating that theology. I can think of a number of occasions when I have either witnessed or personally experienced this. Such interactions not only give credibility to Free Will Baptist identity and theology, but they remind us of the progress we are making. They also remind us of the work we have ahead of us in raising up the next generation of leaders who will preach, teach, publish, and persuade.

Part two of this post will appear next week.

2018 Symposium Set

Jackson Watts

Plans for this year’s Theological Symposium are underway. Our event will be held on the campus of Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma on October 22-23. This year we have opted to have an open program, meaning there is no specific theme which papers submissions must conform to. Instead, we welcome prospective presenters to submit ideas on any number of themes that might be construed broadly as theological. Before providing more detail, allow me to briefly comment on this notion of ‘theology.’

One of the reasons I am so grateful to serve on the Commission for the Theological Integrity is that our Commission has historically rejected the narrow views of theology we often encounter in evangelical thought and life. There is a sense that theology is something reducible to a set of propositions about God’s attributes, soteriology, eschatological views, or things of that nature. While theology no doubt includes those subjects, I want to remind our readers that theology is a much more comprehensive and nuanced enterprise.

John Frame, a Reformed evangelical theologian, has said that theology is “the application of God’s revelation to all of life.” I think Frame’s definition more nearly approaches what our Commission wants to say about theology than what I call the conventional view.

The conventional view says theology is mainly just “speech about God.” So when we discuss the Trinity, God’s creation, how God saves people (soteriology), when Christ will return (eschatology), and the like, we’re really doing theology. After all, the compounding of ‘theos’ (Greek for ‘God’) and ‘logos’ (Greek for ‘word’) does seems to support this view.

However, if all of Scripture informs all of life, and all of the Bible is God’s revelation, then isn’t it fair to say that discussing the connection between God’s word and all of life is, in fact, theological?

Under this view, Christian ethics and apologetics are theological disciplines. The ministry of the church (sometimes called ecclesiology) is theological. Marriage can be treated theologically. Church history, depending on how it is framed, can be a theological pursuit. These are just to mention a few areas that are often treated as specializations in academic settings, and thus are often accorded different categories in our thinking as well.

We do acknowledge the value of people developing special expertise in one or several of these areas. However, we want to avoid the reduction of theology to being a sort of hard, wooden, narrow thing that keeps us from seeing all of these subjects (and more!) as legitimate objects of Godward, Biblically-based, scholarly reflection.

For these reasons, I want to encourage our readers to consider submitting a paper idea. You can send those ideas to fwbtheology@gmail.com. We ask that you submit your idea by July 1.

While presenters must be members of a Free Will Baptist church, they can be laymen, church staff members, pastors, professors, or graduate students. It is open both to male or female presenters. Maybe you are someone who wrote a research paper recently or in years past that you felt strongly about. We do accept submissions of such material. Sometimes, with modest modifications or revisions, these materials can be suitable for our program.

If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to email us or contact us through this site. Thank you for being a supporter of our work. We exist to serve you!

Was Arminius a Molinist? Richard Watson’s Answer

Matthew Pinson

The other day I came across a wonderful quote that I had forgotten about from Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes. I thought the readers of this blog would enjoy it. It concerns Molinism, or middle knowledge, the theory of divine foreknowledge articulated by the sixteenth-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.

As I’ve said elsewhere [1], Arminius’s views on divine foreknowledge militate against a Molinist account of predestination, as presented, for example by recent scholars such as William Lane Craig and Kenneth Keathley. While Arminius showed awareness of Luis de Molina’s concept of middle knowledge, he did not utilize it in his doctrine of predestination. Arminius nowhere intimates that, in eternity past, God, knowing what everyone would do given certain circumstances, selected the possible world, from among all possible worlds, in which exactly what he desires to occur will occur, while at the same time human beings retain freedom. Instead, Arminius argued that God knew the future infallibly and certainly. Thus, he knew what everyone was freely going to do in the actual (not possible) world. This includes their union with Christ through faith or their rejection of him through impenitence and unbelief.

I agree with Robert Picirilli, Roger Olson, F. Stuart Clarke, William Witt, and more recently Hendrik Frandsen, who I think properly interpret Arminius on this point, while scholars such as Eef Dekker, Richard Muller, Keith Stanglin, and (to a lesser degree) William den Boer read too much Molinism into Arminius. The most that can be said is that Arminius toyed with the concept of middle knowledge but was ambiguous on it and did not actually articulate a Molinist doctrine of predestination.

I had forgotten about the following statement by the eminent British Wesleyan-Methodist theologian Richard Watson that agrees with these sentiments, and I thought I’d share it here:

“There is another theory which was formerly much debated, under the name of Scientia Media; but to which, in the present day, reference is seldom made. . . . This distinction, which was taken from the Jesuits, who drew it from the Schoolmen, was at least favoured by some of the Remonstrant divines, as the extract from Episcopius [quoted earlier in Latin] shows: and they seem to have been led to it by the circumstance, that almost all the high Calvinist theologians of that day entirely denied the possibility of contingent future actions being foreknown, in order to support on this ground their doctrine of absolute predestination. In this, however, those Remonstrants, who adopted that notion, did not follow their great leader Arminius, who felt no need of this subterfuge, but stood on the plain declarations of Scripture, unembarrassed with metaphysical distinctions” (Theological Institutes, 1:418, emphasis added).

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[1] This and the paragraph after it are adapted from my book Arminian and Baptist.

Did Arminius Think the Intellect Can Know the Good and Direct the Will Despite Sin?

Matt Pinson

Recently I was re-reading Richard Muller’s God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius. Muller is thestellar scholar of Reformed scholasticism whose work, on the whole, has richly informed my thought and for whom I have great appreciation.

Muller’s work, however, has emphasized his view that Arminius’s theology was a radical departure from sixteenth-century Reformed theology, a view with which I disagree. Unlike Carl Bangs and others who have argued that Arminius fit the description “Reformed,” because Reformed theology before the Synod of Dort was broader on the question of predestination than after the Synod of Dort, Muller seems to intimate that the predestinarian Calvinism that characterized Dort was the Reformed theology.

All one has to do to see that this is not the case is to read the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism, to which Arminius proudly subscribed to his dying day. One does not have to believe in predestination, etc., as Calvinism does to love and agree with these Reformed confessional documents. Both “Calvinists” and “non-Calvinists” (in the modern way we use these terms to speak of the doctrine of predestination, etc.) fit within this expression of Reformed confessional theology.

When I was reading Muller recently, I came across an interesting passage. He says that “Arminius’s own theological concern for the problem of grace and human ability raised anew the epistemological problem of the relationship of the fall to the human faculties and—against Calvin—Arminius argued the ability of the intellect to know the good and to direct the will despite the problem of sin” (p. 37). After that sentence appears a footnote that refers to Arminius’s Public Disputation 11, paragraphs 1, 5, 7, 9, and 10.

It had been a while since I had read Muller’s book, and I was taken aback. I thought to myself, “I have read this disputation dozens of times, and it has never struck me that way.” So I went back and re-read it. I have reproduced those paragraphs below and will allow the reader to conclude whether they demonstrate that Arminius thought the fallen intellect can know the good and direct the will despite the problem of sin, or whether in fact they demonstrate the opposite of that assertion. (I have also included paragraph 2 because it provides information that is relevant to the assertion Muller is making.)

  1. The word, arbitrium, “choice,” or “free will,” properly signifies both the faculty of the mind or understanding, by which the mind is enabled to judge about any thing proposed to it, and the judgment itself which the mind forms according to that faculty. But it is transferred from the Mind to the Will on account of the very close connection which subsists between them. Liberty, when attributed to the will, is properly an affection of the will, though it has its root in the understanding and reason. Generally considered, it is various.

(1.) It is a Freedom from the control or jurisdiction of one who commands, and from an obligation to render obedience.

(2.) From the inspection, care, and government of a superior.

(3.) It is also a freedom from necessity, whether this proceeds from an external cause compelling, or from a nature inwardly determining absolutely to one thing.

(4.) It is a freedom from sin and its dominion.

(5.) And a freedom from misery.

  1. Of these five modes of liberty, the first two appertain to God alone; to whom also on this account, autexousiaperfect independence, or complete freedom of action, is attributed. But the remaining three modes may belong to man, nay in a certain respect they do pertain to him. And, indeed, the former, namely, freedom from necessity always pertains to him because it exists naturally in the will, as its proper attribute, so that there cannot be any will if it be not free. The freedom from misery, which pertains to man when recently created and not then fallen into sin, will again pertain to him when he shall be translated in body and soul into celestial blessedness. But about these two modes also, of freedom from necessity and from misery, we have here no dispute. It remains, therefore, for us, to discuss that which is a freedom from sin and its dominion, and which is the principal controversy of these times.

    5. In the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with “righteousness and true holiness,” and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him. This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Genesis 1:26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (2:17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10.)

    7. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

    9. To the darkness of the mind succeeds the perverseness of the affections and of the heart, according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil. The Apostle was unable to afford a more luminous description of this perverseness, than he has given in the following words: ”The carnal mind is enmity against God. For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7.) For this reason, the human heart itself is very often called deceitful and perverse, uncircumcised, hard and stony.” (Jeremiah 13:10; 17:9; Ezekiel 36:26.) Its imagination is said to be “only evil from his very youth;” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21;) and “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,” etc. (Matthew 15:19.)

    10. Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good, and to omit the perpetration of that which is evil, in a due mode and from a due end and cause. The subjoined sayings of Christ serve to describe this impotence. “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18.) “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (12:34.)

    The following relates to the good which is properly prescribed in the gospel: “No man can come to me, except the Father draw him.” (John 6:44.) As do likewise the following words of the Apostle: ”The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;” (Romans 8:7;) therefore, that man over whom it has dominion, cannot perform what the law commands. The same Apostle says, “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins wrought in us,” or flourished energetically. (7:5.) To the same purpose are all those passages in which the man existing in this state is said to be under the power of sin and Satan, reduced to the condition of a slave, and “taken captive by the Devil.” (Romans 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:26.)

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