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Free Will Baptists and Evangelical Scholarship

by Theological Commission

Two years ago a post appeared on this blog that noted the relationship between Free Will Baptists and evangelical scholarship. This was specifically in reference to there being four presenters at the National Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society who serve Free Will Baptist churches and/or entities. This year’s meeting took place two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island. The theme was the Heritage of the Reformation, and as usual the meeting featured a range of interesting presentations, panel discussions, plenary addresses, and more.

This year five Free Will Baptists presented or moderated across five different sections of the program. The following are the presenters and their paper titles:

Dr. Matthew McAffee (Provost and Professor at Welch College): “Ugaritic Ditanu and  Greek Titans: An Appraisal of Etymological and Narrative Connections.”

Rev. Jesse Owens (Church Planter, Adjunct Professor; Doctoral Candidate) – “English General Baptists: the Arminian Anti-rationalists.”

Dr. Matt Pinson (President of Welch College; Commission Chairman) – “Are Predestination and Election Corporate or Individual? Toward a Reformed Arminian Account.”

Rev. W. Jackson Watts (Pastor, Commission member; Doctoral candidate) – “Cultural Analysis and the Dynamics of Leading Change in the Church.”

Dr. Jeff Cockrell, professor at Welch College, moderated a New Testament section on the Gospel of Mark, and Mr. Matthew Bracey, Vice Provost and Professor at Welch also attended.

Audio recordings of these presentations can be found and purchased at Word Mp3. Readers may also note that a few of these papers are adapted from presentations given at the 2017 Theological Symposium. For more information on ETS or these specific presentations, you may leave us a question on the blog’s comment thread.

 

Symposium Recap: Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election

by Kevin L. Hester

In his presentation, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” J. Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College, introduced his personal reflections on the nature of predestination and its placement in modern Arminian theological circles. At the heart of his discussion is the common misconception that Arminians reject predestination – the concept of the election of individual believers and the reprobation of individual unbelievers.

Far from rejecting individual election, Arminius taught that God

wills that single men should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, that is, all and each, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, male and female, &c. As the knowledge of the truth and salvation belong to single human beings, and is, in fact, prepared, by predestination, for the salvation of single individuals, not for classes, and is denied, by reprobation, to single individuals, not to classes, so, also, in the more general providence of God, antecedent, in the order of nature, to the decree of predestination and reprobation, the divine will has reference to single individuals of classes, not to classes of single individuals.[1]

Pinson argues that Arminius, Wesley, and other foundational Arminian theologians taught conditional, individual election. He asserts that this is a more biblical model than the concept of corporate election introduced to Arminianism by Shank and others.[2] The idea of corporate election has attracted numerous Arminian adherents because of its rejection of particular Calvinist themes and the growing popularity of corporate emphases on salvation expressed in N.T. Wright and other New Perspective authors.

In contrast, Arminius’s view of election as individual was characteristic of the Reformed theology of his time. He distinguished himself by offering a correction to a misplaced ordering of election that “inverts the order of the gospel” and diminished Jesus Christ’s office of mediator of the covenant of redemption.[3] He posited an ordo salutis that emphasized 1) God’s unconditional election of Christ as Mediator, 2) God’s unconditional decree to save those who repent and believe, 3) God’s unconditional decree to “administer the means of salvation,” 4) God’s unconditional decrees “to save and to damn certain particular persons according to his foreknowledge.”[4]

This foreknowledge is more than mere prescience of repentance and belief, but introduces an intimate relationship of love and grace. In predestination and election, we see “an eternal administration of what is taking place in the lives of the elect and reprobate in time.”[5] For Pinson this is a Biblical model and a theological expression of the “natural reading of the predestination and election passages in the New Testament.”[6]

Whereas traditional Reformed theology’s emphasis on unconditional election misplaces the centrality of Christ’s mediatorial role, new Arminian currents toward corporate election miss important themes that are scripturally related to individual piety. If election is corporate, then “election and predestination are abstract concepts that are not in themselves salvific… (but are rather) a vehicle through which God procures salvation for people.”[7]In this light, passages like Ephesians 1, which focuses on the benefits of individual believers as they are united to Christ against the backdrop of election and predestination, are wrested from a natural reading to become theological exposés rather than worshipful reflections on God’s redemption in the lives of individual believers.

We should be thankful for the balanced and pastoral approach that Pinson employs in this article. His approach to Scripture, like that of Arminius, is alive with a spirit of worship and awe of God’s grace. Too many evangelicals on both the Calvinist and the Arminian side of the election debate have abstracted the discussion without reference to the implications of the doctrine for individual piety. It is a mistake to subtract biblical terms and concepts from their biblical context. What then are some of these implications?

Implications

The doctrine of conditional, individual election allows us to trust in God as the author of our salvation. As we remain united to Christ through faith, we can rely on his enduring love. Belief in the gospel brings the seal of His promise and the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[8]

The doctrine of conditional, individual election assures us of both God’s redemptive desire for the salvation of all persons and His eternal affection for those whom He has foreknown. God’s eternal decrees manifest themselves in time in the context of real relationships with fallen human persons. God works to make these sinful, rebellious creatures like His Son.[9]

The doctrine of conditional, individual election should awaken our praise and worship. God lavishes us with the riches of His grace so that we might live “to the praise of his glory.”[10] May our theology be as rich as our inheritance in Him and may it drive us to our knees as it leads us to praise in the heavenly places.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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[1] Arminius, Works, 3:461, Examination of the Treatise of Perkins on the Order and Mode of Predestination. Bagnall edition. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 3.

[2] Robert Shank, Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election (Springfield, Missouri: Westcott, 1970); see also Paul Marston and Roger Foster, God’s Strategy in Human History (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2001; reprint).

[3] Arminius, Works, 1:632, Declaration of Sentiments. Bagnall edition. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 5.

[4] Arminius, Works, 1:653-4, Declaration of Sentiments. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 6. Italics his.

[5] Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 8.

[6] Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 9.

[7] Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 10.

[8] See Ephesians 1:13-14.

[9] See Ephesians 1:4.

[10] See Ephesians 1:12.

 

Symposium Recap: Jesse Owens on the English General Baptists

by Rodney Holloman

Jesse Owens’ excellent presentation at the 2017 Symposium countered the “ahistorical” assertion that all seventeenth-century Arminians were rationalists. This seemingly unchallenged dogma is represented as he takes issue with (among others) Richard Muller and his book God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy. Muller’s book claims that “Arminius’s theology of God, creation, and providence led to an openness among later Arminians to Enlightenment rationalism” (29). Owens argues that that the “early English General Baptists were firm in their adherence to the authority and supremacy of Scripture as the rule of faith and practice” (29).[1]

Granting that there was rationalism among the Remonstrants in the first part of his presentation, Owens disagrees that the parts indicate the whole of the theological spectrum, or that Arminianism inherently produced the rationalistic views of so many in the eighteenth century. After reviewing the spurious views of perspicuity of the Scripture, Owens argues that “neither Arminius nor the English General Baptists followed the Remonstrant approach, despite contrary claims” (30). He addresses the claims by Geoffrey Nuttall that “the Arminianism of the General Baptists, and of the Dissenters at large, was an Arminianism of the head” (30). He then cites the work of Bass to refute Nuttall, which dovetails into a discussion of the Caffyn controversy as well as the debate at Salter’s Hall in 1719. He then rightly characterizes the “undue attention” regarding these historical inferences from these two events as he finalizes the background portion of his presentation (31).

It is at this point that the paper shines brightly as we begin to focus on the writings of Thomas Grantham and Thomas Monck. After some brief biographies and bibliographies of both men, Mr. Owens illustrates concisely and effectively how that their views in the late seventeenth-century were fully orthodox and not in step with Enlightenment Rationalism as has been repeatedly suggested. Using primary sources such as Monck’s Cure for the Cankering Error of the New Eutychians and his help developing An Orthodox Creed, and Grantham’s magnum opus Christianismus Primitivus, he leads us to understanding and agreeing that Muller, et. al. are incorrect concerning their claims about seventeenth-century Arminians. It is a helpful and masterful section as objections are raised and answered using these works to show the thoroughgoing Reformed nature of their theology and epistemology.

Jesse Owens concludes his presentation forcefully with the following lengthy quotations:

“There is no strong evidence supporting a pervasive rationalism amongst English General Baptists until the eighteenth century, when many General Baptists did in fact join the Presbyterians in rejecting essential Christian doctrines. The point here is not simply to say that General Baptist heterodoxy in the eighteenth century had Reformed company, thereby softening their defection. The significance of Presbyterian and General Baptist (one being Calvinist and one being Arminian) heterodoxy in the eighteenth century, is that it demonstrates that it was not the theological system of Arminianism that proved more open to Rationalism than either the Lutheran or the Reformed, but the philosophical and theological milieu of the era.

It should be apparent at this point that Thomas Monck and Thomas Grantham, two of the foremost leaders of the English General Baptists in the late-seventeenth century, firmly adhered to the authority and supremacy of Scripture as the rule of faith and practice. . . On these points they do not deviate from the Reformed tradition in general, or Calvin and The Westminster Confession of Faith in particular. The significance of this is that, contrary to claims that seventeenth century Arminians were predominately driven reason or were the most open to it, the representative figures of Monck and Grantham utterly reject a rationalistic approach to Scripture and the acquisition of religious knowledge (37).”

Overall this was an excellent representation of historical research along with addressing contemporary writing on these subjects. It is well worth your time to read and digest. Thank you, Mr. Owens, for sharing your research and excellent work with us.

_____________

[1] All page numbers are derived from the Symposium Paper Digest, which is available for purchase on our site.

Thank You, Randy!

by Theological Commission

In 2013, Rev. Randy Corn was elected to serve on the Commission for Theological Integrity. As a veteran pastor, a man deeply committed to his family, church, and denomination, and one of great wisdom, we had no doubt he would be an excellent addition to our Commission.

However, due to ongoing health concerns, Bro. Randy recently tendered his resignation from the Commission. Though we all regretted this, we want to publicly thank him for his service to our denomination.

He always brought insight, humor, and concern to our discussions. He was a promoter of the work of theology, ministry, and reading. Indeed, few pastors read as broadly as Bro. Randy.

He blogs at www.pastorcorn.blogspot.com/, so we encourage readers to keep track of how they might pray for him and his family there.

In closing this post, we want to say THANK YOU AGAIN RANDY. Below, we have included a brief bio of Bro. Randy so those who don’t know him as well can learn a little bit more about his ministry.

Also, readers may click here to read past posts about or by Bro. Corn.

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I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee with East Nashville FWB as my home church.  I graduated from Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College) in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982 with a Master of Divinity.  I also studied at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary, receiving the Certificate of Advanced Ministry Studies.

My pastoral experience began in 1982, serving churches in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee.  Since 1995 I have served the Bethlehem FWB Church in Ashland City, TN.

At the outset of my ministerial career I served as a Chaplain in the United States Air Force Reserve. I have also been a curriculum writer for Randall House Publications, and an adjunct instructor as well as an online facilitator for Welch College. I have had a weekly hour-long radio program called The Shepherd’s Hour on our local station, WQSV, for 18 years.

I have been active on both the quarterly and state levels of the denomination having served for two terms on the Tennessee Home Missions Board.  In 2013, I was elected to the Commission for Theological Integrity.

Perhaps the most significant event in my life was when I married the former Miss Joy Ketteman in 1980. We have two grown sons, Benjamin Randal and Paul Daniel, as well as a daughter-in-law, Rhonda Faith, and a beautiful granddaughter, Melody Grace.

For the last few years when talking with my ministerial buddies, from time to time the subject of serving on some National board or Commission would come up.  A few of my friends desired to serve with the Home Missions board; a few others coveted a place on the college board.  My response was always the same: I would most like to serve on the Commission for Theological Integrity. The Commission serves the National Association by staying abreast of the ever-changing currents of the theological world and how they might impact our constituency. It is both a challenge and an honor to serve.