We Must Reform in Order to Conserve

by Matthew Pinson

I have been reading—and thoroughly enjoying—the new book Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition by Roger Scruton. Scruton is the best-known conservative intellectual in Great Britain. A philosopher by training, he has written more than forty books on issues as diverse as politics and the environment and art and music. He gave an excellent presentation of the latter two subjects in his BBC documentary, Beauty.

Conservatism is largely about the principles of cultural and political conservatism that emerged from seminal thinkers like Edmund Burke. But theological conservatives can learn a lot from it. In reading Scruton’s section on Burke, I came across a great passage that summarizes a key principle of conservatism and Christianity that I strive to pass on to my students in my courses at Welch, and it’s about continuity with the consensus of scripturally based tradition that has been bequeathed to us.

Edmund Burke is famous for his quip that “we must reform in order to conserve.” He believed that, in political and cultural life, revolution is dangerous, because it rips people from the organic inheritance that they received from their fathers and mothers. That was the problem he saw in the French Revolution, which he despised, but not in the American Revolution, which he defended.

So, Scruton explains, Burke saw the American founders as going back to the ancient rights and liberties of free Englishmen. “The U.S. Constitution was designed to guarantee to the people what they had once enjoyed,” he says. “It was the residue of an already established practice rather than a recipe for a new order of things.” This is like the Protestant Reformers, who I explain to my students were not revolutionaries but were recovering an ancient tradition that had been eclipsed by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.

I explain to my students that sometimes we conservative Protestants are tempted to be intimidated by our difficult cultural circumstances, in which Christianity is being treated with hostility by the cultural elites and by many in the neighborhoods where our own churches minister. I am tempted—we all are tempted—to be revolutionaries, to try arbitrarily first one thing and then another that has never been tried before, hoping that maybe something will stick, something will do the trick. We hope we’ll stumble onto that cultural silver bullet that will open the floodgates for people, finally, to overcome their cultural objections to the faith and pour into the church.

The Reformers and the great missions pioneers and our early evangelical and Baptist and Free Will Baptist forebears did not choose the way of revolution. Instead, they chose reform. They knew the church needed renewal, freshness. But they sought what Timothy George and others call “renewal through retrieval,” reforming the church by recovering precious truths of faith and of practice that have been lost or at least eclipsed in the recent past.

This gets back to G. K. Chesterton’s idea of “the democracy of the dead,” to C. S. Lewis’s counsel not to be guilty of “chronological snobbery,” but instead to “let the clean sea breeze of the centuries blow through our minds.” It means that we are a part of something much, much greater than ourselves and our current, passing moment. We are continuing and conserving the faith and practice of that “great cloud of witnesses” that has gone before us, so that we will have something worth passing down to those who come after us.

This is what the Christian tradition has called the “communion of saints.” It’s something that transcends the present age which is passing away with its lusts. It spans centuries and generations and classes educational levels and races. It’s a communion we risk getting out of touch with if we have a revolution and discard the Christian tradition of faith (what we believe) and practice (what we do).

 

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.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine