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.

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[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.

2017 Theological Symposium Program

by W. Jackson Watts

It’s time once again for our annual Theological Symposium. We’re pleased to be hosting this year’s event on the new campus of Welch College at 1045 Bison Trail in Gallatin, Tennessee. For our out-of-town guests, we recommend you consider booking your lodging at the Holiday Inn Express in nearby Hendersonville. We have negotiated a special rate with them. You may contact them at (615) 824-0022, and let them know that you’re with the ‘Symposium.’ Please contact them by Wednesday, October 18.

Below is a tentative program. Some presenter times are subject to change, but the start and finish times themselves are set, so you can plan accordingly.  Please join us Monday, October 23-24th.

Monday Evening

6:00–6:10      Welcome and Prayer

6:15–7:05      Matthew McAffee: Losing Favor with the Gods: Divine Judgment in the Old Testament World

7:05–7:25      Refreshments and Discussion

7:25–8:15     Joshua Colson: Calvin’s View of the Supper

Tuesday Morning

9:00–9:05     Welcome and Prayer

9:05–9:55   Jesse Owens: English General Baptists: The Arminian Anti-rationalists

9:55–10:10   Refreshments and Discussion

10:10–11:00  David Outlaw: A Consideration of Christopher Wright’s Missional Hermeneutic

11:00 – 11:15    Refreshments and Discussion

11:15–12:05   Matthew Pinson: Individual Election in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius

Tuesday Afternoon

 12:05–1:50      Lunch in Area Restaurants

1:50–2:40  Raven Tuttobene: I Love Lucy: Assumptions in Using Cultural Evolution as the Basis for the Documentary Hypothesis

2:40–3:00      Refreshments and Discussion

3:00-3:50     Matthew Steven Bracey: Faith and Scholarship: A Christian Calling

3:50–6:30     Dinner in Area Restaurants

Tuesday Evening

6:30–7:20   Jeff Cockrell: Understanding Paul since Luther: The New Perspective and Its Effects

7:20–7: 40     Refreshments and Discussion

7:40 – 8:30     Adam Holloway: Presuppositional  Apologetics in a Postmodern Age

8:30–8:35      Closing Remarks

If you have any questions concerning our program this year, feel free to email me at fwbtheology@gmail.com.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine