ANYONE CAN BE SAVED: Book Review

by Richard E. Clark

From General/Arminian to Particular/Calvinist, Baptists have struggled to locate themselves along the theological spectrum. Some have unsuccessfully tried to avoid the debate, labeling themselves Calminians.[1] Others, however, have attempted to escape the paradigm altogether and articulate a unique theological identity for themselves. Anyone Can Be Saved (Wipf & Stock, 2016) is a collection of essays expounding upon what is being referred to as “Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology.”[2]

This book defends the 2012 document entitled, A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. The theologians who wrote this statement do not self-identify as either Calvinists or Arminians. Instead, they aim to construct a soteriology grounded in the principle of sola scriptura without neglecting appropriate appeals to the historic variations of the Baptist Faith and Message. They clarify that Traditional Baptist soteriology (TBS) is not monolithic, making the goal of this work all the more difficult. This book begins with an evaluation of the Calvinism controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), followed by purpose statements, including the statement to be defended.[3]

Content Summary

David Hankins’s commentary on Article 1 reads like a sermon. He posits that the euangelion is truly the “good news” for every individual and contends that the gospel cannot rightly be called good news if some people are unconditionally determined for damnation.[4] In a related theme, Harwood follows with commentary on Article 2.[5] He argues for what F. Leroy Forlines might refer to as “infant safety” and for radical human depravity.[6] He asserts that most Traditionalists deny the doctrine of original guilt but affirm the doctrine of total depravity and the certainty that all persons will sin.[7] In his second chapter, he argues that the Traditional Statement is not necessarily Semi-Pelagian.[8] Next, and in conjunction with the recent release of his magnum opus, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review, David L. Allen defends Article 3.[9] Rejecting determinism, he builds a cumulative case in favor of general atonement.[10]

Subsequently, Brad Reynolds examines the relationship between faith and grace in Scripture in his commentary on Article 4. He concludes, “God created people with the ability to trust. . . . But that ability was so twisted by the fall that we are now unable to trust in God without the grace of God.”[11] Building upon the aforementioned theme, Ronnie W. Rogers authors the commentary on Article 5, positing that faith precedes regeneration. He argues that Calvinists cannot make a universally sincere offer of the gospel which is coherent with their doctrine of unconditional election.[12]

In keeping with the theme of election, Eric Hankins, the author of the Traditional Statement, defends Article 6. He describes a Traditionalist understanding of the doctrine of election as being covenantal, Christocentric, categorical, concurrent, and corporate. Additionally, he briefly comments on the doctrine of election in Romans 9-11. In his view, Romans 9-11 teaches that “God is hardening Israel for a little while, not according to some hidden will to save some and not others, but according to his revealed will to save anyone and everyone who believes.”[13]

Steve Lemke authors the commentary on Article 7 and a chapter on models of divine sovereignty. His commentary focuses on the importance of coherently affirming what Scripture teaches regarding God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Therefore, he rejects any sort of theological determinism, so-called compatibilism, or divine powerlessness. He also rejects open theism, a controversial view of God’s knowledge of future. In the book’s final chapter, he presents five models relating divine sovereignty and human freedom.[14]

Braxton Hunter articulates a view of soft-libertarian freedom in his commentary on Article 8.[15] The next two chapters differ from the rest because the two ideas that are defended that are ideas that Calvinists would defend as well if the concepts were taken literally or at face value. These include a chapter articulating and defending the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved (OSAS)—authored by Steve Horn, and Preston Nix’s chapter which stresses the importance of living out the Great Commission.[16]

Analysis

The commentary on Article 1 brought back fond memories of John Wesley’s polemical sermon “Free Grace.”[17] However, I do not recommend Hankins’s work for those who want a better understanding of what Calvinists espouse. His lack of nuance leaves him open to easy criticism, especially concerning his accusation about Calvinists maintaining “a clear contradiction” in their theology when the contradiction is implicit at best.[18]

Harwood’s chapter on human sinfulness and freedom could have provided a clearer exposition of Calvinism. For example, he defines compatibilism as “the Calvinist view that a lost person’s will is irresistibly changed through regeneration so they now desire Christ.”[19] Compatibilism is a well-established philosophical term.[20] There are in existence only so many sorts of definitions for which he could have been aiming. He may have intended a stipulative definition, considering his intended audience. It seems, however, that he could have employed a standard definition and still have accomplished his goal.[21]

Harwood’s chapter was very impressive on several counts. It was encouraging to see a non-Calvinist not shrink away from the tough texts such as Mark 10:45. Moreover, he properly employed proof texts from Scripture supporting his arguments. His appropriation of historical evidence was also commendable. I particularly appreciate his citation of Richard Swinburne, who argues that the first four centuries of the ecumenical church, every single Eastern Orthodox theologian thereafter, and the majority of Western Catholic traditions from the fourteenth century forward, held to a libertarian view of human freedom.[22]

Harwood successfully argues that the Traditional Statement cannot be charged as necessarily being written in a Semi-Pelagian way. He builds his case upon definitions of “Semi-Pelagian,” the conclusions of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529), an examination of the relationship between the conclusions of the Council and Southern Baptist confessionalism, and the wording of the statement itself. Though Harwood’s evidence and arguments range from exceptional to distracting in this chapter, I believe he ultimately makes his case.[23]

Harwood so strongly emphasizes that Traditionalists deny the Calvinist-Arminian theological paradigm that he sometimes seems to take away with one hand what he gives with another. But this is not the case. Even though many Traditionalists do not use the language of prevenient grace, many do employ language that is functionally similar.[24] However, his argument from Article 2 of the Traditional Statement is pivotal. The statement reads, “No sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing.” In the end, the functional parallel between this “drawing” and prevenient grace is obvious.[25]

Allen is certainly an expert on the topic of general atonement. However, his polemic in his chapter is best described as a mixed bag. Much of it was very good, but some of it could have been stronger. He indicates, for example, “All Calvinists affirm some form of divine determinism along with free will.”[26] These sorts of blanket statements without qualification, even if correct, are not usually effective in polemics.[27] Allen’s argument is helpful overall, but like other articles in this work, it could have been improved with greater theological nuance.[28]

What Reynolds is trying to accomplish in his chapter, other than to deny irresistible grace and soteriological monergism, is difficult to ascertain exactly. The first half of his chapter sounds precariously Semi-Pelagian, but the second half makes clear that this is not his intention. His chapter begins with a glaring false dichotomy regarding the nature of human agency and faith.[29] Furthermore, he argues that, in Ephesians 2:8, the touto (that) is the functional antecedent to “salvation.” Therefore, he argues, this verse does not “support the idea that faith is a gift from God.”[30] He adds, “Paul affirms the faith of the believers in Ephesus (man’s faith) a few verses earlier. . . . Is it the case that faith originates with man but believing originates with God? No. . . . Believing is also of man.”[31] Had Reynolds stopped here, he would have seemingly contradicted the spirit of Harwood’s apologetic argument against associating TBS with Semi-Peliagianism.

Reynolds’s chapter, when read to completion, turns out not to be as optimistic about humanity as the aformentioned paragraph may have led the reader to believe. Suddenly, Reynolds strongly mitigates what previously appeared to be a strong libertarian affirmation of free will in regards to faith. He concludes, “It seems that God created people with the ability to trust. . . . But that ability was so twisted by the fall that we are now unable to trust in God without the grace of God.”[32] This last sentence seems to clear him from the charge of Semi-Pelagianism, though, as stated earlier, the first half of his article seemed to have been getting him dangerously close.[33]

Rogers’s chapter is fairly balanced. He argues that Scripture teaches that faith precedes regeneration. His argument could have been improved upon by clarifying, at the outset, that he is conceiving this priority as a logical one rather than a chronological one.[34] Nix’s chapter indirectly emphasizes the danger of theological extremes. He does this by arguing positively for the active involvement of all believers in carrying out the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This is a reasonable course because if one is encouraged to participate in evangelistic efforts he or she is necessarily discouraged from fatalistically excusing himself or herself.[35]

Eric Hankins’s chapter on election, when compared to Lemke’s first chapter, demonstrates the soteriological eclecticism within Traditionalism.[36] Lemke clearly affirms conditional election in the classically Arminian sense, while what Hankins espouses is far more idiosyncratic.[37] Mischaracterizing the Arminian doctrine of conditional election, Hankins writes, “Arminians see it [election] as conditional and happening in time.”[38] In truth, the doctrine of conditional election does not bind an Arminian to any particular view of God’s relationship to time.[39] Hankins then explains his view of concurrent election, but his explanation is not that different from the historic doctrine of conditional election. One cannot help but wonder if the Traditionalists are not unwittingly attempting to commandeer a 400-year-old doctrine! All jests aside, it was refreshing to see a Christocentric doctrine of election so ardently advocated.[40]

Lemke’s chapter on God’s sovereignty is one of the best in the book. He articulates thoughtful arguments for what amounts to a conditional election, conditional salvation, and conditional monergism.[41] Lemke spends the majority of his article articulating and defending what Traditionalists believe rather than issuing attacks against Calvinism. I particularly appreciate his emphasis that God as sovereign can exercise His sovereignty in such a way that He grants His creatures limited free agency should He so choose. Furthermore, He is sovereign over the conditionality of both election and salvation.[42] His second chapter may have had a specific lay audience in mind, but the oversimplified nature of the discussion of Molinism and the conflation of open theism with stong-libertarian freedom was confusing.[43]

Hunter’s chapter is one of the most well balanced in the book. His language is nuanced, and he seems to understand the complexity of the theological and philosophical interplay between Calvinism and Arminians. What he calls soft-libertarian freedom is similar to what Forlines refers to as a freedom’s framework of possibilities. Humanity’s God-given freedom is not unlimited, but it is sometimes free in a libertarian sense.[44]

The argument of Horn’s chapter makes assertions without being able to demonstrate sufficiently the coherence of TBS and adherence to OSAS. At times he seems to conflate OSAS with the assurance of salvation. He even indicates that he probably agrees with Charles Stanley’s controversial view of OSAS. Stanley holds to a view that amounts to the possibility of saved unbelievers, often referred to as the easy believism view.[45]

Horn’s chapter continues by attempting to deal with the “so-called apostasy passages” from Hebrews. Most Arminians would note that there are many other warning passages throughout the New Testament, which Horn ignores. He denies the possibility that these passages are only hypothetical warnings. Yet his explanation reduces the passages to being interpreted as hypothetical warnings.[46] In the end, for the non-Calvinistic Baptist, OSAS is as J. Matthew Pinson often says, “A doctrine in search of a theology.”[47]

Concluding Thoughts

Above all else, the authors indicate that their goal is unity “‘as Baptists,’ not as Calvinists and Traditionalists. We must unite around Baptist distinctives. . . . We don’t have to cease to be Calvinists or Traditionalists to be Baptists.”[48] Moreover, the authors rightly identified Traditionalists as being within the General Baptist tradition.[49]

No doubt Southern Baptists have historically included Arminians in their ranks.[50] One might wonder why there is not more unity and cooperation sought between General/Free-Will Baptists and Southern Baptists. Without doubt, General Baptists are perfectly able to unite as Baptists around Baptist distinctives. Perhaps the SBC could be a place for all orthodox-evangelical Baptists, from five-point Particular Baptists to five point General Baptists.

____________________

About the Author: Richard Clark is a graduate student studying for his Master of Arts in Theology with a concentration in the philosophy of religion at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). He holds an A.A from Forsyth Technical Community College, a B.S from Liberty University, and a Graduate Certificate in Counseling Ministry from NOBTS. He is an active member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and the Society of Evangelical Arminians. He was the founder and president of NOBTS’s Student Theological Fellowship and he serves as Minister of College and Career Education at Christ Baptist Church in Harvey, Louisiana.

____________________

[1] Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), loc. 678-884, Kindle. Roger Olson demonstrates that a hybrid between Calvinism and Arminianism cannot exist.

[2] David L. Allen, Eric Hankins, and Adam Harwood, eds., Anyone Can Be Saved: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 17.

[3] Adam Harwood, introduction to Anyone Can Be Saved: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology, ed. David L. Allen, Eric Hankins, and Adam Harwood (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), ix-xii; David L. Allen “The Current SBC Calvinism Debate: Observations, Clarifications, and Suggestions,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 1-8; Eric Hankins “Savability: Southern Baptists’ Core Soteriological Conviction and Contribution,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 9-15; Eric Hankins “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 16-23.

[4] David Hankins, “Commentary on Article 1: The Gospel,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 25-35.

[5] Harwood, ix.

[6] F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth: Answering Life’s Inescapable Questions (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2001), loc. 5208-5372, Kindle; F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2011) 236-50, emphasis mine.

[7] Adam Harwood, “Commentary on Article 2: The Sinfulness of Man,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 37-53.

[8] The Traditional Statement immediately induced criticism from prominent writers such as Roger Olson and Albert Mohler, as well as responses from Founders Ministries and Christianity Today. Harwood, ix; Adam Harwood, “Is the Traditional Statement Semi-Pelagian?” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 157-68.

[9] David L. Allen, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), Kindle.

[10] David L. Allen, “Commentary on Article 3: The Atonement of Christ,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 55-64.

[11] Brad Reynolds, “Commentary on Article 4: The Grace of God,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 66-75.

[12] Ronnie W. Rogers, “Commentary on Article 5: The Regeneration of the Sinner,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 77-88.

[13] Eric Hankins, “Commentary on Article 6: Election to Salvation,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 90-101.

[14] The question for Lemke is not, “What can God do as sovereign?” Instead, he asks, “What has God chosen to do with his sovereignty?” Steve W. Lemke, “Commentary on Article 7: The Sovereignty of God,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 103-17; Steve W. Lemke, “Five Theological Models Relating Determinism, Divine Sovereignty, and Human Freedom,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 169-78.

[15] Braxton Hunter defines soft-libertarian freedom as “the ability to transcend cause and effect and actually make real decisions. These decisions may be influenced by outside factors, but not to the point of coercion. . . . God is responsible for the salvific work and offer, man is responsible for receiving or rejecting the gift” (Braxton Hunter, “Commentary on Article 8: The Free Will of Man,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 121-22).

[16] Ibid., 119-31, emphasis mine; Steve Horn, “Commentary on Article 9: The Security of the Believer,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 133-41; Preston Nix, “Commentary on Article 10: The Great Commission,” in Allen, Hankins, and Harwood, 143-56.

[17] John Wesley, “Free Grace” Sermon 128, Bristol, 1740; http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-128-free-grace/.

[18] David Hankins, 25-35; In another instance he employs the oxymoronic term “pre-temporally” when he likely means “eternally.”

[19] Harwood, 39.

[20]Compatibilism, holds that freedom and determinism are compatible with each other” (J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003], 268, emphasis mine).

[21] C. Stephen Layman, The Power of Logic, 3rd ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 95-106, emphasis mine; Harwood, 37-53.

[22] Richard Swinburne Providence and the Problem of Evil (New York: Clarendon, 1998), 35: quoted in Adam Harwood, 39-40; Harwood, 37-53.

[23] Harwood, 157-168.

[24] Contemporary Arminians often do the same thing. Cf. Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2002), 153-59; Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 35, 66.

[25] Harwood, 157-168.

[26] Allen, 55-56.

[27] cf. Oliver D. Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” in Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2014), 71-96. For a spectrum of views held by Calvinists see Forlines, Quest for Truth, loc. 7960-8048, Kindle.

[28] Allen, 55-64.

[29] Reynolds, 69.

[30] Ibid.; cf. Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 256, Logos Bible Software.

[31] Ibid., 70-72, emphasis mine; Semi-Pelagianism is the affirmation “that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that grace supervened only later” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001], s.v. “Semi-Pelagianism;” cf. Harwood, 159).

[32] Ibid., 72, emphasis mine.

[33] Ibid., 66-75.

[34] Rogers, 77-87.

[35] Preston Nix, 143,

[36] Eric Hankins, 90-101; cf. Lemke, 106-08.

[37] Cf. Jack W. Cottrell, “Conditional Election,” in Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), loc. 2048-2655, Kindle; cf. Forlines, Classical Arminianism, 35-96.

[38] Cf. Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), loc. 2114-2363, Kindle; cf. Picirilli, 35-64; Eric Hankins, 97.

[39] Recounting how James Arminius viewed God, Arminian theologian Roger Olson writes, “God is immutable and eternal (even timeless), sovereign and omnipotent” (Olson, 89, emphasis mine; cf. James Arminius, “A Declaration of the Sentiments of James Arminius: Part 2,” in Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God, ed. John D. Wagner [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011], 64).

[40] Eric Hankins, 90-101.

[41] Lemke, 103-17. He doesn’t employ this exact doctrinal terminology in his text as I have for brevity’s sake; cf. Forlines, Classical Arminianism, 293, regarding conditional monergism.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Lemke, 169-78.

[44] Hunter, 131; Forlines, Quest for Truth, loc. 4013-4053, Kindle.

[45] Charles Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1990).

[46] He tells a story of his wife delivering their son, “I was instructed to ‘coach’ my wife. Obviously, our child would have been born without my ‘coaching.’ Saying ‘You can do it’ did not imply that I thought there was the possibility that she might not give birth” (Hunter, 133-41).

[47] J. Matthew Pinson, in a telephone conversation, April 14, 2017.

[48] Allen, 2-3.

[49] “These essays reflect a desire by Southern Baptists to provide a positive articulation for the non-Calvinist Baptist tradition which might be called the General Baptist or the Sandy Creek or the Mullins-Hobbs-Rogers tradition” (Harwood, x). In fact, the 1812 Former Articles of the General Baptists taught eternal security from 1812 until it was deleted sometime in the 1830s. J. Matthew Pinson, A Free Will Baptist Handbook: Heritage, Beliefs, and Ministries (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 1998), 142-47, emphasis mine.

[50] Cf. Dale Moody, Apostasy: A Study in the Epistle to the Hebrews and in Baptist History (Greenville, SC: Smyth & Helwys, 1991); Dale Moody, “Salvation and Apostasy,” in The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981); and A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 2 (Nashville, TN: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1930).

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