Huns, Calvinists and Straw-Men


During WWI, in order to gain support for entering the war on the Allied side, propaganda began to stretch the truth and distort the nature of the conflict. The Germans were painted as Huns who enjoyed killing (and eating, in some cases) babies. Joe Public was alarmed and outraged. No matter that the issues that started the war were complicated and convoluted, straw men were erected in order to arouse the public to insist on America’s going to war. The same is going on in the SBC today. Normally we do not post too much on the Arminian-Calvinism debate going on in the SBC. This is because we work with multiple denominations overseas and the issue is secondary to our stated goals in providing training resources to leaders and churches worldwide. Yet, sometimes the issue is forced upon us, because such training materials do lean one way or another and because I am an ordained minister within the SBC.

It is with dismay, then, that many articles have become sloppily written inside SBC magazines and websites, which distort the beliefs of either side and further divide people from having civil discussions and agreeing to disagree over some interpretations of Scripture. The article, Sbc and Calvinism:  All-in? All-out? Somewhere In-Between? by Doug Sayers is one such article that was not helpful or accurate. (http://sbctoday.com/2014/03/26/sbc-and-calvinism-all-in-all-out-somewhere-in-between/). The article tells of Mr. Sayers young son being a near-drowning victim and the debate on whether or not he would go to heaven when he died. The staunch Calvinist in the article comes across as cold-hearted for suggesting no can could give such an assurance since no one knew whether he was one of the elect. Yet, in truth, that is a consistent viewpoint from one who would hold to a belief in the doctrine of the elect. The article goes on to include the authors opinion of Romans 5 and 9 and ends with and ends with basically saying that those who hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint are both absurd and impugning God’s character.

To be fair, I believe that Mr. Sayers is erecting a straw man argument in his article. He focuses the thrust of his points upon asking what sin a baby could commit that would send him to hell and spends a lot of time trying to dismantle the belief in the imputation of Adam’s sin that Calvinists hold. What he does not seem to understand, or fails to mention, is the other side of the equation. Arminians believe that it is the exercise of belief that brings salvation, not God’s election. The question could be asked, “Since a baby doesn’t yet exercise belief, why would he go to heaven?”

The use of babies, little helpless, cute babies, is sure to elicit emotions on both sides. Yet, the answer to salvation must be consistent no matter what the age is. It doesn’t matter that a person is 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 100 years old, the answer must satisfy for all. I have heard many preachers say from the pulpit that “the only sin that will send people to hell is not accepting (or rejecting) Jesus Christ.” So, why not kill people before they can reject Him? Surely that would be merciful. Since we don’t know who will say yes to Jesus, why take that chance? It is the same logic Roman Catholics use to justify baby baptism. They believe baptism saves so baptize early. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to stop abortions if it meant all those little ones would go straight to heaven? No one in their right mind believes this, but it is the logical extension of a belief system that says babies go straight to heaven in death, while they might grow up to become an unbeliever and go to hell.

Why are Calvinists painted as cruel for at least being consistent in saying that if God wants them in heaven they will go there? Why are Arminians not held to answer the flaws in their own system? We are not to preach anyone into heaven or hell at a funeral, but to bring comfort to the family. We appeal to God being a God of mercy and justice. Whether God foresaw who would accept Him and elected them or whether He elected them and foresaw their early death really doesn’t matter to a grieving family. They need to know God loves them, He isn’t being cruel, He can and will sustain them through this trying time.

What Mr. Sanders appears to believe, although he doesn’t come right out and say so, is that we are born innocent and deserve heaven. He says that God imputes the guilt of our sin when we knowingly break His laws. While he derides Calvinists for their belief in the imputing of Adam’s sin to his posterity, which he says isn’t in Scripture, he believes in an “age of accountability” that is just as absent from the Holy Writ. Both beliefs are assumptions based upon particular interpretations of numerous Scriptures. Yet he passes off his beliefs as stated facts that are indisputable. What he has done is to create a straw man, paint Calvinists as modern day Huns and seek to win an emotional appeal for his own set of beliefs.

Such an article is not helpful. To slant an issue without an article stating the Calvinist viewpoint that babies, like teenagers or adults are first regenerated (made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit) prior to placing their belief in the Lord who just saved them is irresponsible. In Calvinism the same God who brings salvation to a person (no matter the age) brings such clarity of vision and thought that their natural response is to grab Him (irresistible grace – not that they can’t resist, they no longer want to). For a baby, God makes them alive spiritually and their soul responds naturally to Him. Calvinists are not Huns nor simpletons and are not impugning God’s holiness at all.

Whether one chooses to believe this viewpoint or not, whether one embraces Calvinism, Arminianism, Augustine’s or Wesley’s viewpoints — let us remember this: we are called to act in love towards one another at all times and to see our own flaws before pointing out the flaws of others. Until that happens, the SBC will continue its descend into mediocrity and that will be a great tragedy.

 

Bold Infidelity!  turn pale and die;
Beneath this stone, four infants’ ashes lie;
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned; because they’re here;
Reason, ah! how depraved!
Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;
They died, for Adam sinned—they live, for Jesus died!

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2 thoughts on “Huns, Calvinists and Straw-Men

  1. Ta Ethne (sorry, I don’t know your name, please do not take offense),

    A PCA pastor friend directed me to this site and particular post. He said that it was a good rebuke to my “slash and burn straw man argument against Calvinists.” This is after he said the post was ignorant and unbiblical. He then told me in another email that my out-of-balance embryonic open-theism needs to be corrected by Christ’s church. He says my gross theological errors are driven by personal trauma instead of sound biblical exegesis and they are a classic illustration of the need every believer has for membership in a local church and ongoing pastoral oversight. This much is true, I am not currently a member of a local church.

    Anyway, I say all that to preface a few brief words by way of response to your post.

    I fail to see how sighting Rom 4:15 and 5:13 is a straw man argument or propaganda.The guilt of sin is not imputed when there is no law; therefore it cannot be imputed by arbitrary decree or natural generation. Romans 5 does not say that the guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed to his posterity (as per the WCF…). If, as Paul explains, we did not sin in the same way as Adam, then we certainly did not commit the sin in the Garden. As a professing Calvinist, I assume that you are aware of the historical variance of opinion regarding this question among Reformed theologians. (Immediate imputation, Mediate imputation, Edwards theory…) it is not like I am questioning an easy biblical “no brainer.”

    The M Henry and G Whitefield references are quoted in context and are, at best, confusing. I think we should have explicit textual proof before we tell anyone that the biblical God would send someone to hell even if they never actually sinned once in their entire lifetime, and that people born with handicaps and diseases must be guilty of something before they were born. We know that Jacob and Esau had not done anything evil (guilt worthy) before they were born.

    I can handle all the ad hominem abusive but I just wish one Calvinist would engage these texts and explain (by explicit proof text or good and necessary inference) why we should believe that everyone is born guilty and worthy of hell. Jesus was clear that the man born blind was not guilty of sin. (John 9).

    I am sorry if the post seemed harsh but the criticism is fair. If you can speak to these texts then I am all ears. If I am wrong about all this then I would much rather recant and repent now than wait until I stand before the Lord and have to give an account for bearing false witness to the biblical teaching.

    If interested, the Amazon online review of the book Chosen or Not? allows you to read quite a bit of the book and will give you a good idea of where I am coming from in all this. (see icon link)

    This is not merely an emotional issues about helpless and cute dying babies it is a rational and biblical question about the attributes of God, as well.

    Looking for that Blessed Hope…
    Doug Sayers

  2. Thank you for your reply. I did not think it was harsh, just heartfelt which is always good. Dialogue is always welcome. Their are many articles written on the different views of Romans 5, which is where the Federal viewpoint (which is the crux of the matter) is discussed in detail. Monergism.org has a lot, as well as other sites, and they do a better job than I can.
    My point is this — both views, yours and mine raises questions that are valid. If salvation is by a personal declaration of faith, what happens to those who cannot make a personal declaration? I also believe (and my view is probably different than many of my reformed brethren of whom I am something of a black sheep anyway) that in the millennial reign of Christ, there will be those born into a perfect society, ruled by a perfect ruler, and yet still choose to rebel when Satan is released, giving mankind’s great excuse – “I was born perfect and would have remained so if not for all those bad influences” no validity. If condemnation comes after I have personally sinned, which sin sends me to hell? Stealing a pencil brings the same punishment as murder? And what if I come to learn some things are wrong only from the law of society and not because of a God who decreed some things wrong? Does sinning count if I do it without a knowledge of God? If not, why enlighten me — as soon as I know I would be doomed? I am not trying to be cute, these are real questions I answer each day while working with people both here and overseas.
    Anyway, thank you for your response. My concern for the SBC is the lack of actual dialogue and the harshness of both sides to paint those who disagree as the enemy. I believe infants and the retarded are given eternal life by God’s grace extended towards them just as He extended it to me. Just as my soul responded, so do theirs. This is not academic for me, it is personal since I have a child that is such. As the old song goes, My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.While I may disagree with you, I would not have responded as harshly as the person you mentioned early in this response as that isn’t helpful, either. I work with believers of both persuasions, as my posts on this site clearly show because we agree to disagree. We don’t overlook our differences, we work through them – which is what I hope our convention does also.

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