Al Mohler Excludes Arminians from Gospel Cooperation

In a panel discussion, recorded 8 November 2013, Dr. Al Mohler, Calvinist President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, asked "non-Calvinist" pastor Eric Hankins questions about Southern Baptist life, as he experiences it as a "non-Calvinist," and about the future of the SBC. (link) Listening to this discussion caused such gratitude to well up within me for abandoning my Southern Baptist roots. This dialogue reminded me of a thousand conversations I had about Calvinism, "non-Calvinism," and Arminianism while attending the college at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I immediately thought to myself, "If I were still in such an environment, surely I would have lost my mind by this time." Calvinists like Dr. Mohler seem to eat, sleep, and breathe Calvinism. They give the appearance that Calvinism is their very lifeline -- not Scripture, not even Jesus, but Calvinism.


Fine: Dr. Mohler eats, sleeps, and breathes Calvinism. I've been accused of the same with regard to Arminius and Arminianism. Let us not be distracted. Dr. Mohler confesses that he believes any theology that is not Calvinistic is "deficient." (15:10-15:53) He assumes that "non-Calvinists" (and, by implication, Arminians) believe his Calvinistic soteriology to be deficient as well. I don't think Calvinism is deficient, nor do I think that Calvinists maintain a deficiency in their thinking about certain texts of Scripture -- though I view Dr. Mohler's reasoning as deficient, as displayed in the manner in which he discusses this issue with Eric Hankins. Calvinists use a different hermeneutic than do "non-Calvinists" and Arminians in interpreting soteriology, God's methods with regard to salvation, and the nature of God. Our debate is not one of deficiency but strictly of hermeneutics. The fact that Dr. Mohler fails to understand this aspect of theology is alarming. 

Dr. Mohler continues that segment of the discussion by noting that we are all fallen; and in our fallenness we, at times, display our fallenness by a deficiency in our thinking or reasonsing: "we're doing the very best we can," he admits. But then he argues that there are deeper levels of deficiency (15:54-15:57); and that certain deficiencies within other brothers and sisters in Christ would keep him at bay from joining with them for gospel-related projects. "In other words, I would not want to be in cooperation with someone whose soteriology I felt was deficient in a way that harmed the gospel, and made common evangelism and missions impossible." (15:58-16:12) To a point I would agree with him. I would not want to be in cooperation with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons, since their beliefs about salvation harm the gospel: those two groups make common evangelism and missions impossible. I would make the same remark about Unitarians, Universalists, and Pluralists. But orthodox Christianity rejects each of these groups from being considered Christian in nature. In other words, these people are not even Christians, so of course we would not cooperate with them in the context of worship or missions.  

Dr. Mohler is not, however, speaking about such groups. When discussing the "boundaries" of cooperation, "non-Calvinistic" and Calvinistic Southern Baptists want to parse out the details. (16:13-16:51) Pastor Eric Hankins confesses that he has never wanted anyone to call him an Arminian. (17:8-17:10) Mohler acknowledges, "Right." Hankins deconstructs Arminianism to one sole doctrine: rejection of the perseverance of the saints by efficacy or necessity. Dr. Mohler then suggests that within Arminianism, this issue is a non-negotiable (17:11-17:31), but that is not true. There are self-professed Arminians who hold to the perseverance of the saints just as do faithful Southern Baptists, as even pastor Hankins admits. (17:31-17:38) Dr. Mohler, as I suspected, is ill-informed with regard to some Arminians. But I digress. 



Both confess that Southern Baptist history has been absent of any dialogue with Arminianism proper. (17:31-18:11) Baptist history was always divided into Particular Baptists (Calvinistic Baptists) and General Baptists (Arminian-type Baptists). Southern Baptist history was always divided into Calvinistic Southern Baptists and non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists, the latter of which has always rejected the label "Arminian" for fear of the doctrine of aspotasy, as already mentioned. Dr. Mohler then brought the conversation back to the issue of "boundaries," and I believe this was intentional. (18:12-19:39) "And one could not be any kind of consistent Arminian and sign the Baptist Faith & Message. In fact, one couldn't even be classically Arminian, in terms of, for instance, God's purpose of grace, and sign the Baptist Faith & Message." (19:39-19:55) Clearly, this was the message Mohler wanted to convey: Arminians have no place in the Southern Baptist convention. 

Now, that affects me, personally, not in the slightest, since I have converted my ecclesiology to what I think is a more biblically and Church-historically accurate theology. I don't know how this will affect Arminians who are in Southern Baptist churches. Dr. Mohler has made his point clear, however, that Arminians are not welcome within their congregations. Admitting he would never consider himself in cooperation with Unitarians, Universalists or Socinians, Dr. Mohler continues: "In terms of an Arminian, I would not identify an Arminian as a non-Christian." Well, we are appreciative for that remark, given that other Calvinists, e.g. John Owen, Augustus Toplady, Abraham Kuyper, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, and O.R. Johnston disagree, confessing us to be either in league with Satan (Owen), a worshiper of the "idol of free will" (Toplady), Socinian (Kuyper), un-Christian (Packer, Johnston), barely saved (Sproul), tantamount to semi-Pelagianism (MacArthur), or no better than secularism (Dever). Dr. Mohler continues: "But I would identify an Arminian as a deficient theology [sic] to the extent that I could not be in congregational-cooperation and missions and  other endeavor[s]." (20:40-21:02) One wonders how a Calvinist like George Whitefield and an Arminian like John Wesley could have remained such strong friends all those years when considering remarks like that of Mohler. 

Tell me, in what sense is the gospel or, more particularly, the plan of salvation different when an Arminian presents it and when a Calvinist presents it? Are there two gospels -- one for the Arminian and another for the Calvinist? Dr. Mohler's views on this matter are, quite obviously, deficient. But when Mohler and other Calvinists present the plan of salvation, are they not, in effect, presenting the exact same message as does the Arminian? Do we not all, both Calvinists and Arminians, spread the exact same message of God's work through Israel in bringing about the divine Son of Man, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for sin; so that, whoever will trust and continue to trust in Him shall not perish in hell but have everlasting life with the Lord? Do we not all, Calvinists and Arminians, demand that all are dead in sins to the spiritual realities of God? Do we not all, Calvinists and Arminians, insist that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ? 

Unless, of course, when Dr. Mohler witnesses to the lost, he expounds upon the five points of Calvinism; and the exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty of God; and the inerrancy of Scripture; and that regeneration must precede faith; and that faith is a gift given solely to the unconditionally elect; and that we cannot know who God has unconditionally elected, so we must witness to everyone. If this is what he has in mind, in terms of witnessing the Christian faith, then he has either added to the gospel or he perpetuates a different gospel altogether. In such a case, then, we Arminians are delighted that he has no interest in cooperating with us congregationally, missionally, or through other endeavors.

But, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I suspect that we present the same exact plan of salvation; yet his aversion to the concept that a person could forfeit salvation by rejecting faith in Christ is the straw that broke the proverbial, theological back of the camel. That, in my opinion, is tragic. Understand that this is the reason why Arminians are not welcomed to being T4G, Together for the Gospel; this is the reason why Arminians are blatantly excluded from TGC, The Gospel Coalition; this is the reason why no Arminian scholars are included on the Gospel Transformation Bible Committee. The ESV Bible website, a product of Crossway, a Calvinist publishing house, makes sure to inform their viewers that the Synod of Dort condemned Arminianism at their kangaroo court, 1618-19. Calvinists continue to make certain their exclusion of Arminians from any joint effort in any manner whatsoever. So, when people wonder why the two groups "just can't get along," be sure the answer maintains its proper context: Calvinists exclude Arminians from any cooperation, be it theological or missional in nature.   

Dr. Mohler asked pastor Hankins about the future of the Southern Baptist convention. I will give my own opinion. I think the SBC will become further divided over the issue of Calvinism in the coming years; but after a while, when Calvinism has subsided, and experienced yet another historical ebbing (historically, Calvinism always experiences an ebb and flow), the SBC will get back to doing what she should have been doing all the while: spreading the gospel. The current obsession with Calvinism in the SBC is distracting her from her Christian duty. But I also think that the SBC will continue on her fundamentalist journey, thinking herself as God's lone voice in the earth, forsaking cooperation with any other Christian fellowship. Such is her history, and her current attitude; so what makes any of us think that her future will be any different? 

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.