QUESTIONS ON NEO-CALVINISM, PART 1

QUESTIONS ON NEO-CALVINISM, (Part 1)
Into the Lion’s Den with Dr. Ergun Mehmet Caner
President, Liberty Theological Seminary
Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia)
© 2006 erguncaner.com • liberty.edu/lts

Since James White refused to debate on Monday, October 16, my e-mail box has been filled with people asking about the circumstances surrounding the issue. Since e-mails are running about three to one in favor of our stance for general atonement, and this historic Baptist stance, we also wanted to provide the resources for those interested in pursuing the topic. We have taken the major questions from those e-mails, and listed them here, for the sake of time.

Q: WHY WAS THE DEBATE CANCELLED?

A: James White found the rules imposed by the moderator, Brett O’Donnell, to be unacceptable. With almost twenty years of national championships in debate behind him, Emir and I trusted the rules. They were standard rules for debate, but apparently unacceptable for Dr. White. Personally I have found Dr. White’s response to all this distasteful, but not surprising. I am just saddened that Professor O’Donnell had to go through this. I have found him to be a man of impeccable integrity and Christian holiness.

Q: WHY IS DR. WHITE ACTING IN THIS MANNER?

A: I don’t know- you would have to ask him. Perhaps this would be a difficult debate for him since there would be an external authority. As we neared the debate, I knew he was going to try such things. One of the issues was the tape – I did not want anyone to be able to “cut and paste,” the proceedings. That would be dishonest, and given the fact that he posts private e-mails, I wanted to ensure integrity. He disagreed. Ultimately, Dr. White walked away over seven minutes per person. The moderator stipulated two-and-one-half hours of formal debate, which would stretch to three hours easily. They wanted three. So, over thirty minutes total, they walked away.

Q: SO, NOW DR. WHITE IS CALLING FOR A NEW DEBATE?

A: He has already proven that we cannot trust him in these things. Other professors warned me this type of thing would happen. It reminds me of the boy who will not play a game unless he owns the ball, or he sets the rules. Obviously, the chapter is closed. He walked away. Make of that what you will.

Q: ALL OF THIS SEEMS SO MEAN SPIRITED. WHY HAVE YOU RESPONDED?

A: Because the manner in which Dr White has thrown statements and accusations around unanswered. He calls Dr. Geisler an “Arminian,” even though he is a moderate Calvinist. He attacked Dr. Paige Patterson’s masterful defense of Baptist soteriology at the SBC this year. No one seems to want to answer him, and since this type of new Calvinism has such ardent followers, I felt someone had to speak out. As the Baptist Press reported earlier this Fall, only a small portion of Southern Baptists are Calvinists, yet they seem to be the loudest. Liberty Seminary is not of that stripe. It needed to be said. I do find it amazing that he writes and speaks as he does, and when someone responds, they are called to task. I do not shrink from such histrionics – and speaking out is necessary when someone else’s character or biblical stance is called into question. White holds one view – we hold another.

Q: WHAT STARTED ALL THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE?

A: My personal involvement in this most recent Calvinism controversy started this past Spring (2006). One of our trustees at LU, Dr. Johnny Hunt, was being touted in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as our next president. Within a few days, one of the leading “Baptists are Calvinists” websites started blistering him. It was brutal. After a few days, we jumped in and defended him against what I saw as glaringly unfair and untrue attacks.

Q. WHO IS “WE?”

A: My younger brother, Emir and I. (Dr. Emir Caner) is the Dean of the College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Emir and I write most of our books together, and we usually talk to one another every couple of days.

Q: DO YOU GO ON BLOGS OFTEN?

A: No! Actually, I needed some students to turn me on to what exactly a “Blog” was! These online journals are interactive. Think of a blog as an ongoing commentary or diary, which allow other people to respond and interact. This particular blog was an entry that was quickly growing to hundreds of pages. Emir and I felt it was time that someone spoke up. It quickly heated up.

Q: DO YOU HAVE INTERACTION AND COMMENTS ON YOUR BLOGS?

A: No. Why would I want comments on my own “diary?” It is just my opinion – take it or leave it, but I tell my students never to believe something just because of the advocate.

Q: SO, YOU WEREN’T INVITED INTO THE DISCUSSION ON FOUNDERS?

A: No, we were not. On most blogs, you just register your name and get started. This helps avoid “anonymous” blogging. I agree with the policy, since one should stand behind one’s opinions. Only cowards send anonymous opinions. I do respect the fact that the moderator, Dr. Thomas Ascol, allowed us into the exchange. Even though the blogs are “scrubbed” sometimes, Dr. Ascol allowed us to confront the opinions and entries unfettered.

Q: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

A: When Dr. Hunt turned down the invitation to be nominated, Dr. Ronnie Floyd was approached. He was also reluctant, but finally allowed his name to be submitted. He was immediately attacked on those sites as well. I must emphasize that the particular site (founders.org) was not alone. There were many sites that stood vehemently against these men as “non-Calvinists.”

Q: WAS THAT THE EXTENT OF THE CONTROVERSY?

A: No, in fact, Emir and I quickly became the issue. Since we were adamant in stating our position that we were neither Calvinists nor Arminians, they jumped on us relatively quickly.

Q: THEN THE SERMON WAS AIRED ON THE OLD TIME GOSPEL HOUR?

A: Yes. I preached on why I could not be a hyper-Calvinist. Great response, especially from those who believe in reprobation.

Q: HOW DO YOU DEFINE HYPER CALVINIST?

A: If a person holds to reprobation, this is a clear sign. If anyone believes that God has created souls damned to hell, and predestined them to hell, then they would be a poster child for Hyper Calvinism. To do so, they would have to jump over all of the biblical texts we cite. They usually stick to the same four or five they like. That is why I used 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

A second point would be the issue of infant damnation. Drs. Akin and Mohler have been explicit on the fact that if an infant dies, they go to heaven. Dr. White does not believe it is that “simple.” If anyone believes that there is even the possibility of an infant (”non-elect”) going to hell, that would be clear hyper Calvinism. Since they do not like that term, I have also offered neo-Calvinist. Apparently that isn’t acceptable either.

Those who fit in that category usually define “hyper Calvinist” in terms of an ethic – they say that since we cannot know the fixed number, we tell everyone. They call it a “well-intentioned offer.” That is simply poor logic. I repeatedly ask them, “Will the elect get saved, whether we tell them or not?” Obviously, if you hold to hyper Calvinism, you must ultimately answer “yes.”

Q: HOW DO YOU SPELL “ARMINIAN?”

A: (Laughs) Well, the short answer is “poorly!” Any student of mine knows that I despise Microsoft Word, with its automatic respellings. It may have been a “Word” issue, but I am not above misspelling the word myself! If I did misspell the word, I take full responsibility. I appreciate all attempts to correct my poor spelling, as long as those who do, do not mind my correcting their poor theology!

Q: ANY REGRETS FROM YOUR POSTS?

A: I do have one – I cited John Gill wrongly once – I was making the point that many if not most of the Reformers and Puritans that these guys love so much would want them (as Baptists) dead. Gill was a Baptist, and pastored the same church as Spurgeon. I should have cited the legion of others who in fact did persecute us – Cotton Mather rejoiced at the firing of Henry Dunster from Harvard when he denied infant baptism. The Anabaptists, and indeed, all free-church Christians, have been hunted. The arrogance of their posts, however, had to be answered. A casual reading of their writings would force one to think that the entire Christian world is Calvinist! Yet such luminaries as Billy Sunday, Jerry Vines, Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, Charles Stanley, the entire Charismatic movement, Methodists, and general atonement Baptists are overlooked. Anyone who studies Church History would know that the Reformed movement is an important one, but a small portion of Christianity on the whole.

Q: DIDN’T YOU SAY THAT CALVINISTS ARE WORSE THAN MUSLIMS?

A: Yes, absolutely. For a small portion of these people, just daring to question the Bezian movement is heresy. They will blog and e-mail incessantly. I call it a “Calvinist Jihad,” because just like Muslims, they believe they are defending the honor of their view. They can discuss nothing else. I have even had a few call for my head! Dr. Falwell and I have laughed about it, because they are so insistent, and they miss the point completely. There are plenty of schools to which the neo-Calvinists can go, but Liberty will be a lighthouse for missions and evangelism to the “whosoever wills.” Period.

The difference is, Muslims know when to quit – for these guys, it is the only topic about which they can talk.

Q: WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SILENT THROUGH MUCH OF THIS?

A: I wanted the debate to be the debate. Spending all day in a cubicle, furiously typing and reading blogs is not the way I want to live my life. Even though the vast majority of my e-mails have been favorable (and thank you, by the way), I have very little time to respond.

Q: WILL YOU RESPOND FURTHER?

A: Through this website, I shall begin to post some of our debate materials, for those who struggle with the issue. The preponderance of the evidence will show that Christ died for the world, and His omnibenevolence extends to whosoever will surrender and believe.