Jerry Vines, legendary Southern Baptist pastor (FBC, Jacksonville, FL) and signer of the recent “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,” has written lately in response to the responses to “the Statement.” What may be a series of ripples in Southern Baptist life may accumulate into a tidal wave of unrelenting controversy.
Dr. Vines deserves the utmost respect and attention. He should be listened to and given a measure of priority among the plethora of voices in SBC life. And with that responsibility comes a greater measure of scrutiny. Therefore, I humbly beg to take issue with one particular form of reasoning that led Dr. Vines to sign the statement and then consequently warn against the “New Calvinists.”
In this blog post, Dr. Vines write, “Some, certainly not all, New Calvinists move toward moral antinomianism.” He then proceeds to build an argument against “New Calvinism” based on this flimsy charge of “moral antinomianism.” To do so he holds Mark Driscoll as the poster-child for moral antinomianism because he (1) is not a teetotaler and (2) allows more sexual freedom within the confines of biblical marriage. Ergo, Dr. Vines has defined a “moral antinomian” as one who can have a beer and can experiment sexually within the confines of biblical marriage. And since “some” New Calvinists are “moral antimonian” (as he’s thus defined) we should be warned against their influence.
Dr. Vines should know better. He’s created a straw man deserving a rhetorical lashing. Dr. Vines’s argument cannot hold water because:
- Using his own logic, I can safely say “Some, certainly not all, Arminians move toward pedophilia.” I can then cite one example of an Arminian pedophile and conclude extreme caution toward Arminianism. Or, “Some, certainly not all, Arminian pastors move toward adultery.” Therefore, everyone should be wary of Arminianism because infidelity has been known in a few cases. Of course, Arminianism and pedophilia/adultery do not have a cause-and-effect relationship. Neither does Calvinism and antinomianism. One does not imply the other, as Dr. Vines is trying to insinuate. If I’m antinomian it’s because I’m unbiblical, not Calvinist! To insinuate “New Calvinism” is dangerous because “some” move toward unbiblical extremes is simply a verbal slight-of-hand.
- “Moral antinomianism” cannot be defined subjectively, but strictly according to biblical orthodoxy. Dr. Vines’s definition of teetotalism, etc. does not meet the criteria of moral antinomianism. For his definition to work, one must be willing to say drunkenness or adultery is part of Christian liberty. No Calvinist, or even Christian, can affirm that. Paul warned Romans 14 against any rush to judgment about who is or is not antinomian.
- Does Dr. Vines really want to open the “moral antinomian” can? The Southern Baptist Convention boasts of 16 million members, only five million of whom can be found on any given Sunday? Church discipline is unheard of in the majority of Southern Baptist churches. So, who exactly is promoting “moral antinomianism”? Who exactly is tolerating church members, who are considered Christians by virtue of their membership, living undisciplined lives that look nothing like the gospel? Dr. Vines has been part of a generation or two who has lusted after bigger buildings and numbers in the name of heaven, while 11 million Southern Baptists live like hell. I dare say, Dr. Vines, who again are the practical (not theoretical) moral antinomians? If you want to talk about “ALL the elephant in the room” then let’s do so!
- The rising generation of pastors, be they Calvinists nor not, are highly committed to restoring church discipline in our local churches. They’re getting fired right-and-left for trying (probably too eagerly) to restore meaningful church membership! I dare say that is promoting moral antinomianism. In fact, this generation of pastors is hoping to restore holiness and accountability to our churches. They will be smaller for it, but they will be healthier. Instead of creating fear among Southern Baptists about “some” antinomians, why not restore fear by citing the “many” seeking to restore gospel accountability and responsible church membership? Southern Baptists should fear God far more than they do the occasional wine drinker!
We should be thankful for having this debate. But let’s have an honest one. If Dr. Vines wants to uncover “ALL the elephant” then he’ll have to more than just uncover the parts he likes to see.