Baptist seminary presidents Paige Patterson and Albert Mohler may have philosophical differences on the subject of divine election as interpreted by Calvinism, but those differences have small practical effect, an hour-long dialogue between the two revealed.
Patterson and Mohler discussed “Reaching Today's World Through Differing Views of Election” in two breakout sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference June 11. Both sessions, in a cavernous space occupying three hotel ballrooms, drew standing-room-only crowds.
Mohler, a self-described Calvinist and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, gently sparred while emphasizing their mutual love and respect for each other.
Patterson said he didn't like the “flawed logic” that if one isn't a Calvinist, he or she must be an Arminian, insisting, “I am neither.”
The claim that non-Calvinists don't accept the doctrines of grace or the sovereignty of God also is flawed, Patterson said.
Patterson listed several reasons why he is not “a Dortist Calvinist,” referring to the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The synod produced five cardinal tenets of Calvinism — total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.
“I do not find in Scripture any case for irresistible grace,” Patterson said, arguing salvation would be coercive if humans have no choice and citing Scriptures that suggest humans have the ability to reject God.
Likewise, Patterson said he could find no biblical support for a belief in limited atonement, citing multiple texts supporting a belief that Christ died for all and God wants all people to be saved.
Patterson quoted Scriptures that he said link predestination to divine foreknowledge, indicating that God knows in advance who will accept Christ but does not predestine some to salvation and some to condemnation. That would put God in the position of creating people just so he could condemn them, Patterson said.
“I believe too often Calvinism is the death-knell for evangelism for many people,” Patterson said. He acknowledged that many Calvinists — including Mohler — remain evangelistic, and said, “It is my conviction that as an evangelist for Christ, we are compelled to persuade men.”
Mohler affirmed, “I believe in all five points of Calvinism,” before offering his interpretations of several points.
Mohler said he prefers to speak of “effectual calling” rather than “irresistible grace.” God's effectual calling does not draw someone to Christ against his will, but once the work of salvation begins, one cannot resist, he explained.
“We all believe in limited atonement,” Mohler said. “The question is by whom. I do believe before the creation of the world, God determined to save sinners who would come to accept Christ through the electing purpose of God.”
But, Mohler said, “God is a choosing God.” God chose Israel as a special people and has called out the church, he added.
Mohler said every person attending was probably a Calvinist to some degree. Belief in inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, divine omniscience and the perseverance of those who accept Christ all owe something to Calvinism, he said.
Widespread belief in world missions “is more recent history” for Calvinists, Mohler said.
“What binds us together is that we both believe in a well-met offer of the gospel — that when we share the gospel with someone, that he or she can believe and be saved.”
People who follow “the heresy of hyper-Calvinism,” who don't believe in evangelism, are now few in number, Mohler insisted. Their churches, if found, would be very small, he said.
“A vital hyper-Calvinism movement is a living oxymoron,” Mohler said. “I don't believe anyone who appeals to Christ will be denied.”
“We must be as eager as the apostle Paul to persuade others to follow Christ, knowing that only God can effectually bring about the internal call,” Mohler concluded. “We do not know who is elect; we just know there are sinners in need of the gospel, and we believe that God does save sinners.”