January 30, 2008

Greg Welty on Calvinism and the Bene Esse of the Gospel

To my fellow Calvinists, I’m going to be a bit more blunt (as is my right; I’ve just defended our distinctive views!). There is a distinction between esse and bene esse. There’s a difference between a doctrine being part of the essence of the gospel (its esse), and a doctrine being part of the well-being of the gospel (its bene esse). In light of this, I find the popular Spurgeon quote to be unhelpful, that "Calvinism is the gospel." I understand what Spurgeon was trying to say, but I think it can be both misleading and unhelpful, to the extent that I never use that quote myself. It’s just not worth it, for it usually generates more heat than light. Surely we don’t want to get someone to think that he has to believe in all the traditional points of Calvinism if he is going to believe the gospel, and yet that is exactly what that quote can convey if it is tossed around loosely. Most of the evangelical non-Calvinists I know may not believe in the five points of Calvinism, but they do believe in the five solas of the Reformation, and even if you think that is inconsistent, God never sent a man to hell for being inconsistent, but only for his sins.

Far better to simply give the arguments for Calvinism as best you can, and pray that the Lord blesses your efforts. So I would counsel my fellow Calvinists in the SBC not to say, "Arminianism denies the essence of the gospel," but rather, "Calvinism promotes the well-being of the gospel, by bringing out for God’s people all the more clearly how grace is really grace." Non-Calvinists may disagree even with this latter statement, but at least they’ll know what our motives are: to magnify the greatness of God’s grace, not to draw the circle of fellowship more narrowly than Christ himself has drawn it.
Greg Welty, "Election and Calling: A Biblical Theological Study," in Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, eds. E. Ray Clendenen & Brad J. Waggoner (Nashville: B&H, 2008), 243.

Also in his lecture on "Election and Calling: A Biblical/Theological Study," from the Building Bridges Conference: Southern Baptists and Calvinism, November 2007

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