January 28, 2019

Dr. Robert L. Sumner, “DUNGHILL THEOLOGY!”

Dr. Robert L. Sumner
Over 8 years ago we clipped an excellent article which had been written by William R. Estep, at the time the distinguished professor of church history, emeritus, at Southwestern Seminary. He wrote with Southern Baptists in view, seeking to douse the flames of a growing Calvinism in that denomination. I wish we could print the entire article since it was filled with so much wisdom and understanding. The term ‘dunghill’ theology was coined by Andrew Fuller in his The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, an answer to John Gill’s Calvinism.

Estep described Calvin: “He was no advocate of religious freedom, but an autocrat who often mistook his own will for the will of God,” adding that he “never was able to free himself from his Roman Catholic heritage. … His Old Testament hermeneutics and his uncontrollable temper acerbated his intolerance of those who disagreed with him.” Estep apparently wrote this article as an answer to Ernest C. Reisinger’s attempt to “call Southern Baptists back to what he conceives to have been their Calvinistic root,” to which he responded, “This assumption must be challenged on the basis of the original Baptist vision and its theological insights.” Amen to that!

Calvin’s theology might be summed up with his definition of predestination: “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God by which He determined with Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation, and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death” (Institutes, 3.21.5). If that isn’t fatalism, it’ll do until someone can think one up!

In talking about Baptists, Estep wrote: “Baptists arose out of English Puritan-Separatist movement, which was Calvinist, but they modified their Calvinistic heritage to a considerable degree. The first English Baptists of record (1608) came to be known as ‘General Baptists,’ since they believed in ‘general atonement’ – that Christ died for all and not just for the elect. Their Calvinism almost completely vanished under Anabaptist-Mennonite influence.”

In closing, he listed what he called “problems with Calvinism” as related to Baptists. Part of what he wrote was:
“First, it is a system of theology without biblical support.
“It assumes to know more about God and the eternal decrees upon which it is based than God has chosen to reveal in scripture or in Christ. To say God created some people for damnation and others for salvation is to deny that all have been created in the image of God.
“It also reflects upon both God’s holiness and His justice, as portrayed in the Bible.
“Further, Calvinism appears to deny John 3:16, John 1:12, Romans 1:16, Romans 10:9-10,
Ephesians 2:8-10 and numerous other passages of scripture that indicate, as Baptist confessions have consistently stated, that salvation comes to those who respond to God’s grace in faith.

“Second, Calvinism’s God resembles Allah, the god of Islam, more than the God of grace and redeeming love revealed in Jesus Christ.

“Third, Calvinism robs the individual of responsibility for his/her own conduct, making a person into a puppet on a string or a robot programmed from birth to death with no will of his/her own.

“Fourth, historically, Calvinism has been marked by intolerance and a haughty spirit. Calvin’s Geneva, the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) and the Regular Baptists (Hardshells, Primitives and Two Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists) are only some of numerous examples of this Calvinistic blight.

“Fifth, logically, Calvinism is anti-missionary. The Great Commission is meaningless if every person is programmed for salvation or damnation, for evangelism and missionary efforts are exercises in futility.

“Apparently, Calvinism is an excursion into speculative theology with predictable results, which we as Southern Baptists can ill afford.”

But what about “the great Charlie?” Estep wrote: “Charles Haddon Spurgeon often has been cited by Baptists as a staunch Calvinist. At times, the young Spurgeon claimed to be exactly that, but at other times it is clear he was neither a hyper-Calvinist nor even a consistent Calvinist. A. C. Underwood, in A History of English Baptists, writes that Spurgeon’s ‘rejection of a limited atonement would have horrified John Calvin.’ According to Underwood, Spurgeon often prayed, ‘Hasten to bring in all Thine elect, and then elect some more.’ The mature Spurgeon confided in Archbishop Benson, ‘I’m a very bad Calvinist, quite a Calvinist – I look on to the time when the elect will be all the world’.”

Don’t be taken in by “dunghill” theology!

Excerpted from The Biblical Evangelist: Volume 37, Number 3; May-June 2006.

Dr. Robert L. Sumner, (1922-2006) The Biblical Evangelist: “A Voice for Historic Evangelical Fundamentalism.”

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