November 20, 2019

An Analysis of Bob Jones University’s Position Paper on Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology

Dr. Robert Congdon
As a follow-up to Lou Martuneac’s article of November 14, 2019, entitled “This is Not Your Father’s Bob Jones University,”[1] I have been asked to review Bob Jones University’s position paper on “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology.”[2] The following is a brief analysis of that paper.[3]

After reading BJU’s position paper, I feel that it reflects a style commonly employed by many New Calvinists[4]. Their writing typically skirts issues to avoid offense or exclusion, while maximizing inclusivity. They achieve this by allowing the reader to supply his or her own theological definitions rather than offering clear-cut ones that would reveal Calvinist views. The fact that BJU’s paper appears to use a similar strategy concerns me.

I see this tendency throughout the paper. For example, it contains the term “exercise faith” four times. A standard dictionary definition of “exercise” is “an act of bringing into play or realizing in action.”[5] While this term could apply to an action resulting in salvation, fundamentalist Christians typically select a phrase such as “receive Christ by faith as your Savior” in this context.  Once upon a time, BJU used phrases such as “believe,” “put your faith in” and “ask Him into your heart,” to describe one’s salvation response.

As used by New Calvinists, the phrase “exercise faith” fits within the dictionary definition of “realizing in action.” Calvinism’s teaching on election is that one is regenerated prior to faith. Later on, that person "exercises faith" or “acknowledges” or “realizes” that Jesus is his or her Savior. Ligonier Ministries, a major outlet for New Calvinist teaching, says:

If the Lord has changed our hearts, giving us the disposition[6] to love Him, we will certainly exercise faith and persevere in it to the end (Phil. 1:6). But that we exercise faith at all is due to God’s sovereign grace.[7] 

A writer for The Gospel Coalition, a New Calvinist group, also uses this term, “exercise faith.”

Objectively speaking, faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8, although the “gift” is the whole work of salvation, not just the faith). Subjectively speaking, the person exercises faith in the gospel (Eph. 1:13). [8]

Interestingly, if you google the phrase, you’ll also find that Brigham Young University uses it:

To exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is to accept Him as Savior and live in accordance to His will through repentance and obedience to His commandments. Learning to act in accordance with one’s faith in Christ is fundamental to enjoying deep, life-changing learning. [9]

It is rather sad that a Mormon school offers a clearer definition of “exercising faith” than BJU!

Contrary to the Calvinist teaching of regeneration before an act of faith, the Bible teaches that a person hears the Scriptures (Rom. 10:17), after which the Holy Spirit convicts that person’s heart, revealing the sinful condition and the need for a savior (Rom. 3:23). The person then responds by receiving, accepting, and trusting Jesus Christ alone as Savior (John 1:12).

BJU potentially reflects a Calvinist viewpoint when it says, “God’s invitation of salvation is freely offered to all men . . . and available to anyone who desires to be saved.” [10] I take this to suggest that an unsaved person has a desire to be saved. But in my experience, and in the experience of others holding similar positions, it is not desire but rather the conviction of being a sinner in need of a savior that drives a person to ask for God’s gift of salvation.

On the other hand, I have read several New Calvinist statements implying that when one is elect, and therefore regenerated prior to faith, he or she develops a desire to exercise faith or to acknowledge or recognize Jesus Christ as Savior. BJU’s phrase could be interpreted in either way and is therefore ambiguous, potentially satisfying both Calvinists and Biblicists.

Similarly, consider 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

The Calvinist considers “all” to mean “all the elect,” while a Biblicist believes that “all” should be taken literally as referring to all human beings. Clearly, the Bible reflects this in its use of “whosoever will” in salvation passages (John 3:16; Rom. 10:13; Rev. 22:17). Again, BJU’s statement is very weak in its terminology. 

Further on in the position paper, BJU says that our sanctification “will be completed when we stand before God in our resurrection bodies.”[11] This appears to be drawing from Reformed terminology. The Biblicist position teaches that our sanctification will be completed when we appear before Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, at the Bema. But the phrase, “stand before God” comes directly from Revelation 20:12 and refers to those at the Great White Throne Judgment.

Calvinists believe that all people from all ages, both saved and unsaved, will stand before God at this judgment event (Rev. 20:11-15). Here, God will assess who is elect and who is not. Biblicists believe that the Bema (2 Cor. 5:10) is a time of accounting (Rom. 14:12) with Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, and not a judgment for “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” (Rom. 8:1). The English word, “condemnation,” is a translation of the Greek word for “judgment.”[12] Again, BJU uses weak and ambiguous phrasing.

BJU says, “We believe that Scripture presents certain great paradoxes concerning salvation which we gladly embrace as belonging to God . . .”[13] It’s curious that here BJU uses the word, “believe” but speaks of exercising faith earlier.

Interestingly, Calvinists often use similar phrasing about “paradoxes,” yet I do not find “great paradoxes” in the Bible with reference to salvation. Surely, this is the most elementary and crucial issue of mankind. Does God truly leave this issue as a paradox unresolvable by mankind? If so, then why present it in the Scriptures at all, rather than deferring it as a matter to be dealt with in eternity?

My booklet, An Alternative View of Election offers no “paradox” but a straightforward interpretation of the biblical use of the term “election.”[14]

Finally, BJU’s view on the “doctrine of the Second Coming and Reformed Eschatology” is worded in the New Calvinist style. Reformed Theology is very weak on eschatology. It blends the catching up of the church, the Rapture event (1 Thess. 4:16ff), with the Second Coming (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 19:11), claiming that these events occur together.

Similarly, BJU says that “we believe in the visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ at His Second Coming (John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2-3)”[15] Notice, they combine references associated with the Rapture (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 John 3:2-3) with references associated with the Second Coming (Acts 1:11 and Heb. 9:28).

BJU appears to favor this combination when it declares that “we acknowledge that there are interpretative differences . . . related to the timing of this glorious appearing . . .” [16] They continue by referencing Titus 2:13 that specifically speaks of the “glorious appearing” as the Second Coming of Christ to the earth. This strategy subtly combines what the Biblicist sees as two distinct events into a single “glorious appearing.”

Interestingly, the BJU Seminary Catalog stated in the front matter that “The seminary faculty holds to...a pretribulational, premillennial approach to eschatology.”[17] By its very definition, “pretribulational” distinguishes the catching up of the church prior to the 7-year Tribulation from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the Tribulation. What has changed since BJU’s Dean Stephen Hankins quoted this statement in an email in 2011? BJU’s present usage therefore reflects either carelessness or a Reformed/Calvinist interpretation of these verses.

BJU may not officially be a Reformed or Calvinist school. But its recent publications suggest an awareness and apparent endorsement of Reformed/Calvinist thought and teaching. Perhaps its lack of precision and ambiguous use of Scripture stem from ignorance or a poor understanding of the current meanings of these terms and phrases. If so, we could excuse it and ask that the school become more informed. If, however, BJU is following the pattern exhibited by New Calvinist writing, then there is a much deeper problem at work requiring immediate action to reverse this intrusion of Reformed and Calvinist theology.

Analysist: Robert Congdon





[1] Lou Martuneac, “This is Not Your Father’s Bob Jones University” In Defense of the Gospel blog, Nov. 14, 2019.  https://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2019/11/this-is-not-your-fathers-bob-jones.html
[2] Position Statements, “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology” (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University, nd.) retrieved from https://www.bju.edu/about/positions.php on 08/21/19.
[3] The above views reflect observations by the analyst acquainted with Bob Jones University and its many graduates but who is not an alumnus. This analysis is presented as a call to BJU to rethink its position paper and also to alert BJU students and alumni to a possible trend. Presenting this analysis is at the request of some BJU alumni.
[4] New Calvinism is a repackaged form of classic Calvinism that is presented in a form more appealing to the present generations. This analysis uses the terms “Calvinist,” “Reformed,” and “New Calvinist” as essentially equal when speaking of these doctrinal statements in the BJU paper. Today, New Calvinists represent the vast majority of Calvinists.
[5] “Exercise” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exercise on 08/21/19.
[6] Calvinism teaches that the “changed heart” is the result of regeneration before faith, thereby an elect person is now predisposed to love Christ and exercise faith about Him.
[7] “Faith and Assurance” Ligoner Ministries website, retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/faith-and-assurance/ on 11/18/19.
[8] Eric McKiddie, “How to Call for a Gospel Response Like a Calvinist” The Gospel Coalition November 24, 2011, retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-to-call-for-gospel-response-like-a-calvinist/ 11/19/19.
[9] “Exercise faith” Learning Model – Brigham Young University, retrieved from http://www.byui.edu/learning-model/5-principles/exercise-faith on 11/18/19.
[10] Position Statements, “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology.”
[11] Position Statements, “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology.”
[12]κατάκριμα” Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 332.
[13] Position Statements, “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology.”
[14] Available at www.CongdonMinistries.org website.
[15] Position Statements, “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology.”
[16] Position Statements, “Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology.”
[17] BJU Seminary and Graduate Studies Catalog (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University), 38. This was confirmed in a private email from Dean Stephen J. Hankins, July 21, 2011.

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