Interview with Ronnie Rogers, a Former Calvinist
Taken from SBC Today, http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/16/interview-with-a-former-calvinist-ronnie-rogers/ and http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/17/ronnie-rogers-interview-part-2/. Comments on the 2 parts can be found at the respective posts linked above.
Interview with Ronnie Rogers, a former Calvinist [Part 1]
Posted on July 16, 2012 by the editors of SBC Today
The editors of SBCToday present a two-part interview with Ronnie W. Rogers – pastor, Southern Baptist statesman, and former Calvinist — whose 2012 book, “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist,” recently caught our attention. SBCToday will also post selected excerpts from his books in the ensuing days.
Ronnie is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a university city cited by the North American Mission Board in 2006 as the most unchurched in the state. Pastor Rogers’ expositional sermons draw large collegiate crowds during the school year as he preaches and teaches (and writes) from a biblical perspective that boldly challenges popular culture.
A magna cum laude graduate from Criswell College in Dallas, Ronnie matriculated to Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Ark., for a Master’s in Counseling to complement his Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies. Ronnie is a member of the Oxford Roundtable, having presented three papers at the famed institution in England.
From SBC boards to state convention president to the local associational, Ronnie is a Southern Baptist Statesman. He served as chairman of the SBC’s Committee on Nominations, and later on the Committee on Committees; was a board member and later chairman of trustees at Midwestern Seminary; was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention; and served as vice moderator for the Garland (Texas) County Association.
Comments about the following interview will be open. However, for anyone wishing to engage Pastor Rogers about his views, SBCToday’s editors recommend reading his book first as we believe he ought not have to rewrite his book as replies to the voluminous comments and questions the interview is expected to generate.
You may obtain a copy of “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist: The Disquieting Realities of Calvinism” at Amazon.com. Pastor Rogers has written two other books: “The Death of Man as Man: The Rise and Decline of Liberty,” 2011; and “Undermining The Gospel: The Case for Church Discipline,” 2004.
How did you initially arrive at your original Calvinistic position?
After accepting Christ, I began studying an average of five hours a day, a practice I have continued throughout my Christian life — 35 years. I read Lewis Sperry Chafer’s eight-volume Systematic Theology three times. This provided me with a systematic approach to the perplexities of Scripture, e.g., predestination, election, free will, etc. This was followed by reading other Calvinists’ commentaries and systematic theologies. I became a 4-point Calvinist and remained unabashedly so for the next 20 years.
Retrospectively, as I have shared with others, I now see another dimension to my choice of Calvinism. When a person becomes a Baptist, he is exposed to two positions — Arminianism and Calvinism — and everything else is simply a derivative of one of those, e.g., 5-point, 4-point, etc. Now, he can’t be an Arminian because at the end of the continuum is the Devil and just before him is Arminianism. Thus, if he does not desire to become a Methodist, he must be a Calvinist of sorts. My pilgrimage, which parallels many others, highlights the problem of defining our theological position based on how many steps up we are on the Calvinist ladder. Even in our seminaries, our theology books are Calvinistic, which profoundly highlights the need to develop non-Arminian, non-Calvinist systematic theology books. Also, we need to define ourselves by some other standard than Calvinism, which practice presently makes Calvinism the default standard of orthodoxy like it or not.
Now, I see this forced decision as the either/or fallacy. I have sought to systematically answer the biblical paradoxes from a biblical vantage point that does not seek to be consistent with Calvinism, Molinism, or Arminianism, but only the Scripture.
I now am not a Calvinist-biblicist, Arminian-biblicist or Molinist-biblicist, but simply a biblicist without a preceding adjective.
What was your sense about yourself at that time, spiritually, academically, theologically?
I was very dedicated to grow in my knowledge of God so that I could follow Him more closely. I was growing spiritually, academically, and theologically. I loved God deeply, and I assume the same today for my Calvinist brothers and sisters.
Retrospectively, I was very prideful about Calvinism. Everything else was wrong and unintellectual. I deeply regret my prideful attitude about that now. This saddens me, and I see it in many young Christians whom I know have not come to truly understand Calvinism or Scripture enough to be so pridefully sure, which is not a statement about the biblical soundness of Calvinism or the lack thereof. That is another issue. However, my experience helps me to be more patient with younger (and some older as well) people who claim to be Calvinist.
Did you have any uneasiness in your heart when you began to imbibe Calvinism?
No. I was very excited, certain and satisfied. I continued to study Calvinism in order to better understand the Scripture, e.g., Institutes, Hodge, Shedd, Boyce, commentaries, etc. Thus, I had no uneasiness about Calvinism at the beginning and for many years thereafter.
Retrospectively, my comfort level with Calvinism was due to what I called then “a gentler and kinder Calvinism” e.g., 4-point, still talked of the tragedy of rejecting Christ, etc., which I now refer to non-pejoratively as “double-talk.” Of course, I admit that I was as guilty as any Calvinist for my quotidian reliance upon double-talk. My desire now is to help Calvinists see their use of this subtle rhetorical skill so that they may see the “disquieting realities of Calvinism,” thereby enabling them to accurately determine whether or not they are a Calvinist. Added to the problem of double-talk is that most people who claim to be a Calvinist, or Calvinistic, have so nuanced their Calvinism that it is no longer Calvinism, but rather a very personalized non-Calvinism Calvinism. Everything hinges on “unconditional election.”
Ronnie Rogers Interview, Part 2
Posted on July 17, 2012 by the editors of SBC Today
What was the tipping point in your life that caused your trek away from Calvinism? Did you have a sense of breaking new ground, or that you were returning to teachings, sermons, etc., that you had known in your earliest Christian experience?
No, I did not return to earlier beliefs, it was brand new ground for me, scary, and very disconcerting. But I have, by God’s grace, always awakened every day wanting to know God more, both cognitively and experientially.
I am an expositor and I seek to read broadly. These two practices, over a period of time, caused me to continue to see problems and/or inconsistencies between Calvinism and the simple — not simplistic or non-systematic — study of the Scripture. I kept a record of questions, problems, anomalies that I kept seeing. So it was a long process. At first the anomalies were fewer than the answers provided by Calvinism, but through time they began to rival the number and substance of answers provided by Calvinism.
Can you describe what happened in your heart and mind at the apex of this decision?
There was no epiphanic moment wherein one moment I was a Calvinist and then the next moment I was not. Rather, I became less Calvinistic, but still donned the Calvinist label simply because I had no suitable alternative. Then I actually began to believe that Calvinism was wrong with regard to a growing number of things, e.g., the love of God for the lost, the nature of God, God desiring the vast majority of His creation to go to hell, Lamb’s book of Life, God’s complicity in the “good faith offer” and the inadequacy of overloading verses like John 6:37 (all that the father gives will come) with more than is there and concomitantly forgetting what is required, but is not there — Christ dying so not just a transaction. The simple reading of Scripture seemed to diverge from the tenets of Calvinism if I would let it do so. I knew I did not arrive at this recognition because of reading Arminians, but from Calvinist commentators who interpret verses inconsistent with their own Calvinism, e.g., tragedy people reject Christ, God’s love for the lost, etc., which to me was and is double-talk.
I committed to just the simple reading of Scripture. This left me with an inchoate soteriology, but I accepted that to walk the path of simple — not simplistic — exposition, which was very unsettling to me.
I learned the either/or fallacy, and saw that committed often.
I preached a series on this issue and wrote some blogs reflective of my new understanding of certain Scriptures and doctrines. I was convinced that Calvinism was wrong and that I had been wrong. I came to believe that there was a better way to interpret the Scripture, although my abandonment of Calvinism left me uncomfortably holding beliefs that still had significant unanswered questions.
Actually, the book began as a pamphlet for my church with about ten chapters. However, during the process of writing it is when I worked through many of my questions concerning my non-Arminian, non-Calvinist position. It is one thing to deconstruct someone else’s view, but it is quite another to offer a viable alternative, and that is what I tried to do — at first for me, and then my church.
Since coming to a rejection of Calvinism, would you say your devotional life and preaching ministry have become more powerful, or about the same?
This is one of the richest blessings. I was a happy devoted Calvinist. I was secure in the system. I loved God deeply and relished in learning more about Him every day. My pilgrimage out of Calvinism was lonely and disconcerting, and my discarded answers with no replacements left a disturbing cavernous vacuum in my thinking and explanatory power — I knew when answering questions that I was not satisfied with my answers. Now that I have answered the questions to my satisfaction far more congruently with Scripture, knowing that I have much still to learn, it is not only a blessing but it is liberating. My prayers, love for and worship of God, love for all people, preaching, conversing and witnessing are freer, clearer and I certainly believe more consistent with Scripture.
How have your Calvinistic friends reacted to you hence?
They seem to still love me as I do them, but for the most part, they rarely if ever engage me or comment to me regarding soteriology. Some have shared that they no longer claim to be Calvinists, or they have become a “minor Calvinist” after reading my book. Although I am sure it is coming, I have yet to receive a serious response to my book or my challenges from a Calvinist. We have Calvinists in our church who seem contented to remain a Calvinist, and some who are sharing their struggles and questioning their Calvinism.
What would you hope to see in terms of the discussions and outcome regarding the panel Dr. Frank Page will be appointing? Also, do you think the SBC can continue to exist in its current state? Do you think traditional Southern Baptists and Calvinistic Southern Baptists can co-exist in the same denomination?
The Panel: 1. Leaders who are committed to model disagreement without pejorative name calling, disrespectfully disregarding or summarily dismissing an alternative approach to the complexities of infinitude and time that are within the framework of inerrancy. 2. Possibly suggest and model some guidelines on what it means to defend a position without disparaging a brother or sister in Christ, which is both modeled and encouraged by them. 3. Seek to and encourage others to rightly understand the position of the one they disagree with so we don’t unnecessarily hurt one another or the heart of God with our bonfires fueled by straw men.
Coexist: I do think that we have and can coexist. I do not think that we will, in a Christ honoring way and gospel spreading way without toning down the unhelpful rhetoric. If we disagree rightly, with orthodox views, we can give more serious thought and time to respectfully and graciously probing beyond the pat refrains and double-talk. To wit, avoid the system defense and evaluate whether positions are biblically defensible, e.g., orthodox, and if so disagree with grace and love.
What would be your advice to anyone such as a pastor or a church member who is questioning the validity and veracity of Calvinistic soteriology?
A. Please be humble and gracious about what we know within the confines of orthodoxy. God will teach us more, if we listen, and humility will permit our growth to be less tainted by the shame of past unnecessary prideful certitude.
B. My book can help the serious Biblicist who is considering becoming a Calvinist, or is questioning Calvinism by leading one to consider the realities of Calvinism.
1. Read my book with an open heart and mind and consider it in light of Scripture, not in light of whether it agrees or disagrees with Calvinism. I understand how scary and maybe even embarrassing that can be. See if the alternative offered in the book is more reflective of Scripture and the way he/she teaches, talks or prays from the Scripture than Calvinism.
2. See if one truly wants to accept the harsh realities of Calvinism.
3. Realize that you do not have to be an Arminian or a Calvinist.
4. Do not double-talk.
5. Follow the clear appearance of Scripture; Jesus really wanted people to repent.