Remember when I used to focus on John MacArthur quite frequently; in critique of his Lordship (self-styled five-point Calvinist) Salvation? In the main, I think I exhausted that engagement. Someone, also at the popular level, who has come onto my radar, as you might have noticed, is: Leighton Flowers. He isn’t proposing another version of “Calvinism.” No, he is proposing a theory of salvation that, like JMac’s, is somewhat self-styled. But Flowers’ understanding is a riff on his Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) so-called, Traditionalism. It is almost exactly similar to what the late Zane Hodges, of Dallas Theological Seminary, propounded in what he referred to as: Free Grace salvation. For the uninitiated, this understanding of salvation entails ideas that claim to be purely ‘biblical’ in orientation. Someone, as they hear one of its proponents expound upon it, might mistake it for Arminianism; but it isn’t Arminianism proper (although it has certain similarities to popular forms of Arminianism). Flowers calls his version of this soteriological framework: Provisionism. He uses that language with reference to the all sufficient nature of the extent of the atonement; i.e. that Christ died for all of humanity; not just the elect, in the way that five-point Calvinists articulate that in their concept of limited atonement (or particular redemption).
But of even greater emphasis than the extent of the atonement, in Flowers’ “soteriology,” is his emphasis on a person’s inherent capacity to believe the Gospel or not believe the Gospel based solely on capacity they have in and from themselves (he often asserts that the way I just characterized his view on non-total-inability is a mischaracterization of what he actually believes on this front). In other words, Leighton believes that, post-fall, humans in general have retained a capacity, by nature, to decide if they want to believe the Gospel claim or not. He wants to qualify this, so that it doesn’t sound like the straight-up flaming Pelagianism that it is, by saying that: the Gospel itself, when a person is confronted with it, comes with the grace necessary to allow the person to say yes to it. But the issue with this qualification is that it fails to do what Flowers wants it to do. In other words, the person can still say no; and they can say no from the same latent nature whereby they can say yes from. This is why Flowers’ position is not just semi-Pelagian, but full-blown Pelagianism.
With that ground clearing done let me focus a bit (by way of rant) on what I just heard in his most recent podcast (vlogcast). Flowers was making his case for Provisionism on Galatians, most recently. In this particular podcast it’s like Flowers has gotten sick of it all, and simply says what he really believes no-holds-barred. He really believes that the whole Reformed Protestant tradition (since you know, it can all be reduced into a monolithic caricature) can be relegated to a Manichean (or what he more generally refers to as Gnosticism) pagan philosophical framework that has no correlation with biblical reality. He believes that his view just is the prima facie case based on his “exterior” reading of the text of Scripture; as if Scripture has no inner-theologic funding its exterior theological assertions. As such, he doesn’t engage in what John Webster refers to as Scripture and Theological Reasoning. He doesn’t attempt to see what Thomas F. Torrance calls the Depth Dimension of Holy Scripture. In fact he thinks anyone who refers to teachers of the church, like Webster or Torrance, is simply referring to men’s reasonings about Scripture; meaning it isn’t of the divine mantle that Flowers (pretty sure he’s a man) in an ex cathedra way offers his pupils. Flowers, in short: believes that he has arrived at biblical reality, without any reference to the Tradition of the church catholic, in such a way that if anyone questions his approach (particularly if you’re a classical Calvinist), they are simply questioning Scripture itself.
Why do I often highlight people like Flowers; why do I pay attention to them (you know, since I should apparently “be above” this as some sort of academic Christian)? Because, they (he) have large followings and are influencing large swaths of the church; and typically they are never challenged by anyone who is informed on the areas they are teaching on and appealing to. I am informed on these areas, and so I want to offer a counter-voice, online, to Flowers et al. so that if anyone is looking for that voice, or even if they’re not and stumble upon it, they will realize just how off the rails Flowers is. He can also serve as a foil for Evangelical Calvinism, and do so as a springboard from the popular to the more robust and constructive theologic that Evangelical Calvinism offers.