10. The Southern Baptist “Pass Over”

August 17, 2016

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL

Not since the death angel visited Egypt have so many godly people been passed over.

Recently, those disaffirming Calvinism have found it nearly impossible to be chosen as the leader of a Southern Baptist entity, the speaker at a Southern Baptist conference or the author of a heavily promoted Southern Baptist book or Bible study curriculum. To put it simply, our Southern Baptist leadership is disproportionately Calvinistic compared with our Southern Baptist membership, creating an organizational instability that grows as more Southern Baptists become aware of the not so subtle discrimination against soteriological traditionalists.

Irrelevant Intent

Before establishing the existence of our disproportionately Calvinist leadership, let us consider the issue of intent, for it is on this point that some have been routinely marginalized as conspiracy theorists. The book A Quiet Revolution: A Chronicle of Beginnings of Reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention by Ernest Reisinger and Matthew Allen, published by Founders Press in 2000, offers a blueprint for reforming the churches of our denomination to embrace the position of Calvinism.

Whether or not the instructions in this book have been followed by means of some secret plan involving a network of underground conspirators is a matter of pointless speculation and an unnecessary distraction from our sincere attempts at conflict resolution. Intentionality simply does not matter.

If the SBC today is led by those who are disproportionately Calvinistic, relative to the theological convictions of the people in the pews, then this imbalance must be corrected whether it is the result of an intentionally secretive effort or merely the product of circumstance. In other words, if our leaders do not properly represent the doctrinal views of our members, we must address the reality of this problem regardless of the manner in which our leaders have become overly Calvinistic.

Overly Calvinistic Leadership

With surprising ease, Calvinists have become entrenched within the leadership of our denominational entities, even though their position is not widely considered the majority view among Southern Baptists. In a 2006 Lifeway Research study, only ten percent of SBC Pastors indicated they were five-point Calvinists. By 2012, it was sixteen percent.[1] Our newer leaders, however, are disproportionately Calvinistic, as we shall see below.

Entity Leadership

One way of describing this increasingly Calvinistic shift is to consider the leadership of our eleven Southern Baptist entities, including six seminaries, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, Guidestone, LifeWay and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In 1993, when Al Mohler became President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, he might have been the only Calvinist occupying one of these eleven posts.

However, over time, newly appointed entity Presidents have shown a remarkable tendency to possess extremely close personal ties to Al Mohler.[2] For example, in 2004, Daniel Akin left Southern Seminary as the Dean of Theology to become the President of Southeastern Seminary. Similarly, in 2006, Thom Rainer left Southern Seminary as Dean of Missions and Evangelism to become President of LifeWay. In 2011, Kevin Ezell left the Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where he had served as Al Mohler’s Pastor, to become President of the North American Mission Board. In 2012, Jason Allen left Southern Seminary as Vice President of Institutional Advancement to become the new President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2013, Russell Moore left Southern Seminary as Dean of Theology to become the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In 2014, David Platt was appointed as the President of the International Mission Board. While his ties to Mohler were less direct, they have both been heavily involved in various Calvinistic organizations such as The Gospel Coalition and the Together for the Gospel Conference.

Frankly, it has become patently clear to every interested observer of denominational life that the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention is disproportionately Calvinistic compared with the theological views embraced by most rank and file Southern Baptist clergy and laity.

Conference Speakers

Another way to describe this increasingly Calvinistic shift in the Southern Baptist Convention is to consider the views of the speakers invited to preach at various conferences. At the 2000 SBC Pastor’s Conference in Orlando, Florida, not a single Calvinist was invited to preach. However, by the 2014 SBC Pastor’s Conference, 64% of the preachers were Calvinists. At the 2015 Send North America Conference, promotional posters featured five preachers. All of them were Calvinists. Only four were Southern Baptists. Traditional Southern Baptists were left to conclude that if one wishes to be selected as a speaker at a Southern Baptist conference, it is actually more important to be a Calvinist than to be a Southern Baptist.

Publishing and Promotion

In the Pastor’s Conference program in 2014, one section promoted books by five authors. Eighty percent of these authors were Calvinists. Forty percent were not even Southern Baptists. Once again, this leaves the impression that in order to gain any attention in the SBC today, it is unnecessary to be a Southern Baptist, but it is absolutely essential to be a Calvinist, and it greatly helps if you are affiliated with The Gospel Coalition. Bear in mind this Calvinist trend (64% of Pastor’s Conference preachers, 100% of Send North America’s publicized speakers and 80% of Pastor’s Conference featured authors) has been observed within a convention where only 20% of the Pastors are Calvinists.[3]

Missionary Appointments

With regard to our missionary appointments at home and abroad, we are at the mercy of NAMB and IMB to report on the soteriological commitments of appointees, and they have not chosen to provide us with this information. However, although without such statistics it cannot be established as fact, some observers hypothesize, on the basis of anecdotal evidence, that there is a significant increase in the embrace of Calvinism among the younger, newly appointed IMB missionaries abroad and among the many Send North America church planters serving largely in the inner city areas here at home.

Soteriological Sensitivity

Whenever I suggest that we take measures to rectify an overly Calvinistic leadership that fails to reflect proportionally the views of our Southern Baptist membership, I am quickly accused of proposing a quota—a suggestion so pejorative, for some reason, that meaningful discussion typically erodes. However, one need not propose a quota (I certainly don’t) in order to request respectfully that those in a position to make nominations give careful consideration to the matter of soteriological balance.

Consider all the criteria in which we already seek to be fair and balanced in our selections. These matters include: (a) clergy and laity, (b) gender, (c) ethnicity, (d) congregational size, (e) geography, and (f) age. Our general philosophy is that we want our committees and boards to represent the broad membership of our Southern Baptist churches. Adding one more category to the list will go a long way toward addressing the soteriological imbalances documented above.

One objection commonly offered is that we cannot possibly diversify our committees and boards on the basis of every single doctrinal position. Admittedly, the list of theological differences is endless. However, this objection is easily dismissed. There is simply no sense at all in which our convention today is experiencing a fault line due to these other doctrinal matters. Salvation doctrine, on the other hand, is a pivotal concern and has been for quite some time. Frankly, this issue has earned the right to be treated differently. It not only divides us theologically, but even impacts many of the ministry philosophies and practices in our churches. Salvation doctrine is a truly important consideration that deserves to be fairly represented among the leaders, speakers, authors and ministry initiatives in Southern Baptist life.

Transparency Agenda Survey Results

In a recent poll of SBC Today readers, we asked Southern Baptists to indicate if they “approved” or “disapproved” of the idea that we “Require fairness in presenting all Southern Baptist views.” With 266 respondents, 65.79% approved of such an action, while 34.21% disapproved.

This article addresses Item Ten of the Ten Item Transparency Agenda. You may READ the Transparency Agenda or COMPLETE the survey yourself. To read the articles reporting results from the other survey items, see the links below:












[1] Rankin, Russ. SBC Pastors Polled on Calvinism and Its Effect. LifeWay. June 19, 2012.

[2] Harwood, Adam. Dr Mohler’s Ties with the SBC [Infographic]. Connect 316, October 25, 2015.

[3] Patrick, Rick. Demoralizing Doctrinal Discrimination. SBC Today. June 22, 2015.