by Dr. Rick Patrick, pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Ala.
The Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension Report stands as a visionary call for Southern Baptists to engage in collegial conversation regarding our differences in soteriology and other associated matters. Clearly, this outstanding report should not be viewed as a call to abandon the discussion, but rather as a challenge to those on both sides to conduct the conversation using our best manners. One might even compare the T5 Report to a football referee who gathers the captains from both sides prior to the kickoff and exhorts them to exercise good sportsmanship and to play a clean game. In other words, this important conversation is not over. It is only just beginning.
For quite some time, those with doctrinal convictions similar to mine have been in search of a term with which to identify ourselves. It is especially important to us that this term be acceptable among those with whom we disagree. Let us assure you that in our search for such a label, we are not seeking to offend, but to identify our position with the kind of theological precision that encourages mutual understanding. It is surprisingly harder than one might imagine to identify with an acceptable name the soteriological position which we believe to be the majority view among Southern Baptists. Thus far, our attempts have proven unsuccessful, but we are blessed with plenty of time and patience, and will eventually find a term everyone can agree upon.
The Disqualification of Every Currently Proposed and Utilized Term
Below is a listing of terms that, for the various reasons explained, are inadequate to define our soteriology and, in some cases, are even particularly offensive to us. By looking at all of the terms that do NOT work, we draw closer to the one that does.
1. Non-Calvinist: No one should have to define themselves simply by what they are not. This definition by negation sadly contributes to the unfortunate misunderstandings found in many of our discussions, as it is often assumed that our position is #2 below. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I would hate to go through life known only as a Non-Redskins fan.
2. Anti-Calvinist: Some Calvinists may misunderstand my view as consisting solely in the opposition of theirs. This is precisely why we need to state our position using a positive term. Certainly, the views will remain in conflict, but it will be much easier to see that each side is simply promoting their own position rather than attacking the opposing view. While I am FOR them and not AGAINST them, I am not WITH them, at least theologically, on this family of issues. I am certainly with them in sharing Christ.
3. Modified Calvinist: It has been suggested on occasion that all Southern Baptists are Calvinists of one sort or another. Those of us who disaffirm as many as four out of the five petals on the TULIP refuse to view ourselves as any kind of Calvinist at all.
4. Modified Arminian: This offensive label is a partial term. No one wants to be called a modified-this or a semi-that. It fails since Arminians view Perseverance of the Saints as a negotiable doctrine while our position is uncompromisingly committed to it. Since we disaffirm such Arminian baggage, most of us view this label as a pejorative term.
5. Semi-Pelagian: Most Southern Baptists believe that God has given all men the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel. To disaffirm Total Inability is not to embrace a man-centered theology nor to suggest that man initiates the salvation process. In the summer of 2012, many Calvinists equated our position, held by seminary presidents, pastors, theologians and a Who’s Who of denominational leaders, with this 1500-year-old heresy. Fortunately, this ugly name-calling chapter is now over.
6. Biblicist: Some prefer to use this term, by which they mean that their position is the only one found in the Bible. Clearly, this label would be claimed by both sides. It is thus unacceptable not because it offends but because it fails to differentiate.
7. Baptist: Once again, one cannot simply claim to hold THE Baptist or Southern Baptist view on this matter, since there are many Southern Baptists on both sides.
8. Traditionalist: By referencing A Statement of the TRADITIONAL Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation, this term actually met many of the necessary criteria: (1) it was not a term of negation, (2) it was not a partial term, and (3) it was not associated with any theological views containing unnecessary baggage. While it did gain a fair measure of support and usage on my side of the theological aisle, it was deemed unacceptable by Calvinists who interpreted the word “traditional” only in its historical and cultural sense. They assumed we were claiming that our Southern Baptist heritage only supported our position without including theirs. Interestingly, among dozens of articles, I never read a single Traditionalist who made this assertion. Regardless, the term Traditionalist is out. The search for an acceptable theological label continues.
A Case for the Use of the Term Savabilism
Before discussing the merits of the term Savabilism, I would like to make an appeal first to my Calvinist friends and then to my Traditionalist / Non-Calvinist friends:
Savabilism is a term that not only fits semantically but works quite nicely grammatically. It may not be perfect in every respect. It may take everyone a while to get used to it. But consider its many advantages:
What Is A Savabilist?
A Savabilist believes every lost person is savable.
A Savabilist believes that when he shares his faith, the other person’s response is truly free and has not yet been determined. A Savabilist believes God certainly knows what the other person’s response will be, but denies that He causes the person to respond in that manner.
A Savabilist believes God does not unconditionally choose but that He unconditionally loves.
A Savabilist believes that because of this unconditional love, Jesus died to atone for the sins of every single person. Hence, every single person is savable.
A Savabilist believes it is God’s one and only true will for every person to be saved.
A Savabilist believes God has given to every person the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel, either by freely choosing to accept God’s grace or by freely choosing to resist it.
A Savabilist is not a universalist. A Savabilist believes that many people will die and go to hell.
A Savabilist believes the reason the lost go to hell is neither because God chose them for hell, nor because God declined to choose them for heaven, but rather because they freely chose to reject the grace of God.
A Savabilist believes that once a person freely places their faith in Christ and He saves their soul, they cannot possibly lose their salvation, but will persevere eternally since their salvation is sealed by God forever.
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In Words With Friends—Part Two, I will labor to promote a more precise taxonomy for the broad array of positions currently crowded together under the banner of Calvinism. My fervent hope is that someday soon every Exit Sign on the Soteriological Highway will have its own unique street name so we can find our way home without confusion.
Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church
Michael Kirby, pastor
I am constantly amazed at the power of a simple and straightforward presentation of the Gospel. At our service yesterday, we had two boys profess faith in Christ and desire to be baptized. They were moved to ask Jesus for His forgiveness and we praise God for His wonderful grace.
CONNER, WALTER THOMAS (1877–1952). Walter Thomas (W. T.) Conner, Southern Baptist theologian, received an A.B. degree from Baylor in 1906; in 1908 he received both a Th.B. from Baylor Theological Seminary (which chartered in March 1908 as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and an A.M. degree from Baylor University. At Rochester Theological Seminary, he received a B.D. in 1910. Conner studied at the University of Chicago and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he received his Th.D. degree in 1916. When Southern Baptist Theological Seminary began to award the Ph.D. degree instead of the Th.D., Conner upgrading to Ph.D. status with an additional thesis on the topic “The Idea of Incarnation in the Gospel of John” in 1931.
Conner was ordained by Harmony Baptist Church, Caps, Texas, in 1899, where he was serving as pastor. He served as pastor at numerous Baptist churches and was the first pastor of Seminary Hill Baptist Church (now Gambrell Street Baptist Church) in Fort Worth. In the Southern Baptist Convention, Conner often lectured at conferences and assemblies and spoke at state and national conventions. The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board utilized him as a counselor and advisor in selecting missionary candidates.
Conner’s enduring legacy to Southern Baptist life lies in his 39-year teaching career at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He joined Southwestern in 1910, and endeavored to make theology practical rather than speculative; in the faculty his recommendations for prospective teachers were tantamount to administrative approval; and in the administration his long tenure provided continuity from the first president to the third. Systematic theology was Conner’s main responsibility, and he soon distinguished himself as the preeminent Southern Baptist theologian during the 1930s and 1940s. As a theologian, he was at home among both laymen and scholars. His lectures and books were written with the layman in mind, but they display an underlying academic depth and extensive knowledge of his field. His theology reflects the influence of three former professors: Benajah H. Carroll of Baylor, A. H. Strong of Rochester, and E. Y. Mullins of Louisville. But Conner’s theology still displays his own acumen; his theological works reflect a biblical rather than systematic approach. Conner’s complete theological system is best expressed in his works Revelation and God (1936) and The Gospel of Redemption (1945). He wrote 15 books and numerous articles for professional journals and other periodicals. He was a member of the Southwestern Society of Biblical Study and Research, and in 1946 he delivered the Wilkinson Lectures at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago.
“We are safe in saying that no member of Adam’s race will be eternally lost apart from personal choice and personal guilt. Any interpretation that says that we as individual members of Adam’s race are lost because of covenant made with Adam in the Garden of Eden or because we were present in Adam and participated in his sin as an act of sin-any such interpretation as either of this is not interpreting Paul. It is in one case following some questionable principles of law in the realm of religion and in the other some questionable metaphysics invented several centuries after Paul. One goes back to a Dutch lawyer, the other to subtle Christian speculator of North Africa who brought much of both good and bad into Christian theology…
…What Paul meant to show us in Romans 5:12-21 was a wonderful Redeemer who gives more than we lost in Adam. But in a cloud of theological dust raised about the imputed sin of Adam we have lost sight of Paul’s wonderful Redeemer and have seen only Adam’s sin and an imputed guilt that never existed except in our imaginations.”
W. T. Conner, The Faith of the New Testament, (281-82), 1940.