5 Questions Pulpit Committees Must Ask Prospective Pastors | Part One

January 27, 2015

Dr. Jay Sulfridge |  Academic Dean
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, KY

*For more information about Dr. Sulfridge or CCBBC please click here. (links are now fixed)

It could be easily assumed that in the process of searching for and calling a pastor, both the church and the prospective pastor desire a good match in matters of doctrine. This assumption has caused many regrettable mismatches and more than a few church splits. Many ministers do not offer information about personal doctrinal stances that may not be shared by the congregation considering them for the pastorate. One area in which a potential pastor may be less than forthcoming lies in the issue of Calvinism. At LifeWay’s conference on the issue of Calvinism, one question that was discussed was whether or not Calvinistic ministers under consideration for the pastorate should reveal their convictions concerning that doctrine. Dr. Danny Akin advised:

If a person is strongly committed to five-point Calvinism, then he should be honest and transparent about that when talking to a church search committee. He should not hide behind statements like “I am a historic Baptist.” That statement basically says very little if anything and it is less than forthcoming. Be honest and completely so. If it is determined you are not a good fit for that congregation, rejoice in the sovereign providence of God and trust Him to place you in a ministry assignment that is a good fit. God will honor such integrity.[1]

Sadly, some men do not heed such advice, and poor matches between church and pastor result. Morris Chapman summed up the potential damage of mismatches that occur when ministers do not reveal their theological persuasions toward Calvinism. “One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church.”[2]  Frank Page expressed the same concern. “What we’re seeing across the nation is that it’s not being discussed enough. Candidates and churches are being put together, and it immediately becomes apparent they’ve got a serious issue of disagreement.”[3] Page predicted “tumultuous days” ahead due to a relatively large number of Calvinistic recent seminary graduates as compared to a relatively small percentage of Calvinistic churches. This situation could result in pressure on Calvinistic ministers to downplay or even misrepresent their doctrine when speaking to pulpit committees. But rather than placing all of the blame on the ministers, we must admit that many pulpit committees are ill equipped for the task of discerning a candidate’s doctrinal stance. There is a valid point in the following response posted in a Founder’s Ministry blog:

I am not at all suggesting that a pastoral candidate refuse to speak plainly with a search committee or church regarding theological commitments. But the reality is that most churches—including their search committees—are not very equipped to have that kind of conversation. Should the details of Calvinism…be spelled out anyway, even though there is no understanding of the language, categories or constructs? Or would it be wiser to stick with biblical categories, language and constructs? When a man does the latter for the purpose of communicating as clearly as he can I find it disheartening to hear Southern Baptist leaders criticize him as being dishonest.[4]

Frank Cox addressed the issue when he was nominated for the SBC presidency.

Evidently there are pastors accepting churches, never raising the flag that they are a Calvinist to the pastor search committee. They are called to the church and begin to teach their view and it is bringing great strife to some of our congregations. That concerns me. I feel pastors who hold to Calvinistic views ought to be up front with the congregation that is calling them, just as pastors who believe in “whosoever” ought to be up front to those congregations who hold to Reformed theology. I also believe pastor search committees must be thorough in their responsibility to investigate more, so they can have a reasonable understanding as to what their new pastor believes before they issue a call to him. There is mutual responsibility on both the pastor’s part and the congregation’s part in dealing with this issue.[5]

Those in position to search out pastors for our churches must answer this charge by educating themselves on the issues and by asking the right questions. A church committee cannot assume they have fulfilled their duties simply because they have asked a candidate if he is a Calvinist. The answer may likely leave the committee with no clear idea of where the candidate stands on the issue. It is a start to bring up the issue of the Total Depravity of Man, but the committee must be equipped to interpret the answer. Most Southern Baptists would agree that Man is totally depraved. Some would interpret that depravity as simply unable to save oneself. Calvinists believe that man is so totally depraved as to be completely unable to answer even a call to salvation. One Calvinist webpage declares, “Our natural spiritual incapacity prevents us from being able to respond by our own strength to the call of the gospel message.”[6] Thus, they would day, God extends grace to be able to hear and respond to that call, but extends this grace only to those He has chosen for salvation. Those not chosen, according to reformed theology, will never be able to respond to the Gospel message. The question must be asked, “Do you believe in the Total Depravity of man?” An answer of “Yes” does not mean that person is a Calvinist, since most Southern Baptists agree to the doctrine by some definition. The follow-up question is vital. “Does Total Depravity, as you understand it, mean that those not chosen by God for salvation are unable to respond to the Gospel call?”

Part two coming soon!

 

[1] Danny Akin, “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: How Should Southern Baptists Respond to the issue of Calvinism?” SBC Life, April 2006. Available online http://www.sbclife.org/Articles/2006/04/SLA7.asp.
[2] Morris Chapman, “My Hope for Our Convention,” Available online http://www.morrischapman.com/article.asp?id=54.
[3] Frank Page, “TULIP Blooming: Southern Baptist Seminaries Re-Introduce Calvinism to a Wary Denomination,” Christianity Today, Feb. 2008. Available online http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/february/8.19.html. (Editor’s note: This dialogue has since been removed from the Founders website.)
[4] Tom Ascol, “Dishonest Calvinists (?) and the call for integrity,” Founders Ministries Blog, May 31, 2006. Available online http://www.founders.org/blog/archive/2006_05_01_archive.html (Editor’s note: This dialogue has since been removed from the Founders website.)
[5] Frank Cox, “Frank Cox’s response to questionnaire,” Baptist Press, available online http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=28161
[6] Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, “Doctrines of Grace,” available online http://www.reformedbaptist.net/ (Editor’s note: This website has since been redesigned and we offer simply the “home” page.)

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Rick Patrick

Dr. Sulfridge,

Outstanding post! This link is to an article on the Founders website from a few years ago. Even though the Founders dislike the questions and the premise behind them, it spells out some of the ways that Search Teams can “move behind the veil” of the confusing language sometimes offered by some Calvinists. http://blog.founders.org/2010/03/memo-how-to-smoke-out-calvinistic.html

I do wish that instead of saying, “I truly believe in the Doctrines of Grace,” or, “I believe the church needs to be Reformed,” or, “I believe God is sovereign over the process of salvation,” or any other such description, they would simply and clearly say to the Search Team, “I am a Calvinist.” Boom! It removes all doubt. It is the brutally honest truth. They may not the get the job, but they will not split the church, either.

I can’t wait for Part Two.

    Chris

    Rick, I’d have to disagree and I think anyone who knows anything about Calvinism would. It’s not that simple because Calvinism as a system is not that simple, it is certainly not monolithic. There are different kinds of Calvinists who substantially disagree on vital points. I would encourage anyone here to read Oliver Crisp’s book Deviant Calvinism and you’ll have to concur. Plus, thanks to the many widespread and irresponsible carictures regarding Calvinism (e.g. ALL Calvinists believe… All infants who die go to hell, God in no way loves the non-elect, don’t believe in evangelism, invitations, etc.), many have already instilled unjustifiable biases because they were mislead. So simply saying “I am a Calvinist” will not do. It is better to explain your particular views on particular soteriological topics. Even if the person in question isn’t appointed as the pastor of a church, both he and the search committee are more the wiser for being patient, considerate, and willing to learn.

norm

Great post, Jonathan. It’s arrival is none too soon. Thank you.

Dr. Akin is cited as having written: “If a person is *strongly* (emph.added) committed to five-point Calvinism, then he should be honest and transparent about that when talking to a church search committee.”

That’s good advice, but it is not good enough. Were I to have offered such advice, I would not have qualified one’s commitment to Calvinism with the adverb “strongly.” And if I were on a pastor search committee, I would ask the candidate(s): What do you think of Calvinism? Do you support any of its tenets? Why or why not? Inasmuch as Dr. Akin rightly recommends honesty and transparency from the candidate, I believe that a search committee’s theologically preparedness is just as important, if not more so. Thus, committee members should read Dr. Frank Page’s book, “Trouble With the Tulip,” e.g., as well as others.

I found Ascol’s quote interesting: “Should the details of Calvinism…be spelled out anyway, even though there is no understanding of the language, categories or constructs? Or would it be wiser to stick with biblical categories, language and constructs? When a man does the latter for the purpose of communicating as clearly as he can I find it disheartening to hear Southern Baptist leaders criticize him as being dishonest.” To that I say — if a candidate chooses “the latter for the purpose of” theological subterfuge, then one should *not* be disheartened to hear Southern Baptist leaders or anyone else criticize the candidate for being dishonest.

Ascol also asked: “Or would it be wiser to stick with biblical categories, language and constructs?”

Wiser? To what end?

The citations from Chapman and Page are exceedingly apropos. During my tenure as moderator of this blog, hardly a week passed that I or those with whom I associated did not hear of a church in turmoil (some actual splits) because of a Calvinistic pastor who was theologically stealthy in the interview process, but later intentionally revealed his theological/pastoral character as that of a carpet bomber.

With certain seminaries churning out a majority of their grads as Calvinists and sending them into church fields of ministry where Calvinism is the underwhelmingly minority conviction, the grave importance of a pastor search committee’s ability, knowledge and discernment regarding Calvinists and Calvinism cannot be overstated. Similarly, an entire church’s understanding of biblical soteriology is of equal importance, yea, utterly vital. Why? Because if one is deeply acquainted with the genuine article, then the facsimile — no matter how reasonable it sounds — is readily identified.

Cavet emptor, Church, caveat emptor.

    Andy

    “”To that I say — if a candidate chooses “the latter for the purpose of” theological subterfuge, then one should *not* be disheartened to hear Southern Baptist leaders or anyone else criticize the candidate for being dishonest.””

    So if a candidate of “4 pointish” persuasion were to say that he is not a calvinist….but were to go on to explain his view that Romans8, 9, Ephesians 1, etc seem to indicate that God chooses those who will be saved, and draws them effectually, but that we are to call all to repentance and faith, and leave the results to God…but that good Christians have dissagreed about such things for 2000 years…would this man be seen as being dishonest, simply because he says he is not a calvinist? (And does you answer, either way, also apply to those who choose not to label themselvs as arminians, even if they agree with some parts of arminian theology, but disagree with other parts of it?)

    -Andy

      Garrell Calton

      Andy, you bring up a very valid point here whether arminian or calvinist.

        norm

        I think you missed my point, Andy, which cited the motive as subterfuge — or, more plainly, deceit. Any candidate — whether a traditional Southern Baptist or Calvinist or Arminian — should be forthcoming with all aspects of their theological underpinnings. (Note, Andy and Garrell, that there is a third option apart from Calvinism and Arminianism, and that is Baptist.)

          Andy

          Norm, You are right, I was responding as if the motive was not clearly subterfuge…I apologize. I do think that there are some (many) who believe Scripture teaches unconditional election in some fore, but who would want to not be labeled Calvinists, who are NOT intending deceit, but rather clarity.

          I also agree that there are other options apart from Calvinism and Arminianism…but would go further and say there are other options apart from Calvinist Baptist, Arminian Baptist, and “Traditional” Baptist. There are many more variations, and reasons why one would not fit themselves into any of those groups.

          Honest persons can legitimately refuse those labels when they find teachings within a label they disagree with….however the honest person will also admit where they DO agree with some of those groups. No Christian can say they disagree with ALL of what calvinism teaches, or ALL of what arminianism teaches, or all of the traditional statement.

            norm

            Of course I agree that Calvin, Piper or myself is wrong (or right) about everything. But for Calvin (and those who follow him) to miss something so foundational as salient points regarding the salvific process, then one must suspect error elsewhere. As I have noted on this blog previously, if Calvin and I agree on some biblical point, that does not make me a Calvinist; it makes Calvin a biblicist.
            Perhaps it would be best to remove the labels altogether, and for search committees to be astute enough, biblically, to ask the right questions about certain Bible verses. But, again, I do advocate that a Calvinist to be totally forthcoming in his theological positions, and he should not engage in theological double-speak when trying to land a pastoral position. No candidate of any theological stripe is immune from such temptation; nor are all completely innocent in this regard, I believe.
            Thanks for your measured and thoughtful response.

              Garrell Calton

              Norm, I could not agree with you more, “I do advocate that a Calvinist to be totally forthcoming in his theological positions”. I would hope this to include all believers in Christ within the body, to include all Southern Baptist, not just those who hold to a Calvinistic Southern Baptist Soteriology. Thanks for your dialogue, maybe one day when I get back from this deployment we can meet at the SBC Convention.

David (NAS) Rogers

The discussion is about the language of summation. I don’t think that Calvinists should be allowed to co-opt the phrase “doctrines of grace.” I too believe in the biblical doctrines about grace. I, however, do not hold to the Calvinist version of them. Congregations should become aware of the language of theological summation.

Lydia

I do like having them explain their view of total depravity. But I fear too many on are to this sort of thing anymore. It is the lack of honesty which plagues me. I have thought that asking for a list of 20 books that most influenced them besides the bible might be appropriate. Or perhaps a list of 20 books, excluding scripture, they would recommend to pastors starting out.

But then when the state convention is Calvinist and is mentoring the process by convincing committees that all the “bad Calvinists” who want to take over churches are gone, what can one do? In our case, a church that had always been heavy on the priesthood and everyone having an equal voice suddenly become a church where any discussion of Calvinism was verboten during the process. What happened? The committee had been convinced by the state convention folks that any discussion of Calvinism or the candidates Calvinism would split the church apart. A control tactic.

People were simply told he was “not a bad Calvinist” and were shut down. Whatever that means. Yet his sermons are Piper clones and that is all he is to do: sermonize. No “pastoring”. I suppose that is because we do not know the “true Gospel”. But that is “good” Calvinist, I suppose. So the pimply faced young guy who is all passion and crying ala Piper, is absent a lot, paid a ton and no one is happy. the pulpit committee must save face because the candidate was shoved down throats. Everyone was told it was the Holy Spirit’s choice because who can argue with that?. No it was the state conventions choice. . Blech.

    Andy

    What kind of church lets the state convention tell them who to call as Pastor, or even how to run the search process? They should have kindly but firmly asked the state rep. to leave them alone.

      Lydia

      “What kind of church lets the state convention tell them who to call as Pastor, or even how to run the search process? They should have kindly but firmly asked the state rep. to leave them alone.”

      Mohler country. Most pew sitters, including the pulpit committees, have no clue what has been going on so they are easy to manipulate. One reason I am no longer SBC. It is not the old SBC at all where priesthood of believer and soul competency were always on the table. It is Mohler’s SBC. No thanks.

        Andy

        Sorry to hear that…my church is about an hour form SBTS, but we are able, thanks in part to SBC organization, to function indepentent of outside SBC control. We can partner as much or as little as we choose. Autonomy is preserved.

        Max

        “It is Mohler’s SBC.”

        And that, dear Lydia, sums up the situation Southern Baptists are in. A 50+ year Southern Baptist, I am close to making the decision you did to exit this once great evangelistic denomination. My problem is not so much with Calvinism as the Calvinization of the SBC following Dr. Mohler’s design. The momentum is in that direction and considering all the young reformed pastors hitting the pulpits, it would take another generation to turn it back. I don’t have those many years left so I will join God in His work elsewhere. I simply do not see how two distinctly different soteriologies can coexist in a single denomination going forward. The SBC may have had Calvinist roots and needs to go back there – I just don’t know – but my roots have always been anchored in whosoever will may come and I intend to stay planted there.

          andy

          I guess I don’t understand how this would work…, is this because YOUR church is headed this direction, or just that you see other churches going this way? If only other churches, why would you leave a perfectly good church and all your relationships? Or do you mean you would try to convince your church to leave?

          I only ask because no person is a member of the SBC, we are members of churches, which cooperate with the SBC…The only way I could leave the SBC would be if I left my church…and frankly, if I’m in a good church, I don’t care if it is SBC or not.

            Max

            Andy, I agree – every born-again Christian is a member of the Body of Christ … the SBC does not have an exclusive right to that truth. Here is what the SBC landscape looks like in my area. After a job relocation, we moved our membership to a “traditional” SBC church (non-Calvinist for over 75 years). This church was recently split by a young New Calvinist who deceived the search committee regarding his theological leaning. Shortly after he arrived, he recruited new members from a neighboring reformed church to stack the vote in a business meeting to move from congregational polity to an elder model (a motion that was defeated by the congregation in his first attempt!). After that “victory”, he promptly placed three young friends on the “elder” team (all in their early 30s) and began to teach reformed doctrine. Most of the over-40 folks retreated with much weeping and gnashing of teeth after surrendering the facilities they had financed! We left not feeling that we exited a perfectly good church, but that the perfectly good church we had known and the relationships we had formed had left us. We have recently been attending a larger traditional work in a college community. While it is primarily non-Calvinist in belief and practice, we have found the young adult “LifeGroups” immersed in reformed teaching (Piper, Keller, etc. literature). The two SBC church plants in our area have reformed pastors – the congregation is predominantly 20-40 in age and love their young Driscoll-like pastors and cool bands. My family is left with no options but to explore ministries in neighboring cities or attend non-SBC churches here. I suppose these experiences have painted a picture in my mind that SBC Calvinization is in full swing – perhaps it’s not like that where you live. Thus, we are left with your assessment “if I’m in a good church, I don’t care if it is SBC or not.”

              Andy Williams

              Thanks for clarifying. I’m sorry to hear about your church that split. I hope you can find a church that is a good fit for you and your family. I would encourage you that even Piper and Keller have some good things to say, even if you disagree with their soteriology. (Piper on Missions and self-sacrifice, Keller on Urban ministry and relating to secularists…). I will gladly learn from non-calvinists like CS lewis, AW Tozer, Roger Olson, and Ravi Zacharias. (of course I’m probably not much of real Calvinist… :-)

              Bill Mac

              This is disgraceful. These types of “pastors” and their churches need to be called out, by name. I don’t know why there seems to be some kind of code of silence surrounding these incidents. Everyone seems to know about these incidents but in all the years I’ve been participating in these types of discussion, I’ve never once seen the name of the pastor or the church named. I don’t understand it.

                Max

                “These types of “pastors” and their churches need to be called out, by name.”

                The DOM in this area was alerted and attempted to intervene (I suspect that most DOMs keep a list of this sort). Additionally, pastors at sister churches knew of the situation – some counseled the young pastor. In the end, local church autonomy ruled the day. An update: the pastor who split the church moved on to plant another church; one of his elders is now pastor. The folks that left have recently started another church. Unfortunately, church splits have become an effective way in SBC to grow the overall number of churches in the denomination (and this has not always been over theological difference). Southern Baptists seem to be always fussing and fighting about something.

Mary

It’s really not about “5” Points anymore. It’s all about Unconditional Election. What we are seeing in our community is these four pointers or even “3.5” pointers who declare “oh no I’m not a Calvinist” who are still committed to “reforming” local churches. Anyone who denies Unconditional Election is seen as either a biblical illiterate or just barely a Christian if a Christian at all. Also notice how less than “5” pointers like Akin and the name escapes me the guy at Midwestern answer questions about Calvinism. They never articulate their views on Unconditional Election but wander around distracting people with their views on Limited Atonement. Thus they can declare “oh no not a Calvinist” but they are very much part of the team “reforming” the SBC so now only those who affirm Unconditional Election are seen as worthy of any position anywhere.

But you have these less than 5 pointers going into churches now and distracting committees by denying Limited Atonement and thus the committee thinks they’re ok but then the candidate comes in and starts Calvinizing. Of course the candidate didn’t actually “lie” but he intentionally – as people like Akin and others do – avoided telling the whole truth.

    Garrell Calton

    Mary, I have never met Danny Akin, but the way you make your statements here, sounds as if you are calling him a liar. Have you met Danny Akin, or could you elaborate on how he has “avoided telling the whole truth”. This is a geniune question not meant to be sarcastic. Thank you.

      Mary

      Garrell, I’ve had the experience of sitting in a church while calling a pastor and that candidate when pushed to share his views on unconditional election responded with “You’re asking if I’m a Calvinist – you’re asking me if I believe in the Sovereignty of God. Of course I do and I hope you do too. All that means is God is God.” Now when a Calvinist mentions the Sovereignty of God it is not the same thing as what those of us who reject Calvinism believe. Akin and Jason Allen have gone on record through the years about how to handle the Big C question and their responses have always been first to answer the question with a question – What do you mean by that and then they will ignore Unconditional Election and wander around in discussion about Limited Atonement are God’s Sovereignty. Yes it is very deceptive, but when you read and follow these guys it becomes evident that they are very intentionally avoiding Unconditional Election and are throwing out “churchy” words that everyone thinks they agree with such as “sovereignty” Does anyone here really think that Akin doesn’t get that there are people in the SBC who disagree with him on Uncondtional Election? So why is it that none of these recommend that they very clear on what they believe? And if anyone were to actually research all of those who have been appointed to any SBC entity in the last many years you will find that only those who agree with Unconditional Election are allowed to serve anywhere in the SBC now. This is also happening at the local church level. But when pressed on this leaders will say “oh no we have lot’s of “nonCalvinists” serving. Of course what they don’t tell you is no one who denies Unconditional Election is allowed to serve anywhere.

        Garrell Calton

        Mary, Thank you for your reply. I appreciate how you worked through your explanation. Again, I have never met Danny Akin and once had a brief hand shake with Jason Allen at the SBC Convention. With that said, it sounds like you disagree with how they present themselves regarding UE. I have never read, listened, or watched in any way, shape, or form either of these guys regarding questions as you put it “The Big C question”. However, I would think that before we go on a blog outright call someone out for “avoiding telling the whole truth” we need to make sure the facts are straight. I would think the moderator of this blog would ensure that before we slander someone, which ever doctrinal belief they hold to would caution this kind of remark. I think it is the responsibility of each believer to forgive people regardless.

          Mary

          Garrell, it’s not slander when it’s the truth. There is plenty of evidence to support the claims I’ve made. Just look at the Founder’s quote above. Those of us who’ve been in the trenches this last decade and more recognize all the doublespeak when we see it over and over. You say yourself you don’t know how these people respond to the “big C” question but then you accuse me of slander? We know how they respond because they’ve gone on the record many, many times. Google is your friend Garrell.

            Garrell Calton

            Mary,
            Unfortunately, I do not have the time to look up all these “Google is your Friend”, though I have read some of them. And, I am not sure of who you refer to as “Those of us who’ve been in the trenches this last decade”, I thougtht we were all in the trenches. So me being in a deployed location, if I hear of someone accusing someone or accusing me of being a liar, I confront that person, not put it in a blog. I just think this is the right thing to do, instead of dragging someone’s name through a blog in a way that is not building someone up.

    Lydia

    “Of course the candidate didn’t actually “lie” but he intentionally – as people like Akin and others do – avoided telling the whole truth.”

    Russ Moore used to do this, too, Mary. Ezell, too. It was a matter of who they were talking to as to what was emphasized. In the end, it was really about who had allegiance to Mohler. That is why there are trust issues from some quarters.

    Max

    “… you have these less than 5 pointers going into churches now and distracting committees by denying Limited Atonement and thus the committee thinks they’re ok …”

    Mary, moderate (4-point) Calvinism has always seemed a paradox to me. Can “Unlimited Atonement” truly come alongside “Unconditional Election” in a reformed theology grid? R.C. Sproul, a Calvinist icon, suggests there is confusion about what the doctrine of limited atonement actually teaches. While he considers it possible for a person to believe four points without believing the fifth, he claims that a person who really understands the other four points must believe in limited atonement because of what Martin Luther called a “resistless logic.” Essentially, he is saying that less than 5-point Calvinism cannot exist in classical reformed systematic theology … it’s either TULIP or no flower at all.

Bill Mac

Honest question: Are there pastors out there who are Calvinist(ic) and NOT trying to reform their churches or push Calvinism down people’s throats? I’m not a pastor although I have preached a lot in times we were without a pastor. I’m not a full blown Calvinist but by the broad definition of Calvinism on this site, I would probably qualify. I also teach men’s bible study and have for decades. I would happily challenge anyone to listen to my sermons or lessons and find me pushing Calvinism. It can be done and I would be willing to bet it is being done.

I absolutely concur that stealth Calvinists should be rejected, not because they are Calvinists but because they are deceivers. I also agree that someone with a reform agenda should be rejected (unless of course that’s what the church wants). What I’m not on board with is the idea of some kind of scarlet letter (C) being attached to people and automatically rendering them unfit for ministry anywhere but full blown reformed churches.

    Andy Williams

    Yes, there are! Our Pastor has bee here almost 8 years, and I would guess the church is still majority non-Calvinist. I am the Music guy (going on 8 years), and we also have a children’s minister who has been here 10 years. All of us are what I would call “roughly Calvinistic”, in that given the 3 views of Election, we see Unconditional Election as being the most biblically sound. I am probably the least Calvinistic of the 3. We have had good honest discussions in Sunday School classes and Bible studies about these issues, with opinions on all sides, and we came away from those with no ill will toward each other. We view it as something Christians can dissagree on and remain in fellowship and partnership (like eschatology…:)

    We have many deacons who are not calvinists, some members and deacons who think people can lose their salvation, and the lay leader who most often preaches when our pastor takes a week off is a non-calvinist. It has not been an issue of contention.

    How we all ended up here is probably because we all came through SBTS, and the church is close enough to that seminary to end up with a lot of people from their over the years. I cannot speak for the other 2 guys about their interview process… I think the 10-year guy did not even have calvinism on his radar back then…I don’t know about the Sr Pastor.

    I do know that when I was interviewed, it did not come up, and I did no know enough to bring it up. I knew about the theological issues, of course, but did not realize that it was any kind of dividing issue in SBC church life. I viewed it, again as something akin to “when do you think the rapture will happen?” or “Where do you think Cain Got his wife?” …interesting things to discuss late at night with your college buds, but not something that would cause one to choose a different church because of a disagreement. I was not as “well-read” with SBC blogs as I now am. :-) Were I to go somewhere new, I would ask them about it up front, and definitly avoid a militantly anti-calvinistic church, and a militantly calvinist church.

      Mary

      Andy, what you describe is the way things used to be in the SBC. There were plenty of Calvinist around but it wasn’t such an issue that those who weren’t Calvinists were seen as less then. It’s this movement to “reform” everybody that has caused the problem. It’s these churches where people are being forced to sign “covenants” (contracts) or there membership is being downgraded or revoked. We’ve known people who are senior citizens and been in the church their whole life and now they’re removed from any kind of leadership position because they’re not on board with the Calvinization of the church. Can you imagine what that’s like – sometimes the people who were on the pulpit committee and encouraged a church to bring in a Pastor only to have that Pastor tell them they can no longer teach that Sunday School class in the church they’ve given their life to.

        Andy

        Hopefully you can be encouraged that it is also they way things ARE, at least in one SBC church. It seems some calvinists should go back and re-read Mohlers article from 7-8 years ago about Theological Triage. If a Sunday School teacher Doesn’t believe in the Resurection of Jesus, we would probably ask them to let someone else teach…But if they disagree about how to interpret very difficult scriptures, some of which seem to say God chooses those who will be saved, and some of which seem to say the opposite…not such a big deal.

          Bill Mac

          Well said Andy. By the way, whenever I look at your photo the theme from Gilligan’s Island goes through my head.

          As I have said, by the broad definition of Calvinism on this site, I probably qualify, but I would most definitely reject a pastoral candidate whose agenda was to Calvinize our church.

          I’m still finding a little cognitive dissonance regarding the moniker of Calvinist. I’ve heard non-Calvinists absolutely insist that if you weren’t a full blown 5 pointer, you aren’t really a Calvinist. I’ve heard Calvinists reviled for using the Calvinist label, suggesting that they worship Calvin and “man-made” religion. I’ve seen Calvinists reviled for using the label because Calvinism is heavily tied to elder-rule and paedobaptism.

          And yet now I’m seeing these same people (non-Calvinists) absolutely insist on anyone who even minutely believes something akin to Calvinism on using the Calvinist label. People who don’t use the label because they’ve never read Calvin, who believe in credo-baptism and congregationalism are accused of being liars if they don’t call themselves Calvinists. Now we are hearing that holding to even 1 point of TULIP requires labeling oneself a Calvinist (eerily reminiscent of the “one drop rule”).

          It’s as if non-Calvinists, who for years railed against the use of the Calvinist label have suddenly realized that they made a mistake, and now they want to label everyone a Calvinist who is not like themselves.

    Lydia

    Bill,

    if your filter is determinism, how can you help but teach determinism? That is what I avoid, especially for my kids. I want them to be responsible and accountable for their behavior and what that means in terms of living out the kingdom now. This stuff is everywhere now, anyway. It has permeated many non Calvinist areas of Protestantism. Not too long ago one of their teachers, at a private Christian school, taught the class they could not change themselves in any way. God had to change them. They had to wait around for God to do it. Pray that He will change you, he said. But if you try to change that is a “work”. That negates basic common sense. An atheist alcoholic can stop drinking, for example.

    Jesus said, repent and believe. Evidently, Jesus thought folks could actually repent…actually change their ways. A great time to discuss the Holy Spirit, eh?

    If enough kids are believing this stuff it does not bode well for the future of our country, either.

      Bill Mac

      Lydia: It is odd that you champion free will but suggest that Calvinists don’t have free will when it comes to what they teach. When I tell people to repent, that’s what I want them to do. No strings, no fingers crossed. Some will, some won’t. One’s soteriology may suggest why some will and some won’t, but that doesn’t matter. There are probably Calvinists out there who fret over who is elect and who isn’t, but I’m not one of them (not that I’m as much as a Calvinist as I used to be). I hear much more about election from non-Cals than I ever have from Calvinists. I just don’t think in those terms.

        Lydia

        Bill, After many years of these discussions, I have come to think most Calvinists don’t really understand it or perhaps even buy into it when it comes to practical application.

        Of course I believe you have the free will to teach whatever you want. I am not a Calvinist. :o) I even believe you are ‘able’ to choose Jesus Christ. I believe everyone has the ability to repent and believe. And I believe it when I tell someone that because I do not believe that God chose them or damned them (even indirectly by not choosing) before they were born or Adam sinned.

        So, I do agree with you that you have free will. And I think it matters.

phillip

“Most Southern Baptists would agree that Man is totally depraved. Some would interpret that depravity as simply unable to save oneself. Calvinists believe that man is so totally depraved as to be completely unable to answer even a call to salvation.”

Precisely.

If total depravity meant only the extent of man’s corruption, then all would agree. Man is rotten to the core. Fully. However, when a Calvinist, or an Arminian, says total depravity, they mean total inability, which most Southern Baptists reject (at least according to the number of articles and posts at this very website).

The best way to nail down the issue of Total Depravity is to ask the candidate his view regarding the Traditional Statement, Article 2: The Sinfulness of Man…..

“We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”

If he rejects that statement he is a Calvinist, or at least embraces the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity.

God bless.

    Andy

    Actually, I think Arminians would, and actually have publicly disagreed with article 2…Roger Olson comes to mind…Even if they might agree with most of the rest of it, except for eternal security. (Arminians believe in a Calvinistic Depravity, but they also believe God exercises “previenient grace” on ALL to overcome this depravity, so that each person then has a free choice to accept or reject Christ.)

    I think Mary is closer on this one…The division really comes down to Unconditional Election. Given the 3 primary views (Conditional Election based on foreseen faith, Corporate Election of Christ and all who freely choose faith in him, and Unconditional Individual Election to Salvation that results in effectual calling) the first 2 will lean toward the Traditionalists or Arminians, the 3rd will lean more Calvinistic.

      phillip

      Brother Andy,

      You said…. “Arminians believe in a Calvinistic Depravity…”

      Exactly my point.

      Only a rejection of Total Depravity, hence Total Inability, will ensure the candidate is 100% clean of Calvinistic leanings and more in line with Traditional Baptists.

      Blessings.

        Andy

        Are you saying…

        1…that YOU believe a person who (a) holds to total depravity in the arminian sense, with it’s view of prevenient grace, (b) also holds to eternal security, (c) is strongly opposed to calvinism and committed to free-will for all the same reasons that traditionalists are, yet only differs in their understanding of the effects of the fall…would be unwelcome as a potential pastoral candidate in any church that you were part of? …and would they be seen as part of the problem of calvinism, rather than as an ally in the debate against calvinism?

        2…Do you think this is the view of most traditionalists? or just yourself? (I know most trads would disagree with the arminian view of depravity and previenient grace…my question is do most trads accept such people as “on thier side”, or on “the other side.”?

          phillip

          Andy,

          First, there is no “Arminian sense” to Total Depravity. It is identical to the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity, which you rightly pointed out. The only difference is in the solution. Arminians are just as opposed to “free will” as the Calvinist. As Roger Olson goes on record as saying….

          “A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.”

          Second, they are only “strongly opposed” to the U, L, and I and not Calvinism as a whole. They fully accept TD/TI, while Traditionalists don’t.

          You ask would they be part of the problem of Calvinism, rather than an ally?

          They are only allies when it comes to the U, L, and I. They are “part of the calvinistic problem” when it comes to TD/TI.

          Finally, you asked…. “Do you think this is the view of most traditionalists? Or just yourself?”

          Honestly, I don’t know what “most traditionalists” believe. I don’t think most of them have given it much thought (they are too “up in arms” regarding the U, L, and I). However, back in 2012 Adam Harwood wrote and posted an article here at SBC Today under the heading….

          “Roger Olson is Correct; ‘Traditional’ Southern Baptists are NOT Arminians”

          And from what I have gathered, from most of the articles posted here at SBC Today, I would say the vast majority of SBC Leaders, with some exceptions, would agree.

          God bless, brother.

            Robert

            Phillip I have engaged you before when you presented false representations of the views of Arminians. Now you do so yet again with a real clunker:

            “First, there is no “Arminian sense” to Total Depravity. It is identical to the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity, which you rightly pointed out. The only difference is in the solution. Arminians are just as opposed to “free will” as the Calvinist.”

            On the first line, different Arminians hold different views of depravity so this statement is inaccurate. With some they hold a view identical to the Calvinistic view of depravity with others it is not the same at all. Another inaccuracy.

            But the real whopper is your next line:

            “Arminians are just as opposed to “free will” as the Calvinist.”

            This is just so far out it is almost unbelievable that you could make this claim. But having seen you misrepresent the views of Arminians for years now it is not surprising.

            One of the biggest contentions between Calvinists and Arminians is on the issue of free will (Arminians hold to libertarian free will while Calvinists hold to compatibilist free will). For you to say that Arminians are just as opposed to free will as the Calvinist just flies in the face of so much debate between Calvinists and Arminians on free will. Your words indicate you are completely unaware of the current and the past debate between those holding libertarian free will (Arminians) and those rejecting libertarian free will and espousing compatibilism (calvinists). This suggests yet again that you really need to research things more fully before you post such misrepresentations.

            Robert

              phillip

              Brother Robert,

              Below are some quotes from Roger Olson and others regarding the topics of TD/TI and Free Will….

              “Back to the statement of the traditional Southern Baptist belief about salvation. I am not accusing the authors or signers of semi-Pelagianism. But, as it stands, the statement affirms it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It begs correction. When corrected, however, if it is ever corrected, to include the necessity of prevenient grace due to INCAPACITATION OF WILL, it will be an Arminian statement whether that term is used or admitted or not. The only reason I can think of why the authors won’t amend it is to avoid being Arminian.”

              “Arminianism focuses on sin and salvation. It says (with regard to free will) that sinner’s wills are bound to sin until freed by God’s prevenient grace (THUS, ‘FREED WILL’, NOT ‘FREE WILL!’).”

              “A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in THE INCAPACITATION OF ANY PERSON’S FREE WILL. Classical Arminianism (as I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) strongly affirms the bondage of the will to sin before and apart from prevenient grace’s liberating work.”

              “The classical Arminian does not believe that a man has the ability to respond to God apart from a special act of grace. Man cannot, by means of his natural free will, please God. Man CANNOT, by means of common grace, choose to accept God’s offer of salvation. Arminius held that a special act of grace is required in order to FREE MAN’S WILL from enslavement to sin.”

              Now perhaps there are some Arminians who hold different views of TD/TI and free will. I understand that Arminianism can hold a wide range of opinions and views and is not clearly as rigid as their Calvinist brothers. However, the opinions and views provided above appear to represent the vast majority or it is at least hard to find evidence to the contrary.

              God bless.

                Bill Mac

                I understand that Arminianism can hold a wide range of opinions and views and is not clearly as rigid as their Calvinist brothers.

                Phillip: On the contrary, I think you will find as wide a diversity of beliefs within Calvinism, especially with the very broad definition of Calvinism at play on this blog. That is why Calvinists get frustrated when non-Calvinists tell them what they (Calvinists) believe. Some believe regeneration precedes faith, others do not. Some believe limited atonement, many do not. The fate of infants? No consensus. Not all believe in inherited guilt. Some hold to perseverance and others hold to preservation. Some are hard determinists, others are not. Some use altar calls, many do not. Sinner’s prayer? For and against. Didn’t Rick Warren claim to be a Calvinist? A lot of Calvinists take the idea of soul competency and priesthood of the believer seriously, and don’t have to refer back to The Institutes or the Desiring God website to be told what they believe.

                  phillip

                  Bill Mac,

                  Understood. I am aware of the dis-harmony even within the calvinistic camp.

                  I did not mean to imply that Calvinism is inflexible and clearly defined on all fronts, but rather that Arminianism seems to provide a little more wiggle room. That’s all.

                  God bless, brother.

                Robert

                Phillip I really believe you need to do some more research in this area if you don’t know the relevant distinctions. The distinction that you are missing is between discussions in (1) the area of the nature of depravity (where some Arminians hold a view of total depravity very much like that of Calvinists, e.g. Arminius himself is a perfect example: and others do not hold the same view on depravity as Calvinists) and (2) the nature of agency/the libertarian free will/compatibilist discussion. Phillip you try to prove that Arminians do not believe in free will as ordinarily understood, you even cite Olson as proof.

                Roger Olson is a good example that shows you are not sufficiently taking the relevant distinctions into account when making your claims. If you ask him if he believes in total depravity, he says sure, and he holds a view very much like Calvinists on depravity. If you ask Olson if he is a libertarian or compatibilist when it comes to free will, he will answer he is a libertarian. But how can this be possible? Easy, when it comes to believing in Jesus, Olson will argue that a person cannot do this unless given prevenient grace (because he believes that a person before becoming a believer needs prevenient grace to be enabled to choose to believe). When it comes to picking which cereal a person will have this morning for breakfast, Olson holds to the libertarian view (the person could choose either one as they have what is ordinarily called free will).

                Most discussions regarding whether or not a person has free will concern the libertarian/compatibilist debate. But Phillip since you appear to be ignorant of these distinctions you cite people like Olson when they are talking about depravity as proof they don’t believe in free will. So you are ignoring the two categories. Since you continue to ignore the two categories despite the fact that you have been corrected repeatedly on this, this suggests your ignorance in this area is intentional. You have been corrected, and yet for whatever reason you so strongly want to misrepresent Arminians that you make such ridiculous and outlandish claims as that they don’t believe in free will. They do believe in free will, they are not compatibilists. Where they may believe a person cannot make a choice unless given grace by God to do so is when it comes to following Jesus (i.e. in the discussion of total depravity).

                If you understood these distinctions you would understand that a person can **simultaneously** believe that people experience total depravity before coming to Christ for salvation AND that people ordinarily experience free will. These are not either/or categories. But to quote people when they are talking about their views on depravity to prove that they do not believe in free will as ordinarily understood is just wrong. And when you continue to do so despite being corrected on this point, it becomes not only wrong but dishonest.

                Robert

                  phillip

                  Robert,

                  Thanks for sharing your opinion with such brotherly love.

                  However, the quotes speak for themselves and I will let others decide where the ignorance lies.

                  God bless.

Randy White

This question about Total Depravity is fundamental. If depravity requires God’s selection of individuals for Salvation, then a Reformed Theology / Calvinism is in the agenda for the church that calls that man.

Here’s a list of questions I’ve written– http://www.randywhiteministries.org/2013/06/11/pastoral_candidate/

    b

    Pastor White: Would you be in favor of amending the BFM to include YEC and Premil Dispensationalism?

Carmel Hoskins

Many preachers would be better off instead of making a stand on a man made theme to stand with the Bible. The Bible says whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. All men who are created by God have a will to reject or to accept Christ as Saviour. If Christ died on the cross for some and let others go then there is respect of persons with God. Again there is no respect of persons with God. God desires that all men will be saved other wise the Great Commission, and Great Commandment love has no standing. The salvation of man stands solely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and know other.

pam knight

Thank you for posting this article. My husband Theo was on a search committee several years ago. Our church looked for a Pastor for over 2 years. During that time my husband and I began to discover the very thing you are talking about here.It had been 33 years since our church had to search for a Pastor so needless to say we had no idea of all of this. As we discovered more and more my husband began to ask more pointed questions but several of the men just kept avoiding the straight full answer. We were very saddened that they didn’t want to be totally upfront about their doctrines. And my husband really couldn’t believe all the word games they would try to play to get around answering the question. I hope this article goes viral among our churches to alert churches and search committees to this. Thanks again.
In Christ
pam knight

    Max

    “We were very saddened that they didn’t want to be totally upfront about their doctrines.”

    Pam, you provide yet another sad testimony to growing reports of churches across the SBC which have experienced this. Unfortunately, two traditional churches in my area were deceived in this manner and hired “pastors” who came in like young bulls in a china shop to disrupt the work and split the church. I suppose New Calvinists really believe they are part of some grand new reformation to restore the gospel that the rest of lost to justify their actions. However, stealth and deception are not fruit of the Spirit … no matter how you spin it.

    “I hope this article goes viral among our churches to alert churches and search committees to this.”

    Or printed as a bulletin stuffer at all 45,000+ SBC churches this Sunday! It’s well past time for SBC non-traditional pastors to be holding “family talks” across the convention to inform their congregations of these developments. Millions of Southern Baptists are uninformed, misinformed, or willingly ignorant as SBC Calvinization continues.

      Max

      whoops, meant to say in last paragraph “… SBC traditional pastors …”

JW

I once had a conversation that went pretty much exactly like this.

Them: Calvinist believe all infants who die go to hell.
Me: That’s not true.
Them: Yes it is.
Me: No Calvinist that I know believes that.
Them: Then they aren’t Calvinists.

Now granted, that is an extreme example of misinformation. But most people who reject calvinism spend a lot of time telling calvinists what it is they think, regardless if the so called calvinist can recognize his own position or not. In that kind of context, don’t you think there is at least some valid ground for a man to desire to speak about specific doctrines rather than just owning misinformed labels? Or isn’t it valid for them to ask a search committee what they mean by a term before they blindly own the term to describe themselves? Certainly it can, and does at times, go into deceptive behavior in some cases. But I think its ok for a man to desire to be accurately represented before owning terms which are largely misunderstood. No?

JW

Bill Mac

It is curious to see that 5 years ago most of the non-cals were up in arms over the L in TULIP. If one was a 4 pointer, they were A-OK. The litmus test was if you could say to everyone “Jesus died for your sins”. Now 4 pointers (and even 3 pointers) are seen to be just as insidious as the full 5 pointers because of the T. It was the 5 pointers who were called Dortian Calvinists and were the ones to watch out for, but now the hunt has expanded.

If the TS gains any traction, I wonder how long it will be before we start parsing the meaning of the TS ,to see who else doesn’t quite cut it.

Debbie Kaufman

Bill: It’s already expanded in a way that I predicted 6 years ago, into eschatology. When it was predicted then, it was denied it would ever go that far, but then it was denied that Calvinism would become a target either. :)

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