Calvinism | What’s Ahead for the Southern Baptist Convention

September 26, 2014

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William Leonhart

Umm.. Someone should do a fact check. On the second slide, I don’t know about the other guys listed, but B.H. Carroll was an ardent Calvinist.

    Rick Patrick

    William,
    I don’t want to speak for Peter, but based on his previous writings, I think he might argue that although Carroll would indeed accept the *name* Calvinist, he actually articulated positions distancing himself both from limited atonement and from regeneration before faith. Evidently the headline “Some Things We Cannot Deny” may not be applicable in the specific case of Carroll, for he is quite clearly claimed by both sides of the debate.
    Blessings,
    Rick

    peter lumpkins

    Correction: Carroll denied BOTH Limited Atonement AND the ‘regeneration precedes faith’ doctrine. Thus while Carroll was Calvinistic he was most certainly neither a strict nor strong Calvinist.

    With that I am…
    Peter

Doug Sayers

Peter, I would offer a hopeful quibble with your point #6 that Calvinism is well on its way to being the default theology of Southern Baptists for the 21st Century. There are a lot of people out there in SBC churches that will never believe that everyone is born guilty, and some people are born with no hope, and Jesus did not die for everyone. Good luck trying to sell that stuff with the rank and file believer of any denomination. I have spent some years in Reformed Presbyterian Churches and they have trouble getting their own people to believe Westminster on these issues. Vocal Calvinists will always be in the minority as long as people can read the Bible in their own language. Piper, Platt, MacAurthur… haven’t had big churches because of their Calvinism. It is their gifting, godliness, and overall commitment to Scripture that God has blessed… not the 5 points.

Don’t be surprised if history repeats itself and the surge in SBC Calvinism fizzles out much the same way that it has in the past. It may rule in some seminaries and churches, for a while, but it won’t last long. The Calvinistic inferences won’t stand up.

If we can get SBC pastors to focus more on making disciples (who know and love their Bibles) than trying to coax superficial professions… we’ll be fine. Besides, we are going to need each other when the State starts trying to bust us all for discrimination against homosexuals and women!

Our side needs to quit whining and press on. The grass withers and the flower fades but….

William Leonhart

Doug,

You’re right. When I look around, I see that the really vocal Calvinists are few and far between. Even the Calvinistic leaders do a lot to reach out and build bridges with other leaders who do not agree with them on this issue. I see basically two groups in leadership in the SBC right now: the pro-SBC (which includes Calvinists and non-Calvinists) and the anti-Calvinists, who seem to see Satan hiding behind every Calvinist pastor and never seem to let up.

    Rick Patrick

    William,

    Traditionalists such as myself (I can’t stand to be defined in reference to Calvinism at all, whether the prefix is “Non-” or “Anti-“) are some of the most PRO-SBC Pastors and leaders you will ever be around. We are STRONGLY supportive of the Cooperative Program, state conventions, our national convention, Lottie, Annie, you name it. In fact, I would gladly put Traditionalist support of the SBC up against all of the Calvinist churches who ignore state conventions, donate around CP channels rather than through them, send their pastors to T4G and TGC conferences rather than SBC Pastor’s Conferences, and avoid the accountability that comes with completing their ACP reports.

    Granted, we have some principled concerns about being marginalized by a well organized minority wing whose reformed agenda quietly drives the convention–impacting speakers at conferences, new leadership posts, and new curriculum offerings and ministry initiatives. I don’t think Traditionalists see Satan behind every Calvinist Pastor at all. I think we simply represent a wing of the convention being systematically disenfranchised and ignored that does not appreciate being made to feel like a stranger in one’s own denomination. Mine is not an angry voice at all. I’m just a little hurt that our denominational table has a sign on it reading, “No Traditionalists Allowed.” I long for greater balance on our panels and programs, and greater representation among our new leaders.

      William Leonhart

      What’s interesting is the fact that much of the sentiment I’ve heard from Calvinistic pastors, much of the reason I understand Founders was started in the first place, is because Calvinistic pastors in the SBC have long felt marginalized in much the same way that you describe in your second paragraph. That’s why many Calvinistic churches don’t want to go to SBC conferences where they will feel even more marginalized. That’s why they give to ministries that are less likely to villainize them. That’s why they don’t fill out surveys that are focused more on numbers than on amount of effort in evangelism and gospel-centered preaching… surveys that seem designed to try to make Calvinistic churches seem less evangelistically driven because they don’t baptize people for simply parroting the right words.

      What I meant by pro-SBC had nothing to do with finances. I meant supporting pastors in disagreement with themselves on the issue of Calvinism within the SBC. I meant not splitting the convention over issues that should be discussed and defended, but not with malice and slander. I’ve seen it go so far as one leader of the Traditionalist movement private messaging me on Facebook to tell me not to mention Tom Ascol’s name in his comment thread, even my quote from Ascol supports a claim he was making. This social media tyrant went so far as to tell me that just one more mention of Ascol’s name in the comment section of one of his Facebook posts would result in his de-friending me. And this is a major, influential figure in one of our SBC seminaries.

William Leonhart

If you guys were to attend an actual Founders conference, you would see that it’s not one big think-tank to try to determine how to spread Calvinism in the SBC. Their goal is to minister to SBC pastors who are already Calvinistic and let them know that they are not alone. They actually spend more time trying to convince these godly men that the anti-Calvinistic faction is not so large as to warrant abandoning the SBC altogether. Why do they have to do this? Because the anti-Calvinistic faction in the SBC is SO vocal. It’s the anti-Calvinistic crowd that is causing the most division on this issue in the SBC. Most SBC Calvinists I’ve spoken with have no desire to take over the SBC or kick out non-Calvinists.

    Jonathan Carter

    Actually William according to their own website they state their purpose is to spread Calvinism (or Doctrines of Grace) in the SBC. Here is a quote from their site:
    “The purpose of Founders Ministries is the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches. We believe intrinsic to this recovery is the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace in their experiential application to the local church particularly in the areas of worship and witness. This is to be accomplished through a variety of means focusing on conferences and including publication, education, pastoral training and other opportunities consistent with the purpose. Each of the ministries will be developed with special attention to achieve a healthy integration of doctrine and devotion.”

    And then they also say this: “We desire to encourage the return to and promulgation of the biblical gospel that our Southern Baptist forefathers held dear.” This is in reference to the Abstract of Principles (Calvinism).

    As a young pastor I have yet to hear an “anti-Calvinistic faction in the SBC” that is “SO vocal.” The truly vocal side, and also leadership side, lies with Calvinists–I believe there should be a balance. Your comment unfortunately doesn’t hold water to the facts.

      William Leonhart

      My reference had to do with Founders conferences. Have you been to a Founders conference? Have you listened to any messages from their conferences? They do promulgate the doctrine they believe in, as any Christian should be expected to. However, by-and-large, they are local church-minded, and do not spend the bulk of their time trying to belittle and slander non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists. None of what you cited should be taken as a desire to remove non-Calvinists from the SBC. I’ve heard Tom Ascol and others state over-and-over that their desire is a peaceful co-existence with non-Calvinists in the SBC, not an eradication of them. The anti-Calvinists I’ve been reading in the SBC (many of them anyway) seem to want little more than the eradication of Calvinists from the convention.

        Jonathan Carter

        William,
        Let me answer your question bluntly—No! I have never been to a Founders conference–but how is that relevant? Are you trying to tell me that a Founders Conference–which is put on by Founders Ministries–believes something other than what Founders Ministries purports on their website? If so, then they are liars. You see it really doesn’t matter if I have been–they have put their beliefs in black and white on their website (which I quoted above–yet you dismissed it). Answer me this question–If they say: “The purpose of Founders Ministries is the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches. We believe intrinsic to this recovery is the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace in their experiential application to the local church particularly in the areas of worship and witness,” tell me how the non-Calvinists fit into this? Obviously they are stating that we, non-Calvinists, do not even have the correct gospel. Is that co-existence? Is that a peaceful statement? You see, even though they have not come out and said it plainly–eradication is the goal. Are there “loons” on the non-Calvinist side who have called to get rid of all Calvinists–yes. But they are a fringe group that does not speak for the majority. Is Founders Ministries speaking for the majority of Calvinists with their rhetoric–or are they loons? You tell me.

          William Leonhart

          You are reading between the lines what is simply not there. If you believe something to be true and good and edifying, you will want to promote it in as many churches as possible. To say that it necessarily entails that they want to eradicate all who disagree is taking it way further than they do. They are not saying that we hold to a different gospel than the rest of the SBC. If that were the case, they would simply leave and start a Founders Convention. They are saying that the gospel is essential to the reformation for which many churches and church leaders in the SBC have voiced a desire. No one with whom I’ve personally spoken has voiced a desire to secretly infiltrate churches and inject Calvinism. In fact, the leaders of the Founders movement have publicly denounced such tactics. Yet, this is the accusation that is often leveled against Founders. If rogue pastors have taken it upon themselves to withhold their doctrinal stances from the congregations they seek to pastor, Founders is the first to cry foul. If there were not church who want to Reform, and if there were no pastors who want to lead those congregations, there would be no Founders. These are the pastors and the congregations Founders hopes to serve. They provide no sanctuary for covert Calvinist operatives, as men like the author of this post have accused in the past.

            Jonathan Carter

            William,
            If someone came to your church and said that they needed to recover the gospel–what would they be implying? They would be implying that your church had either lost it, or was being taught some other gospel–which is why it needs to be “recovered.” You are right, I am reading between the lines and I will not have the wool pulled over them any longer. Founders has set themselves up to “recover” the gospel–as they see it through Calvin’s eyes–because those of us who hold a different soteriology have lost it. Yes the gospel is essential–but remember–there is only ONE gospel. So for one group to claim that they need to recover the “gospel” they are implying that it was somehow broken or lost.

              William Leonhart

              Yes. SBC Calvinists do believe that Traditionalists get some aspect of the gospel wrong. For instance, when in the Traditionalist Statement the gospel is defined in such a way to make it seem as though Calvinists get it wrong for not applying Christ’s work on the cross to every person:

              “We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God made A WAY of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for ANY person. This is in keeping with GOD’S DESIRE FOR EVERY PERSON TO BE SAVED” (All-caps for emphasis, not yelling).

              This language is clearly meant to cause a rift between Southern Baptists in the way that we define the gospel. Founders churches would argue that, rather than making a way of salvation, Christ secured it for His people on the cross. Calvinists obviously do not believe that any person can just repent and believe in Christ, because they are in bondage to their sin (you can blame Adam for that bondage, not God). God chooses certain people from eternity past for salvation. The rest are not damned capriciously, but because of the sin they’ve committed against a holy and righteous God. All that to say that the way.

              Most Calvinists in the SBC gladly fellowship with and demonstrate love toward their fellow Southern Baptists, because we recognize that the gospel is what Christ did, not what we do. We recognize that, while we may disagree on some of the nuances surrounding the gospel, those things are not the gospel itself. When Traditionalists move their missiology into the gospel, making it tantamount to the gospel itself, they necessarily exclude other Southern Baptists. This is clearly intentional. They are saying, you are not of us.

              I have been a Calvinist for years, and I would never say that my non-Calvinist friends do not have the gospel. The point of most Calvinist Southern Baptists is that we need to make the gospel central. That means that the gospel is central in our evangelism, but it does not mean that the gospel only effects evangelism, or that the gospel can be modified to suit our evangelistic methods. This is the error that we have seen in many Traditionalist churches. Evangelism is the result of a gospel-centered life; Traditionalists tend to put evangelism (as they practice it) at the center of the gospel and thus alter the gospel to fit their evangelistic methods. That is abhorrent.

                peter lumpkins

                Unfortunately William what you claim is definitively NOT what the Founders Movement for years has grounded itself upon. I appreciate your not embracing the notion that ‘losing the gospel’ and ‘recovering the gospel’ is undeniably bound up with ‘losing the doctrines of grace’ and ‘recovering the doctrines of grace.’ However Founders possesses in its public writings an undeniable rhetorical pattern that this is precisely what they mean. I’ve logged the evidence to demonstrate this pattern for 8 years now…

                With that I am…
                Peter

                Ron F. Hale

                William,
                Thanks for your interaction. You have mentioned “article one” of the Traditional Statement; here is the entire statement:

                Article One: The Gospel
                “We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

                We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.”

                Then you say: “This language is clearly meant to cause a rift between Southern Baptists in the way that we define the gospel.”

                William, this is what we believe (like it or not); a rift was not intended, a clear statement of belief was in order. However, the rift goes all the way back to Dort. This theological tiff has existed over 400 years and it will not end in our lifetime. As non-Cals, we believe that Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, and the atonement is applied to the sinner as he or she exercises faith in Christ. Or, in the words of the 1845 Sandy Creek confession, article six on the Freeness of Salvation:

                “That the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel; that is the immediate duty of all to accept them by cordial and obedient faith, and that nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth, except his own voluntary refusal to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ; which refusal will subject him to an aggravated condemnation.”

                Blessings!

                  Max

                  Ron, Article One of the traditional statement and the tenets of Calvinism paint two different pictures of God’s plan of salvation. Can two distinctly different soteriologies really coexist in a single denomination going forward? I understand that Calvinism has been embedded in Southern Baptist belief and practice along the way, but in my 50+ year SBC association, I can’t recall a time when we’ve been faced with taking two diverse Gospel messages to the world in our evangelistic and mission outreach. I also understand that the BFM2000 revision provides plenty of theological wiggle room under one big SBC tent for Calvinists and non-Calvinists … but should it?

                  Sean McDonald

                  “But in this the love of God was manifested, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (I John 4:9; John 3:16). And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tidings, to whom he will and at what time he pleaseth; by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. Romans 10:14, 15: ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?'” (Canons of Dordt, First Head of Doctrine, Articles 2, 3)

                  “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. . . . Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.” (Canons of Dordt, Second Head of Doctrine, Articles 3, 5)

                  “As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in his Word, what is pleasing to him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life, and rest, to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him. . . . It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the word, refuse to come, and be converted: the fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares, and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower. (Matthew 13.)” (Canons of Dordt, Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Articles 8, 9)

                  In other words, Jesus Christ is “freely offered to us in the gospel” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 31); God “freely provideth and offereth to sinners a mediator, and life and salvation by him” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 32); God “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7, Section 3).

peter lumpkins

My 6th frame had nothing to say about what every person believes now or in the future in the SBC. Instead its about what the SBC perceivably OFFICIALLY embraces in the future as Calvinism continues to gain public momentum from elites in the convention. Big difference in what you gleaned from the frame.
With that, I am …
Peter

peter lumpkins

“The anti-Calvinists I’ve been reading in the SBC (many of them anyway) seem to want little more than the eradication of Calvinists from the convention.” I’m probably the oldest guy on this site I’m unhappy to say. In addition, I’m probably the oldest blogging Southern Baptist on this site. If William or another Founders Calvinist can offer one blog post–a single line from one blog post even–which I’ve written which necessarily implies my belief that “the eradication of Calvinists from the convention” constitutes a worthy notion to embrace and/or a honorable goal to pursue, I’ll publicly disown it right here and right now.

The fact is, I’ve written plenty of criticisms about the theology of Calvinism and plenty of laments about the Calvinization of the Southern Baptist Convention, but nowhere have I remotely entertained the eradication of Calvinists from the convention. For heaven’s sake, the very first thing I listed in the presentation was we cannot deny the significant influence of Calvinism upon the SBC! So, to William and others, produce the goods where I’ve called for theologically annihilating Calvinism from the SBC. In the end, my commitment to free church ecclesiology would not allow me that option anyways.

My personal fear is now, the Calvinist resurgence has so impacted the SBC, that it may be too late to turn back. A theological trajectory toward High Calvinism (think 1689) as the official, default theology may already be unstoppable in the SBC.

With that, I am…
Peter

Bob Cleveland

I think it is natural for a denomination (yeah, yeah, I know) which doesn’t teach its members what they do believe, to fear those who do.

Scott Andrews

As a former trustee of GGBTS (03-12) I would put GGBTS firmly in the Calvinist camp. It has moved that way decidedly, if not intentionally, under Jeff Iorg’s tenure.

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