Five Reasons To Be Thankful for the Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee, or Five Reasons to Celebrate T5

June 1, 2013

During the last 12 months, a committee of 19 Southern Baptists labored to write a consensus statement on Calvinism before next month’s annual meeting of the SBC. They met their deadline. On the evening of May 30, SBC Life posted “Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension” (T5).[1]

Southern Baptists have discussed Calvinism on multiple occasions in recent years. In 2007, the Building Bridges Conference heard voices from both perspectives. In 2008 and earlier this year, the John 3:16 Conferences articulated a non-Calvinist view; a Calvinistic perspective is heard at the annual Founder’s Breakfast and SBC Seminary-hosted 9Marks Conferences.[2]

Tensions escalated between Calvinist and non-Calvinist Southern Baptists last summer. On May 30, 2012 (exactly one year before the release of T5), “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” (Traditional Statement) was released.[3] In the document, certain non-Calvinists–or, to use David Dockery’s term, Traditionalists[4]–articulated their doctrine of salvation. Some Calvinists considered the Traditional Statement to be divisive. Before the end of the Summer, Frank Page (President of the SBC Executive Committee) announced the formation of a Calvinism Advisory Committee “to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.”[5]

I had high expectations for a document which might result from the meetings of the Calvinism Advisory Committee and my expectations were met. I see at least 5 reasons to celebrate T5.

1. It models Great Commission unity amidst Southern Baptist diversity. People with differing theological convictions have set aside those differences in order to reaffirm cooperation for the sake of the lost. The last two sentences of T5 exhorts: “But let us not neglect the task we are assigned. The world desperately needs to hear the promise of the Gospel.” By these words, the committee has aligned itself with the mission of the Lord Jesus Himself, who “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Such unity exists in wide theological diversity within the parameters of the BFM. Page’s team was comprised of prominent, convictional Southern Baptist voices from both sides (and the middle) of the table.

2. Southern Baptists agree to disagree on certain points of Calvinism. That’s important. The wrong approach would be to act as if there were no differences. There are different theological views among Southern Baptists, some of which are significant. But, as T5 rightly notes, Southern Baptists have always been comprised of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. They hold differing views on certain doctrines. But since the organization of the SBC in 1845, we have agreed to disagree on those particular theological points. T5 simply reaffirms our agreement to differ peaceably on those issues. As the document states, “Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.”

3. It denounces partisan and hidden theological agendas. Certain voices on both sides have insisted there is no room in the SBC for the other theological view. T5 says otherwise: “Neither Calvinism nor non-Calvinism ought to be equated exclusively with sound Southern Baptist doctrine nor be considered inconsistent with it.” Also: “Neither those insisting that Calvinism should dominate Southern Baptist identity nor those who call for its elimination should set the course for our life together.” And: “No entity should be promoting Calvinism or non-Calvinism to the exclusion of the other.” These statements rule out-of-bounds any plans for a “quiet revolution”[6] to change the theological convictions of SBC congregations regarding Calvinism. Further, the document declares, “In order to prevent the rising incidence of theological conflict in the churches, we should expect all candidates for ministry positions in the local church to be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine, even as we call upon pulpit and staff search committees to be fully candid and forthcoming about their congregation and its expectations.” Both views are permissible in the SBC and all should be honest about their views regarding Calvinism.

4. It affirms that the BFM trumps all Baptist confessions in the SBC. Many SBC churches do not affirm the BFM, which is permissible due to the Southern Baptist view of the autonomy of the local church. But cooperation among SBC churches is only possible when there is one confession which all churches affirm in order to pool resources for efforts such as church planting, missions, and theological education. Recently, some people have claimed that the BFM should be interpreted by other earlier statement of faith, such as the Second London Confession or the Abstract of Principles. This committee has clarified the issue: “Other Baptist Confessions are not to be lenses through which The Baptist Faith & Message is to be read. The Baptist Faith & Message alone is our expression of common belief.”

5. It allows both Calvinist and non-Calvinist views which fall under the BFM, but doesn’t require any commitments necessary for Calvinism. I’ll provide two examples. First, T5 states: “We agree that everyone has inherited Adam’s hopelessly fallen sin nature, but we differ as to whether we also inherit his guilt.” Non-Calvinists can affirm this sentence with no difficulty because some deny inherited guilt and others affirm it. In this way, T5 allows but does not require an affirmation of imputed guilt. However, an affirmation of imputed guilt is required by every historic Calvinistic confession. Second, T5 declares that “we agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved.” No non-Calvinist would deny this claim, but some Calvinists would deny the claim. Those are just two examples of doctrines which are particular to Calvinism which T5 allows, but does not require. If this is true, then perhaps tensions will subside because T5 declares Calvinism to be permissible but not required in the SBC.

Last summer, Trevin Wax wrote an essay titled “Denominations Ought to Be More Like Family.” He writes, in part:

I wish we’d sit across the table more often from precious saints who don’t always see things the same way. I wish our passion for each other was stronger than our passion for our pet preferences. I wish we’d cut each other some slack instead of nitpicking each other to death. And I wish the fervor of our denominational debates was matched by our fervor for evangelism.

We are family. Because of Christ’s death, we share the same bloodline. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we share the same power. Because of His ascension, we share the same mission. So let’s act like it. Let’s live in the unity Christ bought for us and love each other fiercely, even more fiercely than we sometimes disagree.[7]

I agree with Wax. And I am thankful for the statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee.


Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College
Cleveland, Georgia



                  [1]http://sbclife.org/Articles/2013/06/Sla1.asp (accessed May 31, 2013).

                  [2]For the 9Marks conference schedule, including those hosted by two SBC Seminaries, see: http://www.9marks.org/events/.

                  [3]Interestingly, the Traditional Statement was released on the evening of May 30, 2012 and this consensus statement was released on the evening of May 30, 2013. To read the Traditional Statement and the 921 online comments (now closed), see http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/2012/05/30/an-introduction-to-“a-statement-of-the-traditional-southern-baptist-understanding-of-god’s-plan-of-salvation”/.

                  [4]See David Dockery’s 7 types of Southern Baptists described in Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (B&H, 2008).

                  [5]http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38507 (accessed May 31, 2013).

                  [6]See Ernest C. Reisinger & D. Matthew Allen, A Quiet Revolution (Founders Press, 2000).

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Norm Miller

Dr. Harwood:

Like you, I am celebrating the report. I am grateful for the committee’s work, and also for the outcome. Whereas there are those who have opined here and elsewhere in less-than-glowing terms about the report, I say the time for belly-aching is over. Others, like you, should see the upside, celebrate it and move on.

Like the report itself, your comments today set a positive tone. Therefore, let us not be dismissive of the committee or its product so quickly. Rather, we shall applaud the report and get back to what God has called us to do.

Thank you, Dr. Harwood, for accentuating the positive. — Norm

    Adam Harwood

    Thanks, Norm. You write: “we shall applaud the report and get back to what God has called us to do.”

    Good word.

    Bill

    I appreciate the report and this take on it. What has troubled me most about the reaction to the report is the suggestion that the non-Calvinists on the committee simply rolled over and sold out. These people deserve more respect and more confidence than that. In fact, I am more encouraged by the signatories than by the report itself, which was fine but not too surprising.

Johnathan Pritchett

Re: John 3:16 Conference

The presentations so far as we’ve been able to gander at here have been fantastic, so there’s that, which is a huge plus. They deserved a much bigger audience, and sadly, a committee report of little consequence postponed the release of the e-book of way more importance.

    Adam Harwood

    Johnathan,
    I appreciate your encouragement about the forthcoming John 3:16 e-book.
    Even though the committee report is technically non-binding, I think it’s highly significant that these SBC leaders affirmed this joint statement.
    Blessings, brother.
    Adam

Randall Cofield

Dr. Harwood,

Excellent statement. Just…excellent.

If we all embrace an attitude even remotely similar to yours, the future of the SBC will be bright indeed.

Grace to you, brother.

Bob Cleveland

Excellent analysis, Dr, Harwood.

It always struck me funny that we Baptists have said “No creed but Christ and no book but the Bible”.And, as is spelled out in the BF&M’s Preamble, we value the Biblical principle of priesthood of the believer (even if they did sneak in a strange change to that wording in 2000).

But then a seeming attitude of “I don’t like what you believe”. springs up among a lot of Baptists,, toward other faithful Bible-believers.

I don’t think that is “traditional” for Baptists. At least I hope not.

I can’t find any explanation for this that is consistent with what Baptists have been saying for as long as I’ve been one.

Clark Dunlap

Good analysis. Good Document, I’ll even call it the T5 (gulp) to show my desire to get along with non-calvinists.

Adam Harwood

Agreed, Bob.
The attitude that you described sounds a lot like the flesh–something all Christians must battle.
Blessings, brother.
Adam

volfan007

I think if Founders would retract their goal of returning the SBC back to the true Gospel, and would state very clearly that they are no longer trying to convert the SBC to Calvinism one Church at a time…..and, if Southern, Southeastern, and New Orleans would do away with their statements of faith, and just let the BFM2K be their guide….and, if we’d actually see Non Calvinists hired at Southern and Southeastern to teach theology….and see someone that’s not connected to Southern elected to the next entity head position…..then, then, maybe we’d see that there was actually some teeth to the CCR.

David

    Mary

    To fix a problem you first have to admit you have problem. This Statement seems to be an admission that some people (Traditionalists) have issues but it does nothing to address the issues that Traditionalists have. As we see on some other blogs the Calvinists are still denying the issues Traditionalists have.

    David every time you bring up the discrimination that’s been going on at Southern and Southeastern with the use of the Abstract of Principles the Calvinists respond as they always have “That’s not true.” Its is true and we know the Abstract has been used in this way because Al Mohler himself is on record for anyone who cares to read his first convocation available online at Founders.org. That was the beginning of the discrimination. Yes Southern has 4 pointers on staff, but the fact that no Calvinist has ever been able to disprove is that no one who is a Traditionalist – which by the names on the Traditionalist Statement we see that Traditionalism goes deep into the SBC – no one who is a Traditionalist would be welcome on staff at these Seminaries. I’m not sure how we can have Unity when one side states facts and the other sides dismisses the facts as lies and/or delusional conspiracy theories.

    Over thirty years ago the Founders Ministry was established with the express explicit purpose of “reforming” the SBC because in their words the SBC had “lost the Gospel” by moving away from DOG. What howls there would be if a Traditionalist Ministry were established with the express purpose of pushing Calvinism out of the SBC. And imagine if one of the Board of Directors of the Traditionalists were to be employed at Southwestern in the theology department. Tom Nettles is on the Board of Directors of the Founder’s Ministry and he has been for a whole lotta years. Al Mohler has deep connections with the Founder’s Ministry which cannot be denied. And yet no one says boo about Founder’s having their conferences and their annual breakfast to advance their Ministry. You cannot have Unity with people who will not call out and denounce a Ministry who’s express purpose is to purge the SBC of all but Calvinism. This week we saw a reformed blog call out Bob Hadley and declare that Hadley should leave the SBC because of his views on Calvinism. This blog claims to be striving for Unity. Why haven’t the Founder’s been told to leave the SBC because of their divisive mission? Where are the blog posts calling on the Founder’s to repent? Again there cannot be Unity when there is a Ministry that is allowed to exist without any push back from the Calvinists in the SBC who tells those who disagree with them they’ve “lost the Gospel.”

    This new statement acknowledges that there has been a problem with ministerial candidates intentionally deceiving churches by not declaring their soteriological belief. Again this is an issue that has been raised ad nasuem and again this has been dismissed as tin foil hat conspiracy theories. It doesn’t matter that people all over the country have experienced this. It doesn’t matter that people at all levels of the SBC have testified that this has happened. It doesn’t matter that there is a ministry with the express purpose of reforming the SBC and they provide information on how to “quietly” reform local churches in “The Quiet Revolution” Whenever the issue has been brought up, again the victims of this abuse are dismissed as liars and/or delusional. Will those people who have been insulting and dismissive now be writing blog posts about how wrong they’ve been? Will we see some repentance by these people now that this committee has admitted that what has been dismissed as lies and conspiracy is in fact truth?

    And finally this new Statement seems to accept Traditionalism as part of the SBC even though it is insulting in it’s refusal to use the word Traditionalism. Will we now see repentance and apologies who have called Traditionalist heretics? No one in the SBC wants to support heresy so if Traditionalism is acceptable to those who declared it heresy are they now repentant?

    How exactly I am supposed to be unified with people who are still dismissive of the issues in the SBC? The people who still refuse to acknowledge the very real experiences I’ve had. The people who declare I’m not in possession of the Gospel because I reject Calvinism? The people who think I’m a liar and delusional for pointing to facts they cannot refute. Yes I understand turn the other cheek and forgive and forget. But these problems come from the top and if the leaders who caused so much division and discord are unwilling to acknowledge their wrongs and apologize how is anyone else supposed to follow?

    I think maybe my feelings on the statement can be summed up easily with the thought “Is this all there is?” Because if this is it the SBC is in serious trouble. I see the loud calls for marginalization to commence – which is in itself is a serious sign that we’re being told to shut up. The problem with marginalization is that those people pay the light bills. Tell enough people to shut up and they will, but they’ll be taking their check books with them.

      Max

      Mary, I do believe you are a Mohican (as in “Last of …”). Thanks for hanging on with the rest of our dwindling tribe – your arrows have been straight. It’s a crying shame – the Southern Baptist Convention was such a good idea.

    sbcissues

    Mary,

    You and David raise some serious questions that deserve an answer. I was and still am pleased at the language in the truth section. I am a little surprised that Mohler, Aiken, Dockery, Ascol and Scroggins especially signed off on the report given some of the issues that Dr. Harwood mentioned and there are a couple others that I believe could have been mentioned. I did notice that their verbal endorsements were for the most part not very enthusiastic.

    Here is a statement I made when the report was released in my comments on TRUST. I said, “To acknowledge the need for clarification but to fail to achieve that clarification will prove to be fatal and the outstanding efforts of this committee futile. Eyes will be focused on what will take place in the coming months and years. The day of unnoticed changes is over. If cooperation is the goal, it can be achieved. If it is business as usual and nothing changes, cooperation will not take place and without cooperation, unity will not be possible.”

    This reflects I believe much of the reservation I hear in your comment. One very interesting statement in the report is the admonition to “avoid the development of partisan divisions among Southern Baptists.” That is indeed an interesting statement given the groups that already exist as David has mentioned. One could read this to say: ok we have enough groups; lets not make ANY MORE TRIBES. If that is the thrust of the report, it is dead already.

    I am afraid this report may have sort of placed the non-calvinist contingency in a “let’s sit back and see what happens now” mode that changes nothing and allows the status quo to continue with one exception; he who speaks up is the divisive one. It must be said, the status quo in the entities of the SBC today is absolutely unacceptable to me. With Baltimore fast approaching more potential problems can easily be highlighted. I do not plan to go to Baltimore unprepared.

    So, I am with you Mary. While I believe the report reads nicely, it may be nothing more than a “get well card” or “good luck card” that proves to really serve no purpose; where do most of those kinds of cards end up? (This argument was made to me today by an individual that have an enormous amount of respect for.)

    I will say this; there are areas contained in the report that I believe show need for concessions on both sides; I can assure you, those concessions will not be one sided.

    One final comment: Do I believe this report will provide any significant headway in helping solve the issues that exist in the SBC over the increased influence of Calvinism in the entities? Sadly, my position on Calvinism in the SBC: A Point of No Return has not changed much, if any.

    joeblackmon

    David

    I thought I’d read where there were at least a couple of folks at SEBTS that were not Calvinists and that one of the folks from SEBTS actually spoke at John 3:16. Am I not remembering correctly? However, I totally agree that being a Calvinist of any type shouldn’t be a requirement to teach at any serminary.

      Lydia

      Joe, Check on who is speaking at next SEBTS 20/20 conference for an answer to where SEBTS’ allegiances lie. Again, the recent T4G statement gives cover as does the “Unity” statement.

      Mary

      Joe, it’s the U that matters in these discussions. So people will throw out “Danny Akin’s not a Calvinist” Danny Akin has himself described himself as affirming 3 – 4 points. Most Trads will deny all 5 Points of TULIP as defined by Calvinists. You are not welcome in the SBC if you disagree with the U especially, but most of these people being hung out as “not Calvinists” actually affirm the U if not more in TULIP. There are only certain “non Calvinists” that are acceptable in the SBC. What the vast majority of the SBC grew up believing is no longer acceptable now that the Calvinists are in charge.

        joeblackmon

        Ok, but I thought i read somewhere that a SEBTS facutly member spoke at J316. Dr. Keathley?? I’m pretty sure an “Any”-pointer wouldn’t have spoken at J316. If I’ve got the wrong name or whatever then, well, it won’t be the first mistake I’ve made today and at least this one won’t set me back hundreds of $’s. LOL BTW, Lydia, are you still at your “seller of purple” email addy??

          Mary

          I’m not sure why you’re so sure an “any pointer” wouldn’t have been able to speak at J316? What was Keathley’s topic? The other thing about Southeastern vs Southern is that Paige Patterson’s influence is still somewhat there so it’s not as strict on making sure those who sign the Abstract of Principles are interpreting the Abstract as 4 – 5 point Calviniism. At Southern we know Mohler only allows those on board who sign with 4 – 5 point understanding of Calvinism because we have his words that that’s exactly what he intended to do. The fact that cannot be denied is that only those who’ve signed the Abstract under Al Mohler are now qualified for positions of leadership in the SBC. Yes Paige Patterson signed it but that was before the Abstract was being used a litmus test to weed out all the bad nonCalvinists. Patterson and Mohler interpret the Abstract in completely different ways. Anyone who would refuse to sign the Abstract today would not be considered for a position of leadership in the SBC.

            joeblackmon

            I’m not sure why you’re so sure an “any pointer” wouldn’t have been able to speak at J316? What was Keathley’s topic?

            I assumed from your comment that most trads reject all points as defined by Calvinists. It wasn’t meant as a slam on anyone.

            The only point I was making about SEBTS is that there are people that teach there who are not 5 pointers. Of course, your explanation gives a reasonable explanation as to why.

            I don’t thnk it is a good thing nor is it positive that someone who would have be an adherent to any specific orthodox theological system (cal, trad, or anywhere else on the spectrum) to teach at XYZ seminary or college. I don’t know enough about the AoP to really comment on it, but I don’t think anyone should have to sign anything more than the BFM2k to work in the SBC. #mytwocents

            Mary

            I didn’t take it as a slam. It’s the U that is the litmus test for service in the SBC. The Calvinist – or I should say some Calvinists since I know you’re a Calvinist, the Calvinists who are in charge are using the U to determine who is allowed to serve and who not. No one who’s been appointed to leadership positions in the last many years disagrees with Unconditional Election. Calvinists will distract from this fact by pointing out that so and so is “not a Calvinist” and then people like Danny Akin will hang a shiney object and go on to talk about how they reject Limited Atonement. It’s all about the U. When you see Calvinists ignoring the U and declaring nonCalvinists as nonCalvinists because of their views on L that’s when you’ve got to pay attention.

          Lydia

          “Lydia, are you still at your “seller of purple” email addy??”

          Yep. You got any auditing jokes for me? :o)

Richard Hutto

This is helpful and important. I know of Calvinist who think Calvinism should be required and non-Calvinist who think it shouldn’t be permitted.

Job King

@volfan:

The SBC cannot do anything about Founders. Founders is an independent organization that is not part of or affiliated with the convention’s organization or leadership, nor does it receive SBC funds. The most that the SBC could do is censure it and forbid convention employees from being affiliated with it. While doing that might make you feel better, it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. If anything, it would backfire. Calvinists would rally around the Founders, contributing money and support. Calvinists would also demand that traditionalist independent groups receive the same negative treatment.

    volfan007

    Job,

    I am not advocating doing anything to Founders. I am asking all these groups like Founders to voluntarily stand down….to stop trying to convert the SBC one church at a time….to publicly say that they’re not trying to turn the SBC back to the true Gospel, which they apparently think we’ve lost. So, I’m not sure what you read, but you apparently misread what I was saying…..because, what I was saying was that the Founders and others should do some things(voluntarily) to put teeth to the CCR.

    David

    Lydia

    “The SBC cannot do anything about Founders. Founders is an independent organization that is not part of or affiliated with the convention’s organization or leadership, nor does it receive SBC funds. ”

    Yet, with such a “divisive” mission statement concerning the SBC they were thought important enough to have the leader of the founders on the “Unity” committee.

    Mary

    Traditionalists have received a whole lot of negative treatment – from Al Mohler declaring they are semi Pelegian and the signers must not have known what they were signing to all the blog posts declaring the Statement divisive and heresy. If the Calvinists rally round Founder’s than that pretty much proves the Calvinists don’t want Unity in the SBC but endorse Founder’s mission to reform the SBC.

      Mary

      And there is a serious issue with trying to make the Traditionalist Statement the same kind of divisive as the Founder’s Movement. Just because Calvinists dont’ like it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s divisive. Nowhere in the Trad Statement do you see anyone advocating that Traditionalist start a “Quiet Revolution” to take over the SBC. Founder’s are very clear in the their mission to see the SBC reformed. It’s the Calvinists who support a movement to kick out those who don’t agree with them. You don’t find that anywhere in the Traditionalist Statement.

      Donald

      Mary,
      You are right on all counts. But it has served the purpose of waking up a lot of us and we know pretty much who the players are and where they stand.
      We are all now aware that the issue is real. We all know that churches have been damaged and split, and pastoral candidates have hidden their theology and their plans. We know that there is a consensus and an agenda among certain groups. This only became well known due to the efforts of some few folks who would not stand down, no matter the intensity of personal attacks against them.
      It’s now time to see how everyone responds to T5 and to react accordingly.

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