Interview with Dr. Eric Hankins

FBC Oxford, Miss

First Baptist Church, Oxford, Miss.

In the weeks preceding this year’s John 3.16 Conference (see ad to right), SBCToday will post interviews with each person scheduled to speak at the Conference.

The following interview is with Dr. Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Oxford, Miss., who is the author of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” (see May 30 post) and the Resolution on the Sinner’s Prayer, a heavily edited version of which passed at the SBC in New Orleans last year.

Ed.’s note: Readers may be interested to know that Dr. Hankins’ Sinner’s Prayer resolution was offered for consideration in five state Baptist conventions last fall, and it passed overwhelmingly. The state Baptist conventions of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana passed the resolution verbatim. The SBCT (Texas) passed an edited version as part of a resolution on evangelism.

Q: How has the invitation to speak at the conference impacted you?

A: It has certainly challenged me to work toward a very clear articulation of what I believe about soteriology vis-à-vis New Calvinism. Amorphous generalities about topics like election, the effects of the Fall, and the extent of the atonement will no longer suffice. We must be able to speak with specificity about what we believe. I am quite honored to be speaking alongside some very sharp and passionate men who want to see the gospel clearly and powerfully proclaimed.

Q: How important is this Conference in light of the current climate within the SBC, and what result(s) do you hope to see from the Conference?

A: I think the conference is tremendously important. New Calvinists have communicated their vision for soteriology voluminously. No stone has been left unturned. They have several conferences and organizations for fellowship, interaction, and transmission of their views that are very effective. Traditionalists don’t have anything like that organization and, therefore, the impression is that there aren’t any other real players in this debate. For too long we have been in a defensive posture, talking about what we don’t believe but failing to offer any constructive statement of what we do believe. This conference hopefully will continue the process of crafting a fully orbed soteriology that takes seriously God’s love for every person expressed through His desire to save every person, convictions that New Calvinists do not share. I believe these are core principles of Southern Baptist passion for missions and evangelism that must be maintained.

Q: How important is your assigned topic — “Who Are The Elect?” — to the total content of the Conference?

A: Pretty important. If John 3:16 means what I think it means, then election cannot mean what New Calvinists think it means. If God loves the world, then He cannot have pretemporally chosen some and not others salvation, unless “love” has lost all its normal meaning. That’s why New Calvinists twist themselves into pretzels over the word “world” and “whosoever.” Their view of election has no room for a felicitous reading of John 3:16.

Q: Regarding your assigned topic, what do you hope your presentation will accomplish?

A: New Calvinists use the issue of election as much as anything to effectively neutralize any opposition. I think Southern Baptists have been afraid of the term because we are scared it really might mean what New Calvinists say it means. I will be challenging us to embrace the term fully and proudly. It is a powerful expression of God’s true desire to save all while taking seriously God’s creation of a world that includes real freedom. Unfortunately, New Calvinists have mangled the meaning so significantly that they actually have it running at cross-purposes with its meaning in Scripture. They import a foreign philosophical determinism into every election text, which results in the readings they want, not the author’s intent. I’ll be trying to bring a corrective to that.

Q: How important is your assigned topic within the broader SBC conversation regarding Calvinism?

A: I think election as much as anything will test New Calvinism’s commitment to unity in the SBC. We are in sharp and irreconcilable disagreement over what election means. There is no mediating position. Either everyone is savable or only some are savable. Someone is right and someone is wrong. In the past, we have granted one another liberty in this secondary matter; but recently, New Calvinists have taken to calling anyone who disagrees with them on these matters “heretics” and “deficient.” We are accused of departing from our foundations, watering down the gospel, and rejecting the clear teachings of Scripture. Also, because of their rigidly deterministic view of election, New Calvinists look down their noses at altar calls, promiscuous offers of the gospel, and the sinner’s prayer. Since real freedom doesn’t exist, appealing passionately to the lost as though their response matters smacks of disingenuity. So fearful are many that a non-elect person will be falsely converted and so convinced are many that the elect will be saved with or without our preaching that they are spending more time fussing about technique than engaging the lost with the gospel. I believe that a correct view of election includes a robust view of freedom and is actually a basis for strong appeals for the lost to respond in faith to the gospel.