By Leighton Flowers and Eric Kemp
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at soteriology 101 and is used by permission.
As we approach the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, the political lines are being drawn. Recently, JD Greear was nominated to be the next SBC President. I can imagine that as the members of the Convention consider their options, foremost on their mind is that person’s theological alignment. Today, the most hotly contested theology is the realm of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), especially since the rise of Calvinism’s popularity over the last two decades among the “young, restless and reformed” within the SBC.
In 2009 a Time.com article proclaimed, “Calvinism is back…”. The article goes on to claim that its rise is due, in large part, to the personalities at the forefront of the movement.
…with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.
While Driscoll’s pugnacity was his undoing, Calvinism grew unabated. Calvinist internet behemoths like The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, GotQuestions, Stand to Reason, Christian Research, Apologetics Ministries (CARM) and Ligonier Ministries dominate Google search options for questions about theology proper and apologetics, not just soteriology. When it comes to the battle for internet supremacy in Christendom, there is Calvinism and then there is everything else.
This supremacy extends to the seminaries funded by the SBC. Albert Mohler, one of the leading figures of the New Calvinism, is President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship SBC seminary. Just after tweeting a promotion of Tabletalk, produced by Ligonier Ministries (an exclusively Calvinistic source began by the late RC Sproul Sr.), Dr Mohler gave his own hearty endorsement of JD Greear as the next SBC President.
In a recent article put out by The Gospel Coalition, a list of the top 125 most influential leaders in the “gospel-centered movement” was released. What was meant by the phrase “gospel-centered movement?” The author Jared Wilson explains,
“I tried to think keenly about all the folks whose voices have given shape to this still-developing movement, sometimes called ‘young restless and Reformed’ (YRR), ‘neo-Reformed,’ ‘gospel-centered,’ etc.”
JD Greear made the #52 spot on Wilson’s list of the top most influential in the rise of the “young restless and Reformed.”
Tom Ascol is executive director of the Founder’s Ministry, which unashamedly seeks to establish Calvinism as the core theological tenant of the SBC. From the Founder’s “About” page:
Founders Ministries is committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches. We believe that the biblical faith is inherently doctrinal, and we are therefore confessional in our convictions. We recognize the time-tested Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) as a faithful summary of important biblical teachings and the abstract of that confession known as the Abstract of Principles.
Much in the same way The Gospel Coalition implies “Gospel-Centeredness” requires an adherence to Calvinism, The Founders Ministry is asserting that without Calvinism the gospel needs “recovery.” Does Greear secretly support this “recovery of the Gospel” agenda? After all, the first point of his stated reasons for running is “the gospel above all.” One has to wonder if he means “the gospel” as defined by The Gospel Coalition and The Founders in the sources quoted above? What do you think?
Despite Greear’s Calvinistic associations, endorsements and even his own clear soteriological sermons on hotly contested passages such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, there are many who still insist he is not really a Calvinist, or at least he is not the type to promote one soteriological view over the other.
Really? How do we know that?
In the same way Calvinistic pastors often “go stealth” while being interviewed by a search committee so as to avoid detection, could it be that a presidential nominee may not be all that forthright about his own beliefs or agenda regarding this highly controversial issue? If you were a Calvinist with political aspirations within a convention that overwhelmingly rejects Calvinistic soteriology would you downplay and distance yourself from those beliefs so as to be a more likeable candidate? More importantly, would Greear?
So, is JD Greear really a Calvinist or not?
The notoriously staunch 5-point Calvinistic blog, Pulpit and Pen, headed up by controversial and contentious Podcaster JD Hall, certainly affirms him as a fellow Calvinist, writing:
“Greear holds to a more solid, Calvinist position on salvation. He authored a book titled Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How To Know You Are Saved, in which he states he struggled for many years with the assurance of salvation and repeated the “Sinner’s Prayer” many times during his life. He now rejects the concept of “asking Jesus into your heart,” and holds to a biblical doctrine of salvation. He has also spent a considerable amount of time defending the historical truth of Scripture.” […]
Greear is also a part of the New Calvinist Acts 29 network, currently under Matt Chandler’s leadership. Acts 29 is a network of (supposedly) independent churches whose primary purpose is to plant more churches. Their website states that they are characterized by “Theological Clarity, Cultural Engagement, and Missional Innovation.” Sounds okay, right?
Acts 29 was founded by the befallen pastor, Mark Driscoll. The network is comprised of churches that promote charismania, have a low tolerance threshold for discernment, and a general taste for popularity.” <link>
What does being a part of the Acts 29 network entail? As previously pointed out on the Soteriology 101 YouTube channel (starting at the 2:45 mark), according to the Acts 29 website one must affirm Calvinistic doctrine to be a part of this group. Here are screenshots from the Acts 29 website:
To be a part of the Acts 29 network JD Greear must affirm confessional Calvinism, despite how he may have tried to distance himself from the unpopular TULIP doctrines for political purposes. Once elected, will he work behind the scenes to fulfill The Founders’ mission to install a Calvinistic confession? Will he appoint committee members who will nominate new Seminary Presidents and other entity heads that are supportive of “the gospel recovery” agenda. If so, those appointees will certainly increase the influence of the so-called “gospel-centered” (i.e. Calvinistic) movement. Is this what the pastors and laity in the SBC want?
Given that The Founders Ministry has actually encouraged fellow Calvinistic pastors to avoid full disclosure while interviewing so as to gain leadership positions (see here), how can we know for certain that is not a strategy being employed to gain the national positions of leadership within the SBC? How else can you explain the blatant imbalance of Calvinistic leaders within a convention which overwhelmingly rejects Calvinistic soteriology?
DEMOCRACY IS GOOD
The growth of Calvinism in the SBC is fine if that is what the Convention actually wants, after all, it is governed as a democracy. If the majority of the Convention knowingly supports The Gospel Coalition and The Founder’smission to adopt Calvinism as standard SBC theology; then that is the will of the Convention. So be it.
However, the democratic system of the SBC is warped if the members are not fully informed as to who they are voting for or what their goals for the Convention will be.
The President has the most influence over the direction of the SBC in his ability to make committee appointments. Here are some of the President’s powers:
The president appoints the Credentials Committee (Bylaw 8B), tellers (Bylaw 10D), the Committee on Committees (Bylaw 19), and the Committee on Resolutions (Bylaw 20). He is also a member of the Committee on Order of Business (Bylaw 21) and an ex officio member of the boards of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, and GuideStone Financial Resources (SBC Constitution, Article V).
If the majority of SBC church-goers do not hold to Calvinism (as the polls indicate), then it is their right to fully know that the presumptive front runner for the Presidency believes and teaches Calvinistic soteriology. If a majority within the SBC trust a Calvinist to make appointments that will impact the future of the SBC’s theological education and leadership; fine, but they should go into that vote with their eyes wide open.