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


A Commentary
by Dr. Adam Harwood on Article 2 of
“A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist
Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”


Dr. Olson,

Thank you for considering “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Your comments in your June 4 post [1] have alerted Christians outside of the Southern Baptist Convention to this important discussion on soteriology that is emerging within the SBC.

I have read, and hold a deep appreciation for, two of your books surrounding this topic, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Against Calvinism. They are careful, thorough works. Thank you for your contribution to this field of study.

Your post attempts to link the Statement in question with both Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism. In this reply, I will address the significant challenge facing your post, which is your faulty assumption concerning the group of Baptist signatories.

Before proceeding, I request a clarification. If you are linking this Statement with Semi-Pelagianism (a heterodox view) and if the Statement reflects the views of the majority of Southern Baptists (which is the claim of the signers), then several questions emerge: Are you claiming that the document does not reflect the majority of Southern Baptists? If so, what is your evidence for such a claim? Are you claiming that the signers of this Statement (hundreds of Baptist pastors, professors, and denominational leaders) have attached their names to a heretical document? If so, then please be clear in your remarks because that would be an astounding claim. Perhaps you have in mind another possibility. Please clarify.

The faulty assumption which undergirds your post is that this group is unknowingly committed to Arminian theology. In your view, the group that affirmed this Statement is comprised of (to borrow a phrase from Karl Rahner) Anonymous Arminians.

In recent years, several Southern Baptist theologians have attempted (apparently with little success) to explain that a rejection of Calvinism does not necessarily entail a commitment to Arminianism. (Consider as an example the book you cited, Whosoever Will.) This newly-released Statement is yet another attempt by a segment within the SBC to declare that they are neither Calvinists nor Arminians but Baptists. [2]

Happily, your incorrect assumption serves to make our case. Thank you.

What is my evidence for such a claim?

First, after quoting Article 2 (“The Sinfulness of Man”), you write, “A classical Arminian would never deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.”

Precisely! We assert a biblical-theological claim which would not have been made by classical Arminians. The reason is simple. We’re not classical Arminians. We’re “Traditional” Southern Baptists.

Second, you explain that for us to defend against the charge of semi-Pelagianism, we must affirm the “cardinal biblical truth” of “the necessity of the prevenience of supernatural grace.”

Our reply is simple: No, we don’t. What obligates us to borrow a view (prevenient grace) from another group (Arminians) to defend against a philosophical-theological framework which we don’t accept? We reject the precondition that all doctrinal formulations must be placed into a philosophical-theological framework comprised of only these three categories: Calvinism, Arminianism, or Heresy. We consciously reject that framework. [3] And we refuse to place over our eyes the hermeneutical spectacles which demand that we read the Bible in that way.

We’re unconcerned by the absence of any explanation of prevenient grace in the Statement. Why? Because the Statement wasn’t written to answer various objections raised by the Calvinistic-Arminian dialogue. The statement was written to explain what we understand to be the clear teaching of Scripture related to sin and salvation.

In my view, the greatest challenge facing your post is the faulty assumption concerning the group in question. Is it possible that your dedicated study and intense focus in recent years on these two theological systems has resulted in your failure to appreciate that certain Christian traditions reject particular commitments of both Arminians and Calvinists?

Much more can be said to advocate for this Statement and to defend it against various charges. But I respectfully submit this initial reply in order to reject the label of Semi-Pelagianism and to thank you (tongue in cheek, of course) for clarifying for a broader audience that classical Arminians would never make certain claims found in this Statement. The reason, once again, is that we are not Arminians. We refuse to accept the premise that we must evaluate doctrinal statements through the lens of a borrowed and unnecessary Calvinistic-Arminian philosophical-theological framework.

I signed the Statement because I believe that a sufficient biblical defense can be made for the paired affirmations and denials comprising each of the ten articles, including the focus of your post, Article 2.

Thank you, Dr. Olson, for your teaching ministry and for your thoughtful engagement on this new Statement. I’ll close with a sentence from the Statement’s preamble: “Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is grounded in the conviction that every person can and must be saved by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel by trusting in Christ Jesus alone as Savior and Lord.”

In Him,

Adam Harwood, PhD
Asst. Prof. of Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College, Cleveland, Georgia

For more details, see Dr. Harwood’s excellent recent book, The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal.

For a chapel presentation by Dr. Harwood in which he explains the Baptist Faith and Message 2000′s affirmation of inheriting a sinful nature but rejection of imputed guilt, see http://www.truett.edu/chapel/fall-2011-chapel/fall-2011-chapel-video-player.html


[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/06/thoughts-about-“a-statement-of-the-traditional-southern-baptist-understanding-of-gods-plan-of-salvation-”/#comments, accessed 5 June 2012.

[2] I borrowed this line from the title of a paper on this topic. See Malcolm Yarnell, “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians but Baptists,” at http://www.baptisttheology.org/documents/NeitherCalvinistsNorArminiansButBaptists.pdf, accessed 5 June 2012.

[3] For a sophisticated rejection of the Arminian and Calvinistic framework, see Eric Hankins, “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 8.1 (Spring 2011): 87-11. Available online at http://www.baptistcenter.com/Documents/Journals/JBTM%208.1%20Spring11.pdf accessed 5 June 2012.