The Rise of Soteriological Traditionalism
By: Rick Patrick , Pastor
First Baptist Church Sylacauga, AL
This article was originally posted in Theological Matters and is used by permission.
In 2012, hundreds of pastors, professors and laypersons affixed their signatures to the most attested confession of faith Southern Baptists have ever produced with the exception of The Baptist Faith and Message. Since that time, hundreds more have signed this document, which is available for signing today at the Connect 316 website.
A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvationwas written by Eric Hankins, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oxford, Miss. This document generated significant discussion, prompting the formation of a Southern Baptist task force on soteriology, the branch of theology focusing on salvation doctrine. Today, looking back, we are better able to assess the significance of these efforts.
What are the historic roots of Soteriological Traditionalism?
First, we find theological similarities with the Anabaptists in Switzerland during the 16th century. Later, we trace our theological stream from the General Baptists in England in the 17th century to the Sandy Creek tradition in the American South during the 18th and 19th centuries. Ultimately, in the 20th century, the primary confessor of each version of The Baptist Faith and Message (E.Y. Mullins in 1925, Herschel Hobbs in 1963, and Adrian Rogers in 2000) uniformly held to the view of salvation doctrine that is described in the Traditional Statement.
Where did Soteriological Traditionalism get its name?
In 2001, Fisher Humphreys and Paul Robertson, who both served as professors at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote God So Loved the World: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism. They used the term “traditional” for the basic view of salvation doctrine held by Herschel Hobbs, Adrian Rogers and Billy Graham. Eleven years later, this very same word was included in the title of the statement.
Can we not find a better term for our position than “Traditionalism”?
First, we must rule out partial terms or combinations of views we disaffirm. Thus, we are not “Moderate Calvinists,” “Calminians” or “Semi-Arminians.” Who really wants to be half-something? Second, we resist terms that negate. Thus, labels like “Anti-Calvinist” or “Non-Arminian” are off-limits. No Dallas Cowboy fan prefers the moniker “Anti-Redskin.” Third, the term must actually distinguish. Many claim for themselves the Baptist or Biblicist or Majoritarian position. Some who object to the term “Traditionalist” believe it must refer to the earliest days of the SBC in 1845. But the term is not “Originalist.” Many churches offer a Traditional Worship Service featuring music that was popular in the mid-20th century. Theology popular in that period can also be called “Traditional.” While other options exist, such as “Savabilist,” “Extensivist,” “Decisionist,” “Conversionist” and “Volitionist,” no term has yet emerged that is as widely accepted as “Traditionalist.”
What are the doctrinal beliefs affirmed in the statement?
The statement affirms Traditionalism while disaffirming Calvinism, Arminianism, Semipelagianism and Amyraldism. To better understand these terms and your own view of salvation doctrine, consider completing this brief Soteriological Assessment. In general, Traditionalists accept a small amount of Calvinism and a fair amount of Arminianism, while also disagreeing in important ways with both views. We also disagree with the Semipelagians and the Amyraldists. We are basically staking a position for Southern Baptist Traditionalists residing at a point that lies between the Arminianism of the Methodists and the Calvinism of the Presbyterians.
What did we learn from the reaction to the Traditional statement?
The initial reaction was unnecessarily polemical, as the signers (including many of our leading theologians and pastors) were charged variously with Semipelagian heresy or remedial reading comprehension skills. Looking back, I am amused by these charges. At the time, however, I was distraught that the Southern Baptist views I had learned, believed and preached all my life were suddenly suspect. This fact only served to establish the absolute necessity of the statement’s publication, for if one group of Southern Baptists could look at the convictions of another group and conclude they were practically heretical, we obviously had some important wrinkles to iron out.
How was this a theologically defining moment for Southern Baptists?
When the statement came out, an assumption had begun to take root that all Southern Baptists should be viewed as Calvinists to a certain degree. It was as though the course setting for our denominational ship was due Calvinist and the default Southern Baptist position was going to be theologically reformed. For many of us, our consciences would simply not allow us to be pulled in this direction any further. It was time for us to stand up and say, “We do not believe Calvinism should be seen as the optimal SBC position.”
Is the goal of Connect 316 and Traditionalism to eradicate Calvinism in the SBC?
Our aim is not to drive Calvinism from the convention, but rather to establish our own place at the denominational table. A few years ago, we counted six different Calvinist organizations influencing the SBC. We thought there should be at least one organization promoting our own theology. Why should one theological wing of our denomination sponsor all the conferences and give away all the t-shirts and invite all the speakers and publish all the books? Southern Baptists will fly much higher with two healthy wings.
How does Connect 316 endeavor to promote Traditionalism in a positive manner?
We sponsor an annual banquet at the Southern Baptist Convention. In Baltimore, we had 100 in attendance. In Columbus, we had 200. In St. Louis, we had 300. As our attendance grows, we will be better equipped to promote a more Traditionalist-friendly convention. We also sponsor a news blog, SBC Today, with more than 1,000 hits per day and readers from more than 170 countries. On social media, we have the 316 Roundtable, an open discussion forum on Facebook. Our Connect 316 website offers many helpful resources. We also assist ministries hosting regional conferences.
What is the greatest challenge in promoting Soteriological Traditionalism?
Most Southern Baptists probably identify with our understanding of salvation. They simply do not call it by the lofty term “Soteriological Traditionalism.” Believing it to be commonly held, they may see no need for the label or the movement. Frankly, they must first be apprised of the growing influence of Calvinism in order to explain how Traditionalism differs from it and why these differences matter. It is a rather complex assignment to teach people that what they have always believed is being seriously challenged today. They must first learn about the Calvinism they reject in order to fully appreciate the Traditionalism they affirm.
How can Southern Baptists get involved in this growing movement?
I often hear from young people who disaffirm Calvinism but are nevertheless assumed to wear such a label simply due to their youthfulness. They feel disconnected as their Calvinist friends attend conferences and events. They wonder where they can find a theological home offering like-minded fellowship and resources. I hear from former Calvinists who have converted to Traditionalism only to experience a loss of fellowship. Connect 316 is beginning to fill this void. You can get involved by attending our annual banquet this summer in Phoenix, by reading or writing at sbctoday.com, by checking out our website atconnect316.net, by hosting a regional conference, or by simply signing the Traditional Statement. The movement of Soteriological Traditionalism packages an old theology with a new label. Southern Baptists disenfranchised by New Calvinism will find a welcoming theological home among the like-minded Christians at Connect 316.