Will Calvinism Split The Southern Baptist Convention?

August 23, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
Follow him on Facebook HERE

**CORRECTION: Leighton mistakenly inversed the stats about Calvinistic pastors. 70-80% of pastors express concern over the rise of Calvinism while 20-30% support Calvinism according to the most recent studies.

Dr. Flowers discusses his views on how Calvinism will affect the SBC and reads this article from Dr. Bill Hadley: TROUBLEMAKERS IN THE SBC: DO WE WANT UNITY OR DIVISION? Posted on by 

Only July 12, the New Orleans Baptist Association published a statement titled, Which Way Forward, Toward Unity or Division?” It can be read in its entirety by CLICKING HERE. I understand the need for unity and the desire for unity. As Christians, one would think that this would be a given. As the old saying goes, union is one thing; unity is another.

Reference is made in the article to J.D. Greear’s move in stepping down in the SBC presidential race to help lay a foundation for unity in the convention. The article stated, “This act sparked surprise, relief, gladness, and even celebration.  We witnessed an act of grace motivated by a desire for unity.” Dr. Greear’s decision was a gracious one and was without question one that helped avoid other potential problems. It must also be stated, Dr. Gaines was prepared to do the same thing for the sake of unity. Both of these men are to be commended for their humble response to what was a very difficult position to have been placed in.

The article acknowledges positive strides in their association toward racial reconciliation and then moves its focus to the divide related to the theological issues specifically tied to the rise of Calvinism in the SBC and the issues the state convention and its college, Lousiana College has faced in recent years. They acknowledge disappointment in attacks against certain agency heads in SBC entities: “we are troubled by the critical editorials in our state Baptist paper against SBC agency heads David Platt and Russell Moore.”

The article asks a pointed question and then makes a definitive statement: “Do we want our Convention split in two? Do we want to continue to read editorials in our state Baptist paper critical of SBC agency presidents?  Do we want unity or division?

Leaders lead.  What kind of qualities do we want our leaders to demonstrate?”

I want to address the question, “Do we want unity or division?”

How we answer that question certainly addresses the thrust of the article and the statement, “Leaders lead.”

I will address the issue from the “other side of the tracks” and speak to the issue of Troublemakers in the SBC. The perception is that those who LEAD are going to do so for the sake of unity while those who do not work toward unity are not leaders but in fact troublemakers.

There are two types of troublemakers. There are those who take the bull by the horns and seek to make tough changes to the status quo. This is what the reformed leaders of this Calvinist revival in the SBC have done and are continuing to do. While I do not agree with WHAT they have done, I applaud their successful efforts and even acknowledge that they have the RIGHT to do what they have done. I might argue rather successfully that their methods were underhanded as far as being forthright in their intentions from the onset? but that would have been horribly unsuccessful so if I were in their shoes I might have done the same thing.

These guys are rightfully troublemakers. So were the reformers of the past. That is not being critical it is actually complimentary, even though I do not like what they have done.

The other type troublemaker is the one who seeks to maintain the status quo. In the Conservative Resurgence both of these groups existed as well. The liberals did pretty much then what the Calvinists have done today with one exception; they were not as successful! The conservative camp did pretty much then what the non-calvinist camp is doing now with ONE KEY exception; they were successful while the non-calvinist camp today has not been.

In the CR, there were LEADERS/Troublemakers who stood up and spoke out and the liberal faction in the seminaries was pushed back. There were two key factors that came into play there. First, the liberal faction did not manage to gain control of the larger group of entities and I am not sure that was ever their intention and so their influence was still rather limited. This group was not “bunkered down” as well as the Calvinists of today are. I believe this group today learned some important lessons from the CR and those lessons have proven effective in the new CR, Calvinist Resurgence today.

There is one other issue that stands out as we compare the problems we face today as compared to the CR. Liberalism in Biblical theology was an easier topic to popularize than Calvinism is today. People could grasp it. 80% plus of the people in the pew in the SBC have no idea how to even spell Calvinism much less understand what it teaches. There is no sense of “urgency” in this struggle although those who understand the issues KNOW that this is every bit as important a theological issue as has ever existed in the SBC. While it is true that Calvinism has been in the SBC since its founding, it has never held the level of importance it has garnered in the last decade and its influence has never been more prevalent than what it holds today where the direction of the convention is concerned.

There is a vacuum of leadership willing to stand up and speak out today against this Calvinist Resurgence. This is what is so surprising where this issue of Calvinism is concerned. Some have suggested that the CR of the 80’s and 90’s took a lot out of people and there is no “fight left in a lot of folks.” Well, to ask for “fight” in Christians is sort of a tough expectation in the first place but as Solomon said, “There is a time for everything under the sun.” There seems to be a move within the MEGA church pastors to not want to “rock the boat” and to stay in good graces so to speak with the new power brokers of the SBC. Calvinism is just not an issue that is garnering much attention among those who have the clout to do what it would take to stop its continued influence. It just is what it is.

So who are the troublemakers in the SBC today? Are the troublemakers those who are working feverishly to change the SBC? Are the troublemakers those who are actively involved in reforming the SBC and moving it to a Calvinist Convention?

Are the troublemakers those who have finally woke up and realized what has happened under their noses where this Calvinist Resurgence has been concerned? Are the troublemakers of today the unifiers of yesterday who had no clue what the reformers were doing until this “lady” was eight and a half months pregnant before anyone even noticed and realized that “she” was about to give birth?

Calvinism is a real issue. It is a real issue for both sides. It is not going away. It is an issue for those seeking to move the SBC in that direction. It is not going away when the majority of the entities of the SBC are being led by men associated with the Mohler machine. This is not an idle cry; it is a bold faced fact. This has not simply “just happened” This is the “eight and a half month” reality that could not be hidden any longer.

Now, let’s go back to the initial quesiton, “Do we want to continue to read editorials in our state Baptist paper critical of SBC agency presidents?  Do we want unity or division?”

The answer to that quesion sadly is going to be this: it depends on which side of the Calvinist issue one is standing. If it is not a big issue then the answer is going to be “No; it is time to seek unity and let this Calvinist Resurgence continue.” Leaders will lead in that direction. Those who do not follow are the troublemakers.

For those who see Calvinism as an indictment against the character of God because it contends God and God alone decides who does and does not get into heaven and they see it as a faulty philosophical theological system that is every bit as dangerous or even moreso as the liberal faction of the 80’s and 90’s then you can expect their leaders to lead and those who do not follow are the troublemakers.

Do we want our Convention split in two? Do we want to continue to read editorials in our state Baptist paper critical of SBC agency presidents?  Do we want unity or division?

Leaders lead.  What kind of qualities do we want our leaders to demonstrate? Do we want unity or division?

The answer sadly depends on which side of the issue one is standing.