Words With Friends, part 1, Savabilism: A Whole, Positive, Acceptable and Unused Term

by Dr. Rick Patrick, pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Ala.

The Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension Report stands as a visionary call for Southern Baptists to engage in collegial conversation regarding our differences in soteriology and other associated matters. Clearly, this outstanding report should not be viewed as a call to abandon the discussion, but rather as a challenge to those on both sides to conduct the conversation using our best manners. One might even compare the T5 Report to a football referee who gathers the captains from both sides prior to the kickoff and exhorts them to exercise good sportsmanship and to play a clean game. In other words, this important conversation is not over. It is only just beginning.

For quite some time, those with doctrinal convictions similar to mine have been in search of a term with which to identify ourselves. It is especially important to us that this term be acceptable among those with whom we disagree. Let us assure you that in our search for such a label, we are not seeking to offend, but to identify our position with the kind of theological precision that encourages mutual understanding. It is surprisingly harder than one might imagine to identify with an acceptable name the soteriological position which we believe to be the majority view among Southern Baptists. Thus far, our attempts have proven unsuccessful, but we are blessed with plenty of time and patience, and will eventually find a term everyone can agree upon.

The Disqualification of Every Currently Proposed and Utilized Term
Below is a listing of terms that, for the various reasons explained, are inadequate to define our soteriology and, in some cases, are even particularly offensive to us. By looking at all of the terms that do NOT work, we draw closer to the one that does.

1. Non-Calvinist: No one should have to define themselves simply by what they are not. This definition by negation sadly contributes to the unfortunate misunderstandings found in many of our discussions, as it is often assumed that our position is #2 below. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I would hate to go through life known only as a Non-Redskins fan.

2. Anti-Calvinist: Some Calvinists may misunderstand my view as consisting solely in the opposition of theirs. This is precisely why we need to state our position using a positive term. Certainly, the views will remain in conflict, but it will be much easier to see that each side is simply promoting their own position rather than attacking the opposing view. While I am FOR them and not AGAINST them, I am not WITH them, at least theologically, on this family of issues. I am certainly with them in sharing Christ.

3. Modified Calvinist: It has been suggested on occasion that all Southern Baptists are Calvinists of one sort or another. Those of us who disaffirm as many as four out of the five petals on the TULIP refuse to view ourselves as any kind of Calvinist at all.

4. Modified Arminian: This offensive label is a partial term. No one wants to be called a modified-this or a semi-that. It fails since Arminians view Perseverance of the Saints as a negotiable doctrine while our position is uncompromisingly committed to it. Since we disaffirm such Arminian baggage, most of us view this label as a pejorative term.

5. Semi-Pelagian: Most Southern Baptists believe that God has given all men the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel. To disaffirm Total Inability is not to embrace a man-centered theology nor to suggest that man initiates the salvation process. In the summer of 2012, many Calvinists equated our position, held by seminary presidents, pastors, theologians and a Who’s Who of denominational leaders, with this 1500-year-old heresy. Fortunately, this ugly name-calling chapter is now over.

6. Biblicist: Some prefer to use this term, by which they mean that their position is the only one found in the Bible. Clearly, this label would be claimed by both sides. It is thus unacceptable not because it offends but because it fails to differentiate.

7. Baptist: Once again, one cannot simply claim to hold THE Baptist or Southern Baptist view on this matter, since there are many Southern Baptists on both sides.

8. Traditionalist: By referencing A Statement of the TRADITIONAL Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation, this term actually met many of the necessary criteria: (1) it was not a term of negation, (2) it was not a partial term, and (3) it was not associated with any theological views containing unnecessary baggage. While it did gain a fair measure of support and usage on my side of the theological aisle, it was deemed unacceptable by Calvinists who interpreted the word “traditional” only in its historical and cultural sense. They assumed we were claiming that our Southern Baptist heritage only supported our position without including theirs. Interestingly, among dozens of articles, I never read a single Traditionalist who made this assertion. Regardless, the term Traditionalist is out. The search for an acceptable theological label continues.

A Case for the Use of the Term Savabilism
Before discussing the merits of the term Savabilism, I would like to make an appeal first to my Calvinist friends and then to my Traditionalist / Non-Calvinist friends:

  • Calvinist brothers, it is in your interest to show us grace as we define ourselves. Name-calling will not suit anyone’s purposes. When you choose a name for us that we do not like, it only inflames this “time of tension.” Perhaps you view us through your theological grid as Arminians or Modified Arminians or even Semi-Pelagians. Since we disaffirm these labels and consider them offensive, it would help if you would recognize our right to self-identify. When you think about it, a very basic part of any relationship is calling someone what they would like to be called. If we can agree upon a term and clearly define what it means, will you please consider using it in place of the more pejorative names used previously?
  • Traditionalist / Non-Calvinist brothers, it is in our interest to define ourselves using a term that is whole, positive, acceptable and unused, rather than one that is partial, a term of negation, offensive to Calvinists or already associated with other views. Finding this word disabuses us of the charge that we are merely AGAINST something without being FOR something. It gives us definition, direction and a sense of identity. But achieving this goal is actually much harder than you might imagine. The primary consideration cannot be the “sound” or “familiarity” of the word. In fact, a brand new word is actually quite helpful since it does not carry the sort of loaded baggage that has derailed our other proposals. It simply behooves us to settle on a term and insist upon its use so others will stop calling us ugly names.

Savabilism is a term that not only fits semantically but works quite nicely grammatically. It may not be perfect in every respect. It may take everyone a while to get used to it. But consider its many advantages:

  • It is a whole and complete word in the sense that it does not require a prefix like “semi-” or “non-” or “anti-” or an additional descriptor such as “modified.” The term can stand alone, on its own two feet, strong and independent of other views.
  • It is a positive term, or if you will pardon the double negative, it is not a term of negation. I believe this one consideration alone instantly improves soteriological relations in our convention. Until now, the conversation has largely been an issue of Calvinism: Pro or Con? The issue is framed as if those with convictions like mine have nothing better to do than pick on Calvinists. As a Savabilist, however, I can refer to my view positively without any reference at all to the “C” word.
  • It is a term without prior theological connotations. When we reference any form of a word like Calvinist or Arminian or Pelagian, we instantly invite confusion and a lack of theological precision, as we struggle to differentiate our unique position from the various strains found within these overarching, all-encompassing terms. Meaningful communication grinds to a halt when one uses such theological terms loaded with the baggage of various different meanings, all of which must be unloaded and repacked in order to clarify the present meaning.
  • It is a unique term unused even outside any theological context. Whereas the term “Traditionalist” carried with it the unfortunate hint of a historical or cultural sense, the term “Savabilist” does not invite any such misunderstanding. It is able to mean what we say it means, without the need to fight off preconceived notions drawn from its widespread use either historically or culturally.

What Is A Savabilist?

A Savabilist believes every lost person is savable.

A Savabilist believes that when he shares his faith, the other person’s response is truly free and has not yet been determined. A Savabilist believes God certainly knows what the other person’s response will be, but denies that He causes the person to respond in that manner.

A Savabilist believes God does not unconditionally choose but that He unconditionally loves.

A Savabilist believes that because of this unconditional love, Jesus died to atone for the sins of every single person. Hence, every single person is savable.

A Savabilist believes it is God’s one and only true will for every person to be saved.

A Savabilist believes God has given to every person the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel, either by freely choosing to accept God’s grace or by freely choosing to resist it.

A Savabilist is not a universalist. A Savabilist believes that many people will die and go to hell.

A Savabilist believes the reason the lost go to hell is neither because God chose them for hell, nor because God declined to choose them for heaven, but rather because they freely chose to reject the grace of God.

A Savabilist believes that once a person freely places their faith in Christ and He saves their soul, they cannot possibly lose their salvation, but will persevere eternally since their salvation is sealed by God forever.
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In Words With Friends—Part Two, I will labor to promote a more precise taxonomy for the broad array of positions currently crowded together under the banner of Calvinism. My fervent hope is that someday soon every Exit Sign on the Soteriological Highway will have its own unique street name so we can find our way home without confusion.