Click HERE for Part One.
Part One briefly and generally contrasted Calvinism with Traditionalism—defined as the traditional Southern Baptist view of salvation doctrine prominent during the SBC’s greatest days in the mid-twentieth century.[i] The purpose in highlighting these differences was not so much to engender debate concerning them, but rather to point out that parents and their youth can be seen to embrace two differing sets of doctrinal principles. The primary thesis of this essay is that Southern Baptist youth ministers serving traditional SBC churches should not teach young people Calvinistic doctrines without apprising their parents and pastors of the curriculum.
In responding to Part One’s argument that the need for parental notification was impregnable, an astonishing number of commenters dismissed the very practice of churches calling youth ministers. Others placed the burden solely upon parents to be aware of what their children were being taught—almost as if the youth minister bore no responsibility for informing them at all. Still others went so far as to suggest that the youth minister, due to his superior theological training, was in a better position than the parents to direct the spiritual education of their teenager. To quote the catchphrase of humorist Dave Barry, “I am not making this up.”
Part Two seeks to examine specific case studies in which the youth in Traditional churches were exposed to reformed theology without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Of course, the teaching of Calvinism at Calvinistic or neutral Southern Baptist Churches presents no problem at all. This essay assumes that all “Youth Targeted Calvinism” takes place within churches where the pastors and parents would indeed have a concern with it if they only knew it was being taught.
How Calvinism is NOT Being Introduced
First, let us discuss the way Calvinism is not being introduced in the youth groups of Traditional churches. Typically, the youth minister does not come to the Pastor, the Deacons, the Sunday School Council or the Church Business Meeting and announce, “Church family, even though it has not been our customary doctrinal position in the past, our youth group will now be focusing upon Calvinism in our discipleship classes, retreats, concerts, conferences and Sunday School classes. This represents a major doctrinal shift for our church—a new direction of profound significance. Thus, we are asking you to vote and give your approval to this initiative as we seek to turn as many of our youth as possible into Calvinists.”
No Calvinistic youth minister at a Traditional church ever made such a speech. Calvinism does not arrive with a shout, but with a whisper. It does not come in the front door. It sneaks in the back door. It spreads incrementally and with subtlety.
Case Studies of Youth Targeted Calvinism
1. Youth Worship Service Promotes Disunity–Eight years ago, a Southern Baptist youth group was gathered for its Wednesday night service. The church was between youth ministers, and the speaker that night boldly pushed the claims of Calvinism, upsetting a number of the youth and adult sponsors. One young lady walked out of the room in protest. Others remained but fervently questioned the material. Before long, voices were raised and tempers grew short. The mother of two teenagers found out about the discussion. She had grown up in a Calvinistic church. Having rejected these doctrines, she did not want her two teenagers to be so indoctrinated. This disruption had thrown the entire youth group into a state of disarray. Suddenly, a potential youth minister candidate, who leaned reformed, was no longer a viable candidate for the vacancy. Calvinism is not well suited for every person or for every church. Because some individuals and churches will simply choose to reject these doctrines, it would seem prudent for youth speakers to inform the parents and the pastors when they plan to teach it.
2. Discipling Youth Right Out of the Convention–About a decade ago, another Southern Baptist youth ministry was in the habit of purchasing devotional books for the youth to study in small discipleship groups. For a period of time, the authors chosen included non-Southern Baptist Calvinists like John Piper and Tim Keller. Their Calvinistic youth minister explained these doctrines to the teens in private group meetings. Predictably, just like the general population at large, these parents were not familiar with all of the nuances of each author’s theology. Perhaps naively, they believed the youth minister was teaching their children the same things about God that they had learned when they were in a Southern Baptist youth group. This was not the case. Today, when the education minister is asked, “Do we still purchase John Piper books for the youth group?” he has a standard answer. “No, we do not. We bought them for years and discovered that virtually all those youth grew up to become Presbyterians. We discipled them right out of the Southern Baptist Convention. We won’t make that mistake again.”
3. SBC Youth Camps Led By Non-SBC Calvinists–When shelling out their $300 check for a “Southern Baptist” youth camp, most parents assume their teenager will hear sermons, songs and lessons preached, sung and taught by Southern Baptists. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The leadership of one camp in 2014 included a Pastor who served an Evangelical Free Church and a Worship Leader who served a non-SBC Charismatic Calvinist church. At another camp, young people were being interviewed to serve as counselors. In the process, they were specifically asked about their knowledge and use of a particular Sunday School curriculum designed by a creative team comprised almost entirely of Calvinists. Is one of the qualifications for being hired as a Southern Baptist student counselor in today’s SBC the familiarity with and support of a certain curriculum? Why should it matter which Sunday School curriculum a prospective student counselor might happen to prefer? With all the non-Southern Baptist preachers, singers, writers and teachers we are bringing in, it seems we are no longer waiting for our youth to leave the SBC. We can easily turn them into non-denominational evangelicals with Calvinistic and Charismatic tendencies even while they are still attending SBC youth summer camps.
In 2006, the first word in Collin Hansen’s title, Young, Restless, Reformed,[ii] was chosen for a reason. The recent surge in Calvinism’s popularity has never really targeted middle-aged or older Southern Baptists. To their credit, Calvinists have been successful in reaching teenagers. However, when it comes to introducing Calvinistic doctrines within Traditional SBC churches, leaders should be open and upfront in telling parents and pastors about their plans from the very start. Yes, parents should know what is being taught to their children, but if some parents have been duped, let us not be quick to judge their theological apathy or ignorance. Usually, they are busy working in the nursery, teaching missions or serving those foil wrapped baked potatoes in the supper line. Let us rather place the burden upon youth ministers and camp organizers to communicate clearly the doctrines that are being taught—especially those that have proven to be controversial for centuries.
[i] Just as a traditional worship service may refer to the music of the mid-twentieth century, traditional SBC salvation doctrine may refer to the theology popular in the same era. It would be a mistake to assume Traditionalists are claiming our view as the original view of the SBC. We are not Originalists. In fact, I cannot find a single Traditionalist who has ever made this claim. Rather, we simply espouse A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. Both Calvinism and Traditionalism have existed since the beginning of our convention. Neither can claim to be the original SBC position. The definitive treatment of this topic is an essay by Dr. Steve W. Lemke entitled, “History or Revisionist History? How Calvinistic Were the Overwhelming Majority of Baptists and Their Confessions in the South until the Twentieth Century?” (Southwestern Journal of Theology, Volume 57, Number 2, Spring 2015, pages 227-254.)
[ii] Hansen, Collin. “Young, Restless, Reformed.” Christianity Today. September 22, 2006.