Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, November 28, 2008

Personal Reflections on Calvinism in the SBC

A Hip and Thigh Classic

The latest attempts by some in the SBC to accuse Calvinists of being borderline heretical (See discussions here, here, and here) reminded me of a post I wrote around two years ago addressing my take on the struggle happening in the SBC between those who still wish to cling to the current traditional Southern Baptist status quo, and those who long to see the denomination revived and defined along biblical lines. I thought I would re-post it, though slightly modified and edited from its original form, so as to offer my 2 cents.

God was pleased to save me the last week of my college freshman year at a large Southern Baptist Church. That SBC congregation was my home church all through my college years until I graduated and moved to L.A. to attend seminary.

During the late 80's as I was adjusting to my new found church home, I quickly learned there was a great rift among the membership throughout the SBC. The division was caused by a vocal minority who did not like the idea of affirming the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. I wasn't too keen on SBC politics (I am still not too keen on SBC politics), but God be thanked I was directed to a church in the inerrancy camp.

On my college campus of Arkansas State, the largest religious organization was the Baptist Student Union of which I was a regular participant my first year. The BSU is a campus organization where "like minded" Southern Baptist students can come and find fellowship on an other wise Baptist unfriendly college campus. At my BSU, the students attended two main churches: my church, and what a lot of folks considered to be the non-inerrancy, liberal church. The members at that church of course used the term "moderate" to define their views.

The bulk of the kids who frequented the BSU attended the "moderate" church. The year I walked into the BSU, this church had just opened a brand new Family Center (a big gym), complete with roller skates, pool tables, video games, and the other trappings necessary to pull in a large crowd of students. In a manner of speaking, it was one of the early versions of the seeker-friendly churches. All the BSU people would talk about how wonderful it was to visit because of all the great fun they would have in the Family Center. We didn't have a family center at my church; we bored ourselves to death reading the Bible and listening to preaching.

I began to realize after a year of participating in BSU oriented activities, Bible studies, and leadership training times, that my church was held in contempt with the majority of the folks who attended the "moderate" church. We were called the "Bible thumping" church, we were said to be "worshipping the Bible," and we were stodgy old boring legalists. (There may be a little truth to the legalist claim, but I digress). On the other hand, we at my church viewed our "moderate" critics as being loose morally, lacking any true biblical discernment, soft on sin, and only fun and games; no sober spirituality. Where as we were the Bible thumpers, they were the Bible deniers.

Well, shortly after my graduation from college, the non-inerrancy, liberal minority in the SBC denomination split off to form their own denomination so as to wallow in their intellectual progressivism, abort babies, and ordain all the women pastors the could with reckless abandon. For a brief time the split was a major news event. Rarely do we see a massive split in the largest protestant denomination in America. Thankfully, from the conservative side, it appeared as though God was purifying His people by purging out the dross, so to speak.

Now, some 20 years or so later, I believe the SBC is on the path to another major split. This time however, it will not be over the issue of the inerrancy and the infallibility of scripture, but the authority and sufficiency of scripture.

All the while the battle was raging over the inerrancy of the Bible between liberal and conservative Southern Baptists, the Founder's movement was quietly in the background of the denomination laying down roots among supporters. The Founders are a group of SBC folks who desire to return the denomination back to the historic Baptist principles on which it was founded. The most notable principle is that of Calvinism, or what is called the Doctrines of Grace. While the SBC was fighting over the issue of the Bible, the Founder's were pretty much unknown. They were small and grassroots.

When I was still in college attending my Southern Baptist church, I never heard of them. I, however, was exposed to Calvinism through my college pastor who loaned me his copy of Boettner's The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. I already had a high view of scripture and God's character, and that book, along with the writings of A.W. Pink, and my deep love for exegetical and theological preaching, brought me to the place where I affirmed the doctrines Calvinism as being clearly biblical. It was not until years later that I heard of the Founders and their love for Calvinism. By that time the liberals had moved on and the SBC was considered rescued from heresy, but the Founders, on the other hand, had moved from being relatively unknown to becoming an annoyance for the overall denomination.

Why is that?

Because most SBC pastors and evangelists have a disdain for Calvinism. I think there are a couple of reasons for this attitude. For starters, the sad reality is that a lot of pastors are not into doing serious exegesis or doctrinal preaching from their pulpits and instead preach shallow sermons. I realize I can be accused of speaking in generalities at this point, but to be honest it has been my observation that such an accusation is true. Additionally, the traditional SBC mindset focuses upon gathering large numbers of people with either making a "decision" for Christ at an evangelistic crusade, or increasing the membership of local churches. A theology like Calvinism which de-emphasizes the importance of numbers and instead looks to the importance of theological and exegetical preaching that leaves any results to God cuts against any "revival" ministry dependent upon large numbers of people walking aisles, signing prayer cards, and being baptized - and giving money.

Calvinism has the tendency to meddle with man's will and his decision making process. If a person's salvation is dependent upon an act of God's grace, rather than manipulative emotional pleas from a preacher, that seems to take away from man's ability to choose at the crisis moment at the end of a service when the organ is playing "Just as I am." In a nutshell, Calvinism is wrongly perceived as being anti-evangelism.

As Calvinism has grown in popularity over the past decade or more among the young 20-30 somethings under the influence of such pastors and theologians like James White, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and R.C. Sproul, dislike for the Founders movement has also increased among the SBC leadership. Celebrity preachers like the late Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines have had a few choice words against Calvinism. Ergun Caner of Liberty University has become a staunch anti-Calvinist practically saying the Founders are introducing heresy, and the recent speakers at the SBC sponsored John 3:16 Conference have irresponsibly accused Calvinism as being heretical and adherence of Calvinism as anti-evangelistic.

These sort of fool hearty criticisms are not going away and in my mind only appear to becoming worse. I can actually envision a day when the supporters of the Founders will either have to leave on their own, or be asked to leave the SBC denomination unless some unforeseen move of God takes place. Until such a miracle happens I believe there are five important areas where traditional Southern Baptists and the proponents of the Founders will disagree:

1). Invitational regeneration - The SBC methodology where a person just walks the aisle at the request of a preacher, shakes his hand, and is declared forever saved even though the person has no true conversion and continues to live like a devil when he goes home after Church has ended, cannot co-exist with the efficacious grace of Calvinism working apart from walking an aisle that transforms a God hating sinner into a Christ honoring saint.

2). Quick prayer soul winning - When an "evangelist" merely gets folks to repeat a prayer but does not care for their spiritual growth. This artificial approach to evangelism cannot co-exist with evangelistic discipleship that instills in the convert rich theology and a love for God's Word.

3). Shallow sermonics and pulpit theatrics - I could write an entire series of posts discussing the tragic decline of the Christian pulpit over the years, but preachers jumping from a text in the NT one week, to a text in the OT the next week, and who seek to entertain the audience every Sunday is not friendly with expository preaching where a pastor is required to build his sermon upon the accurate handling of a text from the Bible.

4). Sunday School classes driven by quarterlies - I never cared for quarterlies when I was in Sunday school where a class races through the entire Bible in 3 years. Worst still is having to be subjected to the flash in the pan popular Christian book of the moment. These thing are no competition to the strong teaching in Historical and biblical theology and solid, real life apologetics.

5). The lack of church discipline - Churches where a member is publicly known to be involved in some scandalous sin by everyone else in the congregation, yet is never confronted by anyone in leadership and is left alone to sit in the back and tolerated, is not the same as a congregation where members are held accountable by the other members and the leadership will confront any member involved in grievous sin even to the point of disciplining the person from the Church if he or she remains unrepentant.

These are obviously some sharp distinctions to two approaches of the ministry. I for one do appreciate how many pastors and other supporters of the Founders are genuinely seeking the spiritual well being of the SBC denomination in these areas which truly do matter.

Yet, I do not think the Founders are not above constructive criticism in the way they present themselves to the overall denomination. If the Founders do remain with in the operations of the SBC and never seek to separate by their choice, let me offer a couple of suggestions to help them be more palatable to the non-Founder SBC person:

Recognize that not everyone likes full blown Covenant Theology. I know for myself, I am not fully convinced of all the presuppositions of CT like a universal covenant of grace and so forth. I do see the Bible clearly teaching some aspects of dispensationalism, at least a measure of discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. I imagine a lot of SBC members are totally ignorant of CT. If they have been taught anything, it is more than likely Americanized dispensationalism. Don't force them to become Covenant Theology supporters in order to embrace the vision of the Founders.

Realize that not everyone cares for amillennialism. I know for myself, I am a happily assured premillennialist who believes in a future restoration of Israel and I for one do not think I need to abandon premillennialism in order to support the objectives of the Founders. Certainly the leaders of the Founders would tell me I don't have to, but I have encountered way too many individual supporters who suggest that if I maintain any form of dispensational leanings and remain a premillennialist, I might as well be falling under the science fiction theology of Tim Lahaye.

I think if the Founders keep these in mind, and I am sure they are probably aware of these issues, a long with individual supporters conducting themselves with grace and humility, perhaps God will spare the SBC another major split. Perhaps, in His sovereignty, their will be true, Reformational revival.

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Blogger Daniel said...

What an excellent Post today!

I have only been following this on a very loose basis, I hadn't even heard about Caner's thoughts on David Hunt's book - man that is way out there!

8:44 AM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Stephen A Morse said...

Great post. I think this subject is quite profitable for us to consider.

1:59 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger D.R. said...

I greatly enjoyed your post and for the most part I think you are spot-on. However, as one who has been involved with Passion and One Day, as well as a student at two SBC seminaries and an SBC university (with friends at countless other SBC and Christian colleges), let me say that I am much more optimistic about the future of the Founder's and their continued influence on the SBC.

Sure, everyone knows that Southern is thoroughly Reformed, but what people don't know is that New Orleans is (or at least was) steeped in Calvinistic leaning (despite the ill chosen words of its president on calvinism and the future of SBC evangelism). Additionally, there are strong contengencies of Calvinists at Southeastern, Southwestern, and Midwestern. Even at Mid-America Bapt. Seminary (the late Adrian Roger's pet project), there are a number of calvinists that continue to influence more and more students. At Union University, considered now to be the Princeton of the SBC, Calvinism is presented openly and without any contestation. At other institutions like the University of Mobile, Cederville University, Houston Baptist Univ., the Baptist College of Florida, Mississippi College, and Cal Baptist, Calvinism is growing in strength, led by intelligent, motivated, and deeply spiritual men and women who have been influenced by John Piper, Louie Giglio, and Passion conferences.

So I think the SBC is headed toward a Reformation and the rhetoric is being cranked up because the leaders who don't want it to happen are beginning to get worried. As long as men like Al Mohler, Danny Akin, and Thom Rainer are in leadership in the SBC, Calvinists will be safe and the Doctrines of Grace will continue to be taught. Remember how the conservative resurgence came about -- Ronald Reagan trickly down style? The conservatives took the Presidency, which in turn brought about a change in the trustees of the seminaries. Once new trustees were in place, conservative faculty could be hired, who would in turn teach inerrancy. Those students would go out into the churches to teach this to our members. And walla - resurgence. Calvinists will do this without the need for the Presidency. In fact, the Presidency will likely come last.

So that is why I am optimistic.

7:49 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger jbuchanan said...

Interesting post. I have followed this growing debate in SBC circles for sometime. I do not think that there will be a split over Calvinism in the SBC. The Caner brothers have been very vocal but I think they represent some of the extreme examples. The vast majority of Southern Baptists do not even know what this issue is all about. I like much of what the Founders are doing and I hope that we will enter into a time of serious theological dialogue.

11:22 AM, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I truly hope you guys are correct. I want to see genuine biblical revival hit the SBC. I just know from my experience and the testimony of many dear friends who still attend SBC churches, that there is among the general population a lack of any sincere and serious desire to be biblically solid.

I appreciate your all's optimism. Being a sound, five point Calvinist I am confident that God is on His throne, I am His servant, and He can bring about some rather astonishing changes. Even in a denomination that is a mile wide but an inch deep when it comes to biblical truth and enslaved to tradition.


8:24 AM, February 28, 2006  
Blogger GeneMBridges said...

Good words.

By the way, I have another article coming out in the summer on Sandy Creek that expands greatly on my thoughts @ Triablogue. Watch the Founders Journal.

9:26 PM, June 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the best post on the subject that I've read. I've been to this blog before and was pleased, but this post on this issue really blew me away. And I totally agree with everything you said.

11:24 AM, November 28, 2008  
Blogger Hayden said...


I have seen what you have outlined as problems in the SBC personally because the church that I am going to in January,split along these lines. I really do see a split coming along these lines. Through the 'seeker sensitive' pragmatism in the pot and you have a tempest in a teapot coming.


I sure hop your picture of the SBC is more accurate. Though I never attended University of Mobile, I do know many who have and they have told me though some strains of the Doctrines of Grace are being taught, it is still predominantly antagonistic to this teaching as whole! I think the influence of Steve Lawson is great on UM but there is still much ground to be made up.

Thanks for this good discussion though.

6:56 AM, December 01, 2008  
Blogger regeya said...

I am not a member of any church, but am married to a Primitive Baptist...

...having said that, it troubles me that people want to see the SBC return to biblical ways via Calvinism.

Calvin's writings seem as absurd as those fools who believe that Jesus is God. I've read his writings on predestination, yes, and you'll even find people who, within the PB ranks and who believe in predestination, reject Calvin's writing on predestination. With good reason; much of his biblical reference is in passages of the Old Testament pertaining to the Jews, not to "whosoever believeth in me."

To me, the mere fact that a church can be ripped apart based on whether or not a person believes they have free will vs. whether a person is predestined to serve, shows that that church is built on a bed of sand rather than on the rock. At no point at our time on Earth will we know for certain. Whether a person chooses of their own will or whether God chooses them to do so is of no consequence; however, I rather hope it doesn't work as Calvin laid it out, because it would make God out to be as big a liar as He would be if he had pretended to be his only begotten Son, and was well pleased with himself for allowing Himself to be baptised in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (not to mention that whole thing of people not being able to look upon the face of God and live.)

11:10 PM, December 03, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey "Profile not Found" person,

I take it that it really isn't Calvinism that bothers you, right? It is that whole "the Bible is infallible and authoritative" thing that gets you. Right? I mean, if you deny the plain and clear teaching of the biblical doctrine of the Deity of Christ, then Calvinism really is a secondary issue.


7:12 AM, December 04, 2008  

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