The SBC and Calvinism: A Personal Perspective
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Those who know me have probably asked me at one time or another why I am part of the Southern Baptist Convention. To tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking that a lot myself lately. I am especially disturbed by events at the recent John 3:16 conference sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The conference represents a growing antagonism in Southern Baptist life toward those who embrace the Doctrines of Grace. Unfortunately, this conference lacked some of the the balance and tact of the Building Bridges Conference. See critiques here, here, and here. The last link is especially revealing since James White was labeled a hyper-Calvinist while he was in London pressing the claims of Christ among Muslims! Hyper-Calvinist? “You keep using that word... I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride)
For a ‘lighter’ take on things look here. I only post this because I have been bombarded with questions as to where I am in this ‘fight’. Of course, it is not much of a fight. The SBC establishment is firmly and openly anti-Calvinist. There is no question about that. There is but one question. How long before the SBC realizes that defeating Calvinism would represent a Phyrric victory at best. Anyone paying attention sees the stark contrast between ministries like T4G, 9Marks, Desiring God, and the SBC Annual meeting. One of these groups is known for being 1) anti-Calvinistic, 2) highly politicized, and 3) void of the youth and vitality needed to sustain it in the future (hence, that ubiquitous question, “Exactly why are you in the SBC?”).
As for me, the SBC is still home. I am still a Baptist by confession and conviction. However, the is not the welcoming place it was for me earlier in this decade. In 2001 I had the privilege of being appointed Chair of the ‘Teller’s Committee’ at the Annual Convention in New Orleans (unfortunately, flooding in Houston prevented me from attending what would have been my first Convention). In late 2002 I got a call out of the blue from LifeWay/Broadman & Holman (the Southern Baptist publishing arm) offering me --an unpublished, unproven author-- a three-book publishing deal, which I accepted. I wrote The Ever Loving Truth (B&H, 2004), and The Ever Loving Truth Bible Study (LifeWay, 2004), before parting ways. During the same period, I received three invitations to preach at the SBC Pastor’s Conference (the event that kicks off the Southern Baptist Convention) in 2002, 2004 and 2005 (a family commitment prevented my participation the first year). This was, as we say here in the South, high cotton! Not many guys in their early thirties who have never pastored a church get a shot at preaching in the Pastor’s Conference. As my dear friend and brother, Derry Hodge said at the time, my “star was on the rise.”
However, things have changed drastically since then. That change is due in large part to three main issues that left me on the outside looking in. First, many of my brethren and I do not agree on the urgency of Christian parents giving their children a Christian Education. Though the Baptist Faith and Message seems to state the matter plainly (See Baptist Faith & Message, 2000, section XII: Education), my view is deemed extremist, un-evangelistic, and unwarranted. My partner in crime Bruce Shortt and I discovered that government education was a sacred cow not to be messed with in the SBC. In 2004, our education resolution created a firestorm, but fell to defeat. In 2005, we rang the bell again and gained a victory. However, while the Associated Press, and thousands of other publications (including Ethics Daily) covered the 2005 story incessantly, there was a virtual blackout over at Baptist Press. A look at the stories they wrote about ‘yours truly’ before vs. after 2005 makes for an interesting search to say the least. Not to mention the fact that we were taking on the homosexual agenda and received international coverage, but the BP blackout concerning my part in the resolution persisted.
My second SBC faux pas was going public with my position on Youth Ministry/Family Discipleship. While I voiced concerns for years, these were not “public” until I began to blog about them, then preach about them on the SBC stage. In February of 2006, I preached the message, The Centrality of the Home in the Evangelism and Discipleship of the Next Generation at the SBTC Evangelism Conference. I began to call Youth Ministry into question, not just for its shallowness, or ineffective track record (as did Christian Smith, George Barna, Mike Yakonelli, Alvin Reid, Allen Jackson, Richard Rossand scores of others); I had the audacity to point out the fact that it wasn’t even biblical in the first place. This, coupled with the release of Family Driven Faith, and planting Grace Family Baptist Church, set off a chain of SBC events that would culminate in the SBTC Youth Ministry Forum, and (some would argue) the recent “Patriarchy” rant at Midwestern Seminary by Cynthia Kunsman.
However, neither of these constituted fatal infractions. I co-sponsored an education in 2004, but preached at the SBC in 2005. I stood against YM for years and while many were uncomfortable, I was still part of the gang. That is, until I came out of the closet. No... I’m not gay. It’s far worse than that. I’m a Calvinist! That’s right, I’m a fire-breathing, TULIP believing, five-point Calvinist. That, my friends, is the unpardonable sin in contemporary Southern Baptist life (unless your name is Al Mohler and you’ve been President of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since you were in your early thirties and happen to be the most intelligent, articulate, winsome public face the Convention has).
I was ‘outed’ in 2006 when I preached at the Desiring God National Conference. Prior to that I had preached at Alistair Begg’s conferences, but Desiring God was the fatal blow. After that the questions began to swirl. After preaching a message in a Pastor’s conference in 2006 a dear friend approached me (he is a well-known Calvinist whose name I won’t mention... TOM ASCOL ...and I was going to be preaching in his church the next day). He was laughing about a debate he overheard between two pastors. The issue? Whether or not I believed regeneration precedes faith! These brothers had begun to put two and two together but they just knew it couldn’t be four. It was as though I had contracted AIDS. These guys were actually mourning! “I had him in my church!” one of them lamented. I could have done a lot of things and been just fine. However, the dreaded “C” word has become a death sentence in “mainstream”
Southern Baptist life. Some may say that’s not it at all. Perhaps I’m simply too controversial, or vitriolic. Really? Then explain Ergun Caner (whom, by the way, I consider a friend even though we differ on this issue). Caner has been on of the most vitriolic voices in recent SBC history. However, his vitriol has been pointed at the enemy, Calvinism. Jerry Vines called the Prophet Mohammad a “Demon-possessed pedophile” and brought scorn on the entire Convention, but he hosts conferences with some of the top names and institutions in the SBC. Jerry Fallwell made a career out of vitriol and controversy and the SBC gave him the Keys to the Kingdom when he joined. No, I don’t think vitriol is my crime. My crime is being a part of a movement the SBC sees as a threat to evangelism, and our already declining baptismal numbers.
Calvinists can be an easy target when it comes to evangelism and baptism. Never mind names like Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Adonirum Judson, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, Richard Baxter, Matthew Henry, John Bunyan, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Arthur Pink, Boyce, Andrew Fuller, Luther Rice, J.L. Dagg, Daniel & Abraham Marshall, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, Ian Murray, D.A. Carson, John Piper, James White, Tom Nettles, Tom Schriner, Tom Ascol, Timothy George, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. The strawman (who doesn’t believe in evangelism because he believes in election) that was beaten about the head and shoulders at the John 3:16 Conference is a much easier target. Can you imagine that conference with the living members of the aforementioned list sitting there defending themselves? I’d pay a pretty penny to see that!
Instead, guys like White get hammered for not believing in evangelism while out doing evangelism! Good thing we’re protecting the Convention from the likes of him. If not we might start having bus tours with slogans like “Everyone Can”. Convention leaders with churches that boast memberships of 10,000 when their actual attendance (resident, participating, regenerate, ‘real’ members) is well under 2,000. Or fire engine baptistries to coax children into the sacred waters (Paige Patterson called this “blasphemy” right before calling Southern Baptists “some of the worst paedo-baptizers there are”). If we don’t rid ourselves of guys like White, we may end up adding a category in our baptismal reports for “Under Age 6,” or have a pastor join the Youth Ministry at the beach and have himself and staff ‘re-baptized’ in an effort to ‘prime-the-pump’ and get the baptismal numbers up for the annual beach retreat (true story!). Or who knows, if the likes of James White are not stopped, we may have non-Trinitarians like T.D. Jakes come and teach at our conferences.
Of course anyone paying attention knows these atrocities are actual occurrences in our beloved Convention and they are the types of things Calvinists (like White) bemoan. Moreover, our Arminian and Amyraldian brethren also despise these things (funny how people berate Calvinists for “following doctrine named for a man” when the various other positions are named for men as well). Unfortunately, they don’t despise these atrocities quite as much as they despise Calvinism. So where does that leave me? Still here. Sill lovin’ the brethren. Still holding to the Doctrines of Grace. Still in the SBC. No longer considering a future of any significance in the Convention. Praying for reconciliation, revival and reformation. Grieving over the status quo. Still holding to the Fives!
The Five Solas
Soli Deo Gloria!
The Five Points
Total or Radical Depravity
Unconditional or Sovereign Election
Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption
Irresistible or Effectual Grace
Perseverance of the Saints
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