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Why the reaction aganist Calvinism among Southern Baptists?
THURSDAY, JUNE 14, 2012
Posted by: Sovereign Grace Baptist Church | more..
4,200+ views | 60+ clicks
On May 30th, a document was released on the SBC Today website, entitled, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” The endorsers to this document have ranged from six former SBC presidents to five state executive directors and two seminary presidents. As I write this article, there have been over 350 Southern Baptists who serve the denomination as leaders, pastors, evangelists, church staff members, etc., who have also signed on with their heartiest approval for what this document is advocating.
The purpose behind this document is two-fold: first, to promote what is being claimed as the “traditional” Southern Baptist view of salvation; and second, to openly counter the resurgence of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention. This resurgence has been growing for the past thirty years, but in the last ten years it has gained more traction and support which can’t be ignored. But, for the framers of this document, the Calvinistic resurgence in the SBC can no longer be tolerated either. As they state in their preamble: “It is no longer helpful to identify ourselves by how many points of convergence we have with Calvinism...We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology (i.e., the doctrine of salvation).”
In these words, the proverbial “gauntlet” has been thrown down. In effect, what they’re saying is this: “We have finished with discussing and discovering how many points we can agree on with Calvinism. Enough of that! When it comes to the official statement on Southern Baptist doctrine concerning salvation, we do not want even a shade of Calvinism shaping our beliefs.”
Now for me, I must express that I am not surprised by the publication of such a document nor the sentiments it celebrates. When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, the vast majority of churches and associations represented at this organization were doctrinal Calvinists. However, eighty years later, such a doctrinal distinction was in many quarters only a distant memory. How did this happen? I believe many factors were involved. In this article, I will highlight only three. First, there was the increasing emphasis on missions and evangelism, which fostered a zeal for programmatic activity while cooling any passion or concern for doctrinal preciseness. This came to full flower in 1925 with the establishment of the Cooperative Program. As Dr. Tom Nettles of Southern Seminary, observed: “This monetary support engendered by this ingenious plan has ignited such an adherence to Southern Baptist programs that doctrinal distinctive tend to be overlooked for the sake of fiscal unity.” Hence, what has become the stamp of orthodoxy for Southern Baptists after 1925, is their upholding the Cooperative Program at the expense of losing doctrinal fidelity.
Second, there was the reaction against the Hyper-Calvinism of the Primitive Baptists. During the first half of the 19th century, Baptists all over America divided over the question of how one carries out missions. Doctrinally speaking, all the Baptists in this debate were Calvinists, but when it came to the method of missions—one group (the Primitives) advocated missions by the local church only; while the other group (the Missionary Baptists) supported missions to be done by agencies outside of the local church. The end result was a split--which moved the Primitives into the quagmire of Hyper-Calvinism. But for the Missionary Baptists (who are Southern Baptists today), they would gradually leave their Calvinistic heritage to unwittingly embrace a Semi-Pelagian view of salvation. Ironically, this is the view advanced as the “traditional” Southern Baptist view by the adherents of the document under discussion, despite their denials.
Third, there is the longstanding influence of Charles Finney’s (1792-1875) methods of revivalism. While not embraced wholeheartedly by Southern Baptists at first, Finney’s methods of revivalism eventually took a strong hold in Baptist life as the means for conversions and church growth. The most celebrated of these methods is the infamous “alter-call” or invitation system. This practice promotes an “easy-believism” which truncates the sufficiency and power of the saving Gospel. Moreover, it has been the culprit for bloating SBC church rolls with members who give no evidence of the new birth.
So, in light of these three historical factors, should we really be surprised at this passionate push to undo any Calvinistic influence in the SBC? The truth of God’s sovereign grace will not be tolerated where man’s will is held as deciding who will be saved.
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