Hey, guess what, all Baptists are Calvinists

Where’s Joe Carter when you need him?

Oh, right. I forgot.

Before his premature departure, Carter served as GetReligion’s resident expert on Calvinism. Trust me, I am a poor fill-in, although I posted a few months ago on media coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention debating that subject. (At that time, I acknowledged that I flunked Professor Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Calvinism 101 course.)

So, I am stepping into this post with fear and trepidation — and under duress from Editor tmatt, who sent me the relevant link with the note, “Take it away, Bobby.”

So, as instructed, I am taking it away. Let’s just hope it doesn’t crash and burn.

The featured story, titled “The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real,” appeared in Pacific Standard magazine. Let’s start at the top:

Why do we work the way we do? For years Americans have been arguing over whether or not it has something to do with the country’s religious history. Does a history of Protestant religiosity make us work harder? Now we’ve finally got some answers.

The influence of Protestantism on American capitalism has been a matter of considerable debate since German sociologist Max Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. The book wasn’t even translated into English until 1930, but it’s particularly interesting to this country because Weber argued that capitalist success stems from Calvinism.

Today just 53 percent of Americans identify with some sort of Protestant church, and only the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Baptist denominations (which directly influence less than five percent of the American population) can be called churches in the Calvinist tradition. But Calvinists were the religious ancestors of our Puritans, the English Calvinists who helped establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony so that they could have a place to practice their (rather extreme) religion in freedom. Because they were some of the first major settlers of the United States, they had a rather profound influence on our country’s economic development.

OK, since I already declared my ignorance, I’m going to admit that I’m confused.

First question: Is this story suggesting that all Baptists are Calvinists? If so, why did the reporting I read this past summer include background such as this?:

Calvinism, which is traditionally the domain of Reformed churches like Presbyterians, differs from traditional Baptist theology in key aspects, particularly on the question of salvation.

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Second question: Presbyterians, United Church of Christ members and Baptists represent less than 5 percent of the American population? I clicked that link, but I still don’t understand. Southern Baptists alone (with 16 million adherents out of a total population of 314 million) would represent 5 percent, right? But there are dozens of other Baptist denominations.

I’m even more confused than when I started typing. Something tells me I’m going to flunk this test, too.

If you’re still out in cyberspace, please help me out here, Joe.

John Calvin image via Shutterstock

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

    and only the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Baptist denominations (which directly influence less than five percent of the American population) can be called churches in the Calvinist tradition.

    That is an awkward (and misleading) way for them to put it. Along with the UCC and Presbyterians you also have the Reformed churches, as well as Calvinists in various other denominations (e.g., Anglicans) and non-denominational movements (e.g., Sovereign Grace Ministries).

    In the past it was more true to say that Baptist churches were more likely to be “in the Calvinists tradition.” Reformed Baptists started in the 1630s in England and continued when the movement came to America. But while some Baptist denominations (and there are several) may be Calvinist, it’s not dominant within most Baptist churches. In the largest Baptist denomination — the Southern Baptist Convention — only about 10 percent explicitly identify with Calvinism.

    But of course a person could be influence by a particular Calvinist notion without being a Calvinist. I think Weber attributed to Calvinism (the work ethic) something that many Calvinist would simply attribute to the Bible.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Thanks, Joe!

      I knew you’d come through for me. :-)

      • tmatt

        He was predestined to do so. He had no choice.

        • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

          Nice.

    • Darren Blair

      That’s about what I figured – the article failed to distinguish between the various Baptist sects, leading to the gaffe.

      In other words, “lack of basic research” at work again.

  • Mark Byron

    The Reformed denominations could loosely be put into that “Calvinist” category as well, along with some newer outfits like Sovereign Grace. However, it would likely be only the conservative Presbyterians who would fit that mold, as your more liberal Presbyterians (PC-UCA being front-and-center) that would reject most of that milieu.

  • Kevin Spencer

    Some US Census data also throws the article’s numbers more out of whack: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0075.pdf
    Isn’t Calvinism more of a puzzle part (Catholics might call it a doctrine) than a foundational essential part that can’t be lumped in a mainline faith nowandays (like a dogma)?

  • wlinden

    “only the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Baptist denominations (which directly influence less than five percent of the American population) can be called churches in the Calvinist tradition.”

    AND REFORMED!

  • Matt

    Baptists have been divided between Calvinists and non-Calvinists for hundreds of years (the same is true of Anglicans). HuffPo was wrong earlier this summer to say that Calvinism “differs from traditional Baptist theology”, just as Pacific Standard is wrong now to lump Baptists in general as “in the Calvinist tradition”.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      The HuffPo story was a Religion News Service piece.

      • Matt

        Fine. Edited. :)

        • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

          Thanks. You didn’t have to edit your comment. :-) Just wanted to clarify.

  • Scribbler

    A good many Baptists are Arminian, as distinct from (and condemned by the Council of Dordt, which was Reformed (Calvinist)) Calvinism.

    • Jonathan

      And then there are the majority of Baptist preachers who follow the belief that God, in His infinite power and wisdom, granted man a free will (Leviticus 22:29, Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15, Proverbs 1:29 & 3:31, 2 Corinthians 8:3, Revelation 3:20, et al.), but that, through His omnipotence and omniscience, has, and does, and will always have predestinated us, not in an arbitrary sense, but in the sense that Christ died to offer the free gift of Salvation to all (2 Corinthians 5:15, Romans 5:18-19), the Father has called us all — not willing that any should perish — (Matthew 22:1-14, John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), knows who will accept and thusly predestined them (Romans 8:29), has written their names in the Lambs Book of Life before the foundations of the Earth (Revelation 13:8), and is grieved at the death of an unrepentant man (Ezekiel 18:32 & 33:11). However, that said, we know that there are those who are misled by their own misunderstandings of the vast teachings of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16), in that his manner of arguing a legal argument, walking through every possible stage and then culminating in an explanation of all of his points, and select only a few verses and base their ENTIRE doctrine on it, to the point that I have had many Calvinists tell me that, “The gospel of election is primary to the Gospel of Salvation, for it is the truth of Salvation, as it is the only way in which Salvation is glorifying to God.”

      How can this be true? They quote Ephesians 2:9-10 “not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them,” but they fail to pay attention to Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Salvation is a FREE GIFT! (Romans 3:24, 5:15-16 & 18, Revelation 21:6 & 22:17) The reason we are told that it is not by works is because it is not by works of the law. (Romans 3:23-26, Galatians 3, Hebrews 10, et al.) So not by our own power, but through God’s Sacrificial Lamb in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:19), that He grants it freely and we must only accept it, being not a work, but an acceptance of the blessings of God the Father through God the Son.

      • Scribbler

        Uh, yeah. They’re Arminians.


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