Most evangelicals are Calvinists. Some of you may be surprised by that so let me take a goodly share of it back. Yes, Calvinism formed the bedrock of much of the faith of early American Christians that influenced much of evangelicalism today. But … there were the Wesleys who were more Arminian, and the Second Awakening has a goodly share of Arminian theology at work in it (think Finney), and then there’s the revivalism of the 20th Century — and that has shaped American evangelicalism in dramatic ways, not all of them good and not all of it robust in theology — and then there’s so many others today who are evangelicals unless you want to write them off the map as evangelicals. Revivalism shapes much of megachurch evangelicalism and it is hardly robust Calvinism. It’s in fact often a smattering of theologies. Let’s not forget Pietism, seen in the good folks in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and they lean Lutheran or they lean revivalist and generic evangelical, but they’re not very often Calvinist. And then we think of the Nazarenes and various bundles of the Holiness movement, and they’re not Calvinist either.
Some want to define “evangelical” by their own lights, and that means by their own theology or their own denomination, but evangelicalism, as Randy Balmer once wrote in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, is a patchwork quilt and not a single piece of cloth. We are to include, increasingly so, the Restoration movement or the Stone-Campbell movement (2million plus of them folks), the Pentecostals and the charismatics like Assemblies of God (know these numbers? very big) and Vineyard, and there are many others impacted by forms of revivalism who simply are not Calvinists in a robust sense. Yes, they believe in eternal security but they are strong on free will and so many say they are “Calminians” (good Calvinists argh at the “Cal” in that expression). Just in case you’ve ignored them, there’s a long line of straight-laced evangelicalism among the Anabaptists who just don’t get into the Calvinist-Arminian thing but instead have other things more central to their affirmations and beliefs.
So I really like what the Southern Baptists, led by Frank Page (pictured), are recommending here. We are all under the Big Tent called Evangelicalism. Michael Horton is probably right in saying Big Tent unity affirmations are not enough for a local church’s theology but they are enough for us to cooperate and well together under the Big Tent of evangelicalism. What this proposal is urging is this: there’s enough room in the SBC (and I would say under the Big Tent) for both Calvinists and non-Calvinists, and not only that they are arguing their own statement of faith includes and permits both orientations. Good enough for them, good enough for me, too.
Thank God for this meeting of minds, this affirmation of a greater unity, and for helping others see how a group seemingly bent on division is now turning in a unity direction.
With a full recognition of the limitless wisdom of God’s Word and the limited wisdom of ourselves, we urge Southern Baptists to grant one another liberty in those areas within The Baptist Faith and Message where differences in interpretation cause us to disagree. For instance,
- We agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved.
- While we all heartily affirm the article on election in The Baptist Faith and Message (Article V), we differ as to whether the response of faith plays a role in one’s election.
- We agree that the penal and substitutionary death of Christ was sufficient for the sins of the entire world, but we differ as to whether Jesus actually substituted for the sins of all people or only the elect.
- We agree that the Gospel should be proclaimed to everyone, but we differ as to whether or how every hearer will be enabled to respond.
- We agree that everyone has inherited Adam’s hopelessly fallen sin nature, but we differ as to whether we also inherit his guilt.
- We agree that men and women are sinners, but we differ about the effects of sin on the mind and the will.
- We recognize the differences among us between those who believe that sin nullifies freedom to respond to the Gospel and those who believe that freedom to respond to the Gospel is marred but not nullified.
- We agree that God is absolutely sovereign in initiating salvation, uniting the believer to Himself, and preserving the believer to the end, but we differ as to how God expresses His sovereignty with respect to human freedom.
- We agree that the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel enables sinners to be saved, but we differ as to whether this grace is resistible or irresistible.
- We agree on the necessity of regeneration that results in God-ordained, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered obedience from the heart, but differ as to whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith.
- We agree that most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so.
These differences should spur us to search the Scriptures more dutifully, to engage in lively interaction for mutual sharpening and collective Gospel effectiveness, and to give thanks that what we hold in common far surpasses that on which we disagree. But these particular differences do not constitute a sufficient basis for division and must not be allowed to hamper the truly crucial cooperative effort of taking the Gospel to a waiting world. Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.
And this “Testimony”:
We affirm the responsibility and privilege of every Southern Baptist to advocate his or her doctrinal convictions. We affirm that theology should be honored and privileged in our conversations and cooperation. We also affirm that theological and doctrinal debate can be a sign of great health within a denomination that is devoted to truth and is characterized by trust.
We deny that the main purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention is theological debate. We further deny that theological discussion can be healthy if our primary aim is to win an argument, to triumph in a debate, or to draw every denominational meeting into a conversation over conflicted issues. Of more significance to our life together than any allegiance to Calvinism or non-Calvinism should be our shared identity as Southern Baptists.
Most importantly, we affirm together that our testimony to the world must be the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—and that Southern Baptists must stand together in the testimony that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We stand together to declare that salvation comes to all who call upon the name of the Lord, and that God’s desire is for the salvation of sinners and the reaching of the nations.