SBC and Calvinism

SBC and Calvinism November 3, 2011

Bob Allen, of the Associated Baptist Press, has a report about an Acts 29 church being denied membership in the Kentucky Baptist Association:

OWENSBORO, Ky. (ABP) – A Kentucky Baptist association denied membership to a church after a credentials committee found its confessional statement too Calvinistic, according to a report in the Western Recorder.

Daviess-McLean Baptist Association voted 104-9 to deny membership to Pleasant Valley Community Church in Owensboro during its annual meeting held Oct. 17-18, the Kentucky Baptist Convention news journal reported in its Oct. 25 issue.

“Our concern in the initial stages of our investigation revolved around the fact that Pleasant Valley Community Church’s confessional statement is one that (is) Calvinistic in nature,” the newspaper quoted from a recommendation by the association’s credentials committee. “It affirms the doctrine of election and grace.”

“While we know the doctrine is not heresy, we do recognize that it is vastly different than the majority of churches within the DMBA,” the statement noted.

Pleasant Valley Community Church’s 60-page confession of faith affirms: “From before the foundation of the world, in order to display His glory, God freely and unchangeably ordained all things that would come to pass. From the casting of the lot, to the bird falling from the sky, to the activities of the nations, to the plans of politicians, to the secret acts of individuals, to what will happen to us tomorrow, to scheduling the very day that we will die, God has written our stories and the stories of the entire universe.”

That includes “the results of His plan of salvation as set forth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ….

Frank Page, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, recently identified the growing influence of Calvinism — also called Reformed Theology or the Doctrines of Grace — as one of the biggest challenges facing the nation’s second-largest faith group.

According to a 2007 study by LifeWay Research, about one in 10 Southern Baptist pastors considered themselves to be five-point Calvinists. Among recent seminary graduates the rate nearly tripled, to 29 percent. Page, a former SBC president elected as the Executive Committee’s CEO last year, said he hears often from churches struggling with the divide between Calvinist and non-Calvinist — also known as Arminian -– theology….

Jamus Edwards, a Southern Seminary graduate and now pastor of preaching and vision at Pleasant Valley Community Church, told the Western Recorder that the church does not self-identify as Calvinist because it is not “helpful in most contexts” but rather “distracting and largely misunderstood, precisely like it was in this situation with the DMBA.”

Greg Faulls, the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Owensboro, who recommended Edwards’ church for membership in May, said he thought the church’s teachings fell within parameters of the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, “but apparently the association didn’t agree.”

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  • Jay Beerley

    Scot, surely you’re not stooping to try and let local associations within the SBC be a voice of “creaking” as you called it. Those associations differ so much from location to location.

  • Scot McKnight


    I don’t know the polity thoroughly, but I think this may be something important… maybe not.

    What do you think? Just an oddity?

  • Adam Shieds

    I used to work for a local SBC association. There are about 1200 local, and autonomous associations. They are related toSBC but are definitely indendent. I know one association required a church to own property to join, so a church plant that was one on the largest contributors per capita to theSBC was denied membership to the local association.

    I do think this is concerning. But not by any means the first issue between Act29 and local SBC entities. A state invention denied church planting funds to an Acts29 church because the church had an investigative bible study in a bar.

  • Scot McKnight


    Fair enough, and that’s good to know. But the rise of Calvinism is not quite like investigative Bible studies, and some are deeply concerned about this rise. Are we to see this action as an expression of a wider concern? That’s the question.

  • Keith Gray

    It seems that Jamus Edwards is correct that there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Calvininsm/Reformed theology. The two are not necessarily the same. Also, if one is not Calvinist, it does not mean necessarily mean one is an Arminian.
    It’s always interesting/disheartening to see how terms that are not really understood cause so much division.

  • BradK

    It may be an oddity, but in a way I hope not. The growth of neo-Calvinism in the SBC is a cause for concern. Maybe this is a sign of the beginning of a reaction against it within the SBC as a whole. But SBC churches are so independent that it really doesn’t matter too much. The Cooperative Program is the main thing that ties the denomination together.

    However, if my church’s confession of faith ever includes a exhaustively deterministic statement like the one cited above, and I am expected to adhere to it, I will be gone in a heartbeat.

  • At the risk of annoying my Baptist Calvinists friends, but I’ve said it before, perhaps the fact that Baptist Calvinists generally reject other large planks of the confessional Reformed tradition means that they end up (over)emphasizing the “doctrines of grace.” Instead of them being one plank among many others, they end up being the hero in almost every conversation.

    The so-called 5 points are thus accentuated beyond what’s prudent, and so there’s backlash. I don’t think it’s creaking, however. Harping on sovereign grace is more true than it’s not, and will continue to gain ground in the SBC.

    Speaking in total ignorance though with respect to this particular situation.

  • What saddens me is the restrictiveness of church and denomination membership. Though most believers in Christ recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of their beliefs concerning most any topic including baptism, modes of worship, tongues, Cal/Arm/Uni debate, etc., they will not allow others who believe differently concerning these others to be members of their fellowship. So though Jesus accepts us, we do not accept one another. And though I recognize you as my brother in Christ, we cannot regularly fellowship and worship Jesus together.

    I’ll never forget one Sunday morning several months ago, my 6 year old son said, “Dad, (reflective pause), you know, some day I want to go to a church where loving God and loving one another is enough!” — Out of the mouth of babes!

  • Scot, I don’t think this is really a sign of general things. But I do think there are a lot of people that have a concern. I know that there were lots of private concerns expressed when I worked for SBC 10 years ago. I assume they have increased (although I am quite removed from SBC now.) But there is also a strong movement among SBC leaders that are trying to tone down any potential controversy. has had several posts in the last week about SBC and Calvinism (primarily this is the blog of the president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. Atkins has made it clear his is not Calvinist and he has theological concerns, but he is still trying to be inclusive.

  • Ted Elmore


    You and your readers might find this article informative.

    I think you have a bit of an over-reach in your post. No doubt the issue of Calvinism is an active one among many Southern Baptists, but one autonomous association’s action doesn’t speak for the SBC.

    There is and will be debate regarding Calvinism and Reformed theology. But so long as one’s theology does not negate missional living, this reaction will be the exception, not the rule.

  • Is the Acts29 church upset that they were denied membership? Don’t they realize the outcome was ordained before the foundation of the world? 😉

  • Robert A

    As a Southern Baptist minister we need to first, as others have done, point out that just as local churches are autonomous so too are local associations. If this association doesn’t want to fellowship with this church than they are, in Baptist polity, okay in keeping this separation in place.

    It is one of the ways that local associations, historically for Baptists, keep a check on member congregations that might have aberrant practices or teaching aspects of doctrine which conflict with Baptist distinctives the member churches of that association hold. There is no way for the national convention to make this determination (since there isn’t supposed to be an executive structure nationally) so it is left to the local association.

    Now it must be said this church has not lost funding or any kind of authority. It never had it to begin with. This is simply a matter of fellowship and ecclesial partnership. Just like Acts29 would not associate with a church which didn’t affirm their confessional statement (and not receive flack over it) this local association is acting justly and in keeping with historic Baptist distinctives.

    …honestly I think this is only a story because the CBF driven publication is making it one and because it is about a Southern Baptist issue. Just sayin’…

  • Brad

    I know it is oversimplifying the full meaning, but I almost laughed out loud when I read “… or Doctrines of Grace – as one of the biggest challenges facing the nation’s second largest faith group.” … or maybe I was crying.

  • Brad

    More an oddity than anything else Scot. The Baptist Faith and Message, which is as close to a denominational confession that the SBC has, is highly Calvinistic.

    There is a growing presence of pastors within the SBC who are Reformed, but this is hardly ever explicit. David Platt does not teach TULIP at his church and neither does Matt Chandler, but they do stress the bigness and sovereignty of God.

    This is interesting though, because the Association is in KY which is where SBTS is. You would think the proximity would be more impacting of SBTS on some of those state associations. Bottom line though, is that this is a failure on the part of the association as what has defined SBC is not if you are Reformed, but a centrality on being a people of the Book and a focus on missions.

  • discokvn

    maybe i’m clueless, but (as a calvinist married to an arminian) i’m trying to see why this MUST divide us…

    yes we come at portions of scripture differently, but at the end of the day shouldn’t our practical theology look very similar?

  • Robin

    Evidently I have to pipe up everytime Calvinism is brought up here…My best friend in college actually discipled Jamus (the pastor in the church in question) and the maid of honor in my wedding was one of the founding members of this church.

    This church has calvinistic leanings, but in no way should it be considered an exclusively calvinistic church. It isn’t even the most calvinistic SBC church in Owensboro (A city of 50,000 and home of my lovely wife).

    This is MAINLY just one more example of widespread anti-calvinist feelings within the SBC. Sure, Mohler and a handful of other influential leaders might be calvinists, but a sizeable portion of nationally recognized leaders, and a majority of local pastors and regional associations in the southeast are virulently anti-calvinistic.

    Roger Olsen would feel much more at home in the average SBC church than Al Mohler.

  • Robin

    One correction…if I recall correctly the church was dying when Jamus became pastor there, and the maid of honor in our wedding was one of the first 4 or 5 families to join after he became pastor. So she wasn’t one of the founding members, just one of the first members once the church’s revitalization began.

  • Robin

    I think it is also interesting that in the SBC you can have multiple churches who are excluded from inter-church fellowship at the local/regional level, but who are nevertheless in fellowship and cooperation at the state/national level. PVCC and Heritage Baptist Church (the other calvinistic church in Owensboro) are two examples of churches who aren’t allowed to be part of their local association, but are members in good standing with the state and national conventions.

  • Johannes

    As a minister in my twenties I have found that my peers within the SBC are coming out of seminary with a militant Calvanism. Very much the influence of Mohler. It has led me as an Arminian… not a hybrid, to feel alienated in SBC and I have now moved myself over to the General Baptist.

  • Rob

    I think it’s all perspective…as has been stated above the local/regional associations take different forms and stances. But the line from the article that stood out to me the most (aside from learning that the church has a 60 page confessional statement…wow!) was the amount of seminarians that lean towards Calvinism. If that’s the case how can this not be a trend that will continue?

    That being said as much as I disagree with the TULIP crowd, I don’t see Calvinism as the big boogeyman the article seems to portray.

  • Rick

    From what I have seen, the tension with Calvinism seems to come more from Mohler supporters, rather than Acts 29 people. From what I have read and heard from key people in Acts 29, they seem open to working with those “across the aisle”.

    Am I misreading that?

  • Rick, I don’t think you are mis-reading. Act 29 on the whole is not antagonistic about calvinism. Act 29 can be antagonistic about some of the things that some SBC see as social distinctives (like drinking). But not about Calvinism. At least that is my history (as someone that is not Calvinist.).

  • Robin


    the tension in Western Kentucky (where Owensboro is) comes from traditional arminian baptists, regardless of the flavor of calvinism.

    For the most part these are the kinds of churches where everyone carries a Scofield study bible and Warren Wiersbe’s collected commentaries are the only multi-volume item on every pastor’s bookshelf. Calvinism is different and weird and enough to get you odd looks, whether you are Acts 29, Founders Ministries, etc.

  • Robin

    Adam is right, Acts 29 and their “unconventional” stances (at least as far as traditional Southern Baptists are concerned) could be a major factor.

    This church is the only Acts 29 church in a 2-hour radius. I doubt most of the delegates to this meeting were concerned (initially) with the confession of faith…they probably said “they’re affiliated with that church in Washington where the pastor wears jeans, drinks, and cusses sometimes and believes weird stuff…we better get rid of them”

  • LexCro

    Unless I’m mistaken, doesn’t Acts 29 exclude from its ranks folks who don’t at least hold to the “T”, “U”, “I”, and “P” of TULIP (thus giving the 4-Point Calvinists a pass)? This was definitely the impression I got when I attended a seminary that was VERY much in bed with Acts 29 and the wider neo-Calvinist resurgence. Is it not more than a little ironic that a church-planting movement that excludes such a large swath of the evangelical diaspora is miffed about being excluded from a Baptist association? I find this especially nonsensical in light of the fact that there is an obvious attempt among some among the Young & the Restless to mask their Calvinism until after they have been installed as pastors of SBC churches. When you sow division and duplicity, don’t be shocked about the crop you reap.

  • Dana Ames

    I think this, and what leads to RJS’ comments and questions on the book by Giberson et al, are symptoms of our culture’s and our church culture’s “addiction to certainty”, about which Scot posted a quote yesterday (and it baffles me why there have not yet been any comments on it).

    ISTM Calvinism is all about “God’s sovereignty” and it offers a pretty tight system to “prove” it. From our Enlightenment heritage, we want that proof. I think Calvinism is attractive to people who would affirm the doctrine of inerrancy, and/or the statement “God is in control”. My experience is that a lot of Southern Baptists and other non-liturgical Protestants are those kind of folks. So I’m not surprised that they are leaning toward Calvinist theology. It offers a lot of certainty.


  • TJJ

    60 page confession of faith?!? That is something of a red flag right there.

  • Bob G

    The excerpt from the doctrinal statement reflects such an intensely deterministic form of hyper-calvinism, that I’d have nothing to do with that church. The influence of hyper calvinism has increased in many independent churches, to the detriment of the Gospel. I thank God that there are organizations like the one mentioned in this article that are willing to differentiate and take such a stance.

  • Hey Scot. Thanks for dealing with this. I plan also to deal with the issue. This incident remains indicative of a larger issue of the Calvinistic divide. For example, here’s Mohler himself on how he views 9/10 Southern Baptists. Given the strong exclusivity of Mohler on “The Reformed” view, the real surprise is why we Southern Baptists are not fighting even more over Calvinism

    With that, I am…


  • Following Dana’s (#26) comments, I wonder if in addition to an addiction to certainty, part of the appeal is also a concomitant addiction to exclusivity.

  • Brad

    @ 19

    “Militant Calvinism”? Really? Its this kind of over the top rhetoric that causes so much divisiveness. Have been involved at SBTS for years and never seen any Reformed folks in military garb or forcing doctrine on anyone.

    Who are all this spooky militant Calvinists? They are often spoken of, but never really mentioned by name.

    BTW, isn’t the very fact that this post highlights Arminians excluding Calvinists show that it is not Reformed guys driving people out of fellowship. Might want to chill out with this boogeyman, as I think the scary Calvinist card is a bit over played at this point.

  • Steve E

    Heritage Baptist in Owensboro is not, nor has ever been,involved in part of the Association,State,or Southern Baptist Convention. I know this as I served in Owensboro at a church and for a short time taught music at Heritage Christian School. My daughter and son-in-law attend PVCC much to my dismay. And yes, I have read their lengthy doctrinal statement and find I cannot agree with several of the sections on limited atonement. For the record, I’m from Owensboro and I do not own a Scofield bible but I do enjoy Wiersbe’s commentaries. I find the haughtiness of that statement alone enough to turn me away from the Acts 29 crowd (not to mention the achohol)!

  • Steve E

    BTW, I am not Arminian because I disagree with limited atonement. I am Baptist!

  • JohnM

    I suppose I no longer have a dog in this fight myself, but I suspect we’re going to see more confrontation over the subject within the SBC. Explicit Calvinism does go against the grain of majority outlook, but Calvinist in the SBC are clearly very much in earnest and are clearly a growing segment. I think the SBC may be approaching the point where “everbody knows one or knows somebody who knows one”, and everybody has a strong opinion.

  • Aaron

    Brad @ 31 technically Johnnes did name one. 🙂

  • Some sincere questions…

    Is it possible to hold to the five points without adopting the reformed ecclesiology?

    Is it possible to enjoy love and believe in the 5 points without making them my foundation. It seems like there is so much pressure to chain outside issues to the 5 points. Can I not take what I see clearly in scripture and build on it like I am with N.T Wright, Mcknight, Bell ETC… Or do I have to adopt a position and defend it?

    Is it wrong to see the BIG God of Calvins exegesis and fall in love with his institutes (even though Calvin would probably burn me at the stake LOL)… but live them out in a much different way than most of what I am seeing in the YRR,T4G, and Gospel Coalition crowds?

    I am currently in agreement with the five points but I am not angry about it. I am not formally educated enough to act, church, talk, or even be considered a Christian by many of the snobby Calvinists/reformed leaders today. But the institutes, calvins commentaries and much of what I read from “Calvinists” has such a beautiful depth especially in regards to understanding the triune nature of God. As a pastor my faith and ministry was rescued by the depth of what I see in the God of Calvin.

    These are sincere questions. Can’t the soterian and story Gospel fit in a contextual style of justifying my propositions and beliefs or do I have to continue to build platforms and foundations in my justification only to see them fail and need to be rebuilt for the rest of my Christian walk? I can clearly see many sides of the polemic and respect them. I wonder if anyone else feels this way? or could point me in a direction (authors, websites)that would help me out here.

  • Robin

    Steve E,

    You are incorrect about Heritage Baptist Church and the SBC. They joined back around 2005-06 when several of the members there, including Pastor Ted Christman’s son, were attending SBTS in Louisville. Pastor Sam Waldron finished his dissertation at SBTS and for at least a couple of years there was a reciprocal credit agreement whereby students taking classes at Heritage’s in house seminary could have their credits transfer to SBTS. It is possible that they have ceased to be an SBC church, but for several years they most definitely were.

  • Aaron

    Peter @29 – That link you gave of the video of Mohler is so frustrating. This is exactly the attitude non-calvinist have a problem with with calvinists like him! My goodness.

  • Robin

    Steve E.,

    Here is the link from the FAQ on Heritage’s website.

    The answer to question 6 shows they are still part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

  • Steve E

    Robin, I stand corrected. However, when I was there they were not a part of the convention. Most SBC churches start the process by being accepted by the association then go to the state convention, etc. I suppose it is possible to be considered a SBC church nowadays by giving the small amount to the CP and not go through the normal process. It makes me wonder why they did not choose to start with the association first.

  • Lydia

    “27.60 page confession of faith?!? That is something of a red flag right there”

    Yes, It is a huge red flag and people need to read it before they make any distintions on this issue. As one wag put it: It mentions everything from Mark Dever, Piper to Santa Claus.

    And someone above mentioned a female being one of the “founders” of the church. I seriously doubt that and was amused to see they changed that to “founding member”. If there is a female founder of an Acts 29 church, please give me a name!

    The Acts 29 church plants I am familiar with all carry the “Driscollite” in-your-face mentality. I suspect that has more to do with this decision than anything.

  • Robin


    You have no idea what Jamus (the pastor) is like and are reading all of your prejudices regarding Acts 29 into this local church. James has never been an “in your face” kind of guy.

    What he is is a 30 year old pastor who became a pastor of a church around the age of 25 that had never had any confession of faith in its history. He and his leaders put together one that is flawed, but at least it is honest.

    My friend’s name is Laura Mattingly. Her and her husband were one of the first families to join the church after Jamus became the pastor there. My wife also lived with Jamus’ wife for a while.

  • Brad

    @Baker #36. It is possible to be Calvinistic and still hold to Love and Jesus and the good stuff. You do not have to be a militant Calvinist. Calvinism is so much bigger than TULIP. The five points are limited to an explanation of the process of salvation, they do not teach the totality of Calvinism. Too often, the Neo-Calvinists and those who oppose it focus on those things alone. Those five points come from the Canons of Dordt, which served a very specific function. If you would like the broader picture of Calvinism, take a look at the Westminster or Heidelberg Catechisms. Study John Knox or Abraham Kuyper.

  • nathan

    It’s not surprising that some of this runs afoul of other baptists.

    Since there isn’t, generally, a covenantal framework for theology and it’s all about soteriological calvinism (note I do not say “reformed”), I would suspect that this runs counter to the intuitions the average baptist has that rise out of historic baptist distinctives about personal soul freedom and a general suspicion of language that ends up being autocratic and, on the surface, seems to diminish the availability of salvation to all individuals. (These notions of election end up offending the highly personalized character of North American religious life)

    Of course, that sovereignty language works when it’s turned outward and used to rhetorically position your theological opinions over and against others with which you disagree. Hammering on God’s sovereignty is too often a move to lay the foundation for what works out in reality as the assertion of one’s own sovereignty in the sphere of religious preferences and personal persuasions.

  • Brad you said…”Those five points come from the Canons of Dordt, which served a very specific function. If you would like the broader picture of Calvinism, take a look at the Westminster or Heidelberg Catechisms. Study John Knox or Abraham Kuyper.”

    Thanks for your response. I appreciate Knox, Kuyper. I appreciate the Westminster and the Heidelberg Catechisms they are apart of my sermon prep. I understand Dordt and it’s role in regards to examining the 5 points of Jacobus Arminius followers in a foundational and systematic way.

    It seems that what these men taught should be brought into our context and built upon. I fear that most who follow these teachings almost Idolize them rather than use them. Much of what I hear from those who follow many of these people and their teachings religiously have created a moralistic, separatist, elitist culture within the walls of their churches.

    Why do I not see so many Calvinists going to sinners with head knowledge and so little heart knowledge? Is this perhaps a reformed thing? Are there any laid back Calvinists teaching today who are a little more like Eugene Peterson than Jack Hiles?

  • I said “Why do I not see so many Calvinists going to sinners with head knowledge and so little heart knowledge?”


    Why do I see so many Calvinists going to sinners with head knowledge and so little heart knowledge?

  • I think that the decision of the committee is magnificent. It is about time churches deny Calvinism a formal standing and representation.

  • Richard Coords

    I wonder if this is a Calvinist “Reformation” (i.e. takeover) in terms of simply testing the waters, so to speak? Obviously Calvinists are very aggressive and determined (young, restless and reformed), and I wonder if there is the same level of “take-over” mentality from the opposite spectrum in terms of Arminians infiltrating Calvinist strong-holds by asking for membership in Calvinist associations. Does anyone know of an example?