Controversy over Calvinism brewing in the SBC

Controversy over Calvinism brewing in the SBC October 20, 2011

According to a report published by the Associate Baptist Press dated October 19, “SBC leader cites Calvinism as top challenge” in the Southern Baptist Convention.  This is hardly news; the Calvinist-non-Calvinist (really Arminian) controversy has been bubbling up among the conservatives who took over the SBC for years.

However, according to this report, based on an interview Frank Page, CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, gave to the blog SBC Today on October 18, the controversy is reaching a critical point.  The flashpoint of the controversy seems to be that many newly minted graduates of SBC seminaries are flooding into SBC pulpits without fulling revealing their Calvinism and then, after becoming pastors, are attempting to impose Calvinism on the congregations.  I know this to be true as I receive such reports from SBC people all over the South.  Page is urging pastoral candidates to reveal their theologies to search committees and congregations before accepting their calls.  And he is urging SBC churches to tell pastoral candidates what teachings they will tolerate and which they will not.  The issue, then, is informed consent.

Here are some of my reactions to this brewing Baptist brouhaha:

First, I think it is ironic and a little funny (as well as sad) that the ultra-conservatives who took over the SBC and pushed out moderates are now fighting among themselves.  I’ve predicted this ever since the take over was complete.  Fundamentalists are never satisfied to be at peace–even with their own brothers and sisters.  Fundamentalist DNA is to fight over something.  If it weren’t Calvinism versus Arminianism (even if the Arminians in this controversy aren’t calling themselves that) it would be eschatology or the gifts of the Spirit (cessationism versus charismatic belief).  Oh, come to think of it…these are also controversies among fundamentalists!

A quick caveat–I do not mean to imply that ALL SBC conservatives are fundamentalists, but some are.  And they tend to be the ones who always have to be fighting over the finer points of doctrine.

Second, I wish the Baptist Arminians would quit running from the word.  Frank Page claims he’s neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian.  I heard that all the time among Baptists in the South especially.  And the only reason for it is a wrong impression of what it means to be Arminian.  As I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, one can be fully and authentically Arminian and believe in inamissable grace (so-called “eternal security”).

Third, in a denomination as large and diverse as the SBC there should be plenty of room for both Calvinists and Arminians.  Historically there has been.  But many Calvinists are arguing that the SBC is “historically Calvinist.”  Really?  If you want to go back to the beginnings of the Convention in pre-Civil War days you’d find many of the founders were Calvinists who owned slaves!  So if the SBC founders should be followed in their Calvinism, why not in their racism?  In fact, the Baptist Faith & Message is worded intentionally to allow for both soteriologies.  And probably the majority of SBC leaders throughout the last century have been so-called “Calminians”–a position I think is inconsistent but at least not full blown Calvinism.

Finally, the real issue should be full disclosure by pastoral candidates and congregations seeking pastors.  Knowing how controversial it is, Calvinist pastoral candidates should be completely “up front” about their Calvinism with churches interviewing them.  And churches seeking a pastor should lay all their cards on the table, so to speak, and tell pastoral candidates what theologies they cannot tolerate.

I, for one, have no problem with Calvinist Baptist churches and Calvinist pastors in Baptist churches.  There have always been some.  The only time it becomes a problem is when Calvinists or Arminians sneak into pulpits hiding their theologies and then “come out of the closet” with them, surprising the congregation by attempting to enforce their distinctive view of God’s sovereignty on an unsuspecting and unprepared congregation.  This is happening a lot these days.  For the most part it is Calvinists doing it.  I have heard no reports of Arminians sneaking into pulpits hiding their Arminianism and then attempting to enforce it on a largely Calvinist (or “Calminian”) congregation.  So far as I know this never happens.

Within denominations that lack a clear confessional stance on God’s sovereignty in salvation, there should be tolerance and mutual respect combined with complete transparency.  This would solve most, if not all, of the controversies over this matter.


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