Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Calvinism's rightful place in the Southern Baptist Convention

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., current
president of SBST
I can preach anywhere all day about my Calvinistic convictions on predestination, grace, freewill, atonement and everything -- but not in my very home church. I hate to admit it, but my mouth zips when my church superiors are around.

Two years ago when I was yet new to Calvinism (or a "cage-stage Calvinist", as they call it), the fire for reformation burned in heart. The doctrines of grace so astounded me that I couldn't help voicing out to everybody in our church my new-found belief. I have desired to see our church reformed as that of C.H. Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle. However, it wasn't until last year when one of my superiors confronted me of my somewhat radical view on the sovereignty of God in salvation that I began to lie low in my endeavor. I was told that my views are going somewhat beyond the doctrinal norms of our denomination (i.e. Southern Baptist) and that my insistence to impose those strange doctrines to my church-mates might tear the church apart. Of course, I  tried to prove my case from Scripture, but all to no avail. I was advised to keep silent. Avoiding further arguments and possible heated discussions (being aware that I'm under their divinely appointed leadership), I humbly complied.

Now the rejection of my superiors to the doctrines of grace didn't really surprise me. I expected that, though I admit to have had a sense of hope that perhaps they would listen to what the Bible says instead of making prejudices since I knew very well how deeply they want their faith to be rooted in Scripture. It seems that they think embracing Calvinism might destroy our identity as Southern Baptists, so they opted to side with what they assume as the doctrinal position of the SBC.

For sure, I have a great deal of respect and love for my superiors and I am forever grateful for their being big an influence in helping to mold what I am today as a Christian. Honestly speaking though, I believe they are getting certain things wrong about Calvinism and the SBC's stance over its doctrines, and those misconceptions, I believe, should be corrected with all due respect to them.

Calvinism, correctly understood, is not heresy. It is a theological system which takes its origin directly from the Word of God. Calvinism is a simple affirmation that God is absolutely sovereign and that Salvation is His work from first to last (Jon. 2:9; Rom. 8:29-39; Php. 1:6). According to our very own Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., current president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBST) and the most prominent Calvinist among Southern Baptists today:
The central tenet of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God. This is the starting point and the highest principle of Reformed theology. Calvinism is God-centered and draws its understanding of God directly from His self-revelation in Scripture. The God revealed in the Bible is the sovereign Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer. His omnipotence, omniscience, and governance over all things set this God of the Bible apart from all false gods.
The God of the Bible is the holy, ruling, limitless, acting, all-powerful God who makes nations to rise and to fall, who accomplishes His purposes, and who redeems His people....
...We would like to think that we are smart enough, spiritually sensitive enough, and responsive enough to chose to confess Christ without the prior work of God in our hearts. Unfortunately for our pride, this is not at all what the Bible reveals. God chooses us before we choose Him. As Southern Seminary president E. Y. Mullins stated, “God’s choice of a person is prior to that person’s choice of God, since God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge and will not make the success of the divine kingdom dependent on the contingent choices of people.
Calvinism is nothing more and nothing less than the simple assertion that salvation is all of grace, from the beginning to the end. God saves sinners. Jesus Christ died for sinners. As Scripture promises, all those who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved... (Source)
Al Mohler, president of SBST himself, and me, are both Calvinists. I myself couldn't believe that at first. And hey, I've got news for my Southern Baptist brethren who oppress Calvinists in the SBC: Dr. Mohler and me are not the only breathing Calvinists under the SBC.

According to a survey conducted by the SBC’s statistical arm, Lifeway Research: around 10% of rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors today would consider themselves to be full-pointer Calvinists, while a portion (29%) of recent seminary graduates would identify themselves the same way (see full article here). Research also shows that there is resurgence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists lately. We may be a minority, yes, but we are many nonetheless, and numbers are rising!

Now one might wonder how and when Calvinism managed to creep into the SBC. Well, the truth is that Calvinism didn't just pop out of nowhere within the denomination. History tells us that Calvinism is in fact the theological tradition into which the SBC was born! According once again to Dr. Mohler: 
Even the opponents of Calvinism must admit, if historically informed, that Calvinism is the theological tradition into which the Baptist movement was born. The same is true of the Southern Baptist Convention. The most influential Baptist churches, leaders, confessions of faith, and theologians of the founding era were Calvinistic.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was born of this Calvinistic tradition, as reflected in its Abstract of Principles. James P. Boyce, in calling for the Seminary’s founding, charged it to oppose all heresies, including Arminianism.
It was not until well into the twentieth century that any knowledgeable person could claim that Southern Baptists were anything but Calvinists...
...Calvinism was the mainstream tradition in the Southern Baptist Convention until the turn of the century...

...As Southern Baptists seek to recover our theological inheritance and the essence of biblical Christianity, I believe we will see a return to a more Calvinistic understanding of the gospel and a recognition of the absolute sovereignty of God... (Source)
In addition, J.L Dagg, J.P Boyce, Basil Manly, and B.H Carol, key figures in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, all professed and taught Calvinism. Calvinists who are often disdained by their non-Calvinist brothers in many Southern Baptist churches are in fact those whom history tells us to be the true-blooded Southern Baptists, and it's indeed a fascinating truth to know.

My point here is that Calvinists are not harmful monsters that should be silenced or driven away from Baptist churches as many treat them. Such mindset can be considered as a theological racism and definitely against the will of God (see Rom. 14:13). Moreover, it is also my concern that Southern Baptists recognize their heritage and learn how to embrace their brothers in Christ regardless of their theological preferences.

I will also take this opportunity to clarify one important thing about Calvinism. There's absolutely NO truth in that tittle-tattle that Calvinism is a system that kills evangelism and that Calvinists don't evangelize. John Calvin, from whom Calvinism was named, was himself a painstaking soul-winner. Baptist pastor and theologian C.H Spurgeon, famously known as the "Prince of Preachers," was very vocal of his Calvinism and he's one of the greatest evangelist of all time. The “Father of Modern Missions” William Carey was also a strong proponent of the doctrines of grace. I could go on listing countless names of people who firmly believe that Salvation is of the Lord alone from first to last (i.e. Calvinists) and are doing very well in their endeavor to win souls for Christ. Such conspicuous people provide a clear testimony that Calvinism, if properly understood, is not really a hindrance to evangelistic efforts, but actually a motivation for it (Mat. 28:18-29).

I've got plenty of things to say about the glorious doctrines of grace, but I won't set it out all here since it is not my main purpose in this paper to present a case for Calvinism but rather to reinstate Calvinism in its rightful place in the Southern Baptist Convention. Sure it may be a futile attempt, but I do trust in the power of God in whom nothing is impossible. In the end, just as Dr. Mohler said elsewhere, what is of most importance is not whether John Calvin is your personal theologian, but whether Jesus Christ is your personal Savior. "In non-essentials liberty; in essentials unity; in everything love." 



  1. Jeph,

    Granting that Southern Baptists have always been Calvinists as you insist they are, how is that a good reason for other non-Calvinist Southern Baptists to embrace Calvinism?

    ~Mike (Southern Baptist deacon in the Phils)

  2. Mike, first I wanna thank you for stopping through my blog. May I know which church are you serving at its whereabouts? I'm interested to know.

    Anyway, with regards to your question, I think you're missing the whole point. I'm not saying that Southern Baptists should be compelled to embrace Calvinism just because it's just the way how Southern Baptists originally were. It is for certain that the SBC's roots is overwhelmingly Calvinistic, but this does not prove anything concerning Calvinism. The best reason why one should adhere to the doctrines of grace espoused by Calvinism is that these are actually what the Bible teaches.

    I hope this satisfies your question.

    Good day and God bless!

  3. My answer to Mike's question is different. If it is true that "Southern Baptists have always been Calvinists" then the reason why non-Calvinist Southern Baptists should embrace Calvinism is because you are claiming to be something (Southern Baptist) that you are not unless you embrace it. I would contend that if you wish to use the name you should embrace the doctrine.

    Think it through for a moment. Suppose you wish to use the name "Christian" and yet do not believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of all who believe do you really have the right to use the name? Granted the best reason is because Calvinism is what the Bible teaches but, if historically the name was applied to those who used to be called Particular Baptists who settled in the southern States, it is nonetheless valid to use the argument from history.

    Historically the Church used to be called the holy Catholic (or universal) Church. When it was reformed in the 17th Century the name was reclaimed and the word "Roman Catholic" applied to those who had departed from the universally held Christian faith.

  4. Hi Kaitiaki and Jeph, nice to meet you two. Let me respond to each of your assertions.

    As to Jeph's answer, I would say that you have yet to prove that Calvinism is a doctrine which takes its origin from faithful exegesis of Scriptural passages. The Bible is clear that we have free will (Deu. 30:19), that God wills all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), that Christ died for all and he's savior of all men especially of those who believe (John 1:29, 1 Tim. 4:19), and that the Holy Spirit can be resisted (Mat. 23:27, Acts 7:51). The initial problem you have to face is how would you reconcile these biblical testimonies to your man-made doctrines. I can't really imagine how can you possibly make through that challenge without distorting the plain reading of any of those passages I've mentioned.

    Kaitiaki, have you forgotten the reformation adage that the church is reformed AND STILL REFORMING? The decline of Calvinism's prominence over the years proves that. The SBC now adopts a more non-Calvinistic theological principles because God is reforming it, not for the worse (i.e. Calvin-ward) but for the better (Christ-ward). God knows that Calvinism is an evil doctrine that should be eradicated from his churches, and that eradication will be total in God's due time.

    In Christ,

  5. PART 1
    Guess what, Mike. The Bible tells us that we are born spiritually dead in sin that we wouldn't have savingly believed the Gospel had not God first quickened us from that miserable state.

    Read Paul's words: "The NATURAL PERSON does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and HE IS NOT ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THEM because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14)

    And again: "For the mind that is SET ON THE FLESH is hostile to God, for it DOES NOT SUBMIT to God’s law; INDEED, IT CANNOT. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:6-7)

    Our faith, then, comes not from our own natural powers but from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 12:2). It is God's gift to us as a consequence of His choosing us beforehand, not the cause of it (Jn. 6:63-65; Eph. 1:3-5).

    True, there is a sense that God desires the salvation of all men (i.e. according to His preceptive will), but not in another sense in light of God's omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability (i.e. according to His decretive will). John Piper's "Are There Two Wills In God?" is a useful article that provides a biblical solution for the seeming tension between God's sincere desire for the Salvation of all and His sovereign predestination by drawing the line between the divine preceptive and decretive will.

  6. PART 2
    Mark, John 1:29 doesn't tell us that Christ died TO ATONE for the sins of all men that had ever lived without distinction. It says that Christ is the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world. FYI, the word "world" in the passage (Greek: kosmos) does not always mean "all men w/out distinction." In fact, the basic meaning of the word in its original language simply denotes "an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order, government" and "any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort" (Thayer's lexicon).

    In New Testament, the word "kosmos" is used in many different ways:

    * The Entire Universe - John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5
    * The Physical Earth - John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25
    * The World System - John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Gal. 4:1
    * All humanity minus believers - John 1:10; 7:7; 15:18
    * A Big Group but less than all people everywhere - Luk. 2:1; John 12:19
    * The Elect Only - John 3:17
    * The Non-Elect Only - John 17:9
    * All men without exception - Mat. 16:15
    * Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) - John 4:42
    * Gentiles only - Rom. 11:15
    * Believers only - John 1:29

    The word "world" in Jn. 1:29 could not refer to every individuals that had ever lived on earth because not all are saved (forgiven) by the blood of Christ. We all know that it is those who believe that are forgiven (Jn. 3:18). The word "world" in John 1:29, therefore, refers exclusively to the saved - namely, the world of believers and the same is also true with John 3:16.

  7. Mark, I want you to know that I also agree with what you've said that the Holy Spirit can be resisted according to Acts 7:51. However, the context of the said passage shows that the Spirit's influence being resisted there is only external as seen in verses 52-53 where the apostle compared the Jews of their time to their ancestors who killed God's messengers who spoke beforehand concerning Christ. Yes, external means (i.e. law, gospel, scripture, etc) through which God calls sinners to repentance and faith can be resisted, and sinners will always resist them unless they are first regenerated (Rom. 8:7-8; Eze. 36:26-27).

    The "irresistible" thing that Calvinists refer to when they speak of the doctrine of "Irresistible Grace" is God's internal working upon the sinners which inevitably leads to a FREE positive response to the Gospel. It is irresistible not in the sense that God draws a sinner unto Himself against his will, but that He removes the sinner's unwillingness by replacing his stony heart with a heart of flesh (Eze. 37:26-27).

    Moreover, in the Bible we find two kinds of calling. One is external (Mat. 22:14), another internal (Ac. 16:14). The former alone will not bring a sinner unto salvation. It is nothing more than speaking to a rotten corpse which doesn't move or respond (1 Cor. 2:14). The latter, on the other hand, going hand in hand with the former, is effectual because it involves a monergistic spiritual regeneration through which the sinner's spiritual senses are activated so that he may understand and savingly believe the gospel of Christ (Rom. 8:30).

    It is also because of God's irresistible grace that true believers NEVER fall away from the faith (Jn. 10:27-28; Php. 1:6). If God's grace weren't irresistible, then we couldn't be eternally secure of our Salvation since an open door for the possibility of falling away from the faith remains open due to our weakness as sinners. So if you believe in the famous doctrine of "Once saved, always safe" doctrine (and I assume you do), then you unwittingly believe in God's irresistible grace.

    I hope these responses would again satisfy you.



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