|Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., current|
president of SBST
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...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.
...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)
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."