There are a couple of the reasons I believe Calvinism is growing in the SBC today. One is systematic and the other is symptomatic. Let me explain.
First of all, we have a systematic problem where theology is concerned. Theology is different from all other academic disciplines. History for example is a discipline where the accurate presentation of dates and facts is vital and where commentary on how and why particular events occur and how they relate to the risks of them being repeated. Medicine is a discipline that presents the human body and its empirical response to antidotes to maladies that affect both the quality and quality of life. The object of these disciples is usually well defined and easily maintained. Theology is not so easily defined.
When one begins to study the Scripture serious problems can arise. Because the Bible was written with the expressed purpose of revealing God to man, problems quickly develop when theology begins. The Bible is a collection of writings that reveals who God is and declares what His promises are. When God is the object of one’s study the Bible is in its element so to speak and it has great power. However, when one makes the Bible itself the object of his study, it is no longer in its element and its purpose is supplanted and that opens the door to potential problems.
This was the basic problem with the liberal movement that had taken control of the seminaries in the 70’s. For centuries historical criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, tradition criticism, canonical criticism and a host of other sources of critical analysis were employed to evaluate the Scriptures themselves. The object of study was the Scripture itself and not the God the Scriptures seek to portray and this created a host of problems. As issues were identified related to the writing and various textual nuances noted, conclusions made their way into the theological tenets that began challenging the Scripture’s portrayal of God Himself.
The same problem exists when the focus of one’s study shifts from textual criticism to theological criticism. For once again, when the focus of one’s study is the theological implications presented in the text as opposed to discovering the truths presented by the text, there is the continued potential for problems. While it can be argued that the two are one and the same, that is not necessarily the case. Theology is a philosophical approach to the truths presented by the Scriptures. While it is easier to see the problems that can arise with making textual criticism the object of one’s study, it is not as easy to see the potential problems that can arise when one makes theology the object of his study. Theology is not the objective of the Bible. Understanding theology is one thing; it may help in understanding the Bible but that does not mean that theology necessarily helps with understanding God, which is the sole purpose of the Scriptures. There is a difference.
Unfortunately, academia presents its own challenges and problems where understanding the Scripture is concerned. Once again, while the Scriptures are absolutely vital, the focus moves from what the Scriptures themselves say to a discipline of relating what others say about the Scriptures. Theology is really a study of what men say about the Scriptures as opposed to a study of what the Scriptures themselves actually say. While it is true that there is no need to “try to reinvent the wheel” where theological discussion is concerned, there is also the difficult danger of knowing what theological discussions are beneficial and relevant as opposed to those that are ever so slightly off, which combined with others can lead theologies to illogical and incorrect conclusions.
This revival of Calvinism in the SBC is systematic in that Calvinism itself is a product of an academic process that fails to keep the purpose of the Scriptures primary which is in and of itself problematic. Academia by necessity takes the text itself out of its own context and makes the message the object of study as opposed to making God Himself the object of its study.
This revival of Calvinism is also Symptomatic in that people are responding to Calvinism today not because of what it postulates but because of what Calvinism seeks to correct. Calvinism makes God solely responsible for salvation as opposed to systems that make man at least partially responsible for his own salvation. Calvinism centers itself on the sovereignty of God as opposed to those systems that seem to make man sovereign over his own decisions and where free-will seems to trumps God’s will. It is as if there are two diametrically opposing theologies and nothing in between. One is trumped as having all the answers as compared to the other which causes all the problems; after all, God is the One with all the answers and man is the one that cases all the problems. Therefore, Calvinism must be the correct answer.
What is increasingly interesting is the fact that this revival of Calvinism in the SBC is centered on those who understand the real implications of the issues the least and are looking for answers to questions they don’t understand the most. Those who are leading this revival understand the importance of forming a mindset as opposed to the difficult task of transforming one. It is easier to shape a tender mind than it is to reshape a hardened one. This revival of Calvinism in the SBC is highly symptomatic because this theology is being presented by a highly educated group to a highly impressionable group and its popularity is being boosted by a status quo that has obvious problems that men have created and only God can correct.
Unfortunately, Calvinism is not the answer so many sincerely want it to be.