Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has re-issued a statement regarding the most recent tension created by the strained relationship that obviously exists between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC. Dr. Patterson is in fact encouraged by the opportunity for dialogue; he writes, “the dialogue is helping to strengthen our theological understanding and shared commitment to reach the 7 billion people on the face of the globe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Many in the SBC certainly pray that Dr. Patterson is correct in his optimism. He goes on to point out some of the significant differences and similarities that Baptists have shared with the Reformers of old. His references are fair and ought to be equally acceptable to those on both sides of this issue. Dr. Patterson’s comments can be seen in the Baptist Press article by CLICKING HERE.
Southern Baptists are indeed blessed because of the tireless efforts Dr. Patterson has invested and continues to invest in SBC life.
Dr. Patterson goes on to reference some common arguments that each needs to end in reference to criticisms of “the other side.” He correctly notes the non-Calvinists need to drop this charge that Calvinists are not evangelistic. He is correct. While it is true, Calvinism itself taken in its full theological implications, pictures a God who effectually calls people to conversion, but even that does not preclude the Calvinist’s participation in the evangelistic process. Most believe they preach the gospel and God saves who He wills to save; non’s basically believe the same thing in that those who repent and believe by faith are THEN born again. The primary difference in the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist position is the relationship of regeneration as it relates to God’s effectual calling one to conversion. Either way, neither knows WHO is going to be saved so we all preach the gospel and leave the results up to God.
There is another statement that needs to be made with respect to this evangelism issue; the non-Calvinists are crying that Calvinists are not evangelistic; well the statistics paint another important picture. If the majority of churches in the SBC are non-Calvinist then there are a lot of non-Calvinist churches that are not being evangelistic themselves and it does not matter if it is a theological issue or another kind of issue; a lack of evangelism is problematic no matter what the reason! It is simply not prudent to be critical of Calvinists who are preaching evangelistically and seeing people saved while their theology is criticized by those who are evangelistic in their theology but not evangelist in their practice. This problem needs to change. We all need to be Great Commission Baptists.
Dr. Patterson’s reference to the General and Particular Baptists in Europe is an equally interesting analogy. Basically he acknowledges that the General Baptists become so general they had everyone going to heaven and the Particular Baptists got so particular, no one was qualified to belong; so on both accounts, the church simply collapsed. His conclusion was they both needed each other. He goes on to mention the integrity issue in bringing out theological differences an individual knowingly has before going on a church or school’s payroll. His statement is absolutely true: “Anything less than full disclosure to the church or to an institution by which I shall be employed is a failure of integrity. This lack of integrity and full disclosure is that which disrupts churches and institutions and causes trouble that has the tendency to spill over into every aspect of denominational life.” He is undeniably correct.
There is one area Dr. Patterson did not address. Equally offensive to the charge that the Calvinists are not evangelistic is the charge that the non-Calvinists are Semi-Pelagian. This charge has been thrown out by more than a few folks and then when Roger Olson, an odd bed-fellow for the Calvinists said the Traditional Statement on Salvation had some semi-Pelagian similarities, the Calvinists all of a sudden became instant Olson fans. The truth is, Arminians and Calvinists are on the same page where Total Depravity and Inability are concerned and in their minds, anything outside that postulate is by necessity, Pelagian; that simply is not true and everyone is really aware of that fact.
The Pelagian position posits man’s innate ability in and of himself to approach God and earn a right standing before Him. God’s grace then follows. There is absolutely nothing in the Baptist platform, Calvinist, Arminian or not, that even remotely comes close to resembling this heresy. So to continue to promote such a statement is simply ignorantly or intentionally misleading.
Significant Changes in the SBC Landscape
While Dr. Patterson’s remarks are certainly historically true given the path Calvinists and non-Calvinists have been on in the past, things have changed significantly in recent years with respect to the Calvinist debate. The issue is no longer an issue of co-existence and co-operation. The issue is now much different today than it has been in the last 75 years or longer. Today there is a Calvinist agenda that has sought to make its presence known in every aspect of denominational life that has any significant impact at all. This level of Calvinist influence is now well established in many of the Baptist colleges; it is present in the seminaries especially Southern and Southeastern and according to Lifeway statistics, Golden Gate. There is now a pronounced Calvinist presence ensconced in NAMB’s leadership that has been cause for concern as some continue to point to its recent focus on church planting as a move to utilize NAMB funds to plant reformed churches. There is a definite move in Lifeway’s literature to promote the reformed platform and reformed writers and reformed books in the information being sent out to churches on a regular basis. Now, each issue separated is not really cause for concern by itself nor is it anything all that new. What has changed is the realization that all of these things taken in concert with one another is major cause for concern.
The Calvinist influence does not stop with the entities of the SBC. Committee appointments have always provided important elements of influence in the SBC. The President’s Committee on Committee appointments has continuously been crucial and it is well known that those appointees are instrumental in selecting trustee appointments to serve 3 year terms at the various institutions and convention entities. There is another committee that is vitally important and that is the Committee on Resolutions, which is also appointed by the convention’s President in conference with the convention’s 2 Vice-Presidents. This committee has the responsibility of bringing resolutions submitted to it to the convention floor as well as the ability to re-write resolutions as it chooses to be presented to the convention as well. Calvinist and non-Calvinist sympathetic individuals serving on this committee have the ability to word and reword resolutions to their own theological persuasion and it must be understood that the resolution as presented by this committee carries a lot of weight when it comes time to voting on the adoption of these resolutions. The committee carries with it a tremendous amount of responsibility in the presentation of resolutions to the convention to be adopted. Appointments to this committee are crucial.
It can even be argued, the convention hall itself is suspect to manipulation as the seating of messengers comes into play. In New Orleans for example, when the resolutions were presented there were roughly 3000 or so messengers voting. If a 1000 messengers are there representing a particular theological bias, there is a definite advantage on the floor of the convention. Now, if those individuals are seated at the front of the convention hall, things can get interesting very fast. If one-third of the messengers are seated at the front of the hall and they do not vote on an issue, those seated behind them are very likely to be reluctant to vote for a particular motion, when those seated in front of them do not vote. Then on the same note, when the first third of the voting messengers raise their ballots, those behind them are more likely to do the same. This is an underestimated realty that can most certainly favor a particular theological position if those plans are employed. This comment is not intended to infer any unethical engagement; it is simply intended to emphasize the importance of leveling the playing field and driving home the significance of everyone participating in the process to insure an equitable outcome.
The Influence of Social Media
If one adds to this the dynamic of social media today and the ability to influence a vote, one is immediately confronted with the reality of just how easy it is to increase one side’s chances for favorable outcomes on certain votes. Not only that, the ability to make a mountain out of a molehill is easier to do today than it has ever been before because of the internet and the power of blogging to create a firestorm in a matter of days. What used to take months and even years to gain momentum can be accomplished today in a matter of days and even hours. Not only can blogging move information at the speed of light, words on the computer screen can be typed by some of the brightest minds in our convention and then others can be typed by some of the least experienced. There are times when it is difficult to distinguish between the two and even then, the relevance of their respective positions may be surprising! Blogging has introduced a whole new dynamic to politics in general and the SBC is no exception to that phenomenon.
Given these dynamics and some others that are a present reality today, what is the plight of the divide that is unquestionably growing deeper by the minute? This is the question of the hour. If the discussion continues to focus on the theological divide, the Calvinist revival will continue. Let this cry for unity prevail and the Calvinist revival will continue. This is exactly what the Calvinists want. Their definition of unity is, “let’s all continue to get along” while they continue to do what they are doing. The various parties can sit down at the table and they can continue to dialogue as the convention heads to Houston in 2013. No doubt the battle cry heading into Houston will be “Unity at All Cost” and any significant move to do otherwise will be tabled to 2015 when the convention is scheduled to convene in Baltimore. 2015 is set up to be the most critical annual meeting in the history of the SBC for several reasons.
Baltimore or Bust
First, Baltimore is outside the SBC infrastructure. The Traditional Southern Baptist is highly likely to skip a trip to Baltimore. For some Southern Baptists, going north of the Mason Dixon Line almost requires a passport. A second major consideration is Baltimore’s geographical location relative to the Calvinist’s stronghold. Baltimore is in the back yard of both Southern and Southeastern Seminaries and then there is the Dever contingency in Washington DC. Factor in the convention dynamics of young reformed messengers in this area, all of whom will show up to vote as opposed to congregating in the exhibition halls, the restaurants or wherever; their influence alone has the potential to be significant. Now, there is nothing wrong with this effort. Every church has the right to send its messengers, reformed and non-reformed alike. Non-Calvinists need to understand the importance of this dynamic and plan accordingly. To fail to do so may prove to be disastrous.
It is time for the grassroots to stand up and be heard and counted. It is time for accountability and responsibility. The trustee system is a good system but today it heavily favors the Calvinist movement. This is a fact. The choice is simple. Churches and pastors can keep doing what they have been doing and the SBC will continue its transformation or reformation and in as little as a couple years, it could be radically changed forever. It is possible to put the brakes to this situation but it MUST be done NOW. Things are continuing to change even as the words of this piece are being read. The question is, who is going to control that change in the immediate future.
The Calvinists are doing a superb job; they really are. The question that needs to be answered is: “Do Southern Baptists want a Reformed SBC?” If the answer is “no” then they had better stand up, speak out, show up and vote in Houston and most certainly in Baltimore. The future of the SBC unquestionably hangs in the balance.
May God bless the future of the SBC and its current leadership for His glory and the benefit of a world that desperately needs Jesus!