Calvinists, Traditionalists, and Everything in Between: What does it mean to say Southern Baptists Agree on the BF&M? By Dr. Everett Berry

I began this morning with a recommendation to read an article written by Dr. Everett Berry, currently Associate Professor of Theology at Criswell College, in Dallas, TX and the editor for the Criswell Theological Review. He is writing a series of 5 articles titled “Calvinists, Traditionalists, and Everything in Between: What does it mean to say Southern Baptists Agree on the BF&M?” His first was posted July 3. His article can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

He begins his article with the following statement: It has now been three weeks since the annual Southern Baptist Convention met in Houston, TX. One objective that received much attention was offering a potential strategy that could unite Calvinistic Southern Baptists (SB’s) and Non-Calvinistic SB’s so they could continue in cooperation for the furtherance of the gospel and the mission of the church.

He acknowledged the Traditional Statement on Salvation released last year just prior to the SBC meeting in New Orleans and then noted Frank Page’s Committee statement released just prior to the SBC meeting in Houston in June of this year, entitled “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension” (T5). Berry says, “This document proved to be helpful in clarifying some of the rough spots of the discussion, thereby showing how both groups in the convention can honestly maintain their mutual identity as SB’s. And any work that can dissolve division and promote true unity is to be commended.”

Berry then references the section on “Trust” and then points to the section with the sub-heading “Moving Forward” and makes a very interesting comment. He writes,“We should call upon all Southern Baptists to promote the unity we share within The Baptist Faith and Message and, while recognizing that most Southern Baptists will believe and teach more than what that confession contains, we must never believe or teach less.”

Berry writes,

In reading these segments, I think there is something that deserves attention. I understand what the committee is trying to emphasize, namely that the Baptist Faith & Message (BFM) is our mutual point of reference from which all SB’s can start theologically. But I do have a concern because I have been around the bend enough times to know the difference between the ideal and the real. To be more specific, I know that when SB’s read the BFM, there are a host of hermeneutical dynamics at work in the minds of various readers to the extent that not everyone means the same thing when they say that the BFM is their doctrinal ground zero.

The reason for this dilemma is that on the one hand, we want to say that the BFM makes doctrinal claims that are theologically inclusive enough for both SB Calvinists and Traditionalists to embrace. Yet on the other hand, these two groups will interpret the viability of the BFM’s claims in light of their underlying theological commitments which again are vastly different. And this is fine with me as long as everyone knows it’s happening that way. But I’m not overly optimistic at the moment that most do.

Berry’s initial comments here brings up a very good point that strikes at the heart of trust and cooperation where Southern Baptists are concerned today. The solution is unfortunately not in everyone “affirming the BF&M2000” because of its intentional inclusion of both traditional non-calvinist and Calvinistic theological positions. It is fine to have such an inclusionary document and it is even better to have a cooperative spirit in the two camps. It is correct in pointing out that a cooperative spirit has been the case for much of the convention’s existence. One must understand that changes in the convention entities has changed the dynamics of the differences in theological perspectives that have also existed for much of the convention’s history.

Berry accurately points out that what is happening is each camp is reading the BF&M as they see it, almost to the exclusion of how the other camp sees it. This is the problem today that has not existed in the past at least to the extent it exists today. Each camp is firmly set in both the affirmation of their particular theological bend and equally firm in their denial of the other camp’s position. To be fair, since the theological differences are significant and deal primarily with how a lost person comes to Christ and is “born again” I believe these differences are significant and each side’s convictional position ought to be a point of concern where their church and denominational influence lies. This is where the trust and cooperation are creating the tension that is being felt in the SBC and especially in the denomination’s entities.
The entities are the product of CP giving and there is a sense of entitlement from the traditionalist camp that represents the majority group that is seen as giving the lion’s share of the monies to keep the entities viable and the Calvinist camp that is using every CP dollar they can get their hands on to plant Reformed churches and promote Reformed literature and use every avenue available to indoctrinate the young impressionable minds in the Reformed way. This is the problem and it is a very real problem. No one has publically addressed this dynamic and until someone does, trust and cooperation are not going to be possible.

Just look at the Reformed organizations that have sprung up over the last decade. The Founders Ministry has of course been around perhaps the longest and at least helped move this revival of Reformed Theology in the SBC in its current direction. Several organizations exist today in addition to the FM. There is the Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel and the Acts 29 movement and there are a host of other convictionally Reformed groups popping up everywhere. Each is decidedly Reformed to the exclusion of the non-Reformed position. Now, that is fine and not problematic in and of itself. There is a decided convictional theological divide and these groups are diligently promoting their convictional position. If they did not do so, shame on them!

The problem is this. The Calvinists want their cake and they want to eat it too. They want to do what they want to do, the way they want to do it and they want CP funds to pay for it and they are getting what they want, for the most part. Now, there is the perceived rub that this group is a lot like the younger group in the local church that contributes the least and wants to spend the most at the exclusion of the older crowd. I am not saying that this is necessarily the case, I am simply saying it is a perception. I suspect that it is also an accurate one, personally.

Given the current climate of this Calvinist revival in the SBC and the level of influence that has been methodically directed toward the entities of the SBC, I frankly do not see any possibility of trust and cooperation where the future direction of the Southern Baptist Convention is concerned. I do not believe it is even remotely possible. I have already said that I believe the deliberate effort of those whose intent is to bring the SBC to a decidedly Reformed Theological position has gone too far to be turned back and as that becomes more evident, it is going to cause even more problems than are being seen today.

I do not believe there is an amicable solution to the current divide that exists today, given the dynamics that form the boundaries that frame the tension that is only going to get worse in the months ahead as the issue and revival of Calvinism continues to exert its influence in the entities of the SBC, setting the course for the future of the convention. I pray that I am wrong but I do not believe that to be the case. I look forward to reading Dr. Berry’s other 4 articles as he shares his perspective on this very critical issue facing the Southern Baptist Convention.


About sbcissues

Interested in bringing the issues facing The Southern Baptist Convention to light.
This entry was posted in SBC and Calvinism, SBC Issues, Southern Baptist Convention, Transformed Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Calvinists, Traditionalists, and Everything in Between: What does it mean to say Southern Baptists Agree on the BF&M? By Dr. Everett Berry

  1. Simply said, there are two large groups claiming the streets of the SBC and both claim to hold these truths, BFM, to be the evidences of who we are. The problem is, someone has ‘to leave Dodge’ if there will ever be peace there again because the lines have been drawn in the sand. The Calvinists and Biblicists who are standing ‘nose to nose’ are not going to budge one way or the other, although both are desiring peace. As it stands right now, the IMB, NAMB and all of our agencies are suffering and the bleeding is only going to get worse. Personally, I know of two Pastors who, in their words, are no longer going to be involved. One is the Pastor of an average-sized SBC congregation and the other is a much larger situation. If I know of just two, how many more are out there who are just tired. Folks, I am just tired…..just tired. BW

  2. james jordan says:

    Calvinists and non-Calvinists can “cooperate in evangelism” as everyone always claims. The problem, of course, is that when Calvinists ‘evangelize’ they create more Calvinists. Which just passes the problem of dealing with this on to the next generation.

    • sbcissues says:

      Cute; maybe a little over the top but cute.

      • james jordan says:

        Its like if you had Mary worshipers in your denomination, and in the interest in unity, you decide to not deal with the problem, “Let’s just cooperate in evangelism.” Well, you just end up with more Mary worshipers. At some point, something’s got to be done. You can keep “cooperating” and let them multiply like tribbles. Or you can kick them out. If you keep “cooperating” eventually they’re going to outrun you. That’s what the SBC is seeing with Calvinism right now.

  3. Bob, honest question. Bob W above knows of several pastors who are disengaging. James J implies kicking the Calvinists out. And you see no solution.

    So, are you getting to the place where you would lead your church out of the SBC? If so, where would you go? Independent (lower case i)?


    • Les, here is what I am seeing from my little corner of the world. I believe Pastors are disengaging themselves from SBC politics, at least this is what I am hearing. Some are giving up on the Association, at least the larger churches are. I am not one to prophesy here, but I believe that the Association will live on. The structure will change because the paid Director cannot continue in the economic climate that we are presently experiencing. There will most likely be ‘Fellowships’ of local churches in the not so distant future.

      So far as foreign mission activity within the SBC is concerned, no one knows what that holds because most SBC churches will most likely continue to give to the cause with or without the influence of Calvinism. However, there is a growing number of small churches sending their own groups of Mission Teams to speicific places in Latin America, for instance, because it is less expensive than going to Europe or other places.

      But the larger question that remains is the ‘political’ experience of the SBC. This has become a Monster in the eyes of many, myself included. This is the issue right now, the political storm brewing between the Traditionalists and the Calvinists may be the one that levels the entire SBC. From where I sit, this looms larger than did the Conservative Resurgence of the late 20th Century.

      Look at what has happened and continues to take place in Louisiana….this may be just the beginning of what we will see taking place throughout the SBC. Come next year in Baltimore, where the next annual meeting of the SBC takes place, we will witness some enormous changes within….especially if the Calvinist faction is able to win the Presidency.

      Will churches who are not in agreement with the Reform Movement begin to pull away from SBC moorings at that time? I predict so, not in large numbers at first. However,if happens what I fear to be on the horizon does occur, then there will be more in the coming years. There may be an unravelling of the SBC as we know presently know it by mid-Century. By that time I will be gone to Glory!!! Hallelelujah!!

      Like I recently told someone concerning all of this, I am not a prophet. Just a thought.

      Jesus remains Lord. Bob Williford

    • sbcissues says:


      I have been SBC all of my Christian life. I have been a “whosoever will” Southern Baptist. I do not believe I am saved today because God picked me over a lot of others. That concept is so grossly errant it makes me sick. Sorry, but that is the way I feel. Even if I did believe that, I would be reluctant to say it because that is a slam on the Character and Love of God as i see it.

      I do not have an answer to your question today. However, IF things continue down the current path that they are now on, and I believe that will be the case, I will make some changes. My prayer is we can regain control of the trustee appointments again which will give us more control of the influence of calvinism in the entities BUT I am not even sure how much that will affect things.

      I have no intention to be part of a reformed SBC. Now, that does not mean I will leave; I can tell you the money will be redirected. A calvinist SBC may well lead to the end of the Cooperative Program as we know it.

      • Les asked where someone might go. I will stay connected to the local church; a Southern Baptist Church, but that is as far as I will go. My money will be ‘stipulated’ for use at the local level and not the CP. However, if Calvinism begins to be adminstered locally, I am gone. These are my thoughts.
        And for the record, I have been a member of a SB church since the day I was born; 64 years and 8 months ago. All of my higher education was received from SB schools, La. College and SWBTS. I have been ’employed’ by SBC churches, was a Foreign Missionary and a staff member of a State Convention. I bleed SB and will die such, but never a Calvinist. I am a Southern Baptist by conviction and a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ and THAT NOT by ELECTION……
        Jesus is Lord.
        Bob Williford

  4. Lydia says:

    “I believe Pastors are disengaging themselves from SBC politics, at least this is what I am hearing.”

    That is what I am seeing here, too. What is the point of being engaged when even the local entities here are totally ruled by Calvinists loyal to Mohler. There is no longer a spirit of cooperation but a dictatorial sort of unwritten rule and mindset that you must be of the same thinking. There are, of course, unity platitudes for public consumption but the fact is, the unwritten rules concerning power are there. The whole situation with Campbellsville College was ridiculous. If folks are paying attention, the new definition for Calvinist is “Conservative”. It is a brilliant strategy.

    • james jordan says:

      Let’s not let them get away with claiming they believe in justification by faith alone anymore. If they say it, shout them down: no you believe in justification by predestination alone. Do it in the ‘sanctuary’ if need be. Don’t let them get away with their lies anymore. Take the church back from these heathen Philistines.

      • Bob Williford says:

        I think that most of our SBC churches are non Calvinist in nature. The real problem for these ‘many, if not most’ is that they already feel insignificant when they look at the SBC and their State Conventions. They feel that their Common Denominator is Missions and will continue to give to the CP BECAUSE this is what makes the Southern Baptist.

        For this reason alone, the problem is not at the small local church, but in the leaders of the Mega churches and in our Institutions who control the strings. I understand that this may be a rather simplified statement, but look at the folks who write our books and are on the recent ‘Peace Committee’….are any there any reps from ‘Holy Brook Bapt Church “Shade”, Louisiana or Mississippi or Texas or Wherever??? No……they are from places like New Orleans, Kansas City, Austin, Ft. Worth, Nashville, Little Rock and other places that you may have heard of, but never, say, Sicily Island, Louisiana or Fulton, Arkansas or Happy, Texas…….need I say more??? Jesus is Lord everywhere, but sometime His people from these places simply are not heard because they cannot preach just right or send enough dollars to the CP……

        Bob Williford

  5. sbcissues says:

    If folks are paying attention, the new definition for Calvinist is “Conservative”. It is a brilliant strategy.

    Hum… you mean the Calvinistas are responsible for the Conservative Resurgence? That is what most of em think!!! It is a brilliant strategy… and it is working brilliantly as well.

  6. lydiasellerofpurple says:

    For this reason alone, the problem is not at the small local church, but in the leaders of the Mega churches and in our Institutions who control the strings. I understand that this may be a rather simplified statement, but look at the folks who write our books and are on the recent ‘Peace Committee’….are any there any reps from ‘Holy Brook Bapt Church “Shade”, Louisiana or Mississippi or Texas or Wherever??? No……they are from places like New Orleans, Kansas City, Austin, Ft. Worth, Nashville, Little Rock and other places that you may have heard of, but never, say, Sicily Island, Louisiana or Fulton, Arkansas or Happy, Texas…….need I say more??? ”

    Bob W,

    I was looking at the giving insert in our state paper this past fiscal year and saw an example of what you are talking about in terms of CP giving. The categories start at churches under 100 people and there are increments from there to the last category of 1000+ members. Tiny Hopewell Baptist with under 100 members in the hinterlands gave 30,000 to the CP but Highview in Louisville (Former pastors would be Kevin Ezell and Russ Moore) with over 1000 members gave 10,000.

    There is something wrong with that picture, is there not? Those who give the least are representing the SBC and deciding how the money is spent for things like church planting. Those who give the least have the power to decide to fund Reformed only churches. Will the new church plants model this sort of giving or do they give to the SBC at all for missions?

    It just makes no sense.

  7. Gary says:

    Calvinistic Baptists have more in common with Lutherans than they think.

    When it comes to the conversion of an adult non-believer, Arminians, Calvinists and Lutherans are in full agreement: salvation occurs when the sinner believes. Baptism is not a mandatory requirement to be saved. We have theological differences on how belief occurs, but we all believe that the second a sinner believes he is saved. If he dies a second later, he will go to heaven. He is a Christian.

    Our significant denominational differences arise when we talk about the salvation of the infants and toddlers of Christian parents: how are these young children saved? What happens if, God forbid, one of them should die before reaching the age where they are capable of expressing a saving faith in Christ?

    The Arminian answer is this: God saves all infants and toddlers who die, even the infants and toddlers of non-believers. They have no hard proof from Scripture to support this belief, but they believe that King David’s comments about his dead infant gives them support for their position. Infants who die are “safe” in the arms of a loving God.

    Calvinists look at their children in this manner: Their children are either the Elect or they are not. Presbyterian Calvinists will baptize their infants to bring them into the “covenant” (whatever that is!) of the Church but do not believe that baptism has any salvific value. “If my child is of the Elect he will declare himself to be a believer when he is older.”

    A Calvinistic Baptist will not baptize his infant, but looks at Election in the same way as the Presbyterian Calvinist: My child is either of the Elect or he is not. There is nothing I can do but bring him up in the Faith and leave the rest to God.

    Lutherans believe that when God told us to baptize all nations, he meant to baptize ALL those who are of the Elect. Many Arminians and Calvinists assume that Lutherans believe that anyone we run through the baptismal font will get into heaven. Not true! Only the Elect will get into heaven. We baptize our infants in the HOPE that they are the Elect. Is it possible that some of the infants of Christian parents whom we baptize are not of the Elect and therefore will not be in heaven? Yes! But that is a mystery of God that we do not attempt to explain or understand.

    However, we believe we are to do our job of “baptizing all nations” (who are of the Elect) by baptizing our infants and we then leave their Election up to God. We then follow Christ’s command to “teach” them in the Faith as they grow up, but when they are older it will be their responsibility to nurture their faith with prayer, Bible study, worship, and the Lord’s Supper. If these infant-baptized persons abandon their faith and turn their back on God, they may very well wake up one day in hell! Baptism is NOT a “Get-into-heaven-free” card! Salvation is by God’s grace alone, received in faith alone.

    No faith—>no salvation—>no eternal life!

    The Calvinist position on the salvation of infants is very confusing to me. It seems to be a process. A specific event of salvation does not seem necessary for Calvinists. Is there any example in the NT of anyone being saved by a process? As much as I deplore Arminian theology, I do like the fact that they insist on a specific “when” of salvation. They are wrong, however, to believe that the “when” of salvation is based on THEIR decision when in reality it is based on GOD’S decision.

    If Calvinists agree with Lutherans that it is God who chooses who will be saved, and it is God who chooses when to save…which approach seems more Scriptural for the salvation of our children: God saves THOSE OF OUR CHILDREN WHO ARE OF THE ELECT in a one-time event in Holy Baptism OR he saves them in a nebulous, drawn-out process over a period of years? Unless, of course, Calvinistic Baptists believe that their children who are the Elect are born saved… I certainly hope that our Calvinistic Baptist brothers and sisters do not believe that the Elect are born saved as do some hard-core Calvinists.

    In truth, Lutherans and Calvinistic Baptists have quite a bit in common on the doctrine of Justification/Salvation: we both believe that God saves whom he wants, when he wants. We both do not believe in a “free will”. Our difference is that Calvinistic Baptists cannot accept that God would choose to give the free gift of faith/belief/repentance/salvation to infants, instead of waiting until they are older. And why?

    “Because an infant cannot believe!”

    But if we both agree that it is God who chooses us, not us choosing him, why do you limit when God can give the free gift of salvation? Is it possible that you are limiting God from saving infants just because it defies your human reason and logic to believe that an infant can believe?

    Since when is the Almighty God of the Universe limited to operating in the confines of human reason and logic??



    1. Meritorious works cannot save you.
    2. Works of the Law of Moses cannot save you.
    3. Works of righteousness (good deeds) cannot save you.

    Titus 3:5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, (NKJV)

    Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (NASB)

    Titus 3:5 then he saved us—not because we were good enough to be saved, but because of his kindness and pity— by washing away our sins and giving us the new joy of the indwelling Holy Spirit(The Living Bible —Paraphrased)

    Ephesians 2:8-9….you have been saved…9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV)

    Ephesians 2:8-9 …have been saved…9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NASB)

    Ephesians 2:8-9 …you have been saved…9 Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take credit for it.(The Living Bible—Paraphrased)

    Galatians 2:16 “knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law….. (NKJV)

    Galatians 2:16 and yet we Jewish Christian know very well thatwe cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish law,…(The Living Bible–Paraphrased)

    1.It is not a work of righteousness.
    2. It is not a good deed.
    3. Men are not baptized because they are good enough.
    4. Water baptism is not administered as a reward for good deeds.
    5. Baptism is not a work of the Law of Moses.

    Water baptism is so men can be saved. (Marl 16:16)
    Water baptism is so men can have their sins forgiven. (Acts 2:38)

    1. They are not works of righteousness.
    2. They are not good deeds.
    3. Men do not believe, repentant, and confess because they are good enough.
    4. Faith, repentance, and confession are not works of the Law of Moses.

    Faith, repentance, and confession are so men can have their sins forgiven and be saved. (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10)

    SALVATION IS A FREE GIFT FROM GOD. But men have to accept that gift through faith, repentance, confession and water baptism.THERE IS NO WORK REQUIRED.

    Men can be saved in the time it takes to believe, repent, confess, and be immersed in water.

    (Note: Repentance in Acts 2:38 means to change from unbelief and to make the commitment to turn from sin and to turn toward God)

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG> Google search>>>steve finnell a christian view

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s