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.”
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.