Together for the Church

Let me frame this post by beginning with a few quotes in recent years.

Danny Akin (April 2006):

“Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone.”

Frank Page (May 26, 2006):

“We must have honesty about this issue. There are churches splitting across the convention because pastors are coming in quietly trying to teach Calvinism or Reformed theology without telling the pastor search committees where they stand. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it’s causing some serious controversy.”

Bill Harrell (October 26, 2006):

“I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful.”

Morris Chapman (First – June 13, 2006; Second – March 15, 2007)

“If you wish, debate Calvinism. We should not fear theological debate as long as the participants understand they are brothers debating one another in a friendly environment. While Calvinism is a fair debate in the halls of academia, we do not need to bring the debate into our churches at the cost of dividing our congregations.”

“One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept church pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church.”

I think that’s enough quotes for now. Do you see a common thread here? Denominational executives have come out of the woodwork with warnings in the form of talking points telling young Calvinistic Baptists to stay out of non-Calvinistic churches. Young Calvinists like myself are told that we must “put all our theological cards on the table” with full disclosure of our soteriological and ecclesiological beliefs. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for that, but the problem comes when you talk to a pastor search committee who understands Calvinism through a book given them through their Baptist State Board of Missions by Fisher Humphreys who butchers the Bible and contorts the most fundamental understandings of Calvinistic doctrine. More and more non-Calvinistic churches are being given literature, sermons, and materials that is inaccurate, biased, and entirely unhelpful (if not Humphreys’ book, then Dave Hunt or Norm Geisler). The result is that it is impossible to talk about Calvinism to folks who have an altogether different definition from a different dictionary than Calvinists. To make matters more difficult, we are told, as aforementioned in Chapman’s quote that the issue of Calvinism is for academia, not the church.

On the other hand, when Calvinists do not use Calvinistic terminology and simply preach the Bible only later to be questioned about Calvinism, they are told that they are being deceitful, dishonest, and disingenuous. So if you put all the theological cards on the table, you are accused of trying to convert them to “five-point Calvinism,” and if you don’t, you are not a man of integrity and honesty. It is a lose-lose situation in the SBC for young Calvinists, and early into his presidency, Frank Page recognized this as Baptist Press reported,

Asserting his belief that some Southern Baptist seminaries are graduating “hundreds” of students who espouse Calvinism while there are a “relative small number” of Calvinist SBC churches, Page said that he believes Southern Baptists are headed for “tumultuous days” as those graduates come to places of service in the churches.

So how are we to deal with the “tumultuous days” ahead? Well, for the young Calvinists, their answer is to either abandon the SBC altogether or plant new churches. They aren’t coming “to places of services in the churches.” They have received the warnings and “No Thank You’s” from the denominational executives. Just this past week I conversed with students who had recently participated in an Acts 29 Church Planting Bootcamp who will soon graduate and plant a non-SBC church. Other students have committed themselves to higher theological education with the pursuits of being an educator or professor at a Baptist college or seminary. The result is that the vast number of SBC churches will soon have vacant pastorates with a increasingly fewer candidates that don’t fit the theologically correct criteria predetermined by our denominational executives.

Other denominational leaders are sensing the growing attraction to overseas missions and church planting and are cautioning young ministers to not abandon already existing churches. Last week, Dr. Mohler wrote on his blog a necessary word of caution, asserting,

At the same time, we also need this generation of young pastors to go into established churches and revitalize a Gospel ministry through expository preaching and energetic leadership. Giving up on the established church is not an option. Some young pastors see church planting as a way of avoiding the challenge of dealing with the people and pathologies of older congregations. This is an abdication of responsibility.

While I agree with Dr. Mohler entirely on his caution, how can a young future pastor like me heed his counsel without falling under the criticism of the men quoted above? This conundrum is far more problematic than we realize. Several leaders are piping out warnings to not go into existing non-Calvinistic churches, and on the other hand, we are exhorted to not abandon them. What one denominational executive calls “destroying a strong and healthy church,” another calls not doing it would be an “abdication of responsibility.” Indeed, this is a lose-lose-lose situation.

Many of us in seminary are being trained by professors and administration who have never done it. They have gone to an established church that needed revitalization of gospel ministry and labored there for decades, revitalizing it, and building it on strong theological, confessional, and missional principles. The remarkable Reformation of my beloved seminary has yet to make a significant mark in churches within our own region and area. Rather, when friends put their resumes out to churches and associations, when they find out that they are Southern students and Calvinists, their resumes quickly find the trash can. Something has to change. There is yet much reformation that remains in the SBC.

It is not enough to tell a young Calvinist who enters a church to “just love the people and preach the Bible.” It isn’t enough to warn them with handed down political talking points. It isn’t enough to provide them with sound theological education. When the bridges for this younger generation are being burned and yet they are still told to walk the line, the result is that many young Calvinists find themselves forced on a plank leading to the edge where the rubble of a burned bridge looms below.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is going to see churches revitalized, old churches replanted, and new church plants embraced, then they are going to have to extend the right hand of fellowship to the young Calvinists existing the seminary with a willingness to be taught and led from God’s Word. Calvinism can no longer be the whipping boy for all the divisions and splits that occur in our churches (though it is likely involved in some). Young seminary students will need more than just sound theological education, but they will need sound pastoral training in church polity, church leadership, and caring for the flock that only comes from within an ecclesiological context. Finally, the Convention at large is going to have to develop a consensus on the gospel that embraces “five-point Calvinists” and encourages guys like me, not discourages us, to pursue pastorates in existing churches.

At this point in time, I can understand why some of my brothers are discouraged. There is little that is attractive to coming into the SBC, whether it be the fundamentalism expressed in alcohol issue or the sectarianism that I have mentioned here. But if we can come together for the church, for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, then I believe the tide can change. I’m in, and I hope others in the SBC, whether Arminian or Calvinist, can come together for the building of God’s church and furthering of the Great Commission under the same conviction and inspiration as our founders in 1845. They did it then, and by God’s grace, it can happen today.

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48 Comments on “Together for the Church”

  1. Great post! One has to wonder why the shoe is never on the other foot. Why aren’t “non-Calvinists” warned to lay their non-Calvinist cards on the table? It is hilarious and saddening at the same time to see denominational leaders claim the power of mandating to pastors what is ethical for them to preach. From the quotes above, I see no reason for preaching in churches that are already bent a certain way and not open to exposition of Scripture. There is one reason for such warnings – fear. Not of God, but of man. Notice how it is assumed that leading a staunch Arminian through an exposition of Ephesians would split an otherwise healthy and vibrant church! As though John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, Tom Ascol, Mark Driscoll, Edwards, Carey, Judson, etc. all suffer(ed) from less than vibrant, healthy congregations! With the revival taking place in Christian music and the influence of such godly Calvinist men in all facets of evangelicalism, those opposed to Calvinism know their reign of unquestioned affirmation is coming to an end, and it scares them. As for me, I plan o continue preaching the Word, every Word, and letting the chips fall. I’m not going to lay my cards on the table, unless that means “I promise to faithfully and fearlessly preach the Word of God in context to the praise of his glorious grace.” Those are the only cards I’m holding. I have to wonder about the hands of those you quoted? What do they have to lose?

  2. Blog taboo – two comments in a row. But a thought just occurred to me. Where are the denominational leaders finding all the healthy, vibrant, gospel-thriving churches? Just what is the Calvinist in danger of splitting? In your post on foreclosure a picture is painted of anything but vibrancy, especially when viewed in light of Ascol’s concerns about regenerate church membership. Could it be we still don’t have enough radically Christ-centered, Bible-loving, God-exalting Calvinists on the scene? Just a thought.

  3. Bill Lollar Says:

    Would an inerrantist accept the call to pastor a liberal church?
    Would a Baptist accept the position of pastor in a Methodist church?
    Would an amillennialist jump at the chance to pastor a dispensational church?
    Would a complementarian agree to lead an egalitarian congregation?

    I don’t think so, unless he planned to (a) keep his contrary views quiet in order to draw a paycheck, or (b) begin a systematic campaign to change the theological direction of the church, probably resulting in disaster.

    Then why would a Calvinist want to pastor an Arminian church, SBC or otherwise? It just does not make sense.

  4. Timmy,

    I grew up in an independent, Calvinistic church. When I came to SBTS, I came because it was a great school, and not for anything related specifically to the SBC. Before my first semester, I could not in good conscience sign the covenant that stated that I intended to pursue ministry within the SBC. My first semester (Fall 2005), I joined an SBC church for the first time in my life.

    I have come to appreciate the SBC, and the cooperative program.

    And I do understand why people want to preserve and minister within their heritage.
    Because of the way God is playing things out in my life, I have been thinking that I will end up ministering in the SBC. I have been drawn to church planting, but recently have also thought again about ministry within an established church.

    But stuff like what you’ve posted discourages me.

    I have not been born and bred in the SBC tradition, and I my ties to the convention (and its churches) could easily be broken. It seems like the SBC swirls with nasty and petty denominational drama. Obviously, you think it’s worth the fight. But you have strong ties to the SBC. I don’t. My question to you is, “Why should I stay in?” Do you think the fight would be worth it for someone like me?

    God Bless,

  5. […] Brister has written an interesting post related to this topic, and specifically the quote […]

  6. tom ascol Says:


    Great analysis. One thing have witnessed in the SBC over the last 30 years is the recovery of our institutions and many of our churches that had been under the influence of moderate teaching. On the institutional level, that did not happen without some heartaches and some painful contention. The same is true in local churches that have been ensnared by atheological and pragmatic philosophies of ministry.

    Should such churches be left alone to wallow in their faulty teaching and living and remaining the devil’s playground? My response is, “not without a fight.” Especially, when such churches were founded on biblically solid foundations. Such churches have been stolen and should be reclaimed, if God in His grace opens such a door of opportunity. To those who question the legitimacy of such thinking, I would direct them to Revelation 2 and 3. Let’s not give up on churches that our Lord has not given up on, even if it means real pain in seeking their revitalization.

  7. […] In the Southern Baptist Convention, a coming crisis for the growing number of Calvinistic pastors-in-training: “Several leaders are piping out warnings to not go into existing non-Calvinistic churches, and… […]

  8. Darby,

    You make some excellent points. The healthiest churches I know are the ones stressing integrity in church membership, practice church discipline, preach the whole counsel of God’s Word, e.g., reflect the true marks of a church. How many true churches are there in the SBC right now? I fear that some of the attention Calvinists are getting are diversionary tactics to avoid the realization that much of the problems in our churches have nothing to do with Calvinism. The anti-Reformed leadership of the SBC know they cannot stop the Reformed resurgence in the SBC, so plan B is to marginalize them and make it difficult for them. This reminds me of a situation where a senior pastor can’t fire a fellow staff member, so he will make it as difficult as possible for him to hang around, eventually forcing him to leave. Been there.


    Your juxtapositions are false equivocations. Had your logic held true 50-75 years ago, none of the Arminian and neo-orthodox pastors should have been allowed to pastor churches historically Calvinistic. There are several valid reasons for Calvinists to pastor non-Calvinist churches, not the least of which are the Bible and our Baptist history.


    I appreciate hearing from someone who has not always been Southern Baptist. I’ve been one all my life, and it is encouraging to hear of men like you wanting to make a difference in the SBC. You asked about my answer to the question, “Why should I stay in?” My first answer is that you don’t have to. There may come a time where being biblical and being Southern Baptist aren’t synonymous. I don’t think we are there yet. I still am hopeful and optimistic about the future, believing that God is going to work in the SBC to bring repentance and renewed focus on the gospel and the Great Commission. I think church planting, especially among us Reformed brethren, will be key. There is much more I could say, perhaps another post would suffice, but I would be open to chat sometime on campus should you be interested.

  9. Tom,

    Maybe that is why the Conservative Resurgence has not made its way to the churches. Denominational reform does not necessarily constitute ecclesiological reform. The bureaucracy has changed, the seminaries have changed, but churches have not. We have heard and read the reports of the difficulties, pain, and conflict involved in the Conservative Resurgence and the reform at Southern Seminary. Why, then, would denominational leaders expect the absence of such conflict, pain, and difficulty when churches are in need of reform? Methinks that those who have experienced it themselves would be most realistic and likely to call for endurance, patience, and longsuffering for the sake of building healthy churches. We are quick to hearken to the Spurgeon in the pulpit, but I wonder why we fail to remember the Spurgeon in the Downgrade? I remember Stephen Olford saying one time in a conversation with Martyn Lloyd-Jones about the church where he (Lloyd-Jones) said, “I must empty the church first before I can fill it.”

    – And that was quoted at a Baptist State Convention Pastor’s Conference!

  10. Thomas Clay Says:

    So the alternative, according to the brothers that you quote, is to, rather than believe that God may have called you to an Armenian (“strong & healthy”??) church in order to reform it, start a church plant, maybe right down the street from the Armenian church and possible have some of those folks in the Armenian church leave it to join you in the church plant. How is that any healthier?

    I’m not advocating either/or. However, I don’t believe any of the brothers that you quoted can find enough scriptural backing to support their positions. They can, however, find plenty of backing to counsel against haphazard and reckless reformation projects! Any reformation must be done with great love, humility, and grace!

  11. I’m not in the SBC, but when I graduated from seminary here in Western Canada, I was a conservative, Reformed Baptist (influenced by my theology Prof. Steve Wellum) despairing that I’d never find a church that fit both ways, if you know what I mean. God brought our family to a church that we love. It is now 10 years and counting that we’ve been here.

    Preach the Gospel, be faithful to the Word, love the people, trust God’s providence and be patient! Demoninational attitudes may be slow to change, but we can see changes in churches one at a time.

  12. John Mark Inman Says:

    I think the fact that the founders of the SBC were Calvinists is irrelevant to individual churches in the SBC. Unless the church is over 100 years old, the founders of the church were not Calvinists. I don’t have research or anything but I would guess that 80% or more of SBC churches have never had a Calvinist pastor. I also am curious how many of the committte who put together the CP were Calvinists. The SBC moved on from Calvinism, maybe Calvinists should consider moving on from the SBC. I don’t mean to sound harsh, I know what it’s like to be theologically out of place. Like being the fat guy in a little coat.

  13. Terry,

    You were influenced by Dr. Wellum?! That explains it. 😉 I am still working on my Canadian accent . . .

  14. John Mark,

    Just curious, if the Calvinists leave the SBC, where is the future of the SBC going to lie? I mean, where are the young Arminians passionate about the church? Who is training them? Johnny Hunt? Liberty U? Perhaps. But if the Calvinists leave the SBC, I fear that the fracture will be far greater than those espousing such an idea would realize.

  15. Thomas,

    I think you can speak from experience that local church reform isn’t easy or without a heavy price. Even with love, patience, and longsuffering, goats will squeel and attacks will ensue. While the attacks and accusations should never be self-inflicted, if they are biblically warranted, humbly offered, and compassionately delivered, opposition will yet inevitably arise. I wish that weren’t the case, but I think you would agree with me.

  16. Scotty Karber Says:

    Brother, just ignore the criticism. SBC churches have been splitting for years over the most trivial of things and it has not been Calvinism! SBC pastors have often attempted to move a church in the direction they did not want to go because they believed it was the responsibility of the pastor to point a church to the authority of Scripture as the standard of church life. The vast majority of them have not been Calvinists. They have been men who took seriously the call of God to represent Him. Those whose constant emphasis is unity need to take a serious look at what level we really want to stay on. If a man is willing to preach Scripture with love, to uphold the Supremacy of God in all things and just preach what is in the text before him how can anyone legitimately criticize that? Where is revival that Frank Page says is needed to come from if it is not from a response to the God of the Bible which comes because people are shaken up? There is a vast difference in going into a church and launching into a series on the T-U-L-I-P and beginning to preach the wonder of an awesome God that eventually must embrace the mystery of His sovereignty in all things. Some churches will resist both, but there are many SBC churches which will embrace the latter and either tolerate or come to embrace the former. Remember as well, that the same ones who demand that the Calvinist pastor be open about such things are the ones who say that half the Sunday attenders at these churches are lost. How do we expect the children of this world to grasp the meaning of the Word of God? One last word of encouragement here. I have spent the last year preaching through the gospel of John and have realized that the gospel account with the specific purpose of bringing people to faith has more of the sovereignty of God in salvation explicitly declared than the other three combined. Our churches are languishing in spiritual deserts and it is the Word of God they need — whether it is given out by Calvinists or not.

  17. Corry Cox Says:

    Long time reader, first time responder…

    The question really is, how many young calvinists are coming out of our seminaries and how many calvinist churches are there? Personally it looks like we are turning out more new pastors, who are reformed in their theology, than there are reformed SBC churches to take them. However, I have not seen this qualified and would think that it would be an excellent exit question for seminaries to be asking their students, after graduating. Maybe it is and I just havent seen the data…

    But anyway, if we as young reformed members of the SBC, I am not a seminary student just a 30 something member of an SBC church, are passionate about Jesus, are passionate about our doctrinal beliefs, because they directly shape how we view Jesus, are passionate about the Gospel and its correct and relevant presentation, are passionate about discipling believers, are passionate about unbelievers and their salvation, and believe that the SBC is by and large a worthy vessel in which to propigate our passions, and what I believe is Gods passion; then we have to be in churches where we are not wanted. I am struggling right now in the church that I am in, and bam now my wife is struggling because she is becomming more and more reformed… But do we give up and go to the local PCA assembly? That is what I have been asking myself, but I think God is telling me more and more that I belong where I am, after all He put me there and He is in control! So that is back to our graduating future pastors, God will place you, He will reform our convention or He will disperse it, it is up to Him. Let Him place you, He may place you in a fight, but if you are where He wants you He will fight for you. But He is not placing you if you have to be dishonest to get there…

    We just have to be faithful to Him, whether in preaching teaching or wherever He places us, faithful to His word and faithful to His Command to Love and Give….

  18. Scotty,

    Right on. I think that the caricature of someone who is “young, restless, and Reformed” is that they are going to preach their first sermon series on double predestination and God’s glorification in the damnation of sinners! Good grief, anyone foolish enough to do something like that needs to be put back in the cage – period. But seriously, you’re right. What book of the Bible are to preach where the glorious gospel is not pronounced? Are we to have a Marcionite approach to Scripture, selectively choosing the passages that comport with our preconceived beliefs that trump Scriptural authority? If that is the case, then we need to develop a Jeffersontonian version of the Bible, taking out the portions that we already refuse to preach. At least we will make it plan that passages like Ephesians 1, Romans 9-11, and John 6 will not be found in our preaching or our Bibles. Likewise, however, Calvinists cannot walk away from 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9, and 1 John 2:2 as I am sure they will be quick to remind us. My point is that we all, regardless of our control beliefs, must preach the Word in season and out of season with apology and without neglect.

    Anyway, thanks for the encouragement and for sharing your heart on the matter.

  19. Corry,

    Amen. And thanks for reading the blog.

    I really appreciate your pastoral heart and encouraging words. Being in a place you are not wanted reminds me of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and the great Puritan divines. What they all had in common was that they were ejected, fired, or anathematized. They wanted to stay and reform, but eventually they got the boot. I hope we do not repeat history in this regards but come together (as I mentioned in the post) for the churches of the SBC.

    Indeed, God is sovereign and will guide the steps of His people, even sometimes to what appears to be the valley of the shadow of death. We should not always expect green pastures and still waters. But we can take comfort that He who holds us is the one who can calm the storms.

    And even if he doesn’t, the greater miracle may be that he quiets our hearts and gives us a settled contentment in his sweet providence.

    I appreciate your words of encouragement and exhortation and hope you comment again soon.

  20. Elizabeth Watkins Says:

    If a woman’s comment is out of place on this pastoral discussion, please forgive me. However, I do have a question. Why is it not OK for a Calvinist pastor to try and lead his congregation in converting to the Doctrines of Grace, but it was perfectly alright to have a new pastor secretly transition his congregation to the purpose-driven model?? I actually read an article on about a ten year transitional plan to PD, that deliberately deceived and “seduced” the congregation.

    Our family experienced this first hand in Texas, and it was devastating. It was from this situation that we discovered reformed theology, as a reaction to a man-centered gospel. We know quite a number of spiritually mature families, (born and bred Southern Baptists), that left that church, and eventually the SBC all together, ending up in PCA or other independent reformed Baptist churches.

    I honestly believe that the p-d movement has increased the spread of Calvinism more than our beloved Southern Seminary.

  21. John Mark Inman Says:

    Last I checked they were out knocking on doors and not wasting their time blogging. 😉 🙂
    No seriously, they are probably just common people out there. They don’t fully buy into any agenda(calvinist, revivalist, emergent, purpose driven whatever else). They cherry pick what they find best from each. They think seminary is overrated, they learn on their own and from their peers.

    As far as the Calvinists leaving the SBC. I think the trauma level would depend on the graciousness of the departure. If the Calvinists left peacefully without crying anathema or ichabod or whatever, then it would hardly be noticed, except at some seminaries.

    The future of the SBC..idk…i don’t think it lies with Calvinism. The institutions are increasinlgy irrelevant whether led by calvinists or non.

  22. iMonk Says:

    In all the years I attended the Founders Conference, one thing I liked was the complete absence of whining. They knew they would be mischaracterized, and they knew the denomiantional big dogs would bark, but that was the price you paid for restarting a theological movement misunderstood and cast aside.

    I believe that Calvinist students need to stop dreaming about an SBC that looks like John Piper. There are 30,000+ churches out there, and most of them aren’t Calvinist. Those churches need pastors who love the church and do the job. Preach. Visit. Love. Counsel. Lead. Administer. Care about the community. Love the church like Jesus does, not use the church for personal agendas.

    Good Calvinists may be fired and persecuted. So be it. They can deal with it and God will sort it out. Many more Calvinists will be judged by their zeal for building up the church, doing evangelism, supporting missions and caring about people. I pray thousands of young Calvinists go to non-Calvinist churches and become the kind of men that those churches will support and love. It can be done. It must be done.

  23. Greg Alford Says:

    Tom said:

    “Such churches have been stolen and should be reclaimed, if God in His grace opens such a door of opportunity.”

    Thanks for these words Tom… After (as Timmy has documented) the constant barrage of SBC leadership talking points of how those “Deceitful Calvinist” are sneaking into their Southern Baptist Churches and (not restoring them to doctrinal health) but splitting them and causing great damage to their convention… the Young and Reformed Baptist of our convention need to be reminded that “THIS IS OUR CONVENTION” and These are our churches…

    Grace to all,
    Greg Alford

  24. ChrisB Says:

    Timmy, I want to be understanding of your position, but I agree with Akin et al. While I read mostly Calvinists lately, I wouldn’t want my kids to have a Calvinist pastor right now. After they’re more mature, they can pick whatever they think is best, but for now, if our pastor broke out the “doctrines of grace” (hate that terminology), I’d be looking for a new church.

    And that’s the problem — lots of Calvinists coming out of seminaries today, not many Calvinists in the pews. Yes, some are misinformed as to what Calvinism is just as some Calvinists are misinformed about Arminianism (it’s often confused with Pelagianism), but if for whatever reason the members don’t want their pastor to be a Calvinist, as soon as they figure out that he is one, they’re gone, and we have another church split. Best to be up front and try to minimize that.

    Maybe y’all need to do a PR campaign for Calvinism. I can see the ads. “Calvinists — they don’t want your kids to go to hell.” “The TULIP — the most fragrant flower in God’s garden.” Be creative 🙂

  25. Elizabeth,

    If I remember correctly, the Purpose-Driven model received criticism even on The New York Times. There very many churches who didn’t buy into the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. I think it will suffice to say that your analysis is correct, and there are numerous critiques out there on the Purpose Driven model.

    Speaking of problems in churches, I think a real argument can be made that many of the problems in the church are moral than doctrinal. Issues like gossip and slander, control and power, marital infidelity and lying on resumes, gambling and abuse – these are all causes of splits, fights, decline, division, etc.

    My point is that all the attention that Calvinists get for whatever difficulties that might occur pales in comparison to other causes of church problems, such as the Purpose Driven model (might I add worship wars) and the “moral” causes.

  26. John Mark,

    Was that one-liner a quote from Bobby Welch? Regarding Calvinists leaving the SBC, I don’t know of any that are desiring to nor trying to pick a fight. As iMonk rightly denotes, Calvinists in the SBC have long been attacked, ridiculed, slandered, and mischaracterized. They aren’t whining. But they do want to be treated fairly. Is that too much to ask? They are not wanting a convention of five-point Calvinists. They simply want to be able to preach the Word, serve the church, and reach our world with the gospel. If that is too offensive to the non-Calvinists, then I can see where Calvinists would be forced (or strongly encouraged) to leave. If that happens, I really don’t think it will be because the Calvinists pursued it.

    So just curious, where or with whom do you think the future of the SBC lies?

  27. iMonk,

    You said,

    There are 30,000+ churches out there, and most of them aren’t Calvinist. Those churches need pastors who love the church and do the job. Preach. Visit. Love. Counsel. Lead. Administer. Care about the community. Love the church like Jesus does, not use the church for personal agendas. Good Calvinists may be fired and persecuted. So be it. They can deal with it and God will sort it out. Many more Calvinists will be judged by their zeal for building up the church, doing evangelism, supporting missions and caring about people. I pray thousands of young Calvinists go to non-Calvinist churches and become the kind of men that those churches will support and love. It can be done. It must be done.


  28. ChrisB,

    Thanks for your honesty. Can I elaborate on your concern about your children?

    Southern Baptists more and more are flirting with Presbyterians, and it is not so much Calvinism as much as it is infant baptism. We are baptizing kids younger and younger, convinced that if they raised their hand at the end of VBS that they wanted to be saved, true conversion has taken place. I am all about young people coming to Christ, but that is precisely my point – that they come to Christ. Some many young children develop a false sense of security having been told they were saved at an early age who had never been regenerated. While they may exist, I don’t know of any Calvinist desiring to be a pastor who will treat the salvation of your children lightly or flippantly. Rather, they may encourage you to catechize your children and develop a regular time of family worship where you as their father spiritually lead them and instruct them in God’s Word. Would not such counsel be considered praiseworthy?

    It’s just a thought. I am not saying that Arminians don’t do this, but my point is not all young Calvinists are immature or make Calvinism “their agenda.” Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  29. Bill Lollar Says:

    Timmy said,

    Your juxtapositions are false equivocations. Had your logic held true 50-75 years ago, none of the Arminian and neo-orthodox pastors should have been allowed to pastor churches historically Calvinistic. There are several valid reasons for Calvinists to pastor non-Calvinist churches, not the least of which are the Bible and our Baptist history.

    Now you’ve hurt my feelings. 😦

    I thought churches were supposed to be autonomous concerning their choice of leaders? It’s not for us to decide what sort of pastors they need; and I would fight for their right to do so, even if they have read the warnings or “talking points” or books by Humphreys, Hunt, or Geisler. Every church has the right to raise any questions or issues they believe are important in the candidating process and men should answer those questions with integrity. Period.

    Now sometimes a pastor’s theology changes mid-stream, as mine did, and the mounting pressures to be faithful to his own convictions may cause hardship and difficulty for everyone concerned: him, his family, and his congregation. It would be far better for him to offer his resignation, stating his reasons clearly to the congregation and then let them prayerfully decide whether they want to follow his newly-embraced convictions or remain as they are. That’s the honest thing to do.

    We don’t know every pastoral situation that slowly transitioned the overall SBC from its Calvinistic roots to its present status, do we? But we do know, tt certainly didn’t happen overnight. And I’m a bit surprised at Tom Ascol’s fiery rhetoric that “such churches have been stolen and should be reclaimed” and that they should not “be left alone to wallow in their faulty teaching…remaining the devil’s playground.” Having known Tom for nearly twenty-five years, I understand his sense of indignation and I share his frustration over churches who get led astray into liberalism; however, I embrace Lloyd-Jones’ perspective on evangelical ecumenism and do not consider Arminian believers/churches as heretics or false teachers just because they don’t swallow all of my own convictions on Reformed doctrine.

  30. tom ascol Says:


    I don’t want to misspeak or be misunderstood. The operative phrase in my “rant” (if that is what it was 🙂 ) is “atheological and pragmatic philosophies of ministry.” Churches infected with this are the ones I have in mind; not churches that simply do not “swallow all of my own convictions on Reformed doctrine.”

    You and I have both seen the devastating consequences of churches that have forgotten the Gospel. I believe that our Lord’s teaching and example in Revelation 2 &3 leads us to seek the recovery of such churches if the doors of opportunity are opened for us to do so. There are some wonderful examples of that happening in a growing number of churches in our day. Though it does not happen in every case where it is attempted, sick churches are being restored to spiritual health in our day. It doesn’t happen easily or without a cost, but it cand and does happen.

  31. johnMark Says:

    Here’s a Catch 22 for you. In Timmy’s above post he talks about a disconnect in teaching/preaching theology, etc. to congregations. And here we have comments about the theological positions of the pastors that congregations choose.

    The catch? If there is such a disconnect in theology and biblical understanding by congregations then they aren’t really qualified to choose a pastor.

    Another reason not to give up…


  32. Bill Lollar Says:


    Thanks for the clarification, but I don’t see how it changes your statement. Most philosophies of ministry nowadays are pragmatic, even for some who like to think of themselves as Calvinists. I wouldn’t levy the charge against most who remain active within the SBC as being “atheological” in their central core concepts of the gospel, i.e. justification by faith, necessity of the atonement, virgin birth, inspiration of Scripture, etc. No, the war ahead will be primarily waged between conservative, Bible-believing, Jesus-exalting, mission-trip-taking, CP-supporting (I sound like John Piper here) Arminians and using-the-same-adjectives Calvinists.

    While entitled “Together for the Church,” our eloquent and articulate brother is complaining about the powerful SBC elite warning churches about Calvinism and the impact that is having or will have on young Calvinists who are graduating from SBC seminaries with no prospects of service within the denomination. Your first words were “Great analysis,” which is why I interpreted your other statements as germane to his post. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you.

  33. […] Calvinistic Pastors In The SBC Posted on October 5, 2007 by Tom Timmy Brister wrote an interesting post discussing the dilemma facing seminary students who want to be pastors in the SBC.  Timmy is a […]

  34. Ron Says:

    Great post Timmy.

  35. Timothy Says:

    >” the problem comes when you talk to a pastor search committee who understands Calvinism through a book given them through their Baptist State Board of Missions by Fisher Humphreys who butchers the Bible and contorts the most fundamental understandings of Calvinistic doctrine.”

    Welcome to the world experienced by Catholics. The problem comes when you talk to a non-Catholic, who understands Catholicism through a book, given them through their non-Catholic friend, by F Loraine Boettner, who butchers the Bible and contorts the most fundamental understandings of Catholic doctrine.

    Looking in from a Catholic point of view, this has been a most interesting post and thread. I was really intrigued by the complaints regarding the younger and younger baptisms and regeneration. For Catholics, baptism is regenerative so we would hold that those young children were regenerated (sins removed, grace received, and full members of the Body of Christ). In fact, we recognize those children as Catholic brothers and sisters by virtue of their baptism.

    Personally, I’m for the Reformed side of things as I find their doctrines and liturgies more Catholic than the Calvinists.

    God bless…

  36. A Young Pastor Trying to Reclaim an SBC Church for Truth Says:


    You have hit the nail on the head with this post and many of your commenters have echoed things I would say. You quote Frank Page. It’s worth noting that the current SBC President has written one of those dreaded books and is now in reprint, marked special in the Theology section at the SBTS Lifeway to boot.

  37. Billy Birch Says:


    As I was reading your post, I could not help but emphathize with your dilemma. As a committed Arminian, I face misrepresentation and caricatures from Calvinists on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — they are convinced that I am one of maybe three on campus. One Calvinist brother calls me the “Campus Arminian.” I consider him a friend, so I am not offended; but I do feel misunderstood. For example, it is automatically assumed that I believe one can lose his salvation (which I do not believe). It is also assumed that I am Arminian in an effort to defend “Free Will,” which is also a misnomer.

    I am not so sure the above mentioned men (in their quotes) were saying that young Calvinist preachers/pastors “should not” enter SBC churches, but that they should “lay their cards out” for those churches, so that they understand where you stand. However, I agree with you completely that Calvinism has not been properly portrayed in our SBC churches. I have heard some rather strange things concerning Calvinism from non-Calvinistic people and have quickly corrected them. Though I do not agree with Calvinism, I certainly will not allow an inaccurate statement to linger in the minds of the ignorant; that is neither honest nor helpful.

    Maybe the SBC should decide which direction to take, soteriologically speaking . . . I do not know . . . it is very vexing. If the SBC decided to take the Calvinist road, then a significant number of pastors might leave the denomination (myself included — though I do not know where I would go). But if they decided to reject Calvinism, where will young Calvinist pastors go? Did you not say that such a relationship between Calvinists and non-Calvinists existed in 1845? Do you have some suggestions on how this dilemma can be solved?



  38. Billy,

    Well, first of all, I have to say that you have the longest sidebar I have ever seen! That must have taken a lot of time to put all that together. But to your comment . . .

    I think you made some important points. For a long time, Calvinists have been caricatured, maligned, misrepresented, and demonized (literally). Until the Reformed blogosphere came on the scene, the anti-Reformed leaders had very little accountability to telling the truth and being historically accurate in their claims. In the last 3-4 years, we have seen a gradual change in this regard. I have never been one to say that the SBC must embrace Calvinism. Yet I have continually said that the SBC must embrace honesty and fairness. I would venture to say that 90% of all my writings regarding Calvinism on my blog has been a defense and an attempt to correct the massive errors being purported from academia to local church pulpits. Whether you are an Arminian or Calvinist, the least we can do is present the other’s beliefs as though they were presenting it themselves in truthfulness and clarity. With our strong biases, I know that is hard, but if we are going to be a people more known for cooperation than controversy, that seems to me to be the first place to start.

    Second, I would say that we cannot and should not get caught up in theological one-upmanship or dogging one another out. I do not like Reformed jerks or Arminian jerks. Sure, we should have substantive, robust, and heartfelt discussion and debate, but it should not resort to ad-hominems and reckless rhetoric which has all-too-often been the case in the recent past. We can and should work together to foster more Christ-like conversation, even in the most spirited and difficult discussions.

    Third, I do not think the SBC should divide over Calvinism and Arminianism. I am enthused about the Building Bridges conference that LifeWay is hosted by SEBTS and Founders. This has the potential of being a new chapter (and a new bridge) for everyone in the SBC. The tent is big enough for Arminians and “five-point Calvinists”. I would make the caution, however, that consistent Arminianism should not be allowed, for it is plain to see that it is essentially Open Theism. Here’s how I think the spectrum shapes up:

    Panentheism (process theology) – Open Theism – Arminianism – Calvinism – Hyper-Calvinism – Fatalism

    Both open theism and hyper-Calvinism should not have a presence in the SBC. I should note that consistent Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism, contrary to those who would like to make that caricature.

    So I would begin with repenting of bad attitudes, correcting our errors of misrepresentations, and seeking to better understand the other person’s beliefs before we try to disagree with them. Our history has enough straw men. We don’t need any more. And then let’s listen, talk, disagree, what have you. And in the end, let’s pray for one another and take the gospel to the world for the glory of God and the fame of His name.

    I hope that speaks a little to your questions. In any case, although I am sure you know by now that I disagree with Arminianism, I do not disagree with you commenting and sharing your heart on the matter. So I do hope you feel welcome here at P&P.

  39. Scott Says:

    JohnMark said:

    …congregations then they aren’t really qualified to choose a pastor.

    I would like to spin this a different way — social clubs aren’t qualified to elect pastors, they elect presidents. What actually are named churches in the SBC do not really measure up to Biblically derived standards. Our so-called church system is bankrupt, theologically and often morally, and to play into that system is to feed a system that sucks the life out of the new “pastors” and drives them away from real ministry. If an ‘ism is going to divide and destroy a church then I honestly ask if that church is actually a church or — a social club.

  40. Billy Says:


    Thank you for your comments. I most appreciate your humble attitude on this matter. You said, “I would make the caution, however, that consistent Arminianism should not be allowed, for it is plain to see that it is essentially Open Theism.” If you have some time on your hands, could you delve a little deeper on what you mean by this statement? If not, I understand–I too am a busy boy. But do you think that an Arminian is being inconsistent by not embracing the false teaching of Open Theism?

    Thank you,


  41. Billy,

    I would be happy to address that argument, but be that as it may, it would be tangential to this post. I hope to give it further treatment in a future article. In the meantime, you might want to check out one that I wrote about this time last year where I addressed it briefly. Here it is:

  42. Scott Morgan Says:


    Always enjoy your post. I have two great concerns among our convention:

    1. The non calvinist with their theology and the need to recover the gospel/ tru Baptist Distinctives.

    2. The Calvinist in the SBC(Your age and mine 36yrs old) that they are becoming more ecumenical because of the five points. You know I’m a calvinist but I’m meeting more and more guys that openly embrace Padeobaptist views. I don’t want to debate this anymore publicly but I would be happy to email people one on one. We have some huge differences with Sproul, Duncan, and the others. The differences are like dominos: Infant Baptism leads to many errors( Unregenerate church membership, Lord’s Supper, Calling of men to the ministry and etc…). I have at least 30 books in my office just on this subject from the early Southern Baptist and I’m finding many Calvinst(SBC young and old) that don’t want to go here because I believe if they admit things it will turn their world upside down. BTW, How Bout My Auburn Tigers( Were on our way back).

  43. jk Says:

    You cannot find one clear Scripture to support the foundation of Calvinism, which is Augustine’s Manichean doctrine of inherited guilt. Romans 5 is assumed by Augustine to say that infants sin because infants die, since Paul says “all die for all have sinned” but here Paul is not speaking of physical death, but spiritual, and is saying that all who die spiritually die so because of personal sin. Paul says in Roman 7:9 “I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life, and I died” showing that he was born spiritually alive and died after he personally sinned, “for sin taking the occasion provided by the law deceived me, and thereby slew me.” Ezekiel 18 says “the soul that sins will die, the son will not bear the guilt of the father nor the father of the son” which sets forth a clear and solid rule against any doctrine of inherited guilt. Psalm 51:5 clearly says “in sin my mother conceived me” clearly placing the sin on the mother, not the son. The objection that David’s mother was no adulteress is frivolous, being unprovable. That David was the youngest son would seem to preclude her getting pregnant out of wedlock and her and Jesse being forced to marry, until you take into account polygamy being acceptable at the time, and that although already married and having many sons by many wives, he may have committed fornication with David’s mother late in life. Or indeed she may have committed sin in conceiving David by breaking some vow, as she may have vowed a vow of temporary celibacy and yet broke it when David was being conceived. But by all mean, the Psalm says “in sin my mother conceived me” and not “I was guilty of sin from conception” and to reverse the meaning of the Psalm is inexcusable. This doctrine then is nowhere found in Scripture, and that this false doctrine of inherited guilt began with Augustine and not with any other “father” is quite clear from the fact that Tertullian calls infancy “the innocent period of life” and rejects infant baptism and Chrysostom in his homily on John 9 points out the folly of the disciples in thinking a man could sin before birth, quoting Ezekiel 18 and explaining the visiting of iniquity in the law as being the result of following the idolatrous example of parents. But by beginning on this principle that man is born guilty, Calvinism posits that man is totally disabled, and then that regeneration must precede faith. Jesus, however, discussing regeneration with an unregenerate man blames the man not the Holy Ghost for his unregneracy. I mean, that he blames Nicodemus, not God. And he says that a man must be born again “of water and of the Spirit” pointing to Peter’s words in Acts 2:38, where Peter promises that when a believer repents of their sins and is baptized into Christ in order to receive the remission of their sins, not only do they receive this, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. The apostles view baptism as the “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) and as the place in which the Holy Spirit cuts off sins (Col 2:11-12). But Calvinism view baptism as a mere symbol of a prior regeneration. Now, even the non-Calvinists of the SBC are Calvinistic in their view of baptism to this extent, although they are ignorant of this fact, for they will fight Acts 2:38-39 till blue in the face. Essentially, they beleive in the Calvinistic system, but simply ignore saying so.

  44. jk,

    Again, it appears you an agenda you want to promote, viz. baptismal regeneration. Such agendas are good reasons why you might want to start your own blog rather than giving us a lengthy and irrelevant comment. Please reconsider your posting rationale on other people’s blogs out of respect for the administration and for the integrity of the conversation. Thanks.

  45. […] This goes against many SBC higher-ups’ recommendation.  (See this post). […]

  46. […] Impermanence 4. Are We Creating a Reformed Celebrity Culture? 3. Puritans, We Greet Thee in 2008 2. Together for the Church 1. Go and Sin Some More: A Meditation on the Life and Death of Anna Nicole […]

  47. […] Posts: * Together for the Church * Building Bridges Conference (audio) * Evangelism, Calvinism, and the SBC * Mark Dever on the […]

  48. […] other words, if you can’t beat it, try to control it and marginalize it.  This was seen in the denominational talking point of the pastor search committee and Calvinists putting all their cards on the table.  Calvinists […]

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