Setting the Record Straight About SBC Bridge Burning

About a month ago, I wrote about three ways to prevent denominational depopulation and furthermore to come together for the church.  They were:

1. Labor to build new bridges in the SBC.

2. Protect and defend the bridges that still exist.

3. Call out those who are burning bridges in the SBC.

I noted that #1 has begun to take place, especially under the leadership of men like Tom Ascol and Danny Akin who are heading up the Building Bridges Conference which is scheduled to take place in just a couple of weeks.  In that conference, Nathan Finn is making a presentation he has entitled, “Southern Baptists and Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight” under the category “Theological Stereotypes: Let’s Be Fair and Honest with Each Other.”  Nathan has asked for our help in identifying the gross mischaracterizations and caricatures of Calvinism.  After I created my chronological compilation of the controversy of Calvinism in the Convention (that’s six “c’s” for all you alliterative Southern Baptists), I began putting together another document called “Calvinism: The Whipping Boy of the SBC.”  In that document, I put together quotes of such caricatures and stereotypes Nathan is referring to (still being drafted).  In any case, if you know of any yourself, please chime in on his post.

I also noted a month ago that I did not see #2 and #3 taking place in the SBC.  Well, fortunately, this too is started to take place.  Tom Ascol recently shared that the Arbuckle Baptist Association in Oklahoma voted last week to “take a public stand against Reformed theology” in the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and to register their opposition with the Executive Committee of the SBC.  Ascol rightly concludes, “[This] is a great example of bridge burning in the SBC.   Attitudes and actions like this are exactly what the Building Bridges Conference hopes to address and work to change–not by any kind of coercion or intimidation, but through brotherly fellowship and God-honoring dialogue.”  I am thankful that there are men in OK who are willing to expose such bridge burners as their agenda should not be tolerated in a Convention comprised of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.  Likewise, M. Jay Bennett has written a nine-part series in response to an SBC pastor who does not like the fact that SBC seminaries are producing Reformed ministers by the dozens (whom he apparently calls “hyper-Calvinists”).

I know these last two revelations are disturbing and disappointing, but I am encouraged nonetheless because such bridge burning is being exposed in the light of day.  Much of the SBC controversy with Calvinism is a broken record, so I am glad that there is a consensus among Calvinists and non-Calvinists to set the record straight.  Let’s pray that bridge-burning will become a thing of the past, and future cooperation and consensus can be forged with a passion for the gospel and the building of healthy churches.

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11 Comments on “Setting the Record Straight About SBC Bridge Burning”

  1. Tony Kummer Says:

    I wrote this on the founders blog:
    At some point we have to call this a different religion. Arbuckle may be right; this is not a topic to debate. I have a suspicion that “building bridges” might turn out to be an exercise in bearing false witness for all parties involved.

    I think you’re right to want to save the SBC, but the whole thing smells like it’s already dead.

  2. Tony,

    How so? What leads you to think thus?

  3. Thomas Clay Says:

    I think what Tony is saying is that trying to build bridges between Hyper-Armenians and Calvinists would be more similar to doing so between Christianity and Islam. I don’t know that I would totally agree with that thought, but I’m not sure it will be possible to have effective fellowship at the level that should be taking place. If anything, maybe both sides can agree to stop being disagreeable over the subject. However, standing for truth is not always a unifying thing!

    Can there be such thing as a biblical and therefore, “good” split? Possibly.

  4. Brothers, building bridges between “Hyper-Armenians” and Calvinists is nothing like building bridges between Christianity and Islam. That is a very disappointing comparison. Tony, you said that those holding to an Arminian theology are actually of a different religion. Was there ever a time that you held to a less-than-five-point soteriological scheme? Would you say that you were then practicing a different religion? Perhaps I have misunderstood your blurb, but such a statement calls for clarification.

    I, for one, am very encouraged by this conference and wish that I could attend. I believe that the more the truth of Scripture is patiently taught, the better off we will all be.

  5. Aaron S. Says:


    I’ve been following posts this Bridge Building conference especially on Dr. Ascol’s blog and came across the post and comments here. Perhaps I’m still too naive, but by saying bridges can be built between the Arminian system and the Calvinistic system, are we basically saying that the gospel is independent of either system of theology? So total depravity and “despairing of one’s own efforts” as Martin Luther put it is not really necessary in order to have saving faith as this is something that follows from the Calvinistic system and not the Arminian one?

    Hopefully the conference will help to dispel some myths surrounding what Calvinism really is. On the other hand, could it be that the gospel itself may be lost in the process? Sorry for the lengthy post but I came across the following quote from R.C. Sproul in his book “Willing to Believe”, pages 19-20 that seemed to have some application here:

    “Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminar in Escondido, California, recently suggested that I write a book about “the myth of influence.” I was startled by the suggestion because I did not know what he meant. He explained that this phrase refers to the modern evangelical penchant to “build bridges” to secular thought or to groups within the larger church that espouse defective theologies.

    The mythical element is the naïve assumption that one can build bridges that move in one direction only. Bridges are usually built to allow traffic to move in two directions. What often happens when we relate to others is that we become the influencees rather than the influencers. In an effort to win people to Christ and be “winsome,” we may easily slip into the trap of emptying the gospel of its content, accommodating our hearers, and removing the offense inherent in the gospel. To be sure, our own insensitive behavior can add an offense to the gospel that is not properly part of it. We should labor hard to avoid such behavior. But to strip the gospel of those elements that unbelievers find repugnant is not an option.

    Martin Luther once remarked that wherever the gospel is preached in its purity, it engenders conflict and controversy. We live in an age that abhors controversy, and we are prone to avoid conflict. How dissimilar this atmosphere is from that which marked the labor of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. The prophets were immersed in conflict and controversy precisely because they would not accommodate the Word of God to the demands of the nation caught up in syncretism. The apostles were engaged in conflict continuously. As much as Paul sought to live peaceably with all men, he found rare moments of peace and little respite from controversy.

    That we enjoy relative safety from violent attacks against us may indicate a maturing of modern civilization with respect to religious toleration. Or it may indicate that we have so compromised the gospel that we no longer provoke the conflict that true faith engenders.”

  6. JamesL Says:

    I still remember the “revival service” where the SBC evangelist preached his sermon “10 Reasons Why You Won’t walk the Aisle.” Some time later I read Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians” and was awestruck in the different message of the two. I somewhat believe there is a Gospel problem in the SBC not a calvinism problem. Take my 2 cents with a grain of salt of course!


  7. Thomas Clay Says:

    Brad, before you express disappointment toward Tony, please remember that it was my take on what he was saying. He may not be saying that at all. I hope that he will read what I wrote and clarify.

    I totally agree with you that patience in teaching is crucial. The scriptures don’t just say “Speak the truth” but “Speak the truth in love”. I wasn’t always a 5-point Calvinist and I do believe that I was saved. However, I can’t ever remember a time (even when I was lost) that I did not agree with radical depravity. That is my greatest concern with Armenianism. As Paul Washer says, you only have to be a one-point Calvinist to be saved (that one of total depravity). Armenius seems to reject that point and anyone holding to his stance should be concerned as well.

  8. Tony Kummer Says:

    Let me clarify my first comment: I don’t think non-reformed Christians are to be considered enemies. Rather, at some point we need to rethink our cooperation at all costs arrangements. We are organizationally separate from Presbyterians and Sovereign Grace churches because our differences are too great to cooperate on a denominational level. This “division” actually serves the Gospel, since otherwise we would be having to build bridges about infant baptism or the gifts of the Spirit.

    So, at what point do we part ways in peace? I think its ok to disagree. Maybe we should have a phone line – not a bridge.

    Regarding the death of the SBC: If our bloated structures are wasting missions money and discouraging the progress of the Gospel, why not turn the page and start something new?

    Building Bridges may help make peace for some. But the Calvinism issue is only one small part of fractured fellowship.

    Timmy – Thanks for posting on this.

  9. […] Nov 13th, 2007 by theexpositor Timmy Brister was a guest on my radio program a while back and made the statement that Calvinism is “the whipping boy of the SBC (the Southern Baptist Convention)”. He continues his thoughts and shares new links at his website at in a post entitled Setting the Record Straight About SBC Bridge Burning. […]

  10. John Fariss Says:

    I am not a Calvinist (or Reformed, or whatever), at least not a 5 point Calvinist (3, 3.5 at most); but the whole idea of using Calvinism as a whipping boy or straw man is repugnant to me. Granted, I sometimes get tired of some Calvinists saying that their applications are thoroughly Biblical in a way that implies other applications are less than Biblical, but so what? They have a right to their opinions. On my darker days, the whole argument seems 200 years out of date. And on my better days, that any orthodox theological system should be summarily rejected rather than discussed says more to me about the insecurity of the “rejector” than it does of the content of the system or its adherents. So hang in there my brothers. And those who compared the divide between Calvinism and Armenism to that of Christianity and Islam–guys, please, take a chill pill. Two people can have passionately different theologies, but both be in a saving relationship with Christ Jesus. (And I have had some stimulating conversations with Moslems.)

  11. John,

    I think that is the point of the Building Bridges Conference. It it is neither a debate or exercise in theological one-upmanship nor a glossing over the real, theological differences that exist in the SBC; rather, it is an attempt to treat each other with the intellectual honesty, Christian charity, and biblical clarity. When there are so many political agendas, reckless rhetoric, and uninformed dogmatism, progress or consensus is virtually impossible. I am hopeful that the conference and those participating will help create a new ethos in the SBC that will carry over into other parts of the SBC, including the blogosphere.

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