Interacting with Alvin and Nathan Regarding SBC and Calvinism

Drs. Alvin Reid and Nathan Finn have begun to write (together) the case for consensus for Calvinism in the SBC.  Contrary to what some believe, I believe this is the desire of most (if not all) Calvinists I know in the SBC.  The series at Between the Times has been encouraging to read, I however would like to interact with their articles and offer a few suggestions.

They write:

Though we disagree with each other concerning Calvinism, we are convinced that this issue does not have to be a source of division in the SBC. We know folks get tired of hearing this, but it is true: there has always been room in the SBC for both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.

Amen. I’ve got only one problem with this. The discussion from the beginning has been slanted against Calvinists by means of terminology.  Calvinism is a historical term with numerous references in Southern Baptist life; non-Calvinism, on the other hand, is a nondescript term.  What is a non-Calvinist? Does it say anything positive about what that person believes? A non-Calvinist could be a four-point Calvinist and a Pelagian in the SBC.  Surely Nathan and Alvin don’t mean to include Pelagians in the SBC, but that is precisely the problem.  The non-Calvinists have refused to positively affirm their position or have any labels attached to it other than those lacking historical reference or substance (e.g.,”I’m not a Calvinist; I’m a biblicist.”).  To have a consensus, we have to know exactly who we are talking about here.  While the non-Calvinists have not been able to positively affirm their soteriological positions, they have termed historical Calvinism in numerous ways that are not helpful or accurate, including calling “five-point” Calvinism “hyper-Calvinism” or anyone who holds to all five points as “extreme.”  The bottom line to this is that non-Calvinists are going to have to be more titular than simply saying what they are not, and until that happens, I believe Calvinists will not feel comfortable working for consensus with those, for example, do not believe in original sin.  Is that not a fair thing to ask?

They write:

While it appears today that most of our Convention leaders are non-Calvinists, there is plenty of evidence that a growing number of Southern Baptists are Calvinists or at least strongly sympathetic to Reformed theology.

Recognizing this to be true, most of our churches either dead or dying (Frank Page says we will lose up to 20,000 churches in the next 15 years) are not Reformed and have been informed by non-Calvinists in the SBC to stay away from any Calvinist pastor today.  The politics of the SBC and the movement of God in my generation are working in opposition to one another, and the result is that the movement of God is going outside the walls of the SBC, leaving these dying churches in the wake. This is a tragic set of circumstances, and until the politics in the SBC are addressed, the growing number of Reformed will continue to face opposition and feel like the battles they would face are not worth fighting for.

They write:

There was diversity concerning Calvinism in the mid-19th century, and there is diversity on this issue in the early 20th century. Calvinism did not divide the Convention then. It should not divide us now.

Amen. Indeed that should be the case, but even most recently we heard Paige Patterson in an interview arguing that someone who holds to definite atonement would not be someone welcome at Southwestern Seminary. On the bureaucratic front, there are DOM’s arbitrating between autonomous local churches by filtering out resumes of Reformed ministers while others are requiring ministers to hold to a total abstinence position on alcohol (some of my closest friends are no longer a part of the state convention or local association and are only nominally SBC as a result of these kinds of actions).  Whether there will be a formal “divide” or not, it has been happening behind the scenes, not by the splintering but by the squeezing out of Calvinists. Acceptance and diversity in the 21st century cannot be assumed to exist because it did in centuries past; we must take aggressive steps to prevent any further division and seek to bring consensus and reconciliation among both sides.

They write:

Finally, and perhaps most important, the internet exacerbates this whole issue by creating a “vicious cycle” of accusations and mean-spirited attacks. Several times in the past few years prominent pastors have criticized Calvinism in a sermon. Because the sermons are available online, Calvinist bloggers jump on the pastor and point out everything they believe he got wrong. Then other pastors read the blogs and are upset that Calvinists are so critical, so they in turn criticize Calvinists in a different venue. Calvinists respond in kind, and the cycle continues. And this is just one example of how the cycle starts-we could also talk about state papers “exposés” of Calvinism, Convention publications addressing the issue, conferences (on all sides), blog series written by angry young Calvinists, etc.

First of all, I am grieved by how some of the responses have been handled in the past in blogosphere, including some of my own.  No Christian is afford the license to be mean-spirited and attack the individual.  With that said, had their not been advent of the blogosphere, I am not sure they would have been any counterpoint to the barrage of anti-Calvinism pieces coming out from all sources in the SBC–from the Executive Committee to academic “white papers” to state paper editorials to “evangelism” conferences to marketing anti-Calvinism propaganda through state conventions, and on and on.  The blogosphere has been the flattening and democratizing of the SBC voice, where the caricatures, half-truths, and gross misrepresentations will no longer go unchecked.  Going through the records of the past five years, Calvinists in the SBC have routinely been on the defensive with the non-Calvinists on the attack.  I’ve got 20+ pages of article links to prove that to be true.  Had there never been the initiative to misrepresent and marginalize Calvinists in the SBC, I am convinced that Calvinism would not have been such a hot-button issue today.  The point is that the non-Calvinists have made this an issue, and the only appropriate response of Calvinists, in their minds, is to blindly and passively let them speak their mind. To offer a response, no matter how gracious or charitable, marks you as “aggressive, militant, and extreme.”

Coming to a consensus on Calvinism is something the SBC desperately needs in order to thrive in the 21st century, and by that, I do not mean the SBC needs to become “five-point” Calvinists.  What I do mean is possessing the commitment to Christian love that affords one another the right to hold differing positions within evangelical orthodoxy and the commitment to Christian truth that does not afford the right for us to ignore the whole counsel of God’s Word.  Love without truth is mushy sentimentalism and breeds liberalism. Truth without love is fundamentalism and breeds controversy, not consensus.  I join Alvin and Nathan in the spirit of gospel-centered unity in working to chart a course for Southern Baptists in this generation that will not shy away from the precious truths we hold dear nor shy away from looking that brother who disagrees with us and say, “I’m with you for Jesus’ sake and the spread of His gospel.”

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17 Comments on “Interacting with Alvin and Nathan Regarding SBC and Calvinism”

  1. allenmickle Says:

    Tim,

    Great evaluation. I hope Dr. Reid and Dr. Finn respond to your critique. We need more critical thinkers like you thinking though what we do and say, and not just in the SBC (as I am not SBC) but in all of evangelicalism.

    Allen


  2. […] Calvinist and non-Calvinist co-write message to SBC Alvin Reid and Nathan A. Finn, Between the Times, ‘Calvinism and the SBC: The Case for Consensus‘ (HT: Timmy Brister) […]


  3. Timmy,

    I like you. I like to read your thoughtful posts.

    But I think framing things as “truth without love”, “love without truth”, and “truth and love” needs to be kicked to the curb.

    John 13:34.

    I don’t think it’s the “eleventh” commandment.

    It’s the “new” commandment.

    God Bless,

    Benji


  4. Thanks for pointing out the original article (I might not have seen it if you hadn’t) and for taking the time to interact with it. I think this sort of thoughtful discussion is desperately needed.


  5. Benji,

    I didn’t realize that following the exhortation of Paul would result in getting kicked to the curb. Eph. 4:15.

    I never said it was an “eleventh commandment,” and I have no idea what you are talking about. If you disagree with what I have said, make your argument as to why I am wrong and why you think you’re right. You can do better than this, and in the future, I hope that is the case.

  6. volfan007 Says:

    Timmy and others,

    It would be helpful to go to SBC Today blog and read the new post “A Call to Christian Maturity” to understand the BI guys and Dr. Yarnell.

    David


  7. David Worley,

    Thanks again for the unsolicited SBCToday commercial. I and others have an RSS reader and are competent to find our way to what we want to read without your assistance. Methinks you underestimate our technological competence and overestimate our interest in the subject matter.

  8. Matthew Svoboda Says:

    I am still confused why a four point Calvinist isn’t considered a calvinist…

    It seems to me that as long as you hold to three points you are more of a Calvinist than an Arminian…

    Could someone explain?


  9. Timmy,

    I believe I bombed on how I came across. Please forgive me.

    You are also right that you did not say it was the eleventh command as well. Please forgive me for that as well.

    I also might have brought over assumption(s) from how others have said similar things and read that into what you were saying.

    I also think you make a fair case for Ephesians 4:15.

    Wow, the humiliation just goes further and further–it’s probably good for me 🙂

    Allow me to explain in more detail part of what I am getting at.

    My impression is that what some people mean by truth and love does not go any deeper that “be doctrinal and nice”.

    But that is where I think what Christ is saying in John 13:34 transcend that. I believe His command to love based on His sacrificial example is profound doctrinal truth.

    In other words, love and truth are at least so closely joined in verse 34, that I think to make a fine distinction between them would not do justice to the text.

    It goes so far beyond merely being nice. It is love with an edge. It goes beyond pleasantries and not merely stealing from my brother and asks the question “how can I ‘sacrifice’ for my brother”.

    Timmy, I think I may have sinned against the very command in which I was trying to advocate for.

    I think I should have been more respectful towards you.

    God Bless,

    Benji


  10. Benji,

    First of all, I want to express my gratitude for the way in which you have responded. One of the dangers of the internet is to assume we know the person we are writing to simply because we see their name on a comment or attached to a blog post.

    Regarding your comment, I simply did not know where you were coming from. Now that I see what you were trying to say, I agree with your sentiments, but more importantly, I agree with your heart to love the brethren.

    I forgive you, Benji, and in the spirit of which you wrote, should I offend you, I ask that you would afford the kindness to accept my apologies as well. Thanks for commenting and displaying the kind of humility that is all-too-often missing on the blogosphere today.

  11. Dr. Paul W. Foltz Says:

    It’s a shame that in today’s world that; thesis plus
    antithesis equals synthesis. How can two walk together except they be agreed/ What fellowship hath light with darkness/


  12. Benji and Timmy,

    I’ve never met either of you. I have read comments by both of you more times than I can count. I have just concluded reading several blogs and their comment section and have to say this to both of you. THANKS.

    You have been a blessings as I read your simple exchange. May your tribe increase.

  13. Mark Says:

    Pastor Brister,

    As I was over at Peter Lumpkin’s blog, I kept having the exact same sentiment about the amorphous term, “Non-Calvinist”.

    I can just anticipate the response,
    “What ever happened to the Baptist Faith and Message”?

    How would you respond?

    Thanks,
    Mark


  14. Mark,

    I’m not sure at what exactly you are getting at, but I’ll take a stab at it.

    Regarding the Baptist Faith & Message, it affirms election and the evangelical graces of repentance and saving faith. Non-Calvinists in the SBC may or may not affirm the Baptist Faith & Message. I say that because, while some in the SBC will affirm the BF&M2000 as a “minimalist” document for cooperation, many Southern Baptist churches are not confessional to begin with. When we talk about the BF&M2000, we cannot assume that it is a consensus document in the SBC for the simple fact that many churches today do not hold to it in theory or in practice.

  15. Mark Says:

    Pastor Brister,

    First of all, please understand that I came to the SBC from a nominal Episcopal upbringing and to a mature Reformed understanding within the PCA, so my knowledge of internal SBC politik is minimal. But I am like Luther now, I’m here ’til they kick me out.

    As to what I was getting at, you said, “The non-Calvinists have refused to positively affirm *their position* or have any labels attached to it other than those lacking historical reference or substance.”

    I could imagine a “Non-Calvinist” responding glibly to you by saying that we should be able to gain a consensus around the BFM2K, that *their position* was the BFM2K.

    So I was assuming that you wanted the “Non-Calvinist” group to come forward with something more specific than “I hold to the BFM2K, but I’m definitely not a Calvinist”.

    Is that the case?

    Second of all, you said, “we cannot assume that [the BFM2K] is a consensus document in the SBC for the simple fact that many churches today do not hold to it in theory or in practice.”

    Now this I don’t understand. Why does the BFM2K exist then? So technically, a Latter-Day Saint church could join the SBC? Or an SBC church could become Mormon and still maintain its SBC membership?

    Thanks for the help,
    Mark


  16. Mark,

    You said, So I was assuming that you wanted the “Non-Calvinist” group to come forward with something more specific than “I hold to the BFM2K, but I’m definitely not a Calvinist”.

    Yes, sort of. I don’t want to think of the BFM2000 as a badge or bumper stick that, if you wear it, then that is all that counts. Personally, I think the BFM2000 is an acceptable confession, but I think at points it is poorly written or worded.

    You asked, Why does the BFM2K exist then? So technically, a Latter-Day Saint church could join the SBC? Or an SBC church could become Mormon and still maintain its SBC membership?

    The answer to both of those questions would be “no.” The BFM2000 works on a convention-wide level of cooperation, association, and general denominational life. However, no Southern Baptist Church is required to have it as their confession. For instance, many churches are either writing their own confession or using older confessions such as the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, 1858 Abstract of Principles, or 1689 Second London Baptist Confession.

    Recently in one of our annual meetings (07 San Antonio), the issue arose over the role the BFM2000 plays in SBC life. It was notoriously called “The Garner Motion” and sought to make the BFM2000 *the* confessional consensus document of the SBC. Dr. Mohler and others stood directly against it as two of our seminaries hold to the Abstract of Principles and not the BFM2000 (Abstract is the first actual confession of Southern Baptists and is “narrower” in scope. You have to be at least a three point Calvinist to adhere to it). The issue was whether the BFM2000 was a “maximalist” document and sufficient to determine the way SBC will function as a denomination. The politics behind this had to do with the trustee system of SBC entities, particularly with the IMB who recently made policies that superseded what the BFM2000 said regarding prayer language and baptism. However, if that passed, then the BFM2000 would in effect be the “authoritative” confession trumping the Abstract of Principles elsewhere in other SBC entities. Ironically enough, Mohler was one the revising committee of the BFM2000 document and is president of SBTS who holds to the Abstract of Principles. Some have argued that the two have serious differences on matters such as Lord’s Supper and state of man. Anyway, so that’s a little background for you.

    What happens on a denominational level and what happens on the autonomous, local church level are two different things. That’s a big difference than the church government of Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Consequently, my experience in traveling around Southern Baptist life is that most churches are not confessional nor are they very theologically committed outside the fundamentals of our faith. In other words, the BFM2000 does not play anywhere near the role the WCF does in the PCA, for instance.

    Does that shed a little light on things?

  17. Christopher Says:

    I have a question: Are you talking about the Synod of Dort and the five points as defining “Calvin-ism”?

    Calvin was committed to historical church teaching, which included among other things paedobaptism and presbyterian ecclesiology. I realize that historically men have called themselves “Calvinists” (ie Spurgeon), but did not truly hold to the whole of the Institutes. How do Baptists define their understanding of “Calvin-ism”? To what extent do you actually agree with Calvin, and ow do you differ?
    Thanks.


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