A Word to My Reformed Brothers in the SBC

When the current controversy erupted over Calvinism in the SBC erupted a couple weeks ago, I debated whether or not to enter the fray. Things have changed quite considerably since the hay day of 2005-2008 when Calvinism seemed to be the death-defying whipping boy of folks with more fight in their hands than love in their hearts. But alas, perhaps the change was merely an intermission thanks largely in part to the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) which, for a time, seemed to unite Southern Baptists on the front lines of the Great Commission.

But the SBC, since the affirmation of the GCR, have gone back to the barricks and once again are turning against one another as if the willingness to fight is a temptation of which one too many are unwilling to walk away. Needless to say, I have my thoughts on the “traditionalist” March to New Orleans, and undoubtedly sparks are going to fly about Calvinism and whether or not the Baptist Faith and Message is a sufficient confessional guide to afford meaningful and substantive cooperation for Southern Baptists. Several of my friends have taken up this discussion on the Internet, including Tom Ascol (whose series I high recommend) and Nathan Finn (whose aspirations I wholeheartedly embrace). I don’t think I have much to contribute other than what they (and others) have been able to say in ways far more reasonable and eloquent.

BUT, if I have one contribution to make to the discussion leading up to next week’s Annual Meeting of the SBC in New Orleans, it would not be critiquing a very poorly written traditionalist document, nor would it be explaining the postmodern power play of subject-defining labels like “New Calvinism” and “traditionalist”, nor would it be showing how the “majoritarian” party has failed to influence the direction of the SBC since 2006 (2006-07 Joshua Convergence; 2008-09 Baptist Identity Movement; 2010-2011 Anti-GCR Movement; 2012 Traditionalist Movement). Rather, I’d like to issue a statement to my fellow Reformed brothers in the SBC. With all that is going on next week, there’s some fundamental things that I’m preaching to myself and think it helpful to share with my Reformed brethren.  To put some order to my thoughts, here are five “Do’s” and “Don’ts” as it related to next week’s Annual Meeting.

5 Do’s

1.  Do Remember the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for Unity Among His Followers (John 17)

Truth is important, but so is unity. And we should be unified around truth. But when there are real, substantive differences between brothers, let us not use that as an opportunity to drive a wedge between us but rather drive us to prayer, humility, and listening better. Should we fail to have a common understanding, let us not fail to have a common desire to honor Christ’s heart for unity among His people

2.  Do Model Graciousness with Those Who Disagree With Us

The goal of our involvement with believers is always edification, not winning an argument or a debate. One of the most helpful things for me to remember is that in any given group of people, the greatest sinner in the room is me. I know my own heart, and how needy I am of the grace of God. Those who forget mercy will show no mercy. Those who go to the throne of grace and are not far from the foot of the cross will be careful to remember their word and behavior have been blood-bought through the sacrifice of God’s Son, who, on the cross, displayed grace upon grace to such needy sinners like us.

3. Do Promote Great Commission Cooperation

What we believe is incredibly important. What we do with what we believe is equally, if not more, important. This coming week, let us focus on what we are for (Great Commission), not what we are against (opposing views of salvation). Support the work of our missionaries, both domestic and foreign. Visit their booths and prayer for those leading them. Express your support both in word and deed. Lead your church to adopt an unreached people group. Seek to cooperate with other churches who are content to live within the confessional parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message (though you may believe more). Historical Calvinism reveals that its leaders are pioneers in missions and church planting. Let that be our testimony in this generation and for many more to come.

4.  Do Emphasize What Is Most Significant 

This next week will be historic for a number of reasons,not the least of which will be the opportunity to elect the first African American President of the SBC.  Don’t let the debates, motions, and resolutions eclipse the significance of this event. And be there to participate in the business meetings when the votes come. Furthermore, some of the other most significant things might not happen on a stage or with a mic in hand. It might be a five minute conversation and prayer with a discouraged pastor. It might be an evangelistic conversation with an employee at the hotel. It might be serving the needs of the poor and offering them hope in Jesus’ name. In the scales of eternity, let us center ourselves on what is most important, not necessarily what is perceived or promoted as significant.

5. Do Appreciate and Honor the Elderly Churchmen Before Us

Most of us are young. I’m 33. There will be pastors, perhaps many of them, who have pastored their churches longer than you or I have been alive. I don’t have to agree with everything they believe to be humbled by that commitment to the church and honor them for their devotion to Christ and His church. We have a lot to learn, both in theory/theology and in practice. With a shared commitment to be churchmen and faithful ministers of the gospel, a posture of humility and appreciation will not only bless others but serve your soul as well.

5 Don’ts

1.  Don’t Play into the Caricatures

Non-Calvinists are playing the card everyday that we are “militant, agressive, angry, and combative.” Anyone who embraces the doctrines of God and does not dispense grace to others is doing it wrong. Big time. Don’t put fleshly examples to straw men or credibility to their caricatures. Don’t give ammunition to anti-Calvinists through unchecked sarcasm or sophomoric behavior.

2. Don’t Give Into Doomsday Thinking and Cynicism

Let’s face it. There are people who don’t like the fact that we are committed Baptists and committed Calvinists. They think the two do not coexist (though our history argues otherwise). The temptation is to think they speak for the “majority” of Southern Baptist when in fact they don’t. Don’t let cynicism and pessimism drive your perspective of the SBC. Love hopes all things, and being filled with the Spirit constitutes a predisposition of joy, peace, and patience, not clamoring, bitterness, or frustration.  Don’t be sour in sarcasm but sweet in sincerity.

3.  Don’t Believe All the Rhetoric and Hyperbole

Following up on #2, you can anticipate a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole stated regarding what we believe and how we supposedly operate in the SBC. The temptation is to believe a false narrative and eventually fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t buy into it. Listen to the leaders and statesmen of the SBC and stay the course. What God has providentially worked in our generation cannot be thwarted by naysayers and those who shout the loudest. Don’t define the state of the SBC and your involvement in it by such men, lest they control your behavior by pushing your buttons.

4.  Don’t Apologize or Hide What You Believe

There will be those who tell you that the only acceptable Calvinist is one who is embarrassed by what they believe to the point they fear speaking about it publicly.  It is said that Calvinists must “stay put” and keep some “long standing agreement” among Baptists. Don’t be embarrassed to stand by what you believe. There’s no need to apologize. Speak your convictions with courage, clarity, and composure should you have the opportunity. It is true that the playing field is not level, but that does not mean your back is against the wall. In humility, with the Word of God as your source, share what you believe from Scripture (not Calvin, Luther, etc.).

5.  Don’t Forget the Gospel

Paul told Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ”. Paul constantly reminded the churches (and their leaders) of the gospel and its supreme importance. Don’t forget that the most important subject matter to take place all week is the beauty, supremacy, and glory of Jesus Christ. Make much of Jesus. Adorn the gospel with your behavior. Make Jesus preeminent in your conversations with believers and unbelievers. Don’t let it be said that we remembered Calvin but forgot Jesus. Make Him your focus, and His kingdom your agenda.

I hope these thoughts are encouraging to my Reformed brothers as we go to New Orleans next week. I rejoice with you that God is sovereign over all things, including our salvation. Let us remember also that God is sovereign over all that will take place next week as well.  May we not act or speak otherwise.

Grace and peace.

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12 Comments on “A Word to My Reformed Brothers in the SBC”

  1. Tom Says:

    Thanks for this post Tim. May the Lord help us to be men of grace who live in light of the gospel with love to Christ and love to our brothers.

  2. Clark Dunlap Says:

    Yep! and Thank You! Not going to the SBC@NO but need to remember these anyway!

  3. Sue Betten Says:

    Thank you for the outline and encouragement as I share with brethren at my church Coloma Bible Church where we are reforming more and more in keeping with biblical truth. I was challenged this very afternoon to talk about different confessions and left the conversation chiding myself that it doesn’t do a bit of good to clearly define thus and such (which I didn’t do all THAT well but tried as best I knew) if I miss, as they say, “the One Thing Needful”. The one thing needful was understood thankfully. Still, this article is a great outline and reminder to me even though I’m not part of the SBC or even a … man.


    Sue Betten, Christian (sbc)
    ps. you have a small typo in this line:

    “the Internet, including Tom Ascol (whose series I high recommend) and”

    … I have typos ALL THE TIME but since there are probably a WHOLE lot more people reading YOUR stuff and I have no desire for anyone to read my stuff (nor would anyone desire to read my stuff) hopefully you’ll forgive me for pointing this out publicly. Consider making the correction if desired AND THEN DELETING entirely my “reply” here as I Colonel Klink this with “I know nothing”.

    Thanks again.

  4. Wayne Mulling Says:

    The doctrines of Grace are scriptural doctrine, regardless of how or whom or when biblical scholars hate them. Men will come and go, but the Doctrines of Grace will persevere just as they did way before John Calvin ever walked this sod.

  5. gordonloop Says:

    Thank you for the article, but unfortunately no matter what we say to prepare for the convention, nothing will bring unity on this matter, it hasn’t since the reformation, so it won’t now. There will be a them and us mentality over the SBC. Wish it wasn’t so. On another note:
    First line has a typo. The word erupt is used twice. It makes it sound awkward. Sorry for being picky.

    • Andrew Green Says:

      To say that nothing will bring unity on this issue is an underestimation of the power of the cross. If the gospel continues to play second fiddle, then sure, you’re probably right. This does not mean we should stop striving for the unity that our Savior spoke of in the Gospels. We’ve been reconciled to God and each other. That includes Jew, Greek, circumcised, uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, Calvinists, Armenians, and everything in between. Never underestimate the binding and love-producing power of the gospel! Thanks for the article!

  6. Timmy,

    I believe we’ve met in the past and had several classes together at SBTS. I want to ask a question that’s been on my mind ever since I read YRR in 2008. I offer it in humility, but believe it is important to ask.

    Colin Hanson wrote on page 77: “For someone who say she doesn’t want to stir controversies, Timmy Brister often finds himself in the middle of them. His blog writing doesn’t endear him to the executives at Southern Seminary, where he is preparing for pastoral ministry. He gives seminary leaders an earful when they welcome chapel speakers who have elsewhere derided Calvinism. ‘It bothers me that I get reprimanded for doing the very thing I’m taught to do,’ said Timmy, twenty-eight.”

    I was your classmate (graduate in 06 & 08), yet I have no idea what you mean when you said, ‘doing the very thing I’m taught to do.’ We took the same professors, took the same classes, went to the same chapels, and I do not know what you were taught to do – engage in theological controversy? start a blog? reprimand chapel speakers?

    I have read over that sentence numerous times and am always left scratching my head, thinking, “Timmy must be reading something into his seminary experience when he made that statement, because I have no what he means he was “taught to do” something about Calvinism at Southern.

    Again, I point this out because your remarks were made in a book anyone can read, as opposed to private conversation. You have also publicly entered the SBC Calvinism / Arminian discussion with this blog. I have just never known what you meant though we were classmates.

    Adam Embry

    • Adam,

      I’m happy to answer your inquiries. I’m not as active on the Internet as I have been at the SBC Annual Meeting and now beginning a family vacation, so apologies accompany my blog absence.

      If I understand your comment correct, you are asking about the comment by Collin Hansen quoting me about “doing the very thing I was taught to do.” Here’s the answer and the context from which that quote arose.

      I grew up in a small town, county-seat First Baptist Church strongly entrenched in the culture and programs of the SBC. However, theology was not taught or emphasized, and truth was secondary to moralism and religious activity.

      From there, I attended a Baptist college and was introduced to doctrinally formally. During that time, I was confronted with the reality that I was theologically ignorant and incompetent. Realizing I had a lot of catching up to do, I began to devour anything and everything I could.

      After serving for years in a local church, I proceeded onto seminary at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At this time, I knew nothing about the Baptist Faith and Message, the Abstract of Principles, or any other confession. In our first chapel service (fall 2004) Convocation, Dr. Mohler talked about our school being “confessional.” It was a completely new idea for me. Included in his message was the idea of “contending for the truth” (Jude 3) and seeking to know and defend the truths of scripture with confessional integrity and theological clarity (at least that’s my recollection).

      So as I began my studies at Southern, that’s exactly what I set out to be–a confessional Christian. The classes taught me truths that proper stewardship required faithful proclamation and, when called upon, defense and confrontation (as demonstrated throughout the NT).

      The issue in particular that I raised was why specific leaders in the SBC who DID NOT believe what our school believed were allowed to speak in chapel. Not only that, one in particular openly denied the doctrines our school is confessionally bound to “teach in accordance with, and not contrary to”. As a confused young seminary student, I queried the administration of our school about this conundrum, seeking clarification and understanding why this would happen when I was being instructed otherwise. Their answer was that my inquiry was juvenile and not worthy of a response.

      When I blogged about my disagreement with having such individuals to speak at our seminary, I was thenceforth blackballed for the remainder of my three years in ways I don’t feel comfortable speaking about publicly. In any case, it was a learning experience about the world of the SBC and how things work, at which time I was completely clueless.

      So in summary, I was taught to be confessional, to hold to truth with integrity, to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and when necessarily be willing to defend sound doctrine. It was not to start a blog, or “do something about Calvinism” or “reprimand chapel speakers.” I know there’s a temptation to read into my comments, but hopefully this response sufficiently answers your question and provides a context for the excerpt from Collin’s interview with me.

      • Thanks for your comments, Timmy. I think they provide a context to understand your remark. It sounds like you had a bit more of an experience at Southern than most, but I do thank you for your candor and honesty in responding.

  7. Brandy Smith Says:

    Adam: Perhaps Tim was taught to “defend the faith”.

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