Recently, a group of former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, seminary professors and pastors released a statement on SBC Today called A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. The Statement seems to be a genuine attempt to clarify a theological position on soteriology that is against Calvinism. However, unintentional or not, I think it does more harm than good.
According to Jerry Vines, a long time SBC pastor and evangelist and one of the statements signatories, there is no agenda to rid the SBC of Calvinists. He says, “I have no desire to run all Calvinists out of the SBC; I think it would be divisive and wrong. But, current attempts to move the SBC to a Calvinistic soteriology are divisive and wrong. As long as groups and individuals seek to force Calvinism upon others in the Convention, there will be problems.”
Ironically, I think this new Statement is also divisive and wrong. It is neither the traditional view nor is it Southern Baptist. Though perhaps unintentional, this Statement only serves to drive a wedge between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Not even the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (which I would argue is the traditional Southern Baptist Understanding) does that. I deeply respect Jerry Vines but you don’t lock arms with your brother to pursue the Great Commission together by telling him his views are not welcome or that they are divisive and wrong.
On the other side of the debate, Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary wrote a response to the Statement entitled Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time To Talk. He appeals to his non-Calvinistic brothers to pursue unity.
Mohler writes, “The more Calvinistic Southern Baptists, and here I include myself, are deeply theological and passionately concerned to get the Gospel right. The Calvinists I know are transforming their beliefs into an absolute renaissance of missionary commissionings and Gospel church planting. At times, however, Calvinists can be tribal and elitist, more concerned with counting points of doctrine and less concerned with pointing us all to the mission of the Gospel. Such a tribalism is inconsistent with the very beliefs we cherish. This goes to show that we, too, can be inconsistent in faith and practice. Of such tribalism we must all repent.”
He goes on to say, “We should never apologize for attention to doctrine, especially when those doctrines reach the very heart of the Gospel. But tribalism, whether Calvinist or non-Calvinist, is an affront to the Gospel by which we have been saved and to the mission of the Great Commission that is entrusted to us.”
Of course, once the editors at SBC Today realized how much heat was generated by their posting of the Statement, they were quick to point out that their Statement is very similar to the affirmations and denials of the Together for the Gospel tribe. It’s true, and Mohler admits it, Calvinists can be guilty of the same kind of tribalism as non-Calvinists.
There are a majority of SBC members who are not Calvinistic and a minority of SBC members who are. Each is genuinely desiring to understand and apply the Gospel. We all affirm the BF&M2000. We are all in favor of pursuing the Great Commission. Let’s not label one another and find ways to create a problem where there isn’t one.
Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same conviction. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there are quarrels among you. What I am saying is this: each of you says, ‘I’m with Paul,’ or ‘I’m with Apollos,’ or ‘I’m with Cephas,’ or ‘I’m with Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name? … For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.’ 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17a
Let us resist labeling one another (traditional, semi-Pelagian, Calvinist, Arminian, Reformed, Southern Baptist). Let us join together to proclaim the gospel!
So, I ask the signatories: What was the thinking behind your signing this Statement? How does this help the SBC fulfill our mission with love and unity? Does it matter if your view is the majority view? Can the majority be wrong?
And I ask Calvinists: Have you found yourself guilty of the very tribalism of which Dr. Mohler speaks? Moving forward, how might you pursue a closer partnership with others in the SBC for the sake of the gospel?
Anyone else: What are your thoughts on the intent or the content of this Statement?