My Response to a Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

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?

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  • http://twitter.com/jeremy_riggs Jeremy Riggs

    Good word, Nathan. As a Free Will Baptist, I am Arminian to the core. I wonder what your thoughts are on some church planting networks refusing to work with Arminians. Specifically, the Acts29 Network.

    • nathancreitz

      Good question Jeremy. I think some level of theological fencing is helpful. The problem I have with this recent Statement is that there doesn’t seem to be any positive outcome of releasing such a statement. I don’t know much about Acts29 other than that they are Reformed so I can’t speak to how militant or open they are about the matter. If they completely shun those who disagree with them on the matter of election then I wouldn’t say that’s healthy. On the other hand, if they are strategically identifying men who they will support financially and want to make Reformed doctrine a high priority then I’m not sure that I see a problem. We can have our theological distinctives if they don’t get in the way of unity and partnership in the gospel.

  • John Reddy

    Thoughtful post…

    I absolutely believe that doctrine matters… but I also am weary of theological tugs-of-war that hurt the mission of the church and the heart of the gospel.  Most of my New England neighbors couldn’t spell the terms that we argue about… let alone have a meaningful discussion about it.  So… whether Calvinist or Arminian… I encourage us to focus on the common need to share the gospel while continuing to have heartfelt dialogue in the privacy of our “family gatherings”.

    Blessings to you Nathan.  I’ve been watching with interest what God is doing in your life.

    John

    • nathancreitz

      Thanks John! Great to hear from you! Doctrine does matter and those in the pew who can’t spell or discuss the matter are looking to the pastors and professors for what’s important. That’s what is discouraging about this. There are a lot of uninformed people who will get riled up about the issue and rally behind their leaders. Then the tug-of-war, as you said, will begin.

      Thanks for keeping in touch!

  • Gary

    Dear
    Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider
    these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what
    did he mean?

    Did
    he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which
    his Word was written? If so, then his
    Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did
    he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and
    Greek only? He would not
    preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the
    world?

    Or
    did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the
    Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and
    the true doctrines of the Christian Faith?
    Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by
    translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three
    original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no
    translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any
    language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the
    Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No
    Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus
    Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of
    your faith.”

    There
    is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord
    and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire
    world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists
    believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in
    a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this,
    now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God
    for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved,
    and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the
    Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as
    to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism?
    And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible
    have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you
    honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with
    translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain
    interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins
    in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of
    evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000
    years after Christ believed that: Water
    baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT
    forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will
    find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do
    Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith?
    THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free
    will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide
    faith and belief as a free gift,
    with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or
    after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read
    “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the
    name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of
    Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water
    baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t
    seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit
    with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism
    verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are
    literally correct?? If we believe God’s
    Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call
    AND when they are baptized? Why not
    believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes
    and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple
    words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear
    Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought
    out and very reasonable…but it is wrong.
    Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient
    Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist
    “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated,
    states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as
    Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly
    says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please
    investigate this critical doctrine further.
    Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find
    out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth
    century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God
    bless you!

    Gary

    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/06/the-early-church-fathers-believed-in.html

  • Gary

    I’ve lost track of the number of times that a Baptist or evangelical has told me that Acts 2:38 was mistranslated; that the “for” in that passage of God’s Holy Word should be removed and replaced with “because of”.

    It doesn’t matter to them that every English translation of the Bible translates this word in Acts 2:38 as “for” or “into” and never “because of”, because these Christians know in their hearts that God would never, ever say that baptism has anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.

    Below is an excellent article by Lutheran pastor, Matt Richards on this subject:

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=32616&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BJS+%28The+Brothers+of+John+the+Steadfast%29