Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One tribe of SBCers is plenty for me

Let's see. We have this common doctrinal document, the Baptist Faith and Message Statement. While it does not exhaustively articulate the doctrines that Southern Baptists feel necessary to under gird our common work, it does serve as the threshold for acceptability among us.

It was good enough for Paul and Silas, and for Adrian and Al a decade ago, right?

SBC Calvinists, a minority position among us,and SBC non-Calvinists, the majority position among us, happily subscribe to the BFM.

Everyone is happy, eh?

Uh, no.

Seems the Calvinists are seen as somewhat uppity (no southerner of a certain age needs to have the term "uppity" explained) and excessively aggressive. They are seen as garnering too much attention, causing too many church problems, and having too much influence.

The SBC Traditionalist statement (warning: extremely slow to load, far too many comments) of last week might have been one of those tediously boring theological pronouncements if not for a rather provocative introduction and preamble. To wit:

This [SBC New Calvinist] movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.



The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself. And, to their credit, most Southern Baptist Calvinists have not demanded the adoption of their view as the standard. We would be fine if this consensus continued, but some New Calvinists seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of this long-standing arrangement.



While we are not insisting that every Southern Baptist affirm the soteriological statement below in order to have a place in the Southern Baptist family, we are asserting that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life. We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology.

 I recognize a shot across the bow when I see one and this document is a full broadside. It is difficult to read this and not think that the majority, traditionalist Southern Baptists have in mind only a sterile doctrinal discussion.

Starting about fifteen years ago I began to hear of individual SBC Calvinists agressively insisting on their views in the churches they pastor. This was sometimes framed with language like "correcting heresy" in the church.

I opposed that then. I do so now. Fortunately for we Southern Baptists, there is a highly effective corrective mechanism already in place for such things - local church autonomy as exercised by sensible laypeople. It might be ugly and destructive but this brand of aggressive Calvinist is usually defeated.

But what of Calvinism in general in the SBC? Do the traditionalists believe they have acquired too much power and influence? I've heard some SBCers state exactly that. I've heard state convention presidents take gratuitous shots at Calvinists without provocation. I've heard Associational Missionaries imply that they look askance at graduates of two of our seminaries for this reason.

Al Mohler, elevated in denominational stature though he may be, has his ear to the ground. His response to the traditionalist document welcomes the discussion but warns against degenerating into "theological tribalism."

Here's an observation from one hacker and plodder for Al Mohler: Many Calvinists exhibit a rather high reading on the tribalism scale. Perhaps you could help dial this down. You are the number one Calvinist in the Southern Baptist Convention. Thanks.

Beyond that, every local SBC congregation ought to be savvy enough to know that they have to have the Calvinist conversation with every prospective minister who is being considered for a call to the church staff. Talk about it, then make your respective decisions. You cannot afford not to have the conversation.

Aside from those, I have no idea what needs to be done. I like some things about Calvinism in the SBC. I am wary of some things.

Frank Page says that he hears from churches all the time about this stuff. When speaking of SBC challenges, he named Calvinism first. He also said that he intends to recommend some action at the convention in New Orleans. It will be interesting to see what he has in mind.

Oh, don't be looking for my name on the list of the several hundred signers. I'll stick with the Baptist Faith and Message, most any of them will do just fine.


7 comments:

Jonathan said...

Leaders can be defined by how they respond in a time of significant challenges. Today, we're seeing challenges in CP giving, downward trends in baptisms in North America, difficulty in finding funding for the global mission, and increased danger for IMB personnel in many difficult places.

Launching a broadside attack on SBC Calvinists defines these particular leaders in a less than attractive light.

Dr. Mohler's response today is much more gracious than the document deserved. I'm not sure he's the first one in line who needs to "dial it down a bit"...but he seems to be doing just that.

tikesbestfriend.com said...

I've had one bad run-in with a Calvinist when I was in seminary (Truett @ Baylor). Other than that, every single Calvinist I've come upon was a wonderful person, gracious minister, and someone that I really liked. With all the mess going on in the SBC, surely we can find something more substantial to garner attention about. I mean, you would think that our plateau/decline would be enough to galvanize attention.

Oh well, I'm not a very good SBCer; so I guess I should keep my mouth shut.

Tim Dahl

Anonymous said...

I am a Calvinist, in fact I am more Calvin than Calvin. And I am a (insert), in fact I am more (insert) than (insert). I recall a PhD from SWBTS stating a desire to be an extremist for Jesus (or having a extreme faith in Jesus, or something of the sort), and while likely stated with the belief that being an extremist for Jesus is a good thing, it really is a distortion and healthy faith and can lead to all sorts of problems. Focus instead on meek. Meek is healthy and (more of) a challenge, and it reduces noise.

Anonymous said...

I am a Calvinist, in fact I am more Calvin than Calvin. And I am a (insert), in fact I am more (insert) than (insert). I recall a PhD from SWBTS stating a desire to be an extremist for Jesus (or having a extreme faith in Jesus, or something of the sort), and while likely stated with the belief that being an extremist for Jesus is a good thing, it really is a distortion of healthy faith and can lead to all sorts of problems. Focus instead on meek. Meek is healthy and (more of) a challenge, and it reduces noise.

Matt said...

@ Tim

you found a Calvinist at Truett? Was he/she lost?

Being a Truett grad myself, I guess I'm not a very good "SBCer" either. And stuff like this does not make me want to be one!

tikesbestfriend.com said...

@Matt,

Actually, I knew three Calvinists, and one Augustinian Catholic. One Calvinist was a student. He was really sharp, super smart. But, he had a cutting tongue at times.

Another was a professor, my Hebrew Proff. Mr. (now Dr.) Dubious was a great teacher, and a sweet person. I think he started teaching somewhere else after he finished his Doctorate.

Finally, there was a Baylor Ph.D. student who was going to co-teach with Dr. Conyers. Dr. Conyers became very ill, and the Ph.D. student had to teach the class on his own. It turned out being one of the greatest classes I took at Truett.

Overall, I've had really good experiences with self-identified Calvinists. I'm not a 5 pointer, since I can't go with irresistible grace.

I have to give credit where credit is due, and Calvinism impacted my Southern Baptist theology. If not for Perseverance of the Saints, where would we get "Once Saved, always Saved?"

After reading through the Institutes, I find a lot to agree with. Who would speak against God's soveriegnty, His grace, or His power? Those are things that Calvin seemed to major on. Sure, I disagree with some things; but historically Calvinism (and the followers thereunto) have had a large (and positive) affect upon SBC life.

Tim Dahl
(Says the liberal SBCer)

Matt said...

Cool Tim. Thanks for sharing your experience.

I think that is the main thing I enjoyed about Truett. I learned to respect lots of different theological viewpoints, regardless of my own.

We are blind if we think that just because we do not believe in certain doctrine, that it has not impacted us in some way.

I fear the ability to do this in the SBC is becoming more and more difficult.