Friday, September 6, 2013

Jason K. Allen eliminates Calvinists from the SBC

It's so simple. Just refuse to allow the use of the term "Calvinist." Presto! No more Calvinists.

Jason K. Allen is the SBC's youngest seminary president, having been put into the driver's seat of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, our most problem-plagued seminary, less than one year ago. He is doubtless an outstanding individual and has my prayers for success in his task at MBTS.

He has wrote a piece this past Tuesday, "Are you a Calvinist? Rethinking theological labels."

The article is a thoughtful and reflective treatment of the use of theological labels and specifically of that single most important theological matter in our beloved SBC these days - Calvinism. .

Allen was preaching at a church recently and described a question he was asked:
I have one question for you. Are you a Calvinist?” 

That question is not an uncommon one, but it’s a question that might be more difficult to answer than first thought. To this gentleman, I reflexively replied, “To be honest, sir, I have no idea what you mean by that question.” He smiled and responded, “I have no have idea what I meant by the question either.”
The story illustrates my experience with not a few Calvinists and I suspect it illustrates the experience of many, many a pastor search committee's conversation with a prospective pastor who is Calvinistic. 

The Calvinistic candidate will rather have a shard of glass stuck in his eye than to let the sentence "Yes, I am a Calvinist" pass from his ministerial lips.

Allen suggests three "principles for doctrinal discourse," What is most biblical; what is most forthright, and what is most wise." In discussing the three points he asserts this,
 If someone else has hijacked the term or loaded it with freight you never intended, to embrace it might not only be unwise, but downright foolish. Instead be forthrightly biblical and not foolishly sign on to a label that was divorced from its true meaning long ago.
This is a conclusion almost universally shared by SBC Calvinists. The thinking goes like this: "Calvinism is a snarl word, a term loaded with bad images and experiences in the minds of some laypeople. It is not helpful to me as a pastoral candidate; therefore, I will never, ever allow it to be applied to me and I will talk doctrinal circles around any committee who presses me on it."

I hear Calvinists often say of the label, "I don't use it because it is not particularly helpful," or "I never accept that because it is so broadly used," or similar.

I acknowledge that Allen and my Calvinistic SBC friends do have a problem here. There is some negative cachet to this term that best describes their theological stance. (My graybeard SBC colleagues will recall that SBC moderates tried to eliminate the term "moderates" as applied to them back during the heated days of the Conservative Resurgence. They even had Baptist Press invent some new terms to their liking. It didn't work.) I'm thinking that "Calvinism" is too ingrained to be eliminated now.

Allen concludes with this:
Theological conversation is most always good, but it can be improved when it takes place on higher ground. To conceal one’s theological convictions is at once disingenuous and cowardly, and no self-respecting minister should be either. Rather, let’s be Bereans, studying the Scriptures and articulating our convictions in ways that are most biblical, most forthright, and most wise.
 I don't know a Calvinist who thinks he is disingenuous and cowardly and I appreciate Allen, Tom Ascol and others, including the Calvinist Advisory Committee whose report said,
In order to prevent the rising incidence of theological conflict in the churches, we should expect all candidates for ministry positions in the local church to be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine, even as we call upon pulpit and staff search committees to be fully candid and forthcoming about their congregation and its expectations. 
While I don't disagree with Allen on this, I wonder what is the best course for conversations between search committees and prospective ministers if "Calvinism" is off limits?

One solution, a few years old now, was what came to be called a Calvinist smoke out guide.

One might look askance at the title for this but it's tough to argue that a church committee doesn't need some guide for assessing the theological stance of interviewees. Since we have eliminated all Calvinists from the SBC, perhaps LifeWay could publish one. It looks as if there is a market. ;)


TOM PARKER said...

William: I am glad that the problem of Calvinism was eliminated in such a simple manner. I wonder why no one thought to do the same thing about "liberals."; that is just eliminate that word. Oh, well.

dr. james willingham said...

To Jason K. Allen's remarks should be added congratulations to the folks who brought us Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope, our Local friendly (?) conspirators of the past two centuries and a half, who brought us pluralism and said very plain in Quigley's work what theology they held and what they opposed. They did a magnificient job of infiltrating and changing the theology of Sandy Creek Assn. in the period from 1820-1840. It took a while longer to get most of Southern Baptist off of the Charleston's influence (which was really a Separate Baptist and a Regular Baptist theology in the period before the other influence came in and began its body slams against not only the original theology of the Great Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions but also against our free constitutional government, which John Adams and the historian George Bancroft admitted was a product of John Calvin and a Calvinist Republic (actual term used by the first noted American Historian in the early 1800s

Anonymous said...

And how many Arminians know what they are and believe? Bottom line is that there are very few Baptists and/or Christians who have any real idea of what they believe.

Anonymous said...

I am starting to see that there are Arminians everywhere who do not know they are Arminians. :o)