I ran across this article at the SBC Issues blog yesterday. I’m a Calvinist, I study at Southern and I like Al Mohler, however, I received my MDiv at Southwestern and many of my spiritual mentors have not been Calvinists. I believe both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together within the SBC without having to divide.
However, it is articles like this one that make such an endeavor less and less probable. In this open (yet anonymous) letter to Al Mohler, Frank Page, Danny Akin, Tom Ascol, Mark Dever, David Dockery and the Committee on Calvinism, the author attempts to get to the heart of the theological controversy in the SBC regarding Calvinism. Unfortunately, instead of being an honest assessment of the issues and practical and charitable suggestions for moving forward, it simply lays the blame on a few Calvinist leaders in the SBC for “infiltrating” the entities of the SBC in a “ploy” to move the convention to a reformed theological position. I’d like to look at the article in its entirety, so we can see how not to move the discussion forward. It begins,
On August 15, 2012, Baptist Press released an article that contained the following statement:
“Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page has announced the members of an advisory team who will help him craft a strategic plan to bring together various groups within the convention who hold different opinions on the issue of Calvinism.
The 16-member group will conduct its first meeting Aug. 29-30 in Nashville, Tenn.
“My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism,” Page told Baptist Press. The list was announced Tuesday (Aug. 15).”
So far so good. This committee was set up for the express purpose of charitable dialogue within the SBC concerning how Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together for the cause of the gospel. This is a worthwhile goal and a discussion that needs to be had. The article continues,
A lot has been written on the state of Calvinism in the SBC. However, while there are many issues theologically with respect to Calvinism, the growing concern now rests not with the theology itself but with the growing infiltration of Calvinist believing individuals in the entities of the SBC. While the theological differences are still an issue, of major concern is now the theological persuasion of the entities because make no mistake about it, where the entities go, the convention will follow.
Here is where the confusion sets in. Ironically, the author attempts to make the case that the issue is not theological. It most certainly is theological. The reason the article was written is because this person does not like the idea of influential Calvinist leaders in the SBC. Notice the language he uses. It is an “infiltration of Calvinists” into the entities of the SBC. The worry is that as more Calvinists “infiltrate” the SBC, the convention will move more Calvinistic in its theological persuasion. He continues,
I believe this argument itself is proof that that the theological pulse of the entities is crucial to the future of the convention. When Dr. Mohler was made president of SBTS, everyone knew that he was a 5 point Calvinist. Dr. Mohler’s theological position was not a major point of concern at that time because the point of contention was theological and not positional and the convention could and still can deal with that.
I’m not sure what the argument is here to be honest. Mohler was made president of Southern while a recognized 5-point Calvinist, yet his theology was not an issue at that time because “the point of contention was theological and not positional.” I think he is saying that because Mohler was not as influential as he is today, his Calvinism would not likely spread, so it was okay…? So, you can be a Calvinist in the SBC, just don’t have too much influence. We press on…
Things have, however, changed significantly in the past 10 years or so and all of this work that has taken place quietly behind the scenes to place key individuals in strategic places in the convention entities has been extremely successful. This transformation began in a couple of the seminaries, primarily and has been extended to NAMB, Lifeway and even to key convention committee appointees. State colleges and newspapers have followed follow this disturbing trend as well. Trustee appointments are being filled with individuals who have connections to and affinities with Dr. Mohler and his brand of theology. This I believe this is the real elephant in the room that no one has been willing to talk about, at least to this point.
So the issue is definitely influence. Now that certain SBC entities have Calvinistic leadership, there is a problem. Unfortunately, the tone of the article suggests less than ethical behavior on the part of Mohler and a few other leading Calvinists, which is a weighty charge. The idea seems to be that they have snuck around with the hope of infiltrating the entities and thus leading the SBC to officially embrace Calvinism. No specifics, no documentation, mere accusation at this point. The author continues,
Here is the real issue I believe must be addressed and resolved if there is to be any hope for any resolution to the cooperation issue that the SBC currently is facing. Dr. Mohler and others serve in very influential positions and are being paid by SBC entities. While it is accurate to say that they have done outstanding jobs in their respective positions of responsibility, they have also been busy working quietly to direct other areas of the SBC toward a reformed theological position that is decidedly different from their current positions. This has been done quietly and without any outside collaboration and without any word of warning on these individual’s part and this is in and of itself fundamentally wrong. These individuals cannot be allowed to continue this ploy if anyone expects the SBC to move forward in a cooperative manner.
Again, I would like to know the specifics of what he is charging here. Indeed, Al Mohler has done an outstanding job at Southern, and continues to do so. If what he and others have been “quietly” doing is “fundamentally wrong,” it should be brought to light and discussed specifically. Broad generalizations are rarely helpful.
As people are made aware of this situation, it is my prayer that the people in the SBC will rise up and rectify this situation if the leadership of the convention is not willing to do so.
My hope is that people will recognize that this is not the best way to move the conversation forward. Indeed, it is a hinderance to unity we are striving for.
Understand, the divisiveness is not in those who are now standing up to object to what has taken place but the divisiveness in the SBC rests squarely on the shoulders of those who have taken it upon themselves to Reform the SBC from the inside out with no regard to the current theological disposition of the entities, the SBC and those who support the Cooperative Program with their giving.
The author makes this type of statement more than once, and it appears to me that he recognizes the divisiveness of his statements. Others will recognize it as well, and thus the need to repeat over and again that he’s not the divisive one, but rather those whom he is attacking. Although, the only thing we know at this point is that they are influential leaders in the SBC who have a theological stance he disagrees with.
I was asked the following question by a member of this advisory committee, “What kind of compromise would you consider a step in the right direction?” Sadly, I am of the opinion there is only one answer to that question. The divisiveness in the SBC is not theological; the division has been caused by a very small group of individuals who have privately and quietly taken it upon themselves to infiltrate the entities with the expressed purpose of guiding the SBC toward a Reformed position. The simple solution is that some of these key individuals need to go. Southern and Southeastern need a different direction. Lifeway needs new leadership. Dr. Mohler needs to be the first to step down. States need to take a good look at their own colleges and newspapers and the individuals who are responsible for them.
So here is his goal. The influential Calvinist leaders that this author disagrees with need to step down. Southern needs to quit being Calvinist, and Lifeway needs to lose its Calvinist leadership as well. States need to filter their colleges and newspapers away from reformed theology. It’s hard to believe what is being suggested here.
Remember, the division with regards to Calvinism has escalated not simply because there are more Calvinists, but because the influence of Calvinism in the entities of the SBC that is now propagating itself, producing more Calvinists. The entities are now leading the SBC down a Calvinist pathway with no regard to the vast majority in the SBC who do not favor this move.
So the issue is not that there are more Calvinists, but that the entities in the SBC are producing more Calvinists. Hmmm. Here’s my theory, as people read articles like this, and then look carefully at the Scriptures to test its claims, they are seeing the truth of reformed theology. Christians are able to think, and are not blindly following leadership. Let’s give the people of the SBC more credit.
Calvinism or Reformed Theology dominating the SBC is the clear cut goal of men like Tom Ascol of the Founder’s Ministry and Al Mohler and it is crystal clear that they are well on their way to achieving their goal without any consensus on the part of non-calvinists in the SBC.
I think the goal of these men, being a student at Southern, is for students and people to read the Scriptures carefully and closely. To allow the word of God to speak and to bow the knee to what it says. This is what is producing Calvinists, not some secret ploy of shady men.
While many are aware of the Calvinist issues theologically, very few seem to be aware of the level of indoctrination that has taken place in the entities of the SBC nor are they aware of the danger this indoctrination poses. The SBC is being reformed from the inside out with very little attention being focused on those changes. Those responsible for these self-produced changes need to go.
Is this really indoctrination? So because Southern teaches from a reformed theological perspective, that is now indoctrination? What about Southwestern? Are they indoctrinating their students when they make arguments against it? What about articles like this? Are they a form of indoctrination? If you mean men at entities like Southern teach in a way that is consistent with what they hold to be faithful to biblical revelation, then yes. But having attended both Southwestern and Southern, both are balanced and charitable toward other positions, and indoctrination should not be used to describe either.
Make no mistake about it, the change that has been brought on the SBC by the efforts of a few Calvinists is what is causing the divisiveness in the convention today.
Again, they’re the problem. Articles like this calling for the resignation of influential SBC leaders simply because they hold to historic Baptist confessions have nothing to do with it.
Once these individuals have stepped aside, the divisiveness could begin to subside and hope for cooperation could begin once again between Calvinists and non-calvinists in the SBC. One thing is clear; if these individuals are allowed to maintain the status quo, the divisiveness will only get worse as non-calvinists are made aware of what has actually taken place and what will no doubt continue to transpire until the goal of a Reformed SBC is indeed a reality.
Translation: once Calvinist leaders in the SBC are removed, then the convention can go unchallenged with an anti-reformed bias. This is truly an astonishing suggestion. The SBC will be less divisive when we remove all the Calvinists from leadership.
One final thought. If Reformed Theology were the answer to the problems that exist in the SBC, then The Presbyterian Church with its Reformed Theology foundation would be leading the world but it is not. If Reformed Theology were the answer Dr. Mohler and company insist it is, then Europe would be a bastion of Christianity in the world for Reformed Theology was birthed there. Churches in Europe are largely monuments to what was a vibrant Christian presence but sadly they are empty today. I was told it was not Calvinism that killed the churches in Europe but rather a disobedient people that refused to listen to the teaching and preaching of right doctrine. This is indeed an interesting comment since Calvinism itself maintains that no one can listen and respond favorably unless God FIRST gives them the ability to do so. A consistent Calvinist would simply have to conclude that the reason Christianity in Europe is dying is because that is God’s sovereign choice.
Would the Presbyterian Church really be leading the world if reformed theology were true? Is that how God has worked in the past? Right theology equals majority? I wonder what Athanasius would say…
There seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of the author here. From a 5-point Calvinist perspective, people are responsible for their actions, for their sins. Europe is the the state it is in because people turned their backs on solid doctrine, they turned their backs on God. Much the same way America is doing now. I wonder if the author would be consistent and blame the godless state of our nation on its Christian roots? Why isn’t America a bastion of Christianity right now, if it had Christian beginnings? Obviously, the issue is not how it has begun, but the decisions of its people to turn their backs on God. The fact that God is sovereignly guiding human history for his eternal purposes and glory in now way limits the responsibility of the free decisions of men with evil intentions. God has decreed all things in such as way so as to not do violence to the will of man. If you disagree, prove it from Scripture.
The SBC does not need this kind of theology. If Reformed Theology is correct and God and God alone determines who is and is not saved and the elect will be saved because that is His sovereign plan and work, then a non-calvinist SBC will not hamper God’s sovereign work of salvation. Since most SBC Calvinists were saved as non-calvinists, that should be obvious even to the most unintellectual Calvinist.
“God and God alone determines who is and is not saved and the elect will be saved because that is His sovereign plan and work…” Exactly! Good summary statement of John 6. All that they father gives to Christ will come to him, and the one who comes to him he will never cast out, but will raise him up on the last day. No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. So, yes. It is God, not man, who saves, and of all the elect that the Father gives to the Son, the Son loses no one. A non-Calvinist SBC will not hamper God’s work. A non-existent SBC could not hamper God’s work. The Devil himself will not cause God to lose one of his elect. This is the truth of God’s sovereignty as so clearly taught in his word. If it is not God alone who saves, then why do you pray for someone’s salvation. If it is not in God’s hands, then what can he do? Perhaps these are the questions this author should ask himself. The bottom line is that we do not know God’s secret decrees, and we do not know the elect, so we preach the gospel to all people at all times everyone, knowing that through the preaching of the word God almighty is drawing a people to himself.
It is time for this hijacking of the entities of the SBC to stop. It is time to address the ramifications of the reckless regard for the irresponsible actions of a few to Reform the SBC by taking over the entities of the SBC and leading them to a Reformed center with the final intention of leading the SBC to a Reformed position.
We’ll let the readers decide who is reckless and irresponsible at this point.
Al Mohler and other have made their beds. The question now is, who will suffer the consequences of their actions? One thing is clear; someone will.
It appears the consequences of the actions of Al Mohler and others is people who love doctrine and God’s word. It is people who desire to know God to the fullness of his revelation, despite our shortcomings in comprehending the secret things of God. That has been my experience at Southern, and my hope is that God will raise up more men like Al Mohler and Tom Ascol who are not ashamed of their God and his self-revelation, and who proclaim the message of the gospel daily and train others to do the same.
Let’s have this discussion. But let’s do it biblically. Let’s not make unwarranted and general accusations, but come together charitably yet holding fast to our convictions. Let men like Al Mohler be an example to us in that regard.