Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Troubling Questions for Both Sides of the Calvinism Debate

My Question for Fellow Non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists

Not all of our state conventions in the SBC have adopted the BF&M 2000. Cooperative Program money in some of our state conventions still funds institutions where people deny biblical inerrancy and live, in most ways, in a pre-Conservative-Resurgence SBC.

Now, I understand that soteriology is important. I understand that the circumstances of our day make Calvinism a major topic of discussion. But I have to wonder, why is there so much energy available for talking about Calvinism, and, for some people, so much energy available for attacking Calvinism, but there's so little energy for getting state conventions to adopt the BF&M 2000 and for advancing biblical inerrancy in state Baptist conventions?

Do you think that the nature of election is really a more important question than the nature of the Bible? Are your priorities in this matter reflected in the way that you are spending your time and influence? Why are there people in our convention who are bold to attack the Founders but meek to talk about the CBF?

My Question for Calvinistic Southern Baptists

I know that there are churches where, at the moment, search committees would be unlikely to call a candidate who professed to be a Calvinist. However, not infrequently do I hear some of my Calvinistic brethren talk about SBC churches that they either have planted or have led to affirm the Second London Confession or some other decidedly Calvinistic statement of faith. Indeed, Sam Waldron (a scholar I very much enjoy) published in the journal of 9 Marks (an institution I absolutely love) an article entitled "Why (and How) Your Church Should Hold the 1689 Confession." Couldn't that article also be accurately entitled "Why Your Church Should Tell All Non-Calvinist SBCers That They Aren't Welcome Here As Members or Pastors"?

Isn't that going a good bit beyond what anyone has ever done to try to keep Calvinists out of particular SBC pulpits? Basically, if you do that, aren't you constitutionally setting up a church to make certain that no pastors who aren't Calvinists will EVER be considered for that church? If there's a practice afoot of adopting statements of faith in SBC churches to exclude Calvinists forever, I don't know of it.

Now, our churches are autonomous. I'm not questioning whether any church has the RIGHT to adopt Second London…or whatever. Indeed, our churches have the right to leave the convention altogether or even to leave the faith! I believe in local church autonomy and I'm not undermining it at all. Rather, I'm just asking, isn't it a bit disingenuous to complain of exclusionary practices among non-Calvinist SBCers if, at the very same time, you're setting things up in your church to exclude most SBC members and pastors from ever being able to be a part of your church?

If, as a pastor with that kind of local practice, in a national platform you say that Calvinism isn't something that should divide us, but that we should cooperate in spite of differences over Calvinism, I think you're a bit schizophrenic. How can it be terribly important locally—important enough for church schism—and not terribly important nationally?


I love you both. I'm not going to fight about Calvinism. I'm just not. But as a bystander to much of what is going on in the SBC these days, even if these questions are not troubling to you, they are troubling to me. I wish you'd all think about them. If you've got really good answers, I'd love to hear them.


Chris Roberts said...


Thoughts on the church question.

One issue I see in churches that close the door to Calvinist pastors is why they do it. I've had the door closed on me so I know this from experience. In my case, I had great interviews with the church then showed up for a day of meetings and preaching. Everything went great, good rapport, the people enjoyed us, we enjoyed them, etc. Then in a sit-down with the search committee I brought up my Calvinist views. The atmosphere immediately changed. They were polite, but things went no further. I never heard from them again, not even a telephone call to tell me thanks but no thanks. Their interim pastor was a friend of mine, he was the man who ordained me. He was not a Calvinist in any fashion, yet he believed I could do a good job for them. He tried to encourage them to at least talk to me, find out what I believe, but they refused. They had heard about these Calvinists destroying churches and wanted nothing to do with me. I think this is the attitude of many if not most SBC churches that do not want Calvinist pastors.

The church I currently serve almost went the same way. Good interviews, but the tone changed some when I let them know where I stand on this (in both cases I took the initiative, but I believe this should not be expected). Long story short, instead of moving on to the next candidate, they asked me questions and probed a bit more into what I really believe. They decided to continue the interviews, and here I am still, coming up on 4 years.

When a church thinks through the issue and decides, "This is what we are, and here is why," that is one thing. If a church knows they are intentionally and specifically non-Calvinist - and they know why - that is one thing. But when a church listens to the fear mongering and are convinced that Calvinism is some great evil that will turn churches to the devil, that is just ridiculous and it needs to be stopped. Lots of unhelpful rhetoric is spread against Calvinism, much of it making claims that are simply not true. The Statement includes its fair share. Jim Futral's recent piece to all Mississippi churches is another example. Les Puryear's just-released blog entry is yet another. There is no shortage of similar examples. These are not reasonable arguments presented against actual claims and actions of Calvinists, they are nebulous warnings about something that does not exist.

Contrast that with the church that studies their theology and decides that as a church they want to affirm and proclaim a Reformed understanding of the Bible. They are not reacting against non-Calvinists, they are saying here is what we believe, and if you want to pastor this church this is what you need to believe as well. To a degree the Statement could serve a similar function, and I would be fine with that if the Statement was actually accurate in what it opposed and if the preamble contained a bit more accuracy about Calvinism in the SBC. But as it stands, most churches that close the door to Calvinism do so not because of what they believe but because of what they have heard about the bogeyman Calvinist pastor.

John M. Harris said...

I said a bit about this in this week's message "why are we here" http://johnmarkharris.net I read some Spurgeon quotes and said (basically) "I'm not in his camp, but I can work with a Calvinist like that"

Crowder said...

Part of this is fear of non-calvinists to be marginalised in a future SBC. A significant number of Arminians according to a Lifeway study are in the SBC in some fashion me included as an OSAS Arminian or one that confirms Eternal Security. I think it's harder for Arminians in the SBC to be open compared to Calvinists. The traditionalist statement which I signed is a majority view one that I feel is needed to help those of us that have legitamate concerns about Founders Ministry, Southern Seminary, and other groups. I love the SBC is is the Church that nurtured my faith from the time I was in the nursey and I was saved at an Altar Call saying the "Sinners Prayer" and had Believers Baptism etc. However I have had to go to other denominations to get seriously involved in ministry at times because I have felt alienated as my generation has gone Calvinist. The Bible and inerrancy is more important than this debate and it's why I'm finding I have to be in the SBC. The SBC unlike most alternatives does have a stronger stance on the Bible at least here in Alabama. I'm not sure about the CBF but I've read things at Associated Baptist Press etc. about the CBF and to me it's in danger of going leftward. It's hard being a Conservative Christian that just wants to see people get saved and become disciples of Jesus Christ whether Calvinist, Ariminian, or Tradtionalist (or majoritarian). We all need each other whether in the SBC or across denominations because we live in tough times to even proclaim Christ and the truth of the Bible.

Bart Barber said...


I understand the problem of inaccuracy and caricaturization. Conceding that point entirely, I still do not believe that it answers the question (i.e., resolves the problem).

I have written elsewhere, without reference to Calvinism and without Calvinism in mind at all, that I think the best way to define a denomination is by finding the barriers across which churches do not share or swap members and leaders (except for those who do something that feels like changing denominations…make a change in theology or affiliation).

And so, even if every church in the SBC were to take a stance on Calvinism based upon careful theological reflection and 100% accuracy, if the result in the end were to include two sets of churches in the SBC that would not swap members or leaders without a change of theology, then at that point I'm prepared to say that we have split as a denomination.

The church that would not accept a non-Calvinist as a member or as a pastor is a church that is saying to me that I am in persistent unrepentant sin for not being a Calvinist.

The better way is the way of our congregation. I am clearly not a Calvinist. I have members and some church leaders who clearly are far more Calvinistic than I am. Our practice locally is consistent with our practice nationally. Calvinists and non-Calvinists can cooperate together. Differences over the TULIP are not serious enough to warrant division. We affirm the BF&M 2000 as a congregation and see no need to be more specific with regard to speculative manmade soteriological systems.

Bart Barber said...


I always love to encounter a kindred spirit my age or younger with the good fashion sense to wear a coat and tie while preaching. ;-)

I don't have 45 minutes this morning to listen to the entire sermon. I hope I can do so soon. For others who don't have the time, can you give a time reference within the video to the relevant portions?


Bart Barber said...

Crowder (is this Kevin?),

I agree that there is fear of a change to a Calvinistic SBC that will put on the sidelines those who are not Calvinists. I agree that this is part of the reason for the tension that exists.

As for the CBF, moving leftward is it's raison d'ĂȘtre.

I also understand and agree that non-Calvinists in the younger SBC are sometimes without a "tribe." That is hard. For many people, the Traditional Statement represented the opportunity to connect with a tribe.

Chris Roberts said...

"The church that would not accept a non-Calvinist as a member or as a pastor is a church that is saying to me that I am in persistent unrepentant sin for not being a Calvinist."

Why is that? I don't think a person is in persistent, unrepentant sin for being wrong about a particular doctrine. It is trickier on an issue like baptism where the error involves practice as well as belief, but on issues such as soteriology and eschatology, there is no sin in being wrong. But a church might say, "As a church, here is what we believe and this belief informs everything we do and say. We want to remain committed to these beliefs so we want pastors and members who will join us in affirming these beliefs." - whether Calvinist or not, such a position is fine.

As for the things that create a denomination, I would agree with you in most cases - find the areas of division and you have the line demarcating a denomination. But the SBC is something of a different beast, and this is one of the things that attracted me to the SBC in the first place. Here we have a convention rather than a formal denomination, a group of churches that cooperate with one another for the cause of missions, united around some general theological principles, while leaving room for each autonomous church to go its own way. What makes the SBC the SBC is not so much our theological convictions, per se, as our missions commitment and cooperation. We need our theological convictions because these shape the way we do ministry, the way we train pastors, the way we produce literature, etc, but we have found a common ground firm enough to be solidly and intentionally biblical while general enough to allow even fairly significant deviations among our cooperating churches. The point is that our churches cooperate. We need a convention structure that can accomodate these churches while not imposing on them rigid standards on what they must be in order to be a Baptist.

Tom Parker said...


You said:"Not all of our state conventions in the SBC have adopted the BF&M 2000. Cooperative Program money in some of our state conventions still funds institutions where people deny biblical inerrancy and live, in most ways, in a pre-Conservative-Resurgence SBC."

How can this be?

Must everyone in SBC life adopt the 2000 BF&M? Is it a requirement to be a member in good standing?

Are you concerned about anyone that does not sign off on the 2000 BF&M receivng even a $1 from the CP?

The CR will never end will it.

Bart Barber said...


If, by the end of the CR, you are longing for the day when Southern Baptists will say, "Gosh, we've suddenly decided that the nature of the Bible really doesn't matter after all," then you're right, I hope that "end" never comes.

Tom Parker said...


You said:"but there's so little energy for getting state conventions to adopt the BF&M 2000 and for advancing biblical inerrancy in state Baptist conventions?"

Personally, I am thankful there is little energy on these matters.

BTW I did not realize there was still an innerancy problem.

Bart Barber said...


I suppose I'm making some presumptions about what it means for a church to adopt a statement of faith.

Let's say I'm an influential lay leader in a congregation that has adopted the Second London Confession. I'm a Sunday School teacher. Perhaps I'm a "lay elder," since such churches often have embraced the extra biblical idea that there are two different kinds of elders in a New Testament church. Whatever the title, I'm one of those guys.

Now, hypothetically, let's say that a buddy at work bought me a copy of Whosoever Will as a gag gift in order to pick on me about my Calvinism. Stranger things have happened. Let's say that, in our hypothetical world, I were to read that book and be convinced. Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that I were to abandon every petal of the TULIP except for Perseverance.

I go to the congregational leadership and I make my change of views known and state that I am no longer in agreement with the Second London Confession, but that I do not wish to go to another church.

What will become of me?

Chris Roberts said...


I have no idea. Have you any particular examples of this happening?

Jerry Corbaley said...

Thanks Bart.

There are some close similarities between Occam's Razor and Barber's Objectivity.

Bart Barber said...

No, I don't know of any occasion in which this has taken place. I'm not trying to defend anyone, and I'm not making this personal. I'm using a hypothetical because such constructions are helpful for seeking to understand.

It is my presumption that, when a church either produces or adopts a statement of faith, it is stating that it holds the truths in that statement to be clear teachings of the Bible and settled matters of doctrine, that it expects the teaching of the church and the leadership of the church to be in accordance with that statement of faith, and that people who publicly disagree with the statement of faith are subject to church discipline.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Jerry.

Bart Barber said...


If you didn't realize that there were differences of opinion over inerrancy, then you've been living in a cave. The Theologian in Residence of the BGCT is the author of a paper entitled "The Errancy of Inerrancy."

Or are you just deliberately obfuscating?

Bart Barber said...


Would you say that my presumption is inaccurate concerning what it means for a church to adopt a statement of faith?

Tom Parker said...


Will you come to the defense of the "Calvinists" when so many are attacking them out of shear fear in the SBC today.

What happens when these ministers lives are destroyed by unfounded claims because of all the fear being generated?

I do not see how this conflict will not further destroy the SBC.

Trust in fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is gone.

One last comment if the shoe was on the other foot how would you respond.

Some in the SBC are used to being in the power position and have little to no fear of their ministries.

What does a man do when his ministry is destroyed because he is a 'liberal" or now it is a "Calvinist" or one will not mouth the words inerrancy or sign off on the 2000 BF&M.

Real questions for real person's lives.

Bart Barber said...


Biblical inerrancy is not some Shibboleth. It is a real question that strikes to the heart of whether we will give people the only real answers for the real questions for real persons' lives.

Chris Roberts said...

"Would you say that my presumption is inaccurate concerning what it means for a church to adopt a statement of faith?"

No, I think you are on the whole right, though since I haven't been in that situation or seen that situation I'm not sure just how it would play out.

I could imagine two scenarios. In one scenario, a member changes his mind so that his views disagree with the stated views of the church. He knows he differs, and he is open about the disagreement. He agrees not to teach against the church's confession, and perhaps even steps down from a lay leadership role. Were this my church, I would not want to see him removed from the church.

In the second scenario, someone changes his mind, knows he disagrees, yet works from within his leadership position to try and bring people around to his way of thinking. It is possible, though unlikely, that the church might grant him permission to do this, it is more likely that he does this even though he knows he is going against the church's confession and direction. If he will not step down from his leadership position, and/or if he continues to try and convince people of his view, he is not simply disagreeing, he is being divisive, he is stirring dissension. It is one thing for a church to be neutral on an issue and have people in the church advocating different sides (which is the case with Calvinism in my church), it is another thing when someone opposes the confessional position of the church, whether it be opposing the BF&M or opposing the Second London Confession if a church has adopted it.

Bart Barber said...

Chris, we've got a good, helpful dialogue going here. I'm enjoying it and it is sharpening me.

We are in agreement on so much of this, and it sounds like your church and my church are in precisely the same position. I think that's the healthy position, and I'm advocating for it in these comments.

But I disagree that one is necessarily being divisive if he continues to try to convince people of his view. What if his view is simply, "We don't all have to agree about this. I'm fine with there being a lot of Calvinists in our congregation. I'm fine with most of our pastors' being Calvinists. I don't mind that the sermons come from a Calvinistic perspective. I don't require that anyone take the same theological journey that I have taken. And I don't want to leave this congregation because you are my church family and I love you and feel called to be here. But I do believe that our church can include people like me in our life together and that my voice as your brother in Christ need not be squelched on this issue, even if it will always be the decidedly minority voice."

I can't categorize that as "being divisive." And yet, neither is it "[stepping] down from his leadership position," and it certainly qualifies to some degree as "[trying] to convince people of his view." Certainly the position that he is advocating seems far less divisive to me than the action of drafting a confession of faith designed to exclude such people from the life of the church! Why aren't the people who insist upon such statements of faith the ones who are being divisive and stirring dissension? (There's no anger in my voice when I write those words. Very academically I'm just asking the question).

Churches must be very careful in adopting statements of faith. Tremendous ethical issues hang in the balance. A good statement of faith should come down strongly only on those things that are certain enough from the Bible that the congregation is ready to declare that every person who believes and declares otherwise is walking in disobedience. Otherwise, a church is merely encoding personal preferences into the structure of the church, as though the church were their personal property rather than the Bride of Christ.

If a person who meekly but convictionally came to hold a soteriology other than Calvinism could be removed as pastor or leader or member from a congregation for holding those views, then either the church is prepared to discipline people for things other than sin (which would itself be sinful), or the church is expressing its belief that it amounts to walking in disobedience to hold those views of soteriology. The most charitable interpretation is to believe that churches adopting strictly Calvinistic statements of faith do so for the latter reasons and not for the former. That's the presumption that underlies my post.

Max said...

Bart, there are several SBC churches in my area which were/are conservative staunch defenders of inerrancy but chose not to embrace the BFM2000 because certain sections in the revised statement indicated an increasing trend toward Calvinism. They simply chose to remain faithful to the 1963 version, without aligning themselves with CBF. Russell Dilday expressed various "troubling factors" in his analysis of the BFM2000 revision including a perceived shift in Baptist identity from its Anabaptist, free church tradition to a reformed evangelical identity http://www.baptiststandard.com/2001/5_14/pages/dilday.html

It's increasingly clear that "conservative" has different definitions in SBC life depending on the theological grid one is looking through. The recent "Traditional Statement" helped clarify (and supplement BFM2000)regarding majority Southern Baptist soteriological belief and practice.

I, too, am deeply troubled by the Calvinist/non-Calvinist debate and hope that Dr. Page's panel to study the matter will bring some relief to our dilemma.

Richard said...

Sorry, Bart, but you know "moving leftward"is not the raison d'etre of the CBF. Granted, there are many CBF folks who are uncomfortable with the stance of the SBC on a number of issues, one of which is blatant politicism which shows up in some pulpits and blogs (haven't seen that here, however). As you know, the CBF was organized to give fellowship to numerous pastors and members marginalized by the conservative shift. Sure, the current SBC is to the right of the CBF on a number of matters, but the CBF allows a spirit of freedom for many believers to exchange opinions. It has fostered a great sense of family for my local church, where I sing in the choir beside very conservative friends as well as some who are somewhat "liberal." We try not to condemn, although our discussions can get
"warm." The CBF is not for everyone, but there is a wholesome Christian spirit here, and it apparently appeals to a strong number of people. Our church continues to grow, maintains financial health, and has strong, creative leadership.

Bill said...

Good words. I'm hoping Merritt opponents aren't going to try to capitalize on this but I fear that is a vain hope. In fact I'm pretty sure it's already too late, but perhaps it will be isolated.