Those Rascally Calvinists

I have been encouraged by the resurgence of Reformed doctrine within the Southern Baptist Convention. I say "resurgence" because Calvinism in the SBC is nothing new. In fact the Doctrines of Grace are woven within the founding documents of the denomination and its first seminary. I wonder how many Southern Baptists realize that the Baptist Faith and Message teaches unconditional election and monergistic regeneration? The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were baptistic Calvinists. These are the facts. However the rise of revivalism, anti-intellectualism, and too few denominational safeguards led eventually (inevitably?) to an almost full-scale rejection of Calvinist soteriology.

However, in recent years, the reformation of Southern Seminary, the influence of 9 Marks Ministries, and the desire for a more biblically grounded faith, the Doctrines of Grace have not just escaped the executioner's sword but have been revived in the SBC. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about this. In an open letter, one SBC pastor in Alabama expresses the sentiments of many within the denomination about the rising influence of Calvinism.

The writer decries the Calvinist criticism of such practices as the altar call and sinner's prayer without ever asking if those practices are biblical. For him, such practices are a matter of Baptist tradition. What he does not appreciate is that this is precisely what the rising generation of Calvinists are concerned with. To them, Charles Finney's man-centered pragmatic religion had come to characterize SBC churches and they want nothing to do with it. Am I painting with a broad brush? Perhaps, but not too broad. Having grown up in Southern Baptist churches I can testify that Finney-esque semi-Pelagianism had displaced the convictions of the founders of the denomination.

I wonder if the pastor who wrote the open letter realizes that the very first Southern Baptist statement of faith is the Abstract of Principles which is a derivative of the Westminster Standards. It affirms the Doctrines of Grace. The Abstract Of Principles is the statement of faith of the very first Southern Baptist institution: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (the largest SBC seminary). So Calvinists within the SBC do not represent an insurgent mob of barbarians at the gate. Indeed, they represent the original Southern Baptists.

One interesting point in the above mentioned letter is that he criticizes the SBC's endorsement of James MacDonald (MacDonald's church has elders). Apparently MacDonald's books can be purchased through Lifeway stores. This has far more to do with lack of discernment within the SBC than any supposed problems with Calvinists or Presbyterians. MacDonald's Harvest Bible Chapel does not practice Presbyterian church government. Without getting into details concerning recent problems at Harvest Bible Chapel, I will simply suggest that truly Presbyterian church government could have saved them much grief.

The growing number of SBC churches that are now governed by a plurality of elders does not indicate a desire of those pastors to become Presbyterian. Rather it speaks to their desire to be biblical. That very same desire is what has fueled the revival of the Doctrines of Grace in SBC churches.