Last year Frank Page, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, called together a committee to study the issue of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Calvinism has been debated passionately in recent years and the debate has threatened the unity of the SBC.
Last month the committee released its report. The report has been well received by both Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. A multitude of helpful blog articles were immediately written you can Google it and see all the material that has been written on it. At the convention last week in Houston, the new tone of the debate seemed to be in play and everyone is happy. I’m certainly glad.
The response I have to this is an observation that I hope someone picks up on, thinks about, and acts on. I don’t have any authority in the SBC or recognized qualification to develop something that will be widely accepted. So the best I can do is point out the issue I see in a couple of venues and hope someone recognizes the value of it and puts something together.
The observation I have goes back to the history of the five points of Calvinism. These five points are the points of contention. I won’t go into detail about the five points here because that’s a distraction from the point that I’m trying make about them. As far as being the point of contention, the debate came to a head when a group of non-Calvinists got together to puttogether a reaction against each of the five points and to label their position the “traditional” Baptist position. Like it or not, they have taken the label “Traditionalist” for their own position against Baptists who are Calvinist although the founders of the SBC were largely Calvinists.
They have ten articles, five of which answer the five points of Calvinism. The rest are an additional five more points of contention against Calvinism. But the five points of Calvinism themselves aren’t a full treatment of Calvinistic soteriology*. The five points were a summary of the Canons of Dort that were a response to the five points of contention Jacobus Arminius developed against John Calvin’s Reformed theology.
So the five points of Calvinism are not a summary of Calvinistic soteriology. They are not even a helpful system of categorizing anyone’s soteriology*. It’s a system of contention. Likewise, the original five points of Arminianism as well as the Traditionalist statement are systems of contention.
But the statement issued recently by the Calvinism committee includes a summary of areas where we all agree. Where we agree is far greater than where we disagree. So this statement is a great start for what I propose.
I think that there is a system of categorization that would help frame the differences in terms of our agreements. I wrote an article recently about free will that illustrates what I mean by this. This kind of system could also clear up the tendency many have of misrepresenting what the other side believes. It doesn’t help the debate when anyone misrepresents the opposing position.
So this is my challenge to SBC theologians. Develop this kind of system that demonstrates the strength of our agreement and places on a friendly foundation the areas where we disagree so that healthy debate is fostered. I’ll work on it myself and you may see more articles in the future as a system of categorization becomes clearer to me. But I don’t have the influence to do anything. If someone of influence sees that this pursuit has value, then I welcome any movement they do even if it duplicates anything I’ve done.
*soteriology is the area of theology that talks about how we are saved.