Sunday, June 23, 2013

SBC Calvinism Committee Report

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.


  1. There is no real agreement. That will become more apparent as the Calvinists take over more and more which is all they do, like locusts they just eat away at the foundations.

    1. Apparently you haven't read the report. There are plenty of areas where Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree. For example, we agree that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. We agree that we are morally culpable for our sins. We agree that God is sovereign. If you disagree with any of these examples, your theology isn't orthodox. The fact is that Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree on these points and many more.

      The Calvinism committee's report is in the right spirit and I agree that the direction they recommend honor's God and exemplifies the way we treat each other in the Body of Christ. Now, if you wish to be pejoratively accusatory as your comment is, I'll delete further comments that you or others make like this. False accusations like the one you have here are not in the spirit of truth and Christian love and I won't tolerate such interaction.

  2. "Where we agree is far greater than where we disagree." I don't necessarily disagree with this statement, but i would definitely want someone to prove it. I think it is a platitude that I think we hope is true, but to say it is true someone would have to prove it to me.

    1. Read throught the report. They listed significant areas of agreement.

    2. Tracy,

      Reread these few lines:

      Report: "We affirm that the Gospel is to be made known freely to all in the good faith offer that if anyone confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead, he will be saved.

      Report: We affirm that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was both penal and substitutionary and that the atonement He accomplished was sufficient for the sins of the entire world. We deny that there is anything lacking in the atonement of Christ to provide for the salvation of anyone.

      Report: We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are the inerrant, infallible, and totally trustworthy Word of God and our supreme authority on all matters of truth.

      Report: We affirm that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that the universal condition of humanity is lostness

      Report: We affirm that salvation is found in the name of Christ and in no other name.

      Report: We affirm that salvation involves the conversion of the sinner, whereby the sinner consciously clings to Christ by faith, repents of sin, believes the promises of the Gospel, and publicly professes faith in Christ.

      If I read you correctly, you say our agreement in these immensely important areas is not as important as our agreement in limited atonement. Do you really think adherence to particular redemption is more important to rally around that adherence to the salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone? Which makes us Christian and which makes us a specific type of Christian? The answer to that question would seem sufficient proof that "where we agree is far greater than where we disagree." Therefore, it is no platitude but simple truth.

      Jeff Spry

  3. The report was put together by a small group of men comprising both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. They were probably told to play nice and come up with a resolution that makes everyone warm and fuzzy on the inside. Unfortunately, they don't speak for all of the SBC. I think the group that put the reaction together is very telling. Correct me if I'm wrong but the number of churches and pastors that signed the reaction were greater than the number in the committee. Just speaking bluntly, I think there will be more strife and discord within the SBC then in the past due to this. I hope I'm wrong, but then again hope doesn't equate reality.

    1. Well, I hope you're wrong too. If the convention in Houston was any indication as well as the blog discussions I've seen so far, then I think it's being pretty well received.

      As for the group being small, that's a relative assessment. I think the people they selected were a fair representation of the orthodox varieties on the soteriological spectrum. Also, I assure you that many if not all of the people on the committee share your (and my) repulsion at simply giving people warm fuzzies.

  4. When it comes to the adult non-believer who converts to the Christian faith, Arminians, Calvinists and Lutherans are in full agreement: salvation occurs when the sinner believes. Baptism is not a necessary requirement to be saved. We have theological differences in how believing occurs, but we all believe that the second a sinner believes he is saved.

    Our significant denominational differences arise when we talk about the salvation of the infants and toddlers of Christian parents: how are these young children saved? What happens if, God forbid, one of them should die before reaching the age where they are capable of expressing a saving faith in Christ?

    The Arminian answer is this: God saves all infants and toddlers who die, even the infants and toddlers of non-believers. They have no hard proof from Scripture to support this belief, but they believe that King David's comments about his dead infant gives them support for their position. Infants who die are "safe" in the arms of a loving God.

    Calvinists look at their children in this manner: Their children are either the Elect or they are not. Presbyterian Calvinists will baptize their infants to bring them into the "covenant" (whatever that is!)of the Church but do not believe that baptism has any salvific value. "If my child is of the Elect he will declare himself to be a believer when he is older." A Calvinistic Baptist does not baptize his infant, but looks at Election in the same way: My child is either of the Elect or not. There is nothing I can do but bring him up in the Faith and leave the rest to God.

    Lutherans believe that when God told us to baptize all nations, he meant to baptize ALL those who are the Elect. Many Arminians and Calvinists assume that Lutherans believe that anyone that they run through the baptismal font will get into heaven. Not true! Only the Elect will get into heaven. We baptize our infants in the HOPE that they are the Elect. Is it possible that some of the infants of Christian parents whom we baptize are not of the Elect and therefore will not be in heaven? Yes! But that is a mystery of God that we do not attempt to explain or understand.

    But we believe we do our job of "baptizing all nations" (who are of the Elect)by baptizing our infants and we then leave their Election up to God. We do our job of instructing them in the Faith as they grow up, but when they are older it will be their responsibility to nurture their faith with prayer, Bible study, and worship. If they abandon their faith and turn their back on God, they may wake up one day in hell! Baptism is NOT a "Get-into-heaven-free" card! Salvation is by God's grace alone, received in faith alone.

    No faith--->no salvation--->no eternal life!

    The Calvinist position on the salvation of infants is very confusing to me. It seems to be a process. A specific event of salvation is not necessary. Is there any example in the NT of anyone being saved by a process?

    As much as I deplore Arminian theology, I do like the fact that they insist on a specific "when" of salvation. However, they are wrong to believe that the "when" of salvation is based on THEIR decision when in reality it is based on GOD'S decision.

    If Calvinists agree with Lutherans that it is God who chooses who will be saved, and it is God who chooses when to save...which approach seems more Scriptural for the salvation of our children: God saves THOSE OF OUR CHILDREN WHO ARE OF THE ELECT in a one-time event in Holy Baptism or he saves them in a nebulous, drawn-out process over a period of years? Unless, of course, Calvinistic Baptists believe that their children who are the Elect are born saved...I certainly hope they do not believe that the Elect are born saved as do some hard-core Calvinists.

    To read more: