04 June 2013

Southern Baptists' New Statement on the Calvinism Debate

An advisory committee, appointed by Executive Director Frank Page last August, has published its report in anticipation of the annual meeting in Houston next week.  The drama around Calvinism continues to intrude into Southern Baptist life causing tension, frustration, and confusion.  The resurgence in Calvinism in the last couple of decades has given rise to an increasing factionalism.  This growing tension has become a threat to the unity of the SBC.

Frank Page (an outspoken critic of Calvinism in the past) did assemble a theologically diverse committee of the traditional who's who of the SBC.  The selection of individuals alone speaks well of the commitment to a fair process and genuine and constructive dialogue. 

The title of the committee's document is "Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension."  The alliteration makes me suspect they may have conjured up Adrian Rogers for the task!  My guess is that David Dockery was the primary author, but that's just my hunch.

Regardless of who deserves the most credit for the statement, all the committee should be applauded for the excellent guide they have produced for Southern Baptists.  I'm not sure if it will actually result in greater charity and unity, but it certainly won't hurt.

I believe it is a good report for several reasons.  First, it distinguishes the gospel itself from man-made theological systems.  While acknowledging the differences in interpretation and understanding, the statement makes clear that we can agree upon the clear, biblically revealed truth.  For example, the report says, "we agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved."  Also, "We agree that everyone has inherited Adam's hopelessly fallen sin nature, but we differ as to whether we also inherit the guilt."  Numerous other theological interpretations are mentioned.  The document encourages us to "live in the tensions of unanswered questions" and that these tensions should "spur us to search the Scriptures more dutifully."

Second, the statement reinforces that the Baptist Faith and Message should be THE confession among Southern Baptists as the doctrinal guide for our cooperation.  Some of us may be fond of other historic Baptist confessions because they line up better with our personal theology, but as a cooperating Southern Baptist only the Baptist Faith and Message is relevant and Calvinists and non-Calvinists can affirm its statements.  Doctrinally, our unity is to be found here.

Third, the committee urges us all to get along with each other!  Neither Calvinists or non-Calvinists should insist on their view when it comes to cooperation.  This will probably prove to be the most difficult aspect of our denominational life together.  It is easier to say we will "agree to disagree" and not allow our theological commitments to prejudice us against others than to actually demonstrate such a commitment.  My hope is that we will embrace the spirit of the committee's statement and move on together with a renewed commitment to cooperation characterized by love for one another and for a lost world that needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not our squabbling over theological tensions.  

I encourage every Southern Baptist to take the time to get informed. You can read the full report here.


  1. I'll summarize the report for you: "Non-Calvinists, assume the position."

  2. Interesting take James. I would be curious to know how you reach your conclusion.


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