Are Southern Baptists Calvinists? That’s one of the questions being discussed this week in Ridgecrest, North Carolina at the conference “Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism.” This conference could not have come at a better time, given that debates about Calvinism among Southern Baptist often generate more heat than light. I have great hopes for better things from this conference. Speakers include Albert Mohler, David Dockery, Malcolm Yarnell, Tom Nettles, Voddie Baucham, Danny Akin, Tom Ascol, and many others.
You can podcast the messages from the conference through iTunes at the following link: Building Bridges Podcast (SEBTS Audio). Or you can visit Lifeway’s site and download the MP3 messages directly from a webpage. As I write this post, seven of the messages are available for download.
I have already listened to David Dockery’s message. It is excellent, and I commend it to you. I would make one note about it. In his survey of the history of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention, he devotes an entire section to the importance of W. A. Criswell as a Southern Baptist Calvinist. Dockery shares some interesting anecdotes about his own tenure at Criswell College when he worked very closely with Dr. Criswell. He even recalls a sermon in which Dr. Criswell banged the pulpit exclaiming, “I am a Calvinist!” Dockery points out that Dr. Criswell was no more than a four point Calvinist. He also notes that Criswell’s influence on a generation of ministers should not be underestimated. In some measure, this influence includes his Calvinism. Dockery’s remarks about Dr. Criswell occur from 34:07-37:27 of the address.
I wonder, however, whether we can speak of any significant Calvinist legacy coming from Dr. Criswell. I’m not denying that he was at least a four-point Calvinist. Nor am I disputing about his enormous influence over Southern Baptists. I’m just wondering whether his Calvinism had any measurable impact on the Southern Baptist Convention at large.
Currently, I teach at the Criswell College, and I am a member of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas where Criswell pastored for 50 years. I live right in the middle of Criswell’s legacy, and I know many people who were close to Criswell and who sat under his ministry for years. I have not heard any of these people make much of Criswell’s Calvinism, though they certainly acknowledge that he was one. I’m not qualified to assess Criswell’s convention-wide legacy, but it is striking to me that his legacy here in Dallas does not seem to include his Calvinism. That’s just my anecdotal experience. Maybe some of you readers will have a different perspective.
Anyway, I hope you’ll pay attention to the conversation happening in Ridgecrest. It’s an important one.