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.
I’ve made mention on occasion that W.A. Criswell was a self-proclaimed “Calvinist.”
It tends to shock people, but I have done it to validate that one can be a Calvinist and not be anathema to the SBC.
From my reading, I think you’re right about the extent of his Calvinism, but at the same time it speaks volumes that he was not ashamed of the label.
That being said, because folks I’ve shared that with have been so surprised, particularly FBC Dallas people, I question the assertion that Dr. Criswell was a major player in the resurgence.
I could be wrong, but that theory is news to me.
I was fortunate to attend Building Bridges. The entire time I felt as if something historic was happening. I hope that is the case. Drs. Ascol and Akin are to be commended both for their vision and their wisdom in structuring the conference as they did. Each session featured two speakers, a Calvinist and non-Calvinist, addressing a particular issue. This was very helpful and promoted both unity and understanding.
I would encourage everyone to listen to the messages. I will also say that Dr. Mohler’s address should be heard by every evangelical. Mohler is always compelling but his message on Monday evening was something very special.
What’s funny is that from an outsider’s perspective (like myself) it would seem that the SBC is predominantly Calvinists. That may be because the more public and vocal of the SBC seem to be outspoken proponents and defenders of Calvinism. I couldn’t even tell you who in the SBC is an Arminian. There are probably many, and many of them are probably professors at SBC seminaries, but I just don’t hear them loudly proclaiming and defending Arminianism.
Maybe someone here has a different perspective or perceptions.
It’s an interesting dynamic. Very few want to be called Arminians, but they don’t want to be Calvinists either.
It’s been my experience that they are happy to define themselves as anti-Calvinistic, but not pro-Arminian.
I’m sorry, but I’m quite unsure of your “I felt as if something historic was happening” statement. I don’t exactly know what the purpose of this conference was, but why is the SBC discussing Calvinism historic? It seems as though you speak with an extreme reverence to this issue, which is fine.
However, something truly historic and important would strike me as something about how they will be more active against global hunger, poverty, homelessness, etc. Lets not forget what really matters in this world…namely, to care for the “least of these”. Southern Baptists being more vocal for Calvinism really doesn’t mean jack for eternity, and I hope everybody can see that.
In fact, if the Calvinistic view of salvation (soteriology) is indeed true, it would actually have everything to do with eternity. Caring for the “least of these” while not caring for a proper understanding of the Person and Work of Christ, is not the Gospel. The debate is about exalting the glory of God in our fulfillment of the Great Commission, in our preaching, and in our teaching. The SBC should care about doctrine, because Christ cared about doctrine – and we are to imitators of Him.
I’m listening to Keithley. What did you think of his talk?
You’re assuming only the calvinstic view of soteriology is the only way for salvation. Sorry bro, you’re wrong. Based on that logic, people who do not believe in TULIP are damned to hell. Right-living is much more important than orthodoxy, though both are vital. I’ll gladly side with a hyper-arminian on fire for God over a cold-hearted calvinist any day.
I never said doctrine wasn’t important, I’m saying it’s worthless if we neglect to live right. Sadly, we focus on the former and neglect the latter. Jesus had some pretty harsh words for people like this, and sadly, many Southern Baptists and Calvinists I know fit this mold (I know they do on the other side too). My point is that it is all worthless if we neglect the least of these. The SBC discussing Calvinism does not peak my interest, or matter for eternity, if nothing drives them to action against global injustices. Strange how we white middle-class Americans skip over those passages in the Bible.
Meaningfulness is most often defined in the eye of the beholder, like beauty. Todd, being present at the conference, was able to behold something beautiful (something described as historic), from his perspective, something very meaningful to him that others like Brett (just pulling a name out of the hat) were not able to behold.
I pray something very meaningful (historic) comes from the labors of those teaching at the conference and from those who attended.
I too would like to see something more profound happening to end “global hunger, poverty, homelessness, etc.” And so I must first ask “What am I doing personally to achieve those ends?” Do I freely give of my time, talent or treasure? If my answer is ‘no’ then I should keep my mouth shut and simply pray ‘come soon Lord Jesus’ and pray for those who are actually doing the work, giving the money; like a lot of SB missionaries and others who are on the front line of those noble tasks.
Only God can ultimately judge another mans work and the eternal significance of his labors. Letâ€™s not put ourselves in the place of God. Bad place to be.
Proverbs 27:17 â€œIron sharpens iron. So one man sharpens another.â€
If just one man like Todd was sharpened through the conference, and becomes a more effective servant of Christ. I would call that historic. Meaningful!
Denny thanks for the link- I look forward to listening to them soon and to the â€˜sharpeningâ€™ they could have in my thinking and my living!
Very few are Calvinist in the SBC. SBC tolerates Calvinism as a minority view and historically rarely addresses it. It’s “hot” right now because of the visiblity of Al Mohler. Please don’t think of the SBC as Calvinist. We are not.
If theology doesn’t produce right living its not good theology.
I read Yarnell’s manuscript and did not come away encouraged that he was very interested in building bridges. It seemed like he was saying the same things he has for a while; that basically Calvinism is wrong and we should treat it more like threat to the SBC.
Did those of you who heard him get a different impression? I really hope I misread him. It would be a shame to invite a speaker to build a bridge when in reality he wants to burn them…
Please don’t put words in my mouth. I was not assuming, nor proclaiming that there is anything salvific about affirming the TULIP. Rather, I was implying that there is more to the Christian life than just being saved, and doing good works. The issue is this:
RIGHT THEOLOGY PRODUCES RIGHT LIVING – AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
Christ didn’t command us just to baptize and seek Kingdom justice (though He did command that), but He also commissioned us to “teach” all the things that He had commanded – both about Himself, His work, and His church. Simply put – we’re called to do it all – and not at the expense of one or the other.
If right theology = right living (and I agree with this statement), then in my experience, Calvinism is the worst theology of all.
How unfortunate to read your vehement comments about Calvinism. It seems, for one thing, to show a lack of understanding about Calvin himself. I’m sure most of us would do well to learn from his example, as I’m sure most pale in comparison to his manner of Christian living.
As a Calvinist, I see the great benefits of this system, especially in gaining a proper understanding of the vast differences between man and God.
One could easily argue that Calvinism brings about a more sincere form of obedience, one rooted in love and reciprocation rather than that of fear (which is more likely to be found in Arminianism, where loss of salvation is a concern).
Calvinism lends itself to being more God-honoring, and by this I mean that God takes the credit in the work of salvation. It almost makes grace more gracious, if you catch my drift.
All this is certainly not to say that I can’t see where Arminians “come from” in their understanding of Scripture. But when it comes down to practical application of the doctrine, I’d put Calvinism against Arminianism any day.
And as for the “least of these” to which you made reference in #5, I feel that Calvinism helps me to better understand the spiritual situation of these, that I might be better equipped to minister in meaningful ways to them.
Yours are terribly strong words for a time-tested theological system that does a pretty good job of reconciling Scripture passages and explaining difficult concepts. I, for one, have an easier time with Calvinism because of its great job of placing the authority and emphasis on the Godhead, where I certainly think it belongs. You may do well to take another look at it.
Something truly remarkable for the SBC would be a discussion of their relationship to Lutheranism. Billy Graham did remark, somewhat unfortunately for us, that the LCMS was a sleeping giant.
Don’t evangelicals ever tire of reducing most everything to a debate between Calvinism and Arminianism? I remember the debates well and found them to largely fruitless. After all, if our reasoning and argumentation is really that impressive, then everyone would have to acknowledge that John Owen is right. But our ex corde reasoning is not impressive, which allows the argument to continue. Anyway, there is a rich heritage in Christendom that is not reduced to these two categories.
Which is an amusing comment, Mason, considering the flame wars between the Lutherans and the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries, a tradition that has been maintained in some Lutheran quarters of late.
Isn’t Rick Warren a part of the SBC?
As another outsider, I tend to think that most of the SBC is sub-Calvinist. They like eternal security, but they reject the rest of TULIP.
Most these folks don’t like Arminianism that much either.
I’m not much for ad hominem arguments, but you brought it up. If you’re going to look at Calvin’s life, I want to run as far away from the system as possible. He was directly or indirectly related to 38 (some scholars claim 58) executions, he had children thrown in prison for not being obedient to their parents, and he tried to fuse religion and state. He had a man exiled for interpreting the Song of Solomon as a love poem, and he had a man exiled for not believing in double predestination. I don’t see Jesus in any of this, I mean any.
This don’t mean Calvinism isn’t true, it means Calvin was a jerk
Hhhhmmm, well yeah, Calvin was **gasp** a sinner saved by grace! Those are some pretty serious claims, and I don’t have the knowledge or proof to refute them.. But there’s no doubt the guy had some flaws, as with any other theologian or thinker or pastor or author.
I will say this – at least he wasn’t resigned to earning his salvation, as is customary with the Arminian folk 🙂
FYI This is a good resource for those who might want a balanced view of God at work through the life of Calvin in spite of his flaws:
The Legacy of Sovereign Joy – God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin
Yes, Rick Warren is part of the SBC, or to put it another way, the church where he is the pastor is a SBC church.
To connect the dots, I’ve read interviews he’s done showing him to at least be sympathetic to Reformed Theology.
With the Hawaiian shirts and all, however, I’m not sure which side would really want to claim him.
You said I’m sorry to say-
“This donâ€™t mean Calvinism isnâ€™t true, it means Calvin was a jerk”.
Solomon- 900 concubines?/300? wives
Paul- accomplice to murder/ threw people in jail for their faith in Jesus
Just to name a few. I could put my name on the list also in that I sin as well.
Are you willing to add all these to your personal list of ‘JERKS’ in that their lives didn’t always glorify God?
If your smug self-righteousness is reflective of your theology then it must be the worst ‘system’ of theology in the world! Because YOU â€˜SEEMâ€™ GRACELESS! And I use the word seem because I want to give you the benefit of temporary insanity. We have all been there before including myself.
By the way, what did you do yesterday to help end world hunger? How about homelessness? Anything on the Aids epidemic?
Remember your words from post #9-
“My point is that it is all worthless if we neglect the least of these. The SBC discussing Calvinism does not peak my interest, or matter for eternity, if nothing drives them to action against global injustices. Strange how we white middle-class Americans skip over those passages in the Bible.”
So whatâ€™s on the docket for today. Serving at a homeless shelter somewhere? Giving money to end world hunger today? What does â€œaction against global injusticesâ€ look like in your life?
Why do these discussions always have to come to this type of stuff. It’s ridiculous and I don’t know if it has always been like this here but it’s really starting to turn me off to coming here, which is a shame since there are some people who have truly insightful things to say and who I am challenged by and learn from, but it’s the bad apples that spoil the bunch and leave a bad taste in my mouth when I leave.
For those of you outside of the SBC, this IS an important conversation. The SBC is quite divided over this matter, and it has raised no little attention in recent years. It is time that this conversation took place, and I commend Pres. Akin et al. for making this happen.
No one is denying the need for feeding the poor here. To talk about and focus on one issue for a few days does not deny the legitimacy of another issue. But, for those inside the SBC, this is a good thing. Further, Christendom is not being reduced to two categories here; it is just that for too long caricatures of each side have been held high, and bad arguments have been made by too many–even those who have held or do hold ranking positions in the denomination.
This is an “in house” discussion, and one that comes at a good time. I hope that Calvinists and Arminians alike see that the other is not heresy
Denny, regarding Dr. Criswell, I wonder if it is not a high compliment to the man that he was a 4-pointer, yet he never made his Calvinism a central issue to those even closest to him? (Your point still stands concerning his SBC impact on this matter.)
Query: How logical is it for one to believe in an Arminian view of free will and election, while still maintaining “once saved, always saved”? Logically one would have to conclude that one is free to “get in,” but could never “get out.” Thus, those who maintain this view have to say that a believer has less freedom of choice AFTER believing than before choosing to believe–now they can never choose to stop believing, since “once saved, always saved.”
Have I thought this through?
I agree. When it turns into “Calvin” is a jerk type comments I tend to get sour. I would much rather dialogue over the merits of scripture regarding Calvin’s theology. I enjoy being stretched by those who have different perspectives.
I’m sorry if my last post has caused you to feel sour regarding Denny’s site. It has no reflection on Denny but only on my weariness of personal attacks.
My apologies to you or all who felt the same as Bryan.
Bryan L – I agree wholeheartedly, and I appreciate your post. I enjoy reading your comments, so I hope you’ll stick around. Let’s keep the comments above the belt, y’all!
Benjamin A – thanks for the open apology.
That is correct. My brother-in-law believes that way and his explanation is…once you are born again you can not become a child of the devil again.
You can “check in” but you can’t “check out”. Seems like a “fence rider” position to me.
My apologies for post #21. That was out of line. I acted graceless.
Denny- My apologies for afflicting your readers with that post.
Bryan- Thanks for your accountability on my graceless post.
Carlito- Thanks for your ‘keep it above the belt’ comment.
No problem brother, I’m sorry for provoking that emotion. I could have wrote some things in a more reasonable manner.
I am not a Calvinist, nor am I an Arminian. I’m currently wrestling with both of these systems and seeing positives and negatives on both sides. I just like to throw in a different line of thought into these blogs every once in a while to keep you guys thinking and on your toes 🙂 I just don’t want us to fall into the trap of thinking that Calvinism is Christianity, and it must be defended at all costs. You guys might agree with the system, which is perfectly fine, but don’t replace Christianity with the system, and don’t interpret the Bible through the system, but interpret the Bible, and match it up with the system.
Don’t be too hard on yourself Benjamin (or Brett), it’s cool. It was more of a general trend that I was seeing recently from both sides of these debates that I was responding to. Disagreement and civil dialog and debate are cool. But when things start getting personal or the topic is always getting diverted to side issues (especially the same issues) then it starts feeling like there’s really no use trying to discuss anything cause it will probably just get diverted.
When we are provoked a lot of times, in my opinion, it’s just better to ignore people as they usually go way or feel like no one really cares what they have to say. We can feel like we need to defend someone’s honor or the truth or whatever when we see these things but I think people can recognize when others really want to discuss and dialog on things or whether they’re just looking for a fight or trying to get a rise out of people and slam others.
I appreciate y’alls humility over this.
I am still waiting for my decoder ring. Please help.
Mason: Surely you are aware of the strife that took place between the confessional Lutheran and Reformed in the latter half of the 16th going into the 17th century? The brickbats were flying.
Of late, Paul McCain and Chaz Lehmann have maintained the tradition from the Lutheran perspective; I am unaware of any unprovoked assaults coming from the Reformed camp, however. That is not to say there have been no Reformed aggressors, just that I have not encountered them. Wouldn’t surprise me if they exist.
I was there as Todd was and I agree with his comments.
Many of us in attendance felt the same way about Dr. Yarnell’s presentation. It just didn’t seem to fit. He seemed try to present Calvinism in a somewhat historically negative and even anachronistic way. It’s funny because he probably agrees more theologically with Calvin himself than not. But he chose to concentrate on some negative aspects of not really Calvin but the culture of the day.
While the historic record is not unimportant we need to see how we can understand and work work with each other today. What are “we” who are Calvinists in the SBC today sitting right in front of you at this conference saying right now?
Brett, please be honest. You also are not a Christian? Otherwise why are you baiting people on this site and on others, with the same sort of rhetoric in each case? This is not Christlike behavior and I question your sincerity and your motives.
A man does not have to be alive today for you to be guilty of slandering him before Godâ€¦
You have made some pretty serious accusations against Calvinâ€¦ Unless you are in possession of original documents that prove that what you have said about Calvin is true, and not just that these things are what the enemies of Calvin (mostly Catholic Apologists) have saidâ€¦ then you are guilty of slandering a Christian Brother.
Brother, you need to be very careful hereâ€¦
J W Majors
Free will can get you in,but can’t get you out. Getting in is dependent on man’s undependable will,but staying in is dependent on God’s dependable will. Maybe Southern Baptists fear going to hell more than they dislike God distributing his grace in a way that will maximize his glory rather than sinners. Amusing thing is when they pray for God to save those they are interested in. They should be praying to the sinner,but logic and truth is in short supply when one hates the Sovereignty and Freedom of the Potter. In the end,Calvinism wins. Nobody is going to tell God that his free will got him in. You wouldn’t dare.
Kelly Keith Dunn
Personally, I find all this banter quite disturbing. There are many presumptions floating around this discussion. I work in a Homeless Shelter, I share the gospel on a daily basis and I am a Calvinist, not a Four Point Calvinist (Arminian) a Southern Baptist Credentialed, Five Point Calvinist. Stop the bickering and go into all the world and make DISCIPLES!
Those of us that do believe in God’s freedom in sovereign electing grace, need to realize the importance of paths the church has taken and church history. It is those like Finney and Sunday who have filled the churches with circus-like-antics and extra-biblical methods. This is the natural path for Arminianism, because it is based on influencing a man to make a decision, instead of preaching the word faithfully and relying on God to work through the Holy Spirit to save them. We need to look at church history and without being pragmatic, look at the results. You don’t find a widespread branch of heresy coming from the Calvinist camp. It is the Arminian camp that has birthed “Word-Faith”, Charismata, Faith Healers, the “Pentecostal” movement, “Spiritual Outpourings”, and other extra biblical events in Chrisendom. It is because that is the path Arminianism will take a person. If man has any part in salvation, other than being a vessel of God’s use, then he gets some credit. If God does it all, then He gets ALL the glory, and we cant use hoop-jump methods not in the bible, we just preach the Word and let God work. I encourage you to listen to Jeff Noblit’s sermon in 2007 of November, “Calvinism, A Cause For Rejoicing”.
Dr. James Willingham
I preached my firt sermon in 8-58 and was ordained 5-20-62. My ordaining pastor was supralapsarian, a hyper-calvinist, frmer associate to R.G. Lee at Bellevue, and the one person named in Dr. Lee’s will to preach his funeral. In ’63 I began doing research in Baptist History. Imagine my surprise when cound out that the SBC was founded by Sovereign Grace believers, that they wrote it into the history of their churches, associations, that it was not until the 1900s that an Arminian would be elected prsident of the SBC. The theology of the First and Second Great Awakenings and of the launching of the Great Century of Missions was Sovereign Grace. Since 1973 I have been praying for the Third Great Awakening. That is why, I believe, the theology is coming back – so we can have the awakening that that kind of theology produces. I think it is almost upon us, the time of the singing of the birds is come, we might be about to witness the very shaking of Heaven spoken of in Hebs.12. Surely, it would be a shaking of Heaven to have it brought down to earth. C.S. Lewis sad it well in his sci/fi work, That Hideous Strength, “they pulll down deep Heaven upon their heads.” And that is what I found about the awakenings: Such a presence of Heaven that hearts were melted into submission., the answer to multitudes of prayers to that end for over 1700 years. O ys, read Spurgeon’s Evening Devotions for Aug.6 and Dec.24, where he prays for the conversion of the whole earth. And think of William Cary and Dr. John Thomas going out to win sinners to Christ with the TULIP doctrines as invitations of the most intense, inviting, winsome, attractive, wonderfully winning kind.
Dr. James Willingham
I was talking with a friend this past week, the Rev. Drew Garner, a retired minister, a graduate of Carson Newman and Southwestern. Drew said h us to go to Ridgecrest to hear W.A. Criswell preach. He said he asked Dr. Criswell What his views were on the issue of Calvinism and Dr. Criswell said: “MY THEOLOGY IS THE THEOLOGY OF JAMES PETIGRU BOYCE!” That pretty well says it all. Boyce was a solid Calvinist. Any Southern Baptist minister ought to have Boyce’s Systematic Theology and his biography by Broadus. Also I rcommend P.H.Mell’s ork on Predestination and Basil Manly, Sr’s sermon on Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility along wth J.L. Dagg’s theological work, J.M. Frost’s writing, ad B.H. Carroll’s works. The secret to Great Awakenings and Great Centuries of Mission is Sovereign Grace, the most intensely evangelistic and inviting theology the world has ever seen, the only one that really provides te transformation needed by the individual and by society. Good Sovereign Grace believers who really know their theology rejoice to know that Jonathan Edwards preached on Pressing into the Kingdom. My ordaining pastor, a hyper-calvinist, a supralapsarian, was noted for two evangelisic sermons, Why Sit Ye Here Till Ye Die, and The Great Supper. The theology is coming back, because we need it in order to have a Third Great Awakening and win the whole earth for Christ’ sake. Life is getting interesting, exciting, joyful.
I’m having trouble with my computer, so don’t know if this will get posted. But I’ll try.
Dr. Criswell was my pastor, and concerning Calvinism. Criswell said, “The ‘elect’ are the ‘whosoever wills’ and the whosoever wills’ are the ‘elect.'”
Dr. James Willingham
Belief in the doctrines of grace have a tendency to produce carefulness and a consideration for how best to represent and present the truth. Dr. J.P. Boyce, for example, was quite gentle in his teachings of the truth as was his childhood pastor, Basil Manly, Sr., who laid his hand on Boyce’s head, when the latter was about 10 years of age, and said, “This young man will be a preacher.” Even more to the point was Luther Rice who simply pointed out that Sovereign Grace is in the Bible and a minister had better preach it…which is what W.A. Criswell did. Dr. Criswell also put his beliefs in writings. When a text presented what some consider now to be an issue such as election (God’s choice of individuals to be saved), Dr. Criswell simply told the truth as the Bible recorded it. That same book also records that whosoever will may come. The only thing hindering is in the person. Boyce in a sermon on Rev.3:20 presented the truth that the door is so tightly bound that no human hand can open it. As one whose heart was in such condition that the Lord had to do like He did in Lydia’s case (whose heart the Lord opened – Acts.16:14). He opened my heart after knocking at it, because I could not and would not. Two verses that summarize my conversion experience, Rev. 3:20 (as an atheist I saw with my eyes Jesus knocking at my door, facing me) and, Acts 16:14, (He opened that door, when I ran from Him) are what I want on my tombstone. They display the inviting and effectual work of the Lord which saved this militant atheist.
Dr. James Willingham
Correction “has” in the first line of my last comment
Kelly Keith Dunn
In my experience as a SBC pastor, most of the people in my care were misinformed about Calvinism. Most were not aware of the historic doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention. If someone asked me I was a Calvinist – I would ask them what they meant by “Calvinist” before I would answer the question.