Southern Baptists Continue Debate over Calvinism

Dr. Jerry VinesThose who have been watching the recent debates over Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention will be interested in a recent sermon by Dr. Jerry Vines and a response by Tom Ascol.

Dr. Vines, elder statesman of the SBC conservative resurgence, preached a message last Sunday against five-point Calvinism. He delivered the sermon “Calvinism: A Baptist and His Election” at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, and charged among other things that “In churches where Calvinist doctrine is taught, there is a tendency to neglect witnessing and evangelism and not win souls” (see the sermon here).

Tom Ascol, Director of Founders Ministries, has responded point-by-point to Dr. Vines sermon on the Founders Ministries Blog. Ascol concludes his response with the following:

Dr. Vines’ message screams for a response from denominational leaders who never hesitate to issue warnings to Southern Baptist Calvinists whom they label “Calvinazis” and charge with being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person. Wouldn’t it make sense that those who issue such warnings should feel some compulsion to issue them in both directions? Will this kind of complete misrepresentation of the theological heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and the theological convictions of thousands of Southern Baptist pastors be given a pass by denominational leadership? If recent history is any indicator, that is exactly what we can expect (source).

This is an interesting debate that I hope will continue. The Bible, Theology, and Baptist history are all items that Southern Baptists would do well to understand with greater clarity. In this respect, I hope that this continuing conversation will be helpful.


Tracing the Recent Debate among Southern Baptists over Calvinism (From the Baptist Press)

— Daniel L. Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and Malcolm B. Yarnell III, assistant dean for theological studies, director of the Center for Theological Research and associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, wrote differing opinions on T.U.L.I.P. (an acronym relating to the Doctrines of Grace that largely define Calvinism). These originally appeared in the Southern Baptist Convention’s journal SBC Life, and Baptist Press subsequently published them online. (Link to Yarnell’s column or Akin’s column or see URLs below.)

— On June 12, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, discussed Calvinism during two one-hour-long breakout sessions of the SBC Pastors’ Conference. The sessions, titled, “Reaching Today’s World Through Differing Views of Election,” drew standing room only crowds. (Link to the Baptist Press report or see URL below.)

— During the SBC annual meeting, June 13-14 in Greensboro, N.C., John S. Connell, senior pastor of Calvary in Savannah, Savannah, Ga., offered a motion asking the SBC Executive Committee to establish a committee to study the impact of Calvinism on Southern Baptists and to recommend any necessary actions.

Additionally, the first study released by the newly formed LifeWay Research, a department of LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC publishing arm, addressed Calvinism, finding the number of Southern Baptist pastors embracing five-point Calvinism to be relatively small (about ten percent), but that the conversations on Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention have brought renewed interest to the theological system. (Link to a Baptist Press article or see URL below).

Yarnell on T.U.L.I.P.:
Akin on T.U.L.I.P.:
Mohler & Patterson:
LifeWay study on Calvinism:
Founders Ministries blog:
Ergun Caner:
Emir Caner:


  • Andrew

    On Vines’ charge that evangelism is often rejected in calvinistic churches, I think the tendency to confuse 5 point calvinism with hyper-calvinism is rampant in the SBC, especially within the outgoing generation of leaders. Hyper calvinism would be an attitude that can be derived from calvinistic beliefs, but certainly it is not a doctrine itself. Vines should remember that the first great awakening was led by calvinists (Edwards and Whitefield) and the eastern front of the second great awakening was led by calvinists. Evangelism Explosion was written by another 5-pointer, Dr. D. James Kennedy. Calvinists are evangelistic because they understand the importance of making the glory of Christ known to all nations, as a response to God’s sovereignty and his holy commands.

  • Bryan L

    I think many who make these charges against Calvinist make them because they know most of us are ruled by our personal comfort. We don’t like doing things that are uncomfortable, like sharing the Gospel with complete strangers or being a missionary in a dangerous foreign country. So being that we are ruled by our desire for comfort (even the best of us at times), they realize that for many if not the majority of Calvinist, TULIP gives them the justification for not sharing the Gospel or being evangelistic. After all, based on the logic of TULIP, if someone doesn’t get saved then they were never predestined to. So if the Calvinist does or doesn’t decides to share the gospel with someone it doesn’t matter in the end because if that person isn’t predestined and chosen by God then they’re going to hell no matter what they do. And on the flip side if that person is predestined and chosen by God to be saved, then if they decide to not share the Gospel with them (because it’s uncomfortable), it still doesn’t matter because someone else will come along who will and that person will get saved. So they see that in Calvinism, either way they’re off the hook and they get to choose their comfort over their obligation. Being that they’re off the hook and not responsible for someone else’s salvation it’s easy to see why for a Calvinist their personal comfort would get the best of them.
    Let me put it this way: If you’re in a situation where you know someone doesn’t know Jesus and you are debating in your head whether to share the Gospel with them because you know things could get awkward or uncomfortable (or even dangerous) between you too, then what are you most likely to choose? If we’re honest we’ll say that a lot of times Calvinists choose to not share the Gospel because deep down they realize that if they choose not to then it’s ok because if the other person never get saved it’s not in any way their fault. They’ve just chosen their own personal comfort. We make these kinds of decisions based on our comfort every day over and over. If you disagree then please let me know how many people you personally shared the gospel with just last week, or even last month (not counting from the pulpit or in counseling. Tell me how many random strangers you shared the gospel with on the street, or in the grocery stores.

    Now most of what I said about Calvinist applies to Arminians as well(I’m speaking as an Arminian), except for knowing we’re off the hook, and I honestly don’t that the majority or Arminians are that much more evangelistic than Calvinist. We’re still ruled by our desire for personal comfort and we still make those decisions over and over every day not to share the gospel with people. We just seem to have a little extra motivation that pushes us a little more than Calvinist, in that every time we choose not to share the Gospel with someone we have to carry with us the possibility that that person could go to hell because of us. Unfortunately many of us just learn to live with this guilt or become numb to it. Or we might share the gospel every now and then so that we can feel like we’re doing our job. No matter that we’ve only told 1 in 100 the gospel, at least we told one and that one is off our conscious.

    Anyway that’s what I think. I’d be interested to hear others opinions as long as we could be honest about this.

    BTW this issue is closely related to prayer. Those who don’t believe prayer changes anything and God will do whatever he’s already predetermined to do no matter what you pray, will find the justification for not praying (or not praying as much), especially since most find it boring. It’s the logical conclusion that many people jump to. If prayer doesn’t change anything (but me) then why bother praying. Now those who do believe prayer changes thing’s still struggle with it, they just have the added guilt, knowing that if they choose not to pray for God to do something, then he might not.


  • Joe B


    It amazes me at time to hear statements like yours. There is a stereotype of the non-evangelistic Calvinist out there that is so pervasive it is shocking to those of us who are actually Calvinists. I am witnessing the Gospel to those around me on such a regular basis it is hard to keep track. Keeping track is not even part of my mentality. I love what Jesus did for me so much that anyone who gets to know me for even a little while is soon going to hear my testimony and a plain statement that all people everywhere are called to repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    As for motivation, try this: I have the power of the Almighty backing me anywhere and everywhere I go when I bring His message. True, I do not have to worry about guilt for not talking to people God did not call me to talk to, but He has called me to talk to so many I can hardly pay attention to silly questions based on bad theology. God gives His beloved sleep. I’ve heard preachers get up and speak to the student body at Liberty and tell them it is their fault 250,000 people went to hell when the tsunami struck out there in the Indian Ocean. I am still waiting to be shown chapter and verse for that one. It is not in my Bible. I know people who were there, who know that God does indeed have a witness among those people, and, shockingly, they happen to believe God predestined them to go and preach just as much as they believe God has a people there for them to preach to.

    So you see why these false stereotypes disturb me. I grew up among Arminians and carried the saddle of guilt into all my “witnessing.” Then, when God actually saved me, my message changed. It was no longer an appeal to please try Jesus. It was the thunder of a command from heaven to rise from the dead ye sleepers, repent and fall at the feet of King Jesus, Who gave Himself a substitute for hopeless sinners just like you and me.

    And there are pragmatic problems with Guilt Evangelism. Any tree not planted by God will be rooted up. Any plant lacking a real root will wither under persecution. People “converted” by psychological and emotional appeals may adopt Christian formalities while that remains fashionable and convenient, but the hard trials of life, the Job experiences, have a way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Why are so, so many Christians morally, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually indistinguishable from their secular counterparts? Because Guilt Evangelism doesn’t work.

    Yes, I know about Ezekiel’s teaching on the responsibility of the righteous to call the wicked to repentance. True enough, but let’s be fair. That is a broad call to righteousness, and is not constrained to personal witnessing only. It calling an entire culture to quit killing its young, to quit polluting human sexuality, to quit relying on human methods to build divine institutions and to trust instead for God to give the increase after doing evangelism the way He has commanded us. What does history teach, but that those who put their trust in a sovereign God were the most durable of civilization’s preachers of righteousness, who, without omitting the Gospel proper, also commanded the modern Herods to forsake their illegitimate pleasures and seek all their joy in the true God?

    As for prayer, the Christian who trusts in a God who is able to save hell-bent sinners in spite of themselves is the only one like to ask God to save loved ones who appear impenetrable to the Gospel. If God cannot answer your prayer to save someone you love, then quit your prayers, for you are talking to the wrong person. But God forbid that you should so belittle His power to turn men’s’ hearts, because He can save the angry and hostile Paul on the road to Damascus just as well as He can save the ever affectionate disciple John, and He can answer your prayers for those you care about. You see, I don’t prayer because I want God to change His mind, as though I think His current plan isn’t working so well. I pray because I want to tell God my problems, and to see what He will do about them. I pray because I want to give God glory for His answers. I pray because I enjoy spending time in His presence.

    No Bryan, my main source of guilt stems from not trusting Him enough to overcome my deficiencies as a witness of His great salvation gift, from failing to see the fullness of the grandeur of His Person as the real source of any success I might have, from thinking too small about so great a Savior.

    The Scriptures do not say that guilt casts out fear. Love perfected, that is what casts out fear. When His love is in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will not fail of the mission to which we are sent. His word will not return to Him without accomplishing its purpose.

    “…the greatest of these is charity.”


  • Bryan L

    As I was reading you comments I kept wondering if you were talking to me or someone else. I kept getting the impression that you were having a conversation with a different person. You kept going on and on like you were responding to some imaginary interlocutor like Paul does in Romans (in my opinion). Did you read all of my comments? Maybe you misunderstood what I was trying to say. I guess that was probably my fault for not being clearer (believe me I tried). You really have to watch what you say whenever you bring up Calvinism and Arminianism because people get pretty upset about these things especially if they think you’re attacking what they believe.

    What I was trying to do was open up a dialog and throw some ideas out there of what might be going on in the minds of people who make charges against Calvinism like Vines did. The first person perspective that I was writing in was more representative of a particular view and not necessarily what I thought. Joe I wasn’t trying to make this an Arminian vs Calvinism thing. I was just trying to take my guess at what an Arminian like Vines may be thinking, based on what they see and personal experiences, that would cause them to make the charge he made against Churches that preach Calvinism.

    I was saying that from their perspective one of the things that might cause them to believe what they do about Calvinists could be rooted in a general understanding about Christians and our love of comfort (obviously from what you shared, that’s not a problem you have Joe but a lot of Christians do). And how often that love of comfort often gets the best of us, Arminians and Calvinists alike. And when either chooses not to share the gospel (out of love for comfort), then each has their particular guilt they might face; the Arminian’s guilt comes from questioning (based on their theology) whether that person’s eternal destiny was in their hands and whether they (the unsaved person) might go to hell because the Arminian didn’t do what they were supposed to. The Calvinist doesn’t have that guilt because they don’t believe someone’s eternal destiny rests on their shoulders. But they may feel guilty because they disobeyed the Lord (which the Arminian has to deal with as well since they too disobeyed the Lord). Now from an Arminian like Vine’s perspective they might think, based on those 2 things, that while we all struggle to overcome our love of comfort so that we will share the Gospel, the Arminian may have a little more pushing them to overcome that because they have the added guilt that someone’s eternal destiny rests on their shoulders. This may be what Vines was thinking and even what he might have seen first hand that caused him to say what he did. I don’t know that for sure, that’s why I was trying to open up a dialog and get some conversation going and some honesty. I was hoping Calvinist and Arminians could share some of their beliefs, personal experiences and failings as well as their presuppositions about the other so that maybe we could understand each other a little bit better. Obviously I failed at doing that. My bad.

    BTW I agree with much of what you said like the tsunami thing and how guilt evangelism is bad. Although I was a bit confused at what your position was on prayer. Please, next time try to tone the rhetoric down. You don’t have to be so intense to get your point across. Thanks


  • todd wells

    This has to be one of the most depressing sermons I have ever heard. I was particularly shocked when Vines almost boasted about demoting the teacher at his church who admitted to teaching Calvinism. “Go get your own church to kill.”

    So now Calvinism kills churches…Amazing….funny how Cj Mahaney, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, among others who have large to Extra-large congregations that are spiritually ALIVE are ALSO Calvinist preachers. Now, im sure Vines is well aware there are exceptions, but he seems to consider this the general rule….As an itenerent preacher, I can tell you that the churches ive seen that were “dead” were almost invariably Arminian oriented (or at least “neutral”). To allege Calvinism tends to kill churches is just absurd. I expected better of Jerry Vines. This was an EXTREMELY unfortunate sermon……

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