A Response to “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

A statement was issued recently, and endorsed by some key SBC leaders, claiming to be a statement on a traditional Southern Baptist understanding of the way God saves sinners. This statement was issued as a response to the “new Calvinism.”

Let me state a few items upfront. I do not consider myself a member of the “New Calvinism,” so I don’t feel like this is a personal attack against me. Baptist21 is made up of young ministers all along the soteriological spectrum (some Calvinists and others non-Calvinist), so we do not feel this is an attack against Baptist 21. Also, I agree with much (almost all) of what is written in this statement (though I suspect that would probably be true of most of the “new Calvinists” as well).

However, I do take issue with this statement, and will not sign it. There are several reasons I find this document unhelpful, unnecessary, and divisive.

1.    This statement is fighting multiple straw men.

Honestly, I do not know to whom this statement is intended to respond because I don’t know any Calvinist who is arguing for what this statement says they are (and I’m a three-time graduate of SBTS and know plenty of Calvinists!). Several points of note:

  • I could be wrong, and would be happy to admit it, but I don’t know any Calvinist who is arguing in print or sermon to make “Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation, “ or “the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”
  • The statement consistently responds to double predestination, therefore implying that this is the standard position of “New Calvinists,” when in reality it is a minority position, almost certainly an extreme minority. The statement only argues against double predestination and never really addresses what the biblical word “predestination” actually means in the text. The authors make it sound like the “New Calvinism” is fighting for double predestination, and that is simply not accurate.
  • The most egregious implication is that “New Calvinists” believe that a person can be saved apart from personal repentance and faith. At least 5 times in the introduction, affirmations, or denials the statement claims that the traditional Southern Baptist view is that a person is saved by repentance and faith. I don’t know a single Calvinist in the SBC alive who would argue that a person can be saved apart from repentance and faith. Again, I don’t know a Calvinist who disagrees with the statement, “We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Again, to whom is the document responding? There is no one arguing for a Calvinism that looks like what the document claims. I find it problematic to mis-represent what brothers and sisters actually believe.

2.    The word “Traditional” is mis-leading.

Apparently, by the word “traditional” the authors actually mean the “majority” view. Much space could be take up debating historically what a traditional view is. I think brothers and sisters like Boyce, Broadus, Moon, Robertson, Mullins, Carroll and others would find problems with this statement.

The authors claim this document is “consistent with what the Bible teaches and what Southern Baptists have generally believed about the nature of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” Again, that is mis-leading because one of our earliest confessions, “The Abstract of Principles” would take issue with some of what is written here. And, men who signed this new statement have also signed the Abstract. Further, any fair reading of the BFM2000 recognizes it is Calvinistic in its orientation.

3.    Romans 8

I find the statement that the effectual call is the general call biblically untenable. I am curious to hear the architects of this document explain how this statement is consistent with Romans 8:29-30. The text says that those whom “God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…and those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” This text seems to clearly argue that there is a calling from God on all who are saved that is different from the general call that we are to give to all peoples to repent and believe the gospel. This calling is given to those who are justified and glorified, and since this is not true for every person on the planet, there must be a distinction between God’s call to salvation and the general call.

4.    The statement is divisive.

This statement is divisive not because a group of Baptists want to make their soteriological position clear because I think people have the right to do that. The statement is divisive for three reasons:

  • It inaccurately and unfairly describes the theology of the “New Calvinists.”
  • It implies that “New Calvinists” are having a detrimental impact on “contemporary mission and ministry” in the SBC without a shred of proof to back that up. It claims that the SBC has reached around the world with the Gospel “without ascribing to Calvinism,” and therefore fails to properly recognize that many godly Calvinists have contributed to the spread of the gospel through SBC cooperation in our history.
  • It is trying to unite a segment of Southern Baptist around a new theological statement, when the BFM2000 is enough to unite us in theology and mission.

Here is my hope for where we go from here:

1.    I pray that “New Calvinists” will not be offended by this statement since it does not describe what they actually believe.

My heart is heavy for good brothers and sisters in the SBC who affirm the BFM 2000 without reservation, and yet are continually maligned for what they believe the Bible teaches. I know many of them increasingly are being told that they have no place in the SBC, or at least that is being implied. My prayer is that they won’t believe that or listen to it. Since this statement mischaracterizes their position, I hope that they don’t take offense to it and respond in grace.

I pray that all Southern Baptists will accurately describe people’s theological positions without feeling the need to build straw men.

2.    I pray that the SBC can stop in-fighting over minor theological differences, embrace our common theology in the BFM2000, and reach the BILLIONS of UNREACHED together with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Adrian Rogers told my father before his death that the current fights in the SBC were a result of soldiers being off the battlefield and in the barracks. He said that when we were shoulder-to-shoulder fighting Liberalism, there was great unity, but now we are in the barracks standing face-to-face, fighting each other, instead of on the battlefield fighting Satan, sin, and evil.

As has been said many times before, the SBC is big enough to include Calvinists and non-Calvinists. We agree on far more than we disagree on, so let’s unite and fight a common enemy.

Let’s unite, and if we run into a Southern Baptist who argues that repentance and faith are unnecessary, or who argues that we shouldn’t “preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth,” or a Southern Baptist regardless of theological position who isn’t fervently engaged in evangelism and missions, then let’s lovingly rebuke them and try to bring them back into the fold, instead of trying to divide brothers and sisters who agree on all these things and are making their best efforts to reach the nations in cooperation.

We must pray that God would raise up a new generation, many generations, of Careys, Judsons, Whitefields, Wesleys, Spurgeons, Carrolls, Truetts, Lees, Criswells, Rogers, Pattersons, Mohlers, Gaines, Hunts, Merritts, Platts, and Greears who charge the gates of Hell with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

B21 Panel: Our B21 panel in NOLA at this year’s SBC will have men on either side of this issue speaking, and it will provide a great opportunity to engage in an open discussion about these matters. You can find the details by clicking here or you can register for this event here.