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.

Comments 0

  1. Thanks for this concise response, Jon. I suppose I would be considered among the “movement” the authors of this document intended to address. I’m appreciative of what men like Patterson did to take the SBC back from the clutches of liberalism, but I don’t understand this consistent fear of the bogey-man known as “Calvinism.”

    BTW, just completed the hermeneutics course at SEBTS in my Mdiv program with your dad. Great man. Enjoyed meeting him.

  2. Jon –

    First of all, great article. I agree with much of what you said, especially regarding the division that this “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” will surely cause.

    However, there was a major flaw in the statement that you did not address here. Under Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man it says, “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.” To me this seems to be a blatant denial of original sin as inherited from Adam which is explicitly stated in Scripture (Eph. 2:1-3, Gen. 8:21, Ps. 51:5, etc.).

    It would seem that a careful reading of this Article alone would prevent most SBC pastors from signing this document.

    1. I actually jumped ahead to Article Two b/c I wanted to understand their view of original sin and the sinfulness of man. Once I read it, I was shocked that any preacher could sign his name to it, much less the one’s that did.

      This ‘statement’ is a sad indictment on the theological/biblical illiteracy of not just our church, but her leaders.

    2. Mark Herrington,
      I have read a number of statements that mirror your concerns about Article Two.

      Please consider “The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal ” by Adam Harwood. While Reformed believers tend to affirm that all inherit Adams’s sin nature and guilt, Harwood argues, persuasively, that infants inherit Adam’s sin nature but not his guilt.

      Should you wish to understand how we can affirm article two, this is a great resource. Be warned, his thesis stands strong.

    3. Amen! And this is also why they can’t understand the doctrines of Grace. If you don’t understand the “T” the rest of this beautiful flower crumbles!

  3. Mark,

    Thanks for your response. I agree with you that this is a flaw. I agree w/ much of what is said in it, but certainly not all, and this section you mention is lacking.

    I tried to be concise in my response. Certainly more can be said



  4. Thank you for a rational response. I am unashamedly a Calvinist, though certainly not a radical trying to take over the SBC! I have pastored small churches in the Northwest Baptist Convention for over 30 years and have engaged in helpful dialogue with many other pastors on Calvinist and Non-Calvinist positions. All agree: personal repentance and faith are ESSENTIAL. As president of the Northwest Baptist Convention I fervently hope we will not get derailed about these issues…there are way too many lost people God desires to bring to Himself for us to waste our time arguing.

  5. I consider myself a traditional Southern Baptist, who graduated from SBTS in 1996, and I would also consider myself to be a Calvinist, in the way that John Calvin himself was in that I do not support double predestination. Calvinism certainly does not go against the traditional Baptist belief, in fact in James Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology from 1887 the doctrine of predestination and God’s election is certainly affirmed. I have many friends who are Calvinists but the majority of my friends or not, so I fully believe that this issue should not be an issue of division. We should unite ourselves together firmly under the cross of Christ, so that we might share Jesus most effectively with this world that we live in. I told my wife (who is not a Calvinist) a few months ago that this time of attempted division was fast approaching and I am deeply saddened by it.

  6. Recently I was at a week long training regarding Intentional Interim Ministry. One night around the kitchen table there were 8 of us sitting and discussing some points of doctrine. After about an hour or so there was just two men left (both Calvinists). The discussion had gotten a bit “passionate” from both sides. One by one the “non-calvinists” left the table, one man in particular was beside himself and promised to pray for us (the calvinists). I was personally disturbed to the point that I could feel my body shaking. Why was there some much anger regarding calvinism?

    I must say my heart was broken over this experience. These are men I have a great deal of respect for…they are my brothers in Christ…I love them….yet at the end of the day I felt as if I had done something wrong…that I had offended them by the way I handled God’s Word.

    Forgiveness was offered and accepted by all…..Ultimately we did not allow our different views to divide.

    This issue, which I call the Free Will vs Freed Will argument, has caused much division and bad feelings. I agree with others in this blog, we must unite around the common cause of living and proclaiming the Gospel to a lost world.

  7. One thought comes to mind reading “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”: no one, not a single solitary person, is saved “by repentance & faith” … referring to the action of the person in repentance & the expression by the person of faith.
    Any who are saved are saved by the grace of God in expressing mercy to the damnable & in giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead. Salvation can be rightly said to be “by faith” in that Jesus Christ faithfully (by faith) was obedient to the Father & thereby accomplished the works necessary for the salvation of those the Father had given Him. Nothing less than this perfect faithfulness is sufficient for the salvation of any.
    When God graciously sends the Holy Spirit to bring a person into spiritual life, at the proclamation of the Gospel there is that response in the person because of this spiritual life which is called “faith”. Faith, in this framework, is the spiritual response which results in belief then trust then repentance.
    Thus said, it is NOT our faith which saves, but our faith which is evidence of our salvation. It is not our repentance which saves, but our repentance which is evidence of our faith which is evidence of our salvation.
    Those spiritually dead cannot respond to the Gospel with faith anymore than a rock can respond to the kisses of a maiden. The dead can imitate spiritual life because we are still encumbered by sin in the flesh & are deceived and deceiving in that fleshly nature. Looking like the living & being alive, however, are two VERY different things.

  8. Jon,

    I totally agree with your assessment. I am a minister in the south and I find that there is definitely an almost prejudice against anyone with a reformed viewpoint. In my circles, the “traditionalists” use the word Calvinist as a derogatory term that means all mission giving, and evangelism would be shut down if a church calls a pastor of reformed views. It is the “scarlet letter” for any pastor ministering in the deep south. I have a son planning on attending Bible College and he is scared to even mention his theological perspective for fear of discrimination.
    We are in a sad state of affairs when we cannot lovingly discuss theology and are made to feel as though we are any less evangelistic and gospel driven as the “traditionalist”. God bless you for keeping the conversation going and using your platform to express what others of us cannot.

  9. Some guys retire and you hate to see them go. Other guys stay too long and you are relieved to see them go. Unfortunately, some guys do neither and you basically want to kick them out the door. It is sad when so-called leaders are drastically out of step with the GCR spirit in the SBC. Pathetic, pathetic.

  10. Proverbs 6:16 states that “there are six things the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:…a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” The person drafting this document should be called to account and rebuked (by both sbc calvinists and non-calvinists) for this wickedness and mis-characterization of orthodox reformed baptist leaders. The issue is NOT the document, but the sowing of discord therein as well as the lies about his target theological opponents.

  11. Bear,

    I appreciate your comment but want to respond briefly (and this will be my only response) because I think we need to be fair to what the document says.

    The document is clear that faith is not meritorious and doesn’t earn salvation.

    Of course we are saved by Jesus not by our faith, but how are we united to Jesus? Scripture is quite clear that the answer is repentance and faith.

    On more than one occasion someone in the Bible asks “what must we do to be saved?” and the response is: repent, trust, believe (acts 2; 16).

    Romans 10:9-10 says confess with mouth and believe with heart and you will be saved, not that you will give evidence of salvation.

    Is there more that God is doing behind the scenes when this takes place? Absolutely, BUT let’s stick with scripture that both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are true and go together.

    God is sovereign but he uses means: preaching of Gospel, prayer, repentance, faith, etc.

  12. Jon,

    Thanks for posting this. Yours is the first response I’ve read to the statement. Your words are extremely helpful due to your leadership with B21, and your other more informal partnerships and leadership with young SBC leaders, and also in light of your father’s influential position. Timely and helpful.

    Thank you for responding with clarity and charity.

    Grace & Truth,


  13. I agree with Mark Herrington’s point above. What is so concerning to me is that the affirmations and denials with regard to man’s sinfulness and God’s grace–at least to my mind–are semi-Pelagian, rather than evangelical Arminian. If they held to an Arminian or Wesleyan position, I would have thought they would have mentioned God’s prevenient grace.

  14. It saddens me that some of the statements of the “traditionalists” have more content in the “we deny” sections than in the “we affirm.” Thanks for this response, Jon. I hope in NOLA there will be unity around the scriptures and the glory of God. I am looking forward to attending the B21 panel, too (which, I hope will display unity around the gospel, as I expect it will).


  15. “so we do not feel this is an attack against Baptist 21” – I wish that were true, but sadly after replying on a post from one of the people pushing this article, he sent me a PM simply stating, “I am sick of B21 Presbyterians.” I find the whole thing incredibly sad. There is too much work to be done together to be attacking each other.

  16. Jon, thanks for the thoughtful, measured reply to this document. I pray that your encouragement not to overreact to it, given that it seems to be assailing positions which no Calvinist holds, will be heard and heeded. I appreciate your leadership, as well as Tom Ascol’s, in crafting an appropriate response which will be statesmanlike and tempered, yet will also answer some of the appalling misrepresentations contained in the document.

  17. Thanks for a great response Jon. Like you, I find a lot in the statement I can agree with but like so many others I think their statement on sin is sub par. I also find the word “traditional” a bit presumptuous.
    Frank Page is suggesting a consensus statement…we have one, the BFM 2000. There is enough room for Calvinist and non Calvinist in the convention. Let’s unite around our in common doctrinal confession rather than fighting about the finer points we can disagree on.

  18. Jon,
    Thanks for thoughtfully/graciously responding. Seems to me that the dividing line isn’t really between Calvinists & non-calvinists, but between those who believe the issue is enough to divide over & those who don’t. Thanks bro!

  19. God chose us (John 15:16), and we didn’t choose Him because we couldn’t and wouldn’t (Romans 3:10-18), and it takes God to give us understanding (Luke 24:45; 1 Corinthians 2:14). One has to understand that under the Biblical command for church discipline, the ones who attribute “Calvanism”, or the teaching of predestination, as false, must then prove that what is being said is not true, to which they must in turn then rightly divide “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) regarding the passages that speak of predestination (Jeremiah 1:5; John 15:16; Romans 8:29-30, 9:9-24; Ephesians 1:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2), before church discipline could ever be used to push Calvanists out. Sadly, many people would just say “this is what we’ve always believed”, instead of actually interpreting the above verses and expounding on them. I also find it pretty hypocritical of people who regard certain doctrines as second order theology (church worship practices, i.e.-drums, guitars, etc.), and then separate over doctrines like this. The opposite is true for fundamentalists because they will separate over such petty things as music, but tolerate pastors within their churches that have differing view points on the doctrines of grace.

  20. Frankly, it doesn’t matter much to me what these guys say as long as they don’t block funding to the hordes of young Calvinists who are lining up to proclaim the gospel and plant churches everywhere from the unreached regions of the Amercia to the furthest ends of the earth.

  21. Jon, you said “…any fair reading of the BFM2000 recognizes it is Calvinistic in its orientation.”

    Some years ago I had correspondence with Dr. Gaines and with Dr. Vines on this very subject (since it seems to come up more and more these days). Both men are very clear that no one on the BF&M 2000 study committee (as far as they knew) considered the declaration to be Calvinistic. In particular, neither of these two men understand article IV as recognizing that regeneration precedes repentance and faith.

  22. I pastor a smalll country church that is steeped in “traditional” theology. THis theology generally begins with, “Well, I think…”. The statement I have read is shocking, to say the least. To suggest that man has a period where he has not sinned, and I would assume that newborns are the consideration here, would suggest that lack of need for the atonement of Christ for that newborn baby. Christ’s atonement, then, by deduction, would only apply to those who HAVE sinned.

    How can Palagioanism be denied in such a statement? Have not all sinned and come short of the glory of God? Or should we say, All those over the age of five have sinned and come short of the glory of God”? We cannot have it both ways.

    Man fights hard to be at the center of things. He will not go down without a fight. The argument always seems to devolve and boil down to that…who is at the center of things. Man, exercising his free will or God, moving according to His purpose and design.

    To suggest that this document is not divisive would be like telling Nero that Brutus’ knife is not really that sharp. I find the document to be drawing a definitive line in the sand.

    I find greater footing in the Reformed doctrinal position than in any other I have studied. I hold to it and teach it without hesitation. However, I do have as my guiding principle that any doctrinal system that does not leave you with Christ as your goal and desire is in error. I have see both schools of thought fall apart in that sense.

    Also, I am not well versed in the “New Calvinsim”. I read the old guys…Spurgeon and the like. Somebody mentioned Boyce in a response…good man and solid in his thinking. I read and hold to the Bapstist Confession of 1689…but this seems to have been put aside for something more intuned with a man-centric way of seeing things. I mean, God would not dare to violate the will of man….would He?

    Our days are changing and we are arguing things that our fathers would never have dreamed…we can say that we are seeking to draw a greater unity but the fact remains that church attendance is in decline, biblical knowledge within the church is at an all time low and the days are darker than ever before. Good grief…Glee is perhaps the most watched program by those in YOUR congregation!

    It may sound trite and simple…but I want to hold to what my momma believed….I could never get her to define it in words or writing…but she sure lived it out…

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  24. Brother Akin:
    Thank you for this reasoned response. I really appreciate your last few comments. There is so much to do, and the night is coming when no man shall work. Oh, may we unite our hearts and hands and carry the name of Jesus to all the world. We so easily get off track.
    It pains me as well, for there are men, Godly, Bible-loving men, taking seemingly “sides” on this “battle” that I admire and appreciate.
    Oh how I pray for the SBC. Would that we unite against the forces of hell.
    Thank you and God use you.
    — Heath Lloyd

  25. Thanks for this response, as an old Calvinist I appreciate your gracious words. I was at Houston in 1979, and the subsequent conventions where we endured those 16 hour business sessions. I voted for those men who wanted to bring about a resurgence in the SBC, but this document is appalling in its dishonesty. If they are not careful this group will make the moderates look prescient. They argued that the resurgence was not about the nature of the Scripture (i.e. is it inerrant and infallible) but about interpretation. Should we next set forth a “traditional” Baptist eschatology?

  26. Would to God that we were smart enough to understand the Sovereignty of God and EVERY FACET of the processes of our salvation. I am glad that I once was lost but now am found. The enlightment that has come to me has been ALL of grace, this dude was totally depraved, totally unable to choose that which was right. Were it not for grace……well where would I be. When we understand how bad it was with us then our salvation is all the more greater. It magnifies Him and not us. I LOVE THE MEN AND WOMEN ON BOTH SIDES OF THIS ISSUE. I agree with Danny Akin when he tweeted: “A hot hearted passion 4 Jesus, the gospel & the nations is a 3-fold flame that will burn up petty & unnecessary differences that divide us.” Truth be known none of us is as passionate for people to come to Jesus as we ought to be. Lord, rebuke us, cleanse us, and send us. Folks we have a lot more in common than we realize. Let’s be careful to have this discussion with God’s seasoning. Jesus is Lord.

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  30. Great response, Bro. Akin. Some of the milestones along the way that steered me toward eventually accepting the Doctrines of Grace were: [1] various SBC theologians I encountered as a freshman in a Baptist college (SBC) — I was trying to do a paper on “Security of the Believer” — when I could find very little, Dr. Humble advised me to look under “Perseverance of the Saints.” [2] “Christian Doctrine” class as a sophomore with a textbook by the same title by W.T. Conner (Conner often lectured at conferences and assemblies and spoke at state and national conventions. The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board utilized him as a counselor and advisor in selecting missionary candidates.
    Conner’s enduring legacy to Southern Baptist life lies in his thirty-nine-year teaching career at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.) [3] Writers such as Tom Nettles who meticulously and beyond any sincere doubt proved the Calvinist roots of the SBC and its institutions and past leaders. This TraDoc bunch have succeeded in replacing cooperation and camraderie with suspicion and slander. May God reward them according to their works–may those who sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. I’m tired of bending over backwards for these theological pygmies.

  31. Pingback: Jon Akin Responds to “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” « Reformed Baptist Daily

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