Baptists, Calvinism, and the Real Conflict

Calvinism inside the Baptist community has become a front and center issue among the Southern Baptist Convention.  As previously stated many times, I am not in the SBC, nor do I want to be, but very often as the SBC goes, so goes other Baptists. 

In recent days the conflict between Calvinism and Non-Calvinism has become intensified due to a document published by Non-Calvinists within the SBC denying Calvinist beliefs about salvation, and asserting non-Calvinist beliefs about salvation.  The document has ignited what some are calling “a much needed dialogue” if both sides are every going to work together.  The article can be found here at SBCToday.

That being said, this (my) article is not so much about Calvinism as it is the “debate” over Calvinism that is brewing beyond the confines of friendly dialogue.  The rhetoric is growing, and the intensity has captured the attention of many.  Above all the din, however, are those voices that are continually calling for unity, harmony, and a cooperation in carrying out the Great Commission. 

Before anyone can rightly call for unity they must understand what the nature of the conflict really is.  As I read another article calling for unity, the author, David Shrock,  stated “Unity will be achieved when we hold to the truth with conviction, but also when we don’t rub our convictions in the face of others.”  In responding to that line of thinking there are some things that need to be said.

First, the fact is that nothing should ever be “rubbed in anyone’s faces.” But beyond that, the statement “hold the truth with conviction . . . but don’t rub it in anyone’s face” is on some level an oxymoron. “Hold the truth with conviction . . . but don’t insist on it?”

Here is where the debate really begins.  Using Bro. Shrock’s terms, we have to answer the question, “what is at the core of this conflict?” “Truth” or “Conviction?” 

Having read and followed both sides of the arguments, the ideas go something like this:
Non-Calvinists – “We hold the truth, but acknowledge the Calvinist has conviction.”
Calvinists – “We hold the truth, but acknowledge the Non-Calvinist has conviction.”

As I said else where, many on both sides of this issue see this as an issue of “Biblical truth verses Biblical error” and not an issue of “point of view” or “personal perspective.” To add intensity to the struggle, many on both sides believe that “Biblical error” is to be rejected, especially when it comes to soteriology. Furthermore, the struggle is intensified even more because people on both sides are trying to figure out “how to keep my brother” without conceding his “Biblical error”.

The author also said, “it is unhelpful to press Calvinists and Traditionalists towards cooperation while still asserting the very doctrines that divide.” Whether he intended to or not, that is tantamount so saying, “Put down the doctrine, and let’s get together.” No man with conviction for Salvation truth, can honestly put down the doctrine for the sake of unity, because of their loyalty to the truth.

The primary problem that people are having is trying to search for “unity” without “compromise” because both sides believe this is about what is true and what is false when it comes to Salvation truth, and the reality is that they may be on a snipe hunt.

One of the blessings of being in the American Baptist Association is the fact that this is a settled debate.  Calvinism is a Biblical error.  I know of no one within our group who comes within 3 time zones of Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace, or Unconditional Election.  We hold dear to “natural depravity”, not to be confused with the Calvinist concept “total depravity.”  We hold dear to the Security of the Believer. 

Some want to place this in the “drawer of disagreements” but it will only stay there so long.  Eventually the truth has to be taught as the truth, and not as an “optional school of thought.”  The nature of the issue will not lend itself to land on both sides.  This is not a dialogue between two opinions; it is a conflict over truth and error; and too many men are afraid to say that because of their love for their brethren.  This is the tension in the fabric of fellowship.  Good men on both sides have a love for the truth, and for each other.

This I know . . . no man I know that is worth his weight in theological salt, Calvinist, or Non-Calvinist, would sacrifice salvation truth for the sake of unity; which leaves men in a place they do not want to be. 

Now that being said, there are all kinds of wrong ideas within a church.  Not everyone believes everything they ought to believe, and we still get along. – that’ s why it’s called Sunday SCHOOL.   We teach, because people need to be taught.  We preach, because people need to learn.  Bad theology and wrong ideas permeate the pews.  This entire discussion though,  is not a conflict among the pews, it is a conflict among the pulpits.  This is not a conflict about tolerating each other’s presence, but it is a conflict about tolerating each other’s message.  I’ve pastored people that didn’t believe in the Security of the Believer; didn’t believe in the Genesis account of creation, did believe in unknown tongues, and supernatural gifts etc, and we functioned together in harmony and unity; and the primary reason we did is because there was one message.

One message is required in order for there to be unity and harmony.  One message from the pulpit, one message through missions, one message through church supported seminaries, one message through all cooperating endeavors is required when it comes to a unified salvation theology.  Splitting theological hairs 7 ways is always going to happen among thinking preachers, because they are always searching and dividing and analyzing scripture; never splitting theological hairs is not what I’m talking about.  I am talking about the truth of Salvation; it is not many truths, it is one truth, and that truth is the necessary truth for unity.  Jesus died for all men.  Period.  His free offer extends to every person on planet earth. Period.  Whosoever will may come.  Period.   That is one message with many facets, but it is one none-the-less.

I am very thankful that when I meet with the American Baptist Association in Fresno, California week after next, our salvation theology is set, settled, and sure.  Our message is the message of the Bible sent all over the world. Our goal is to send it to every soul on every soil, and that message is simple, “Jesus died for you.”  Any alteration of that theology is not a change worth making.

7 comments on “Baptists, Calvinism, and the Real Conflict

  1. Tim G says:

    Very well written and spot on! People outside the ring can usually see more clearly than those inside.

    Well done!

    • Tim,

      Thanks for your kindness and response. I love the brethren, and often enjoy the messages by our Calvinist brothers. However, when it comes to Salvation theology, being bendable is not always an option.

  2. I’m a Calvinist, Presbyterian and non-American. I do, however, find your post to be logical.

    As a Calvinist I’m happy that Reformed theology is spreading throughout the SBC. However, just as you wrote, I am convinced that Reformed Theology is fundamentally correct but I also recognise those who disagree with it have conviction. Moreover, I also see it as an issue of right/wrong rather than simply holding “differing views”.

    For me the question is whether the SBC can or should allow itself to be a “big tent” to accommodate both sides. This would certainly allow proponents on either side to co-exist, though with some level of tension. Certain churches would not accept pastors trained at certain theological seminaries, for example, but this is what is probably happening already.

    The history of independent (ie non-national) churches post-reformation is littered with denominations that reflect divisions based on all sorts of things and Reformed theology is one of these. In England, certainly, there was a split between General Baptists on one hand and “Strict and Particular” Baptists on the other – and this was in the 17th century.

    In short, as you have stated in your post, the issue is one in which Christians should divide over. One man’s orthodoxy is another man’s heterodoxy. Both sides see the other in error.

    I don’t know if coexistence is possible. I’m a Presbyterian Elder (in Australia) and we have to subscribe to the Westminster Confession which is very much Calvinist and Reformed. Non-Reformed members of the Presbyterian church are welcome but once the step to eldership comes it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a non-Reformed person to be ordained an elder, let alone a minister.

    The idea that an association of churches (such as the SBC) can continue to exist as a “big tent” and allow both Reformed Theology and non-Reformed (what you would call “traditionalist”) theology to peacefully coexist is probably not going to work. Both sides see the genuine importance of spreading and affirming their set of theological truths and this will only result in bumping heads.

    Personally I see a split as the only alternative, with an acrimonious rather than amicable one likely if the “Conservative Resurgence” is anything to go by.

    • OSO

      Thanks for your response and the Christ-like spirit with which you write. I do want to make a point of clarification. I have no desire to cheer for a division. I, no doubt like you, only want to cheer for the truth. I do think you understand what I am saying, when you say, “Non-reformed members are welcome, but . . .” Each other’s presence is often desired and the crowd can be mixed, but the message cannot be. Personally I have no desire whatsoever for acrimony, and I thank you for your spirit.

  3. Steve Martin says:

    We (Christians) ought always seek the truth. In Scripture we see that we are in bondage to sin, and that we cannot save ourselves. (we can’r even help to save ourselves)

    Reformed theology gets some things wrong. The Bible says that Christ loves and died for the “whole world”. Why Calvinists don’t believe that is beyond me.

    This is biblical, and this is what we believe (even though it does not resolve every mystery like our reason so often wants to do):

    ‘When we come to faith in Christ, God gets all the credit (He does it all).
    When we reject Christ, WE get ALL the blame.’

  4. Phillip Holbrook says:

    I agree with you on a fundamental level on many points, but I have to draw the line at some of the extremism of the ABA such as their position on local church doctrine, Baptist succession and the more radical ABA churches embracing the heretical split-rapture theory. That’s where you all aren’t one in your soteriology. Any “Baptist” who doesn’t believe ultimate glorification is by grace is someone I cannot have fellowship with. They are as spurious as any Russelite!

    • Phillip,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog.

      While I do think we, (being ABA) can stand on the local church, and “New Testament Church” succession without backing up; I am unfamiliar with anyone in our work, with substantial influence, who believes in the split rapture. I will say that I have heard there are people in our work who hold that theory, but as far as it being “pronounced movement” or even a “serious discussion” I am unaware. Furthermore I would also have to say that the split rapture is wrong.
      Thanks again for your comments.

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