It is no secret, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, that the Southern Baptist Convention is struggling with keeping young people in the church. I also spoke of this problem while reading Thom Rainer’s new book Essential Church? Yet, in light of all this there is a mindset in the SBC which completely amazes me, and it has to do with the hardening towards a particular movement among young adults in the church. No, not the emergent movement, which obviously from my posts I am no fan of either, but instead it is a hardening against the increasing numbers of Southern Baptists who identify themselves as (5-point) Calvinists.
Last year at Southeastern seminary there was held a conference entitled “Building Bridges” which was aimed at looking into whether or not Southern Baptists can accept Calvinism as a compatible theology within the framework of the SBC. After listening to every message from that conference I have to say myself that I think it was extremely well done. All points of Calvinism were presented, as well as the historical record of Calvinism/Arminianism in baptist life, each point having a speaker from either side of the debate. And at the end of the conference there seemed to be a general consensus among the participants that Calvinistic views are no threat to our baptist communions, though they are in no way required for membership either.
However, sitting here about 11 months removed from that conference we see the same issue being brought up again. Only this time, I am afraid, the line is being drawn much deeper in the sand. The first place we see this issue cropping up today is in a recent pastor’s survey among SBC ministers, that Ed Stetzer so kindly posted on, which states that a full 27% of Southern Baptist ministers strongly agree with the statement that “the rise of Calvinism among recent seminary graduates concerns [them],” and another 36% somewhat agreed. That’s 63% of SBC ministers who are concerned in some fashion at an increase in Calvinistic beliefs among what would be a mostly younger crowd. That’s nearly two-thirds of the congregations which would be unwelcoming to what is obviously a growing number of young adult Baptist leaders. Now, when we are having a problem with getting and keeping leaders of lesser age in the SBC, doesn’t it seem counter-productive to start turning them away because of their soteriology?
The second thing which bugged me, and on this I am trying to maintain as much charity and respect as possible, is my recent discovery of “The John 3:16 Conference.” Though bearing the name of the great end-zone verse, don’t be fooled about the purpose of this conference, which, as stated by its directors is “to be a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism.” (They also make the initial caveat that “This conference is not going to be a ‘Let’s bash the Calvinists’ conference”, which is not really important to say unless you could be misconstrued as being a “Let’s bash the Calvinists” conference). Now, besides the fact that implying John 3.16 is at odds with Calvinism shows a degree of ignorance about actual non-hyper-Calvinism, this conference also does not appear to be making the efforts to display both sides of the argument as the “Building Bridges” conference so masterfully did. What appears to be going on in its place is just a series of five lectures by five non-Calvinists about why they do not agree with one particular point of the TULIP acronym, which, if not bashing Calvinists, is surely pandering to that audience.
But what beyond this aggravates (maybe infuriates) me is just exactly who is going to be there. To start off with, the conference is being spearheaded by the well-respected retired minister Dr. Jerry Vines, and is going to be hosted in the church building whose pulpit is occupied by current SBC president Johnny Hunt. From here we see that other speakers include Southwestern Seminary president, Paige Patterson; SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president, Richard Land; New Orleans Seminary provost, Steve Lemke; and the renowned pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Dr. Charles Stanley. The event is being sponsored by three of the six SBC seminaries, Southwestern, New Orleans, and Midwestern. Maybe this list doesn’t mean much to you, but it sure does to me. What it says to me is that a core segment of the SBC finds Calvinism untenable, and even counter-productive to evangelism and personal growth. Again, I have to ask, If you are trying to solve an ever-growing age crisis, why are you running off some many up-and-coming leaders over such an unscriptural dispute?
Where will this lead? Well, for sure this is leading to an increasing exodus of young Spirit-filled talent from the SBC and into independent Baptist and Bible churches, and networks such as Acts 29 and Redeemer. But beyond that, when I look at how deeply the lines are being drawn on the non-Calvinist side, it makes me wonder how much longer they will tolerate the likes of people such as Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Tom Ascol, who are all unabashedly Calvinistic, in the SBC.
I can’t help but feel like this is two-steps back. I am just hopeful that God will choose to raise up men of sound mind and conviction and make these voices of unreason slow to speak and quick to listen so that we can put an end to this nonsense before it destroys the unity we’ve been blessed with in the SBC.