Calvinism in the SBC- An Open Letter to Johnny Hunt and Jerry Vines

Over the past couple of posts as well as one last week I have been addressing an issue that I have with current events in the SBC as it pertains to attitudes towards Calvinism. As I have shared, a great deal of this concern revolves around the statements and actions of SBC President Dr. Johnny Hunt and retired SBC minister Dr. Jerry Vines. Because the burden on my heart over this matter has been so great I took it upon myself to compose a letter to send to these gentlemen. I am currently in the process of obtaining the appropriate addresses to reach them at, but I thought I would share my words with you guys as well. Please read this carefully, understanding beforehand that I mean no disrespect to either man and only wish to express a concern God has weighed on me with, and then feel free to send me feedback and comments on this matter. I am prayerful that this issue will not blow out of control and that the best of the SBC will win out here and lead to future prosperity as we work to fulfill God’s mission in America and around the world. Enjoy!

(Note: I have attached the letter as a pdf file if you would rather read it in that format; Letter to Dr.’s Hunt and Vines)

Drs. Hunt and Vines,

I write to you today with not the slightest bit of unease in my heart. I know that both of you are busy gentlemen, pursuing a great call from our Lord Jesus, but I pray that our equality in Christ can buy me but a short audience today. In order to frame my reason for writing you I will give a short introduction. I am a 23-year old college instructor living in Gainesville, FL. I first accepted God’s gift of salvation when I was nine years old, and since 2001 I have been a member in a Southern Baptist church. Over the past year the Lord has dealt greatly with me and this past May I felt his call on my life to become a vocational pastor. Currently I am making preparations to go into seminary at a Southern Baptist seminary, though I have not decided which one. I am also a convicted 5-point Calvinist. Because of these two commitments, a commitment to the integrity of God’s work in the Southern Baptist Convention and a commitment to the Calvinist views God has revealed in my heart, I am racked with frustration. This frustration stems from the fact that I see an increasing animosity towards reformed views of Scripture inside the SBC, and it specifically concerns you gentlemen because I am seeing it propagated by the presidency of the convention and under the moniker of Jerry Vines Ministries. This propagation I refer to is in regards to past comments I have heard in sermons and lectures and particularly in light of the upcoming John 3:16 conference. Typically I would be able to let reactions such as this pass, but this time it has been laid heavy on my heart that the continuance of these messages and this conference is both misrepresentative of Baptist Calvinists and destructive to the greater body of the SBC.

To begin with, in speaking of misrepresentation, I want to make every effort to be charitable and respectful in what I say, while still maintaining the thrust of the emotions that I feel in this matter. I want to apologize in advance for any overgeneralizations or misrepresentations that I may accidentally make. That said, I believe that the way in which you gentlemen, the ministries bearing your names, and the pastors who are associating with it are representing the doctrines of Calvinism is untrue to the actual beliefs of those who hold to them. In my opinion, the beliefs you oppose are more rightly termed Hyper-Calvinism, yet, looking at the leaders of the current move towards reformed theology, such as Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. John Piper, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. Mark Dever, Pastor Tim Keller, and Pastor Mark Driscoll, to the best of my knowledge none of them could be termed Hyper-Calvinist in the least. When one says that ”If a Calvinist is a soul winner it is in spite of Calvinism, not because of it” (as I quote from one of Dr. Vines’ messages in October 2006 at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA) then they have to be turning a blind-eye to the incredible soul winning ministries which are being led by these men and their compatriots without ever once compromising on the Calvinistic principles they hold. Instead, what this statement does say is that, if one is a consistent Calvinist then de facto they must be a determinist and so not interested in evangelism or discipleship. This could not be further from the truth. If nothing else, a consistent Calvinist is interested in those things because they have a high view of Scripture and, as R.C Sproul points out in his book Chosen by God, ”Christ does command us to do evangelism.” (Of course, I do not believe many consistent Calvinists would accept the charge of determinism either).

Another thing I find somewhat deceitful is the title and format of the upcoming conference, The John 3:16 Conference. On the surface, when I first heard this name, I expected to see a conference on the need for global evangelism, which I guess in some perverted sense it is, but more directly it appears to be a ”Why Calvinism in Untenable” conference. Placing such a conference under the heading of John 3:16 seems to imply a natural conflict between John 3:16 and Calvinism. However, it amazes me that this misconception still exists, since in my opinion the conflict was rightly debunked at least 350 years ago by John Owen in his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Since then, in order to make this same mistake, one would have to be reverting to the aforementioned fallacy of equating Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism, which I hope we won’t do.

As well, to set each point of TULIP up to be attacked unopposed by a non- Calvinist shows little conviction that a rebuttal argument would be defeated. On top of that, the withholding of recorded media from the conference brings forth questions about integrity among the speakers. As prominent pastors there should be nothing keeping them from having their words recorded and disseminated to any interested party (a capacity which it is known FBC Woodstock has), and so not to do so, whether intentionally or not, comes across as a desire to avoid accountability for what gets said and makes it impossible for open theological discussion between both realms of conviction. That type of reproachable behavior stands in sharp opposition to the call of Scripture, as I know we are all aware. I think that this conference would be well-served to take a cue from the Building Bridges conference held at Southeastern seminary last fall, which offered both sides of each argument and was made available through free of charge recording to anyone who wanted to hear.

My second concern, that this type of behavior is destructive, should be qualified with two pieces of information. One, it is well-documented that there is a serious problem with the increasing age of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Hunt mentioned this specifically when you said in an article addressing the SBC as its president that ”I want us to bring the next generation of young leaders into an active participation in our Convention. We have lost much of a generation of pastors, and if we lose the younger generation, we have no future.” Two, it is also well-documented that the number of recent seminary graduates serving as pastors who self-identify as 5-point Calvinists is disproportionately more than the overall number of pastors who self-identify this way (30% to 10%). Since most graduates are young adults this points out what is anecdotally known already, that Calvinism is experiencing resurgence in the youth populations. So, putting this all together, we see that, if the SBC needs to bring in the next generation of young leaders and a good percentage of young leaders are highly Calvinistic, then it would be counterproductive to preach animosity towards Calvinism from the helm of the SBC.

What I think would be more biblical would be taking a step back and realizing that the soteriological differences between people is an in-house debate for wellintentioned, devout Christians, and is not a cause for raising dire concerns from our pulpits and gatherings. By my personal experiences I know this can be done effectively. From 2001 to 2007 I sat under SBC Vice-President Bill Henard at Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. Though I do not believe Dr. Henard is a 5-point Calvinist, this question was of little concern in his congregation as leaders from all sides of the debate were promoted through the church with no litmus test on their leanings, and 1- to 5-pointers grew to spiritual maturity there. Since leaving Lexington in Fall 2007 I have been a member at North Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, FL, sitting under a man greatly influenced by Dr. Vines, Pastor Calvin Carr. Pastor Carr and I have spoken a few times rather openly about where he and I both stand on the issue, which is not the same place, and yet he has shown little apprehension in trusting me to teach members of all ages in the church. This ease, I feel, is because he understands that my goal, as I believe the goal of most consistent Calvinists, is to make converts and disciples to God, not converts and disciples to Calvinism.

This type of sober biblical handling is the key. Taking the approach that Calvinism is a mistake that needs to be corrected and rooted out of the SBC is a potential death sentence. In fact, the SBC’s own research through LifeWay has shown that Calvinistic recent seminary graduates are slightly more evangelistic than their non-Calvinistic counterparts, which is our main goal, right? If we are to be one hundred percent committed to raising up young leaders and growing the church into the future then we need to be understanding that this is a theological difference, when understood correctly as Calvinism and not Hyper-Calvinism, which in no way compromises the fundamental doctrines of the church and which is fully compatible with the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.

I thank you gentlemen for your time and for your years of service to the Lord in working to reach people for His great name. I pray that my concerns have not been taken as hatred or disrespect, but instead have come across as a heartfelt conviction about the integrity and future of our denomination. In the end I know that our intentions are the same and that the same Lord has spoken into 3 each of our lives.

Grace and Peace Be With You,

Todd Burus

20 Responses to “Calvinism in the SBC- An Open Letter to Johnny Hunt and Jerry Vines”

  1. Keith Walters Says:

    Todd,
    I appreciate the tone of your letter, I think you were both gracious and to the point. I think the following is an extremely important point: “So, putting this all together, we see that, if the SBC needs to bring in the next generation of young leaders and a good percentage of young leaders are highly Calvinistic, then it would be counterproductive to preach animosity towards Calvinism from the helm of the SBC.”

    This is just me but the PDF has your address on it, you may be getting some weird things in the mail if you don’t take it off line. :)

  2. Todd Burus Says:

    Thanks for your input, and on that last line, nice point.

  3. A Seminary Student’s Thoughts on the John 3:16 Conference-Update | Sweet Tea & Theology Says:

    [...] Read it: Calvinism in the SBC- An Open Letter to Johnny Hunt and Jerry Vines [...]

  4. Rev. Says:

    Todd:
    Like Keith, I appreciate the tone of your letter. Thanks for not coming across as one of the “angry young Calvinists” denounced by Dr. Allen recently in SWBTS’ chapel. May the Lord bless you as you head to seminary.

  5. Greg Alford Says:

    Todd,

    Excellent and well spoken… I am sure the form letter reply from Jerry Vines Ministries is in mail… along with an envelop for you send in your donation.

    Seriously, it’s all about the money with some of these guys… if the Gospel was preached at this conference the DVD’s should be given away right? But instead I think they are charging $69 for the DVD… I happen to know that a company in Texas will burn you all the DVD’s you want for $.99 each.

    Anyway, I applaud your courage and integrity in writing this letter… and if you are ever in Ponce de Leon Florida I will buy you lunch.

    Grace Always,

  6. Greg Alford Says:

    Todd,

    I put a post up about your letter and a link directing readers to your orginal post.

    Grace Always,

  7. Todd Burus Says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for your words of encouragement.

    God bless.

  8. PAUL WAYNE FOLTZ DD Says:

    Dear Brother Todd,
    I think you composed a wonderful letter , with the correct message and in the right tone.
    May our Blessed Lord continue to guide you, and use you.

    In His Grace,
    Dr. Paul W. Foltz

  9. Daniel Says:

    At the outset, let me say that my questions to follow are not posed as a personal attack. I’m trying to get my mind around the logic of 5-point Calvinism and how an authentic, well-meant offer of the Gospel is compatible with it. I think this is what non-Calvinists are thinking of when they say that Calvinism and evangelism don’t necessarily mesh very well. They are speaking logically, not historically or practically. They are NOT saying, “wow, those Calvinists are a bunch of slackers when it comes to evangelism.” They are saying as several of our Baptist forbears did, “how do an aggressive evangelism and a 5-point Calvinism mesh together logically speaking.” That’s a fair question, just as 5-point Calvinism has fair questions of other competing systems. It is not an attack on specific Calvinists and their personal evangelistic fervor.

    Would a consistent 5-point Calvinist be able to declare, or can he not declare to a large crowd of unbelievers, “God loves you all, and He demonstrates His love for you in that He sent His Son to die for your sins and to deliver you from death to life? Repent of your sin, trust Him today, and live forever for the glory of God.”

    Or, to be consistent to his 5-point system (and, therefore honest), would he have to say something like this, “God loves some of you (in the sense that matters most), and He demonstrates His love for some of you in that He sent His Son to die for all the sins of some of you and to deliver some of you from death to life? For those who are loved by God, He will give you faith in His Son and repentance from sin leading to eternal life?” For those of you who do not receive faith and repentance from God, this means God does not and never did love you in the way that matters most; you have been without any true hope since Adam’s fall.

    I don’t see the distinctions in supra and infra helping to answer this question. Both systems, logically speaking, seem to have a tough time answering the evangelism question on logical (not historical or practical) grounds.

    Thoughts?

  10. Darrin Says:

    Daniel, I think that the logical basis is even more important than the historical – experience can sometimes be misleading. And in that regard, I believe that a 5-point view of soteriology is the only logically consistent one. I personally have no trouble believing that we are to broadcast the seed, not knowing where it will germinate. We don’t yet know who the elect are – God does, but He has ordained the means of our communicating the gospel to bring His elect unto Himself. I think it is quite appropriate to communicate that God sent His Son to save all who will come to Him by faith. Having to harp on “some of you” seems a bit silly in a group of hearers, but we don’t have to imply that God loves all men the same when the scriptures would indicate otherwise. “Repent and believe the gospel” is a good call, knowing not all will respond (whether you’re a Calvinist or not). We realize that not all have “ears to hear”.
    I believe there is reason that historically many Calvinists have been great evangelists – they were relying fully on the will and power of God to accomplish His purposes. I would suspect that Arminianism and evangelism would be less compatible – one relies too much on his own tactics, as if someone might be eternally damned because I didn’t say or do the right thing at the right time, and it often leads to emotion-based “decisions” for Christ as opposed to a genuine reponse to the inward call of God. Just a few thoughts …

  11. Daniel Says:

    I think there are far too many all texts to suggest that Christ did not in fact die for the sins of the whole world. This death is not applied, however, unless there is faith, repentance, and regeneration. There have been some people who are good at evangelism and poor at it on both sides, that is not how you argue the merits of a theology. You do it biblically and logically. So, while I disagree strongly with limited atonement (it is, yes, limited in application) and less strongly with irresistable grace (depends upon which Calvinist you are reading), I can still join hands with you in sharing the gospel. I prefer to share it not because of what I don’t know about God’s will to save but because of what I do know: Christ died for the sins of the whole world even those of false prophets. Their lack of salvation is keyed directly and ultimately to unbelief, not to a decree which Scripture does not give us. So, I endeavor, with God’s help, to get the gospel to all because He has loved all. His Sovereignty is not callous or neutral – it is biased toward salvation. He desires that none perish. I can say with confidence when preaching before 5 or 500, God does not want any single one of you to spend eternity in Hell . . . and I can do it without being rediculous (17 stanzas of a hymn, etc.) about the call to believe.

  12. Joe V. Says:

    I see it all this way: Jesus Christ , the Man, sits before the Holy and Righteous Father, representing ALL men as THE Perfect man. HE has removed the former representative, Adam. Therefore, ALL men are “saved” by this one perfect Person. In a personal manner, Jesus has been given, by the Father, a reward of men from all the nations. Men from just the nation of Israel were not sufficient for such a task as Jesus completed.

    Psalm 2:8 “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”

    Isaiah 49:6 “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”

    Romans 5:14-16 “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.”

    1 Corinthians 15:21-22 “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

    1 Corinthians 15:45 “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”

    But this is all in representation of all men. When it comes to personal salvation, it is God Who chooses from among men.

  13. Darrin Says:

    “far too many all texts” – this has been abundantly discussed elsewhere by better minds than ours. Other texts dealing specifically with soteriology in context should make it clear it was for the elect. The shepherd died for His sheep.
    “This death is not applied, however, unless” – so what’s the point of saying it was intended? Did God not know?
    “not because of what I don’t know about God’s will to save” – good for you. Calvinists don’t evangelize based on ignorance either. You don’t know the mind of God any more than they do.
    “but because of what I do know: Christ died for the sins of the whole world …” – how about just because you are commanded to do it, no matter whom He died for?
    Be careful about taking texts in context regarding God’s will, especially as in 2 Peter where he is specifically dealing with awaiting His coming such that all the elect would be brought to repentance, as He desires none of them to perish.
    God is glorified in His grace but will also receive glory for His righteous condemnation – we just don’t like that part as much. Let the gospel focus on Him and His glorious attributes and acts rather than on all the people in the world. Neither we nor they deserve the attention that He does.

  14. Daniel Says:

    I’ve read the arguments on the verses. I have yet to see one convincing argument from 2 Peter. I’ve seen some creative ones, but not good ones. I agree the gospel is about God first. It is about a particular God however. It is about a God who sends a Son on a mission of reconcilation. It is about the God of Ex. 34:6 – 7 and Jonah 4:2. He is sovereign, and in His sovereignty, He is biased toward saving. This does not mean, for one moment, that He won’t judge.

    I’m leaning more toward a Molinist system right now in terms of God’s knowledge. Of course he knew, but in this system, the ultimate cause of one’s unbelief is the person, not God’s decree. I do not see how you avoid God being the author of evil in either supra or infra. Further, the locus of God’s grace is no longer the cross but His decree.

    Also, on the issue of God’s glory. Even John Piper writes, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If this statement is right, God is surely more glorified in salvation than in condemation. There is no satisfaction whatsoever in God for those who spend an eternity in Hell.

  15. Todd Burus Says:

    Daniel,
    Your interpretation of John Piper’s phrase is surely interesting. Apparently you feel that if this statement is to be accurate then John Piper must advocate some sort of universalism. That is why this thought is better understood in context, which actually puts it in the pen of Jonathan Edwards, and Edwards fully deals with God’s glory in the condemnation of the non-elect alongside his glory in the salvation of the elect. Try reading Piper’s reproduction of Edwards inGod’s Passion for His Glory or Piper’s words himself in The Justification of God.

    As for “leaning Molinist,” I would prayerfully ask you to not do so. This is such an awkward, half-bred idea of God’s nature that it’s not even funny. I recall listening to Dr. Keathley present his views at the Building Bridges conference and being completely amazed that anybody had thought to contrive such a system. Molinism is a system that appeals to intellectuals who are too intelligent to believe God is directed by his foreknowledge of what we will do, and yet too humanistic to believe God is sovereign to foreordain it all to happen. That is why the only people you see adopting it are academics like Keathley or Plantinga or Craig, but not Joe Non-seminary Professor in the pew. Plus, it is totally dependent upon possible world theory, which I’m not so sure doesn’t contradict the immutability of God.

  16. Daniel Says:

    I would argue that the guy in the pew thinks more like a Molinist than a 5-point Calvinist. Most affirm some level of libertarian freedom even if it is within a range. They, of course, don’t have an entire system worked out but they often reject 5-point Calvinisim on its face b/c it seems to contradict the overall tenor of the Scriptures. I do think there is something to our election being in Christ. There has never been anyone more elect in history than Christ. I also do’t see possible world theory as contradicting God’s immutability or His sovereignty. Indeed, it seems to heighten, not dampen, his sovereignty and helps us make better sense of passages like King Hezekiah’s prayer and God’s turning from the calamity he had intended toward Nineveh. To affirm that God made humans with a range of freedom (in that they have the opportunity to do otherwise) is not humanistic in and of itself.

    I’m sorry that you think Keathley and others like him are “too intelligent to believe God . . . ” I find them to be amazing men of God who take the Biblical mandate to worship Him with all their heart, mind, soul, strength seriously. Another example of where your argumentation is mixed with ad hominem.

    I don’t care if you disagree. I do care that you stick only to the argument as best as possible. Throwing in “elite” “too intellectual” and the like does not make me want to listen to you, though I can tell you are a smart dude and have some good things to say.

  17. Jeannie Says:

    Goodness gracious, if some here, including me, believe that the gospel of John Calvin represented by his followers by the TULIP is not the truth, but a lie, then why would you even consider embracing its doctrines….instead of converting its adherents to the truth (Christ)? Who is going to evangelize who here?

    What a clever thing to do, for Calvinists to come into the SBC as “just like you”. Quite the contrary, the gospel of the SBC is just the opposite of the gospel of John Calvin. The first 4 points contradict the Scriptures, and the last point (Perseverence) is irrelevant, it only means that the Calvinist continues to believe the first 4 points, which represent the reformed faith (beliefs) of John Calvin. He reformed it all right!

    The SBC would NEVER consider letting the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses come into our churches and “reform our faith” (belief system). When doctrines prove to be “opposite”, they cannot abide in peace together. I vote for Calvinists building their own churches and to stop invading those churches with opposite doctrines. It is not loving to take one’s faith away.

    Did any of you ever question why those of another faith (belief system) would even ‘want’ to change the faith of other churches? Answer that question out loud and don’t stop thinking about it until you can.

  18. Todd Burus Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment on this blog.

    First off, the statement that Calvinists are trying “to come into the SBC” shows a certain neglect for the historical record. If one looks back into the annals of the SBC they will see that Calvinism and Calvinist beliefs have been a part of the convention as long as there has been a convention to speak of. To think that Calvinism is now only somehow trying to creep into SBC life is more a reflection of the extreme animosity that has been built up against Calvinism over the last 50-100 years in which the decidedly non-Calvinist strain of Charles Finney-type evangelism has carried the day in most of our churches.

    Second, to compare Calvinism to Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses is like comparing the Democratic party to Nazism. You may not like what they have to say, but there is still a long way to go between being “wrong” and being condemnable.

    It is sad to me that you feel this way towards Calvinism, a response which I would bet is conditioned off of a pastor’s expressed hatred of the system and/or a bad experience with a “Calvinist.” What is unfortunate is that most of the cries against Calvinism in the SBC are coming from a position of ignorance to what the person is actually opposing. I would charge you to please seriously evaluate the claims of Calvinism, not to be “converted” to it, but just to understand that the hard-feelings you have towards the system are likely exaggerated out of misunderstanding what Calvinists really believe.

  19. Dr. James Willingham Says:

    Sir: Right on. Since Sovereign Grace was the basis of Southern Baptists and produced the First and Second Great Awakenings and the Great Century of Missions and our oldest original educationl institutions and the uniting of Separate and Regular Baptists and the employment of educated and uneducated ministers working together to evangelize and the ability of Baptists to work with those with whom they differed and one of the early anti-slavery movements (Friends of Humanity) and I could continue, but it is appropriate to suggest that you are in order and the SBC Today folks were out of order, violating the original liberal spirit of old biblical orthodoxy which infected America with religious liberty. That is the bad part about some conservatives: They just don’t know their own doctrine and practice very well. Not knowing one’s history, one is doomed to m ake mistakes. Forgive them silly fellers as not knowing their own denomination’s original teachings. Wonder how the Landmarkers would handle John Gano having communion with George Whitefield? Ha! The most liberal, the most infectious, winsome, attractive, compelling, so wonderful it is irresistible, position is the original one of the Baptists. And folks who don’t adhere to that are out of order. My many years of research in Baptist History tells me that your censors are basically shooting themselves in the foot. Boy, I’ll bet that smarts! Lets all have a good laugh about those fellows goof and then love them and go right ahead as if they hadn’t done themselves such a disservice. After all, the Third Great Awakening might be just around the corner, the one that comes up silently like a flood at night and takes the whole earth with such a fullness of grace that it makes Noah’s flood of judgment look like a mere squirting sprinkler on a hot summer day. Praise God.

  20. Ron Hale Says:

    I was pulled from the pagan pool at the age of twenty-three by the grace of God as I studied God’s Word for several months and finally repented and received Jesus as my new Lord and Savior.

    It is clear there is a doctine of election in the Bible. It is clear that Christian groups disagree on their understanding of this doctrine.

    However, it is also clear there is no doctrine of “non-election” in the Bible. The Bible never states that some are elected to be lost. The Bible never says that God wills that they be lost. Men may perish and will perish; but this is not what God wills.

    Men have the freedom to repent, believe, trust, faith, reject, turn-away …because God initially gave it to him.

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