The John 3:16 Conference- Moving Forward as Calvinists in the SBC

November 15, 2008

Over the course of the last several posts I have tried as best as I could to review the positions taken and ideas expressed by the presenters at the John 3.16 Conference, provide my own response to what they said in defense of the five points of Calvinism, and tackle several sticky issues of accountability and future outcomes. Finally, to wrap it all up, I would like to give my own personal feelings about how Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention should move forward from here.

First off, there is the question of why I even find this important to begin with? Is my interest in having “SBC” stand for “Southern Baptist Calvinists”? Certainly not. I do not expect everyone to eventually come to the conviction that the Calvinist soteriological position is the only possible way. Instead, what I desire is that those who call themselves Southern Baptists can be joined in unity over the inerrancy of Scripture and our responsibility to share the Gospel message, and that issues of soteriology can be addressed in their right role as secondary matters which do not interfere with our primary purpose.

Why do I hope for this? Because God has blessed the SBC in so many ways, with both great financial and physical resources, that to see us squander this on something that should not even be of first importance would be a horrible tragedy. Many people today would abandon the denomination in a heartbeat if it begins to conflict with their personal convictions on salvation, and I can’t say as I blame them necessarily. But, I have made a commitment in myself to pursue the unity of this body (the SBC) so that we can use the advantages God has blessed us with in order to complete his purposes in the Great Commission.

Therefore, having made that commitment and having seen the conflict that is rising between the recent Calvinist resurgence and traditional SBC thought, what do I think is the proper way for young SBC Calvinists to more forward? Should we engage in the battle and set the stage for an ultimate Calvinism v. Non-Calvinism deathmatch down the road, or should we completely disengage and quietly follow our convictions regardless of the firestorm around us? I think it needs to be a balance of both approaches with a primary basis in honoring God above all else.

As Calvinists we need to be determined to follow our biblical convictions in spite of the derision or opposition that we may face, not compromising on the Word of God as has been revealed to us. If we begin hedging our beliefs or remaining silent on how we truly feel in order to ease the animosity that some may have towards us, we will simply give a foothold to those who already oppose Calvinism, that they may further call the genuineness and biblical nature of our convictions into question. We also need be careful not to direct the same derision and opposition towards our non-Calvinist brethren, as I have already noted that their soteriological convictions should just be a secondary, in-house matter to us.

Then as regards to engaging the debate, I believe the most powerful argument we have for the inclusion of strong Calvinistic beliefs in SBC life is a humble adherence to and consistent portrayal of the doctrinal conclusions in Calvinism. We must not let the opposition frame Calvinism as an arrogant assertion of God’s favor towards the elect and hatred towards the non-elect, nor as a system which promotes irresponsible Christian living on the basis of God’s sovereign election. Instead, we must emphasis the role of God’s glory in the greatness of his mercy, the sovereignty of his election, the worthiness of his sacrifice, the power of his grace, and the faithfulness of his commitment, without any of which we would have no hope for salvation. We should not wear our Calvinism on our sleeves, but we must be prepared to exclaim the supremacy of God in our soteriological convictions, and do so in a way which reveals our commitment to the word of God and not just a blind adherence to a theological system (this means that, if you are only a Calvinist because you read a John Piper book, then you need to hit the Bible and verify/solidify your convictions with the teachings of Scripture).

People aren’t going to be convinced of the genuineness of Calvinist convictions because we yell the loudest or write the most convincing blog posts. What will convince them is the condition of our hearts and the exhibition of God’s love through our daily practice. The foreordination of God’s election and the definiteness of Christ’s atonement should be of no hindrance to our evangelism since God’s decree of who will be saved is no more known to us than anyone else; and thus our responsibility lies in sharing the Gospel with all who are without Christ, knowing that God will be faithful to save all of those whom he has appointed to eternal life. We must demonstrate that a Calvinist zeal for evangelism exists in accord with our convictions, and not in spite of them as some have tried to rationalize.

Above all, we must emphasize a commitment to giving God the glory in all that he does, since the essence of sin is trying to take away from God’s glory and apply it to ourselves.

Calvinism in the SBC is a big issue right now, and, as I have shown throughout these posts, stands largely unresolved as to how the convention itself is going to deal with it. There seems to be a very real sense in which this debate, if not handled in a biblically appropriate manner, could cause a great division, and possibly destruction of our denomination in the near future. Therefore, for those like myself who have both Calvinist beliefs and a conviction to preserve the SBC, the final verdict could ultimately lie in our hands. If we choose a path of arrogance and argumentation then we could argue ourselves right into a denominational split, while if we move forward with head down in ambivalence we could look up one day to find our convictions no longer welcome in SBC life. However, if we choose to live transparently, magnifying the glory of God in his sovereign decrees and the convictions of Calvinism, we can demonstrate to everyone why the acceptance of Calvinism in the SBC is a move towards, and not away from, the heart of God.