Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

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Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

A group of current and former Southern Baptist leaders has signed a statement affirming what they call the "traditional Southern Baptist" understanding of the doctrine of salvation, with the goal of drawing a distinction with the beliefs of "New Calvinism," reports Baptist Press.

The statement was posted May 31 at SBCToday.com and includes a preamble and 10 articles, along with signatures from two entity presidents (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Paige Patterson and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Chuck Kelley), four state executive directors (Georgia's Bob White, Mississippi's Jim Futral, Louisiana's David Hankins, Alaska's Mike Procter), and in addition to Patterson, five other former SBC presidents (Bailey Smith, Jimmy Draper, Jerry Vines, Morris Chapman and Bobby Welch).

The document was titled, "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation."

"For the most part, Southern Baptists have been glad to relegate disagreements over Calvinism to secondary status along with other important but 'non-essential' theological matters," the document reads in the preamble. "The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself. And, to their credit, most Southern Baptist Calvinists have not demanded the adoption of their view as the standard. We would be fine if this consensus continued, but some New Calvinists seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of this long-standing arrangement."

The document further asserts that the "vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life."

"We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology," the statement reads. Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation.

Each of the 10 articles includes a statement of what the signers affirm and what they deny. For instance, on the article about the Grace of God, the document says:

"We affirm that grace is God's generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith."

The statement then adds:

"We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation."

Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., wrote an introduction to the statement at SBCToday.com. He is a signer of the statement.

"The concern of the developers of this statement was that the viewpoint of this majority was not well-represented by the term 'non-Calvinist' and that an instrument was needed by which that majority might articulate positively what they believe vis-à-vis Calvinism," Hankins wrote. "... Its purpose is to engender a much needed Convention-wide discussion about the place of Calvinism in Southern Baptist life."

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said he chose not to sign the statement.

"Southern Baptists have always found a way to work together, within the framework of historical Christian faith and Baptist doctrine, to support and promote our cooperative enterprises of global missions, theological education and benevolent ministries," Page said. "While I fully affirm any group of Southern Baptists to express their deeply held convictions about doctrinal matters, especially a matter as important as the doctrine of salvation, I would prefer that any collective document to which I affix my signature be a consensus statement, developed jointly with those of various soteriological persuasions, that expresses our core commitments to those matters we hold in common. The Baptist Faith and Message is such a document."

At the same time, Page also said he believes the convention needs a "consensus accord," and said he will announce at the SBC annual meeting in June plans for putting one together.

"Given the depth of the fracture lines around the issue of soteriology across the Convention," Page said, "I sense a need to assemble a representative group of Southern Baptists who can hammer out such a consensus 'accord' that will enable the majority of Southern Baptists to work together for the Kingdom purposes which initially bound us together, an initiative I plan to announce at this year's annual meeting."

The "Traditional Southern Baptist" document was widely discussed on Baptist-centric blogs in the hours after it was released. A post at SBCVoices.com quickly collected more than 100 comments. The comments section at SBCToday.com surged past 200.

Brent Hobbs, pastor of Severn Baptist Church in Severn, N.C., wrote at SBCVoices.com, "As a Calvinist, I barely recognize the theology they claim is Calvinism."

David Rogers, son of the late Adrian Rogers and senior editor at the Adrian Rogers Pastor Training Institute, wrote at SBCVoice.com that he doesn't know which group he'd fit in and that Southern Baptists are "likely never going to come to full agreement" on these issues.

"For the good of the work, the glory of the Lord, and the edification of the Body of Christ, though, I believe we need to agree to disagree over some issues, while constantly affirming that our agreement on the essentials trumps whatever disagreement we may have on more secondary (or tertiary) issues," Rogers wrote.

Jon Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., wrote at BaptistTwentyOne.com that he does not consider himself part of the "New Calvinism" and that he agrees with much in the statement. But Akin said the document is fighting "straw men," such as implying that "'New Calvinists' believe that a person can be saved apart from personal 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," wrote Akin, who added he believes the statement is divisive.

"The SBC is big enough to include Calvinists and non-Calvinists," Akin wrote. "We agree on far more than we disagree on, so let’s unite and fight a common enemy."

Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, released a joint statement about the document. It read:

"As the heads of the two SBC mission boards (IMB and NAMB), we and all our personnel have already affirmed the BF&M 2000 as prerequisites for employment. We do understand the sentiment behind the proposed statement, but we believe the BF&M 2000 effectively conveys the doctrinal positions traditionally held by Southern Baptists. While alternate doctrinal statements may occasionally arise, it is both our role and our intention to consistently lead in a manner that reflects those doctrines approved by the convention we serve."

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