Calvinism report gets positive reviews

by Michael Foust, posted Thursday, June 06, 2013 (one year ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) -- A report on Calvinism in Southern Baptist life has received positive reviews from bloggers on both sides of the theological spectrum.

The 19-member advisory committee issued its 3,200-word report report to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page in late May, acknowledging tension and disagreement between Calvinists and non-Calvinists within the convention and urging Southern Baptists to "grant one another liberty" on the issue and "stand together" for the Great Commission. Calvinists and non-Calvinists from all walks of SBC life served on the committee, which was assembled by Page and was not an official committee of the convention.

"We affirm that Southern Baptists stand together in a commitment to cooperate in Great Commission ministries," the report says. "We affirm that, from the very beginning of our denominational life, Calvinists and non-Calvinists have cooperated together. We affirm that these differences should not threaten our eager cooperation in Great Commission ministries."

Adam Harwood, assistant professor of Christian studies at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., wrote a blog at SBCToday.com, "Five Reasons To Be Thankful for the Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee." Harwood is not a Calvinist and last year was one of the signers of a statement that critiqued what it called the "New Calvinism" in SBC life. That statement was titled the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation."

Harwood said he had "high expectations" for the Calvinism committee report and his "expectations were met."

"[The report] models Great Commission unity amidst Southern Baptist diversity," wrote Harwood, who was elected to the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in late May. "People with differing theological convictions have set aside those differences in order to reaffirm cooperation for the sake of the lost. ... [T]he committee has aligned itself with the mission of the Lord Jesus Himself, who 'came to seek and to save the lost' (Luke 19:10). Such unity exists in wide theological diversity within the parameters of the [Baptist Faith and Message]."

The Baptist Faith and Message is Southern Baptists' official statement of belief, last updated and approved in 2000.

The report by the committee on Calvinism should be applauded because it acknowledges that "Southern Baptists agree to disagree on certain points of Calvinism," Harwood wrote.

"That’s important," he wrote. "The wrong approach would be to act as if there were no differences. There are different theological views among Southern Baptists, some of which are significant. But, as [the report] rightly notes, Southern Baptists have always been comprised of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. They hold differing views on certain doctrines. But since the organization of the SBC in 1845, we have agreed to disagree on those particular theological points. [The report] simply reaffirms our agreement to differ peaceably on those issues. As the document states, 'Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.'"

Seminary professors Denny Burk and Nathan Finn, each of whom is in the Calvinist tradition, also affirmed the report.

"I believe it addresses concerns that Baptists on both sides of this issue have had," Burk wrote on his blog. Burk is associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "This is a good statement, one that I hope that Southern Baptists will unify around. ... This is just the kind of unity statement that I was hoping for."

Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., wrote that he was "was highly encouraged by the balance, clarity, and charity of the document."

Even before the report was released, Finn was urging Calvinists and non-Calvinists to work together for the Great Commission.

"It’s time for Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists to take a deep breath, ratchet down the heated language, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and recommit to cooperating together for the sake of the Great Commission," Finn wrote in a blog post. "Calvinism has been and needs to remain a tertiary issue in the SBC. Now let’s move forward together in advancing the gospel among people here, there, and everywhere."

North Carolina pastor and blogger Tim Rogers, who is not a Calvinist, also affirmed the committee's report on Calvinism.

"I believe the [committee] has done an excellent job presenting a document, while not everyone may agree with, will be something for us to rally around to move forward," wrote Rogers, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indian Trail, N.C. "... Thank you Dr. Frank Page, Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. Eric Hankins, and all of the others who served on [the advisory team]. The fruit of your work is evident. I feel we are like the children of Israel standing at Kadesh Barnea and this document is representative of the grapes the spies are holding. The [committee] has seen the promised land and Southern Baptists have to decide if we will go into it or will we wander in the desert."

Rogers was one of the 2012 signers of the statement critiquing the "New Calvinism," as was Brad Whitt, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., who also affirmed the team's report. Whitt wrote in a Tweet, "The SBC Calvinism Advisory Committee has issued their report. It's one that I support and pray will help us move fwd"

Meanwhile, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a June 6 column, "Why Calvinists and Arminians (and Those in Between) Can Unite for Religious Liberty."

"We all believe in God’s sovereignty and we all believe in human freedom, though we differ on the qualifications of both," Moore wrote. "But when the government tries to be the ultimate sovereign, or to coerce free consciences, we know to stand against that, and for another kingdom, together."


Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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