NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Southern Baptists must decide whether they are satisfied with a "presumable encroachment of Calvinism" in their leadership and their seminary graduates, Baptist paper editor Gerald Harris wrote Feb. 9, drawing responses from several SBC entities.
|J. Gerald Harris|
In a column titled "The Calvinists are here," Harris, editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, set forth statements about Calvinism and quoted Southern Baptists on both sides of the issue.
"... It appears that some of our institutions and agencies are giving, at the least, tacit approval to Reformed theology or are, at the most, actively on a path to honor, if not implement Reformed theology and methodology in their institutions," Harris wrote at ChristianIndex.org.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was cited in the column as "a particular source" of recent graduates espousing Reformed doctrines.
"There is a growing perception that Southern Seminary has become a seedbed for a brand of Calvinism that is quite different from the Reformed theology of its founder, James Petigru Boyce, and also a training ground for Reformed church planters," Harris wrote.
In response, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, told Baptist Press, "I have no idea what Dr. Harris has in mind with this comment, and only he can explain it. The theological standard at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the Baptist Faith & Message and the Abstract of Principles, upon which the institution was founded, and on which the first signature is that of James Petigru Boyce."
The North American Mission Board was included as an example of Calvinistic infiltration because a recent issue of its On Mission magazine highlights several church planters, "two of whom could be seen as Reformed in their theology."
Harris also pointed to NAMB's decision to include St. Louis as one of its focus cities in the Send North America church planting initiative.
"In St. Louis NAMB will encounter a Baptist association that has already launched 15 church plants, seven of which are listed as Acts 29 Network churches," Harris wrote, characterizing Acts 29 as "admittedly evangelical, missional and Reformed in its approach to church planting."
Mark Driscoll, founder and lead visionary of Acts 29, "seems to have a significant influence in the lives of some Southern Baptists," Harris wrote, spending several paragraphs on the controversy surrounding Driscoll's latest book, "Real Marriage."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Danny Akin, are mentioned in connection with Driscoll. Specifically, Harris insinuates that Driscoll's book is given credence by an endorsement from Akin and his wife Charlotte.
"In recent years Driscoll has been a chapel speaker at SEBTS and his influence at the seminary cannot be ignored," Harris wrote.
The newspaper editor ended his column by addressing the possibility that Southern Baptists will move toward changing the name of the convention when they gather in New Orleans in June. He suspects the proposed name will be the Great Commission Baptist Convention.
"If that is the suggested name and if we dare vote for it to be our new appellation we dare not defame it with half-hearted evangelism and church plants that wither away in five years," Harris wrote.
In response, Akin of Southeastern Seminary told Baptist Press the editorial is not on target.
"Gerald Harris has been my friend for many years and my love and gratitude for him is immense," Akin wrote in a statement. "However, I would respectfully disagree with him and others that evangelical Calvinism is a threat to the health and future of the SBC. Our real problem is we all are in desperate need for a heaven sent, Holy Spirit revival that will set on fire our cold and carnal hearts.
"Further, my wife and I made clear in our endorsement of Real Marriage that we appreciated much of its content but also strongly disagreed with certain sections of it.
"And, Mark Driscoll, who is my friend, has not been on this campus in almost four years. To say he has significant influence on our campus would simply be inaccurate. When his ministry and methods are discussed in classes along with many others, they are analyzed and critiqued in the light of God's infallible and inerrant Word," Akin wrote.
"Some of what he teaches we affirm. Other aspects of his teachings are rejected when shown to be incompatible with biblical revelation. I believe that is what Southern Baptists expect of a theological institution that is passionate for the Great Commission and sees itself as a servant to train effective and well informed ministers of the Gospel," Akin wrote.
Mike Ebert, vice president of communications at the North American Mission Board, also disagreed overall with Harris.
"Gerald Harris is a friend who has a passion for evangelism and missions, but unfortunately this column is long on suspicion and innuendo but short on facts," Ebert wrote in a statement to BP. "If one wants to write a column stating his opposition to Calvinism and back it up with Scripture, that is a legitimate approach.
"If someone wants to express concern that the SBC is moving toward Calvinism, he should state those concerns honestly and explain why he sees it as a problem. But to weave together a series of unrelated examples and imply that SBC entities are being infiltrated by Calvinists whose goal is the 'encroachment of Calvinism in SBC life' evokes the McCarthyism of the 1950's," Ebert wrote.
"If the SBC needs to have a conversation about Calvinism, let's do it in a way that builds up the Body of Christ and doesn't tear down with unsubstantiated accusations and unfounded fears. Unfortunately, I don't think this kind of article builds up the Kingdom," Ebert wrote.
LifeWay Christian Resources was mentioned in the column because of its new Bible study curriculum, The Gospel Project, which Harris expects to be "marked by an unmistakable Reformed theology" when it premiers this year. The advisory board for the curriculum "for the most part looks like a Who's Who of Reformed theologians," Harris wrote.
Marty King, corporate communications director for LifeWay, told Baptist Press the entity deeply regrets that The Index published "false accusations without offering any evidence of their truthfulness." King said The Gospel Project is not marked by Reformed theology but is "LifeWay's response to churches asking for a more in-depth Bible study curriculum."
"The Index editor made no effort to ask LifeWay about his concerns and didn't even ask for samples of the new curriculum which are available at GospelProject.com. It appears he simply repeated rumors, gossip and conspiracy theories he'd apparently read on the Internet. He has done his subscribers, LifeWay and Southern Baptists a great disservice," King said.
In a blog post Feb. 9, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, which was cited in the column, said Calvinism is the new Baptist bogeyman, a nonthreatening issue that distracts the convention from real dangers.
In the past, those who preached against the Purpose Driven movement and the emerging church movement ultimately drove out a generation of Southern Baptists who otherwise were sympathetic with the convention, Stetzer wrote at betweenthetimes.com. Most SBC Calvinists, Stetzer wrote, affirm the current Baptist Faith and Message, want to reach people for Christ and desire to cooperate in SBC life.
"Preaching against bogeymen gets the big amen at some meetings and in some publications, but we should take notice -- those meetings are getting older and smaller every year," Stetzer wrote.
Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay, told SBC Voices eight of the 11 advisory council members are Southern Baptist, and LifeWay did not ask them if they were Calvinists. The members were asked about the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and "the conversations were about how we could structure this curriculum in a way that points to Christ, not Calvinism," Wax said.
Erin Roach is assistant 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).