The Baptist Press posted an article, Statement on Calvinism Draws Approval, Criticism, about the controversy fomenting in the SBC over the New Calvinism that continues to suck up more and more oxygen. The article by Michael Foust reported on the push back by a group of Southern Baptist leaders referring to themselves as “the traditional Southern Baptist.”
Foust wrote: ”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.’
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), five state executive directors (Georgia’s Bob White, Florida’s John Sullivan, 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.’”
This is not a new war in the SBC, just another skirmish. Collin Hansen wrote back in 2006 in Christianity Today about the Young, Restless, Reformed making a comeback in the SBC.
Hansen stated that “the most provocative comments in the SBC may belong to Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In April 2005, he presented a paper on ‘The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals.’ Lemke warned, ‘I believe that [Calvinism] is potentially the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future. It has already been an issue that has split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire convention.’
Lemke noted that Calvinism has periodically waxed and waned among Southern Baptists. ‘However, the number of Calvinist faculty dramatically increased [starting in the 1980s and] over the next 20 years.’ Lemke and many others explained to me that Calvinists like Mohler earned leadership roles during the SBC’s inerrancy battles due to their reliably conservative theology. Their academic and biblical rigor suited them for seminary positions. Now, Lemke said, their influence has made the “newest generation of Southern Baptist ministers … the most Calvinist we have had in several generations.’
Lemke doubts that Calvinism has yet reached its high-water mark in the SBC. But he is no fan of this trend. Baptism and membership figures, he said, show that the Calvinist churches of the SBC’s Founders Ministries lack commitment to evangelism. According to Lemke, the problem only makes sense, given their emphasis on God’s sovereign election.
‘For many people, if they’re convinced that God has already elected those who will be elect … I don’t see how humanly speaking that can’t temper your passion, because you know you’re not that crucial to the process,’ Lemke explained.”
My interest is not so much with the family feud within the SBC as much as understanding New Calvinism. The impact of New Calvinism in the SBC is just one arena. The numbers of the New Calvinists have increased in schools like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In my ensuing posts, I want to answer some questions: Who are the New Calvinists?, How are they different from the Old Calvinists? What do they believe? Why are they multiplying? Is this just another passing evangelical fad like the Emerging Church?