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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Calvinism on the rise....in the SBC

Results from a recent Lifeway Research survey show that Calvinism is on the rise in the Southern Baptist Convention. Duh. According to the survey, 1 in 10 SBC pastors consider themselves to be a 5-point Calvinist. And a snippet...
While LifeWay Research found the number of Southern Baptist pastors embracing five-point Calvinism to be relatively small, it is undeniable that the conversations on Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention have brought renewed interest to the theological system. Proponents of Calvinism, or Reformed theology, view it as a healthy return to early Southern Baptist heritage. Others see Calvinism as a negative trend and fear it is threatening to take over the SBC. In its inaugural survey, LifeWay Research sought to document the prevalence -– or lack thereof –- of Calvinism within the SBC.

Reformed theology is quite popular these days especially with teenagers and young adults. But WHY? Southern Baptist Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries has an answer...

"The revival of Reformed theology is growing among younger pastors and ministers in training. This is largely a young church leader movement. Boomers and busters are willing to put aside preconceived notions. More and more seminary and college students are coming to see that the doctrines are nothing more than an accurate summary of the biblical teaching of salvation." (53) Understood from this perspective, campus ministry, Christian contemporary music, and popular Calvinist speakers are three avenues that introduce students to Calvinist concepts who then go to the Bible and see that Calvin "rightly divide(d) the Word of truth."

It remains to be seen how Non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention will respond to the growth of Calvinism within their denomination. Exactly how threatened are Non-Calvinists by this "negative trend"? Looking past the current IMB squabble, if doctrinal conformity remains a MUST in the SBC - will a Battle Royal between the two camps even be avoidable???

For more see:

“Youth for Calvin: Reformed Theology and Baptist Collegians”

Word Document Version


Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think the reason for Calvinism's revival (Reformed theology is a much broader category than 5-point scholastic Calvinism; the equation of the 2 by fundamentalist Calvinists is a trick to narrow debate) in the SBC is that it is the only "intellectual" system left available to a denomination which has thrown out all "liberalism."

The initial SBC feud clearly threatened to drive out most, if not all, intellectuals for a know-nothing literalism. Boyce-style Calvinism is an attempt to head off an SBC brain drain.

The Founders are right about its popularity at the founding of the SBC in 1845--but it was NOT the heritage of the earliest Baptists. The first Baptists, Smyth, Helwys, etc. were Arminians--free willers. The Particular Baptists who came a generation later were more Reformed. But STRICT CALVINISM came close to killing off the Particular Baptists in the 18th C.

7:06 PM

Blogger Nathan Finn said...


You are of course quite correct about the early General Baptists, but isn't it a bit unfair to say that "STRICT CALVINISM" came close to killing off the Particulars. I think you mean Hyper-Calvinism, which is *really* scholastic Calvinism, run wild at Daytona Beach, with the beer and the beads and everything else. "Strict Calvinism," unless I am misunderstanding your use of the phrase, would simply mean "committed Calvinist," which was characteristic of early Particulars. It was the Hyper-Calvinism that was so detrimental to many churches in 17th century Britain (and the 19th century American south).


3:53 AM

Blogger D.R. said...


I don't think any Calvinist is trying to trick someone to think that Reformed theology doesn't extend to all forms of Presbyterianism and I think any suggestion of that is devoid of fact and full of speculation. Also, I would deny that Calvinism is the only "intellectual" system of thought in the SBC. I studied under one of the foremost authorities in the world on NT textual criticism as well as an up-and-coming Evangelical archeaologist (who studied under William Dever and helped to discover one of the two artifacts that gives evidence of the Davidic kingdom) at New Orleans both of whom were most definitely not Calvinists. There is still plenty of scholarship in the SBC, as evidenced by a surge in membership among Southern Baptists in organizations such as ETS and the SBL. We are seeing more and more scholarly articles written by Southern Baptists and we are now being joined by Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and others as we uphold ancient doctrines.

Finally, something I find interesting in a discussion on the earliest Baptists is your comment, "The initial SBC feud clearly threatened to drive out most, if not all, intellectuals for a know-nothing literalism" since literalism (better worded as "inerrancy" given that the word "literal" is based on context and not a good word to describe an entire system of hermeneutics that emphasizes different readings in relation to genre, tone, and literary devices) in its current form is closer to the hermeneutical views of those like Smyth, Helwys, etc. In their writings you find exclusivism, penal substitutionary theory, and a rejection of sexual relationships outside that of heterosexual marriage -- three issues that "mainstream baptists" have gone soft on, if not outright rejected.

6:37 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

D.R., every time I say something about the SBC feud, you proceed to "correct me." But I was there. I saw people come in and argue that if the SBC voted that pickles have souls, they expected SBC seminary profs. to teach exactly that. (This was an actual example.) The leaders of the SBC "conservative resurgence" (which was no such thing) included some who had higher academic degrees--but the overarching spirit of the movement was a populist anti-intellectualism.

They fed a notion that scholarship and fervent faith were antithetical. They encouraged a scholastic form of pseudo-intellectualism among their elite while discouraging any real critical thought.

It's just like when you, D.R., tell me constantly that, for all its unchristian behavior which you admit happened, the "conservative resurgence" was necessary in order to save the SBC from liberals. You could not have found a handful of true liberals in SBC institutions. The VERY few SBC figures who were true liberals theologically (e.g., Clayton Sullivan) did not teach at SBC institutions and were not published by Broadman Press. When I went to SBTS, I took every controversial prof. I could--not a single charge leveled by the likes of Paige Patterson was true. They were false--EVERY SINGLE ONE. I checked. I read everything my profs. published looking for the claimed heresies. They weren't there.

By the way, I know more definitions of "inerrancy" than you could count. Have read at least 500 books for and against it. I have even seen definitions I could affirm, but I don't because they die the death of a thousand qualifications--they come to not mean anything close to "without error."

I stand by exactly what I said.

Jean Cauvin/John Calvin was brilliant biblical expositor and an average theologian. 5-point "Calvinism" in its Synod of Dordt formulation or its 19th C. scholastic forms (not just the Hyper-Calvinist forms) is far narrower than Calvin, himself, never mind the Reformed tradition that would include Zwingli, Bullinger, Bucer, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Fuller, Karl Barth, and even F.D.E. Schleiermacher. Calvinism is a narrow dogmaticism in a way that the Reformed tradition is not.

But the Founders group uses Calvinism and Reformed Theology interchangeably. Even worse, they use the term "doctrines of grace" to refer to 5 point Calvinism. This makes it seem like John Wesley or Dale Moody, for instance, didn't believe in grace or that their doctrines don't support grace. It is a way of skewing the argument instead of arguing honestly. Mohler, Ascol, Timothy George, and other "Founders" are past masters of that.

The ETS is not a scholary society, but a scholastic one. A tempest in a teakettle.

I have no doubt that intellectuals still exist in the SBC. They fly under the radar of the orthodoxy checkers and heresy hunters--mostly by publishing in areas where those folk seldom read.

It was when Southern Baptist thinkers published good materials in places where laity could read them that they got in trouble with the heresy hunters. That story is as old as W. H. Whitsitt and the Landmarkers' attack on him for telling the truth--that no evidence exists for Baptists' baptizing by immersion before 1642.

What doesn't exist in the SBC is intellectual freedom. All intellectuals in such a context become mere scholastics.

7:12 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

Michael, I think your first paragraph illustrates my point well, especially in one word you use - "was". Yes, you were there and I was not, but that in no way certifies you as an expert on today's SBC. Because you hear talking heads and read all the rhetoric coming from Mainstream Baptists like Bruce Prescott does not mean that all is "anti-intellectual" in the SBC now.

I do know what is happening in the SBC now. I have a degree from an SBC seminary during the post-conservative resurgence era. I was taught by men who today publish in major ecumenical journals and have commentaries published by the top 5 publishing houses. And I am closely associated with the flagship of the SBC seminaries, your alma mater, Southern Seminary. So when you speak about how anti-intellectual the SBC is, then you are speaking about people like myself, and so I take offense and I do set out to "correct" you, because frankly you don't really know the SBC today.

Your statment about the pickles is well documented, but terribly misused, just like any good peice of propaganda. The statement was made to reflect the fact that we had professors who walked to the front of a lecturn in the middle of chapel and signed a statement agreeing to teach in accordance with a single document (and sometimes two) that they neither truely believed or had any care about. Then after they signed it, they walked into class and taught the exact opposite of what it said. They published books that said the exact opposite of what those confessions said, and they got paid by the very people that asked them to be accountable to it. Yes, there were abuses in the conservative resurgence. I admit that honestly, but I have yet to hear one person who got asked to leave a seminary admit they lied when they signed the BF&M or the Abstract, when it was clear they did.

I am glad you read over 500 hundred books on inerrancy, but that is not persuasive to me (I didn't even know there were that many on it). I know what I believe and I don't think it is anti-intellectual to hold to the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy and would gladly debate the merits of inerrancy. Your statement, "I have no doubt that intellectuals still exist in the SBC. They fly under the radar of the orthodoxy checkers and heresy hunters--mostly by publishing in areas where those folk seldom read" suggests that you think that only moderate and liberal theology qualifies as "intellectual", which I find very problematic given that many positions that moderates and liberals hold lack historical and Spriptural support including inclusivism, homosexuality as a legitimate expression of Christianity, and annihilationism.

Yes, you might have been there Michael, but I am here now and as I have said anytime you want to engage in debate on the Scriptures I will gladly accept, as will most students today who walk out of Southern, New Orleans, Southwestern, or Southeastern today. If the entire SBC were so anti-intellectual would guys like myself want to debate something we knew we could compete with in the academic arena? If you want to heave the charge of anti-intellectualism on someone, look at groups who won't step up and debate and who de-emphasize doctrine to the point that it no longer is even taught to the very people we go to seminary to serve.

10:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church Topeka Kansas, and his 5-point calvinism is hurting our church. Our last SBC pastor was fired for pushing this kind of junk. If you keep it up there will be a split, I see a rise in Amish type of fundamentalism faith in the SBC, which is a good thing. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church and his 5-point Calvinism is the true heart of Reformed theology, they just are open about it. See what they said about the Amish children, being Arminian and all false. Don't pray for others 5-point calvinism, is a cult and not part of SBC.

10:51 AM


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