The head of the largest Protestant denomination is not a Calvinist. But in response to ignited discussions over the rising influence of Calvinism, Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page has clarified that he is open for dialogue.
"Most everyone who knows me knows that I am not a Calvinist," said Page in a column on Baptist Press this week. "However, I have made it clear that I would be fair to those who are Calvinists in appointments in our convention. I have been true to my word."
Page was responding to a LifeWay Research study that showed a growing percentage of Baptists are affirming the five points of Calvinism - total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. The study was released in November.
While only around 10 percent of SBC pastors overall say they are Calvinists, nearly 30 percent of recent SBC seminary graduates now serving as church pastors indicate they are Calvinists, according to the research.
"It would be difficult to say that Calvinism is not a growing influence in SBC life and certainly a growing influence in the graduates of our seminaries," Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, told Baptists at a conference on Calvinism in November.
While some Southern Baptists are embracing the doctrines of grace - five points of Calvinism - others see it as a threat to the convention, especially to their evangelistic efforts.
Five-point Calvinists believe God chooses every person who will be saved, not based on an individual's merit, and that Christ died for the elect and not all.
"I believe that the issue of Calvinism is one that can be discussed within the family of Southern Baptists," said Page. "I believe we need to have honest, open dialogue."
Page requested SBC churches, seminarians and current pastors be "quite honest" with their congregations in this matter.
Promoting former SBC president Paige Patterson's practical suggestion, Page said, "When pastor search committees approach pastors and seminary graduates about possible positions, they need to be very honest with these individuals about what they will allow regarding teaching in this area."
While encouraging peaceful, Christ-like discussions on Calvinism, Page also urged Southern Baptists to study up on the issue and be aware of issues in Calvinism and non-Calvinism.
"It is incumbent upon all Southern Baptists that we study the Word of God clearly to see what it says about the salvation given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ."