So. Baptists Divided Over Calvinism; Debate 'Salvation' Document

Hundreds of Southern Baptists have signed a statement that rejects Calvinist views on the doctrine of salvation and outlines the "traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation."

A view of the Reformation Wall with statues of William (Guillaume) Farel, John (Jean) Calvin, Theodore de Beze, and John Knox, from left to right, at Bastion Park in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, June 19, 2009. The commemorations of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth has started in Geneva. Calvin was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. | (Photo: AP / KEYSTONE / Salvatore Di Nolfi)

The statement – which denies that God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation, among other beliefs – has stirred wide debate within the Southern Baptist Convention with some affirming it fully and others arguing that it is causing an unnecessary division.

"Why are we headed down the broken road of schism over Calvinism today?" asked Josh Buice, pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga.

"Have we forgotten our history as Southern Baptists where we had Calvinists such as Lottie Moon, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, A.T. Robertson, John A. Broadus, and many others who served in our convention along with those who were less Calvinistic (Reformed) in their doctrine? They didn't fight over it, throw mud, and pull out the heresy sword to use on one another."

"Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" was authored by Pastor Eric Hankins and several other Baptist leaders who expressed concern over the increasing role and influence of the "New Calvinism" – characterized by an aggressive insistence on the "Doctrines of Grace" (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints) – within the denomination.

While there are and have been Calvinists in the SBC, the statement points out that the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Calvinism and even the few who do tend to modify its teachings.

The majority of members, it adds, have also "fellowshipped happily" with its Calvinist brethren, as most Calvinists have not demanded the adoption of their view as the standard.

"We would be fine if this consensus continued," the statement says, "but some New Calvinists seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of this long-standing arrangement."

Hoping to move "beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology," Hankins sought to outline traditional Southern Baptist soteriology through 10 articles of affirmation and denial.

"Baptists have been well-served by a straightforward soteriology rooted in the fact that Christ is willing and able to save any and every sinner," he asserts.

Among the points of affirmation are:

  • The Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God's desire for every person to be saved
  • Because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person's sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell
  • The penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person
  • God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God's gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel

Signatories of the document also deny that:

  • Only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell
  • Any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel
  • God's sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person's acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ
  • The decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person
  • Salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Some 300 Southern Baptists have signed the document, according to the latest update. Among the signatories are former SBC presidents including Bobby Welch, Jimmy Draper and Paige Patterson, as well as denominational leaders, pastors, evangelists, seminary personnel and church members.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. According to a 2006 LifeWay Research study, 10 percent of Southern Baptist pastors embrace five-point Calvinism.


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