Stuck in the Middle: A Calvinistic Traditionalist in the SBC

After a brief hiatus from blogging, during which time A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation was published on SBC Today on May 30 (here), I keep hearing the lyrics of a particular (as opposed to general) song playing in my head:

Well I don’t know why I came here tonight, I got the feeling that something ain’t right, I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair, And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs, Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, Stuck in the middle with you, Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you, Stuck in the middle with you.” (Steelers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle With You,” 1972)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that all New Calvinists are clowns or all Traditionalists are jokers (or is that vice versa). I’m sure that some nifty label can be applied to a few within both camps, especially the 57 leaders who make up the New Calvinist Movement.  One need only read comments on certain blogs since the Traditionalist Statement was released to know that what I say is true.

To say that I have been out of the loop the last three weeks would be an understatement. Until this past Saturday, I was completely oblivious that the Traditionalist Statement had even been released. I was therefore also blissfully unaware of the responses to said Statement, including Dr. Albert Mohler’s response which leveled the charge of “semi-Pelagianism” and theological ignorance against the drafters of the document. As you might imagine, Dr. Mohler’s response has not been well received by those who don’t take kindly to an entity President seeming to accuse them of cozying up to heresy. I’m also quite certain that some of the wording in the Statement, particularly in the Preamble, could be viewed by “New Calvinists” (however that term maybe defined) as unnecessarily inflammatory. Thus, the strong and swift response from many within the Reformed wing of the SBC, including the eight-part response (so far) of Founders Ministry Executive Director Tom Ascol (here) and other concerned bloggers/pastors (here and here).

However, you won’t find me naming any names of those involved in the New Calvinist Movement. If pressed, I could probably come up with a few who I think would fit the bill nicely. Neither will you find me casting aspersions upon those who drafted and have signed (over 500 thus far) the Traditionalist Statement. Why? Because I find myself stuck in the middle between these fighting Baptist factions. I have heretofore labeled myself both an “inconsistent Calvinist” and a “cooperating, conservative Southern Baptist.” Put those two together and you get a Calvinistic Traditionalist.

What, pray tell, is that? Someone who both identifies with much of where the so-called Traditionalists are coming from, but who, because of my own Calvinist leanings, simply cannot sign the Traditionalist Statement. There is much to commend in the Statement. I find myself understanding where good, Christian men like Rick Patrick, Bob Hadley, Tim Rogers and Peter Lumpkins are coming from when they view the soteriological issues emanating from the Traditionalist Statement. Perhaps that’s because I have developed relationships with these men (among others) that has allowed us to charitably “agree to disagree” on those minor issues with which we find ourselves on opposite sides.

I also find myself more sympathetic in practice to the Traditionalist Statement, even though in doctrine I would classify myself as Reformed. That’s why I call myself an “inconsistent Calvinist.” This past Sunday, I preached a sermon where I posited that God chose us and that we chose God. Both are true. I have no problem preaching that God so loved the world (yes, that means everybody) that He sent Jesus so that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (I still like John 3:16 in the KJV). I believe that anyone can be a potential “whosoever.”  I believe that “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” However, I also believe that, apart from the Holy Spirit regenerating a spiritually dead person (which I believe comes first), that no one will “freely” choose to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.

It’s simply not up to me to try to determine who is and who is not a “whosoever” when I am proclaiming the Gospel. At the age of 45, I have stopped trying to figure out how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (not free will) go together. I didn’t figure it out when I was at Southern Seminary in the mid-90’s debating with various “cage-stage” Calvinists and I don’t expect that I’ll figure it out anytime soon. Maybe this is the central issue that the Traditionalists are trying to get at. Maybe it’s the absolute certainty that some “New Calvinists” try to impose on others that is part of the problem. Of course, this kind of imposition of views is not unique to Calvinists.

But, then again, maybe it’s this part of the Traditionalist Statement that could be a major source of heartburn for both New Calvinists and even for Calvinistic Traditionalists like me:

While we are not insisting that every Southern Baptist affirm the soteriological statement below in order to have a place in the Southern Baptist family, we are asserting that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life.

Whew! That was a close one. I’m glad that the Traditionalist Statement doesn’t “insist” that I have to affirm their soteriological statement to “have a place in the Southern Baptist family.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am not at all comfortable with how that was worded. Is this akin to someone making “an offer that we can’t refuse?” Is there no middle ground? Am I stuck in the middle all by myself? Is there no one else who has such conflicted feelings about the Traditionalist Statement and the Calvinists’ responses to the Statement? Maybe it would do all of us good — regardless of our finely-tuned theological positions — to adhere to this paraphrase of a profound statement included in the Preamble:

The very fact that there is a plurality of Baptist views regarding a Biblical soteriology would seem to call for circumspection and humility with respect to the various systems and to those who disagree with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25 comments for “Stuck in the Middle: A Calvinistic Traditionalist in the SBC

  1. June 13, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    Hey Howell,

    I fully understand if you do not post this. It’s really too long for the comment thread. If you’d like me to edit it, I will. Let me know via cell or email. Appreciate you, my brother…
    ———————————-

    Glad to see you back. I tried to log a comment on yesterday’s post but it never showed up but the cyber blackhole gobbled it up. And, since it was an original stroke of genius, I never returned to do it again ;^)

    I hear what you’re saying and fully I understand. Heck, I agree with the thrust of the document and hence support it and the men & women behind it, but I’ve not signed it (to date) either. Call me an odd duck if I don’t in the future or a reluctant duck if I do :^)

    I also understand your chill when you read the “While we are not insisting that every Southern Baptist affirm the soteriological statement…[BUT]…” statement. I think others have taken the statement far past the chill you expressed by accusing the author(s) of writing a statement they wish to see adopted as a sorta addendum per se to the BFM2K. Unlike your concern, the latter I do not understand and can only, in my view, judge it as nothing less than kneejerk nonsense.

    Imagining for a moment the Traditional Statement (TS) would, in the future, wind up as a proposed “replacement for” or–Lord help us–an “official interpretive template to” the BFM2K, a public resistance protest document calling for support against such a proposal would be a document on which I could, without a gnat’s breathe hesitation, attach my With that, I am… Indeed as I unequivocally stated in my post yesterday,

    To formally exorcise Calvinism from convention-life is, for my part, to forfeit Baptist ecclesiology. If we do so, my membership as a Southern Baptist believer will swiftly come to an end” http://peterlumpkins.typepad.com/peter_lumpkins/2012/06/calvinists-recruit-wa-criswell-to-their-cause-by-peter-lumpkins.html

    For the record, the last thing Southern Baptists need is yet more credalism. Albeit some think Dr. Mohler’s brilliance as a theologian and cultural critic will be the King’s crown as future historians rehearse his kingdom contributions, I contrarily think Mohler’s muscular evangelicalism confessionalism may be his single, greatest contribution to Southern Baptist life. And I remain quite certain future historians will make significant note of his inestimable influence on Southern Baptists’ understanding of the enforceable role confessions play in SBC cooperation. I also think his unhealthy focus on rigid confessionalism remains among the top reasons for the demise of the Southern Baptist Convention you and I have grown to love and appreciate through the years. God help us. We don’t need yet another confession to employ as a wrecking ball to expunge theological undesirables among us. I’m of the mind to publicly write that, like the GCRTF did, we ought to seal all our confessions away for 25 years insisting nobody could look at them, quote them, or deploy them as a weapon against our brothers & sisters and, if we had a problem with somebody’s theology or entity head’s direction, we’d have build our case from the creed we Baptists have historically confessed is really our only creed–the Bible. Yep, I’m of a mind to write that publicly but I’m sure I’d get criticized for it even from my closest comrades. So I won’t.

    All that said, Howell, I don’t think the author(s) of the TS have a Calvinistic exorcism in mind at all. Rather, like me, I think (and I can only “think” since I was not a part of the document’s evolution or the group that chiseled it out though, for transparency’s sake, I very well could have been) the document expresses their concern about what I’ve cataloged at my site for six, long grueling years. I presently know of no better way to express it than this: there has been and presently is an unwritten but very visible attempt to institutionalize Reformed theology as the default theology in the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that one motif alone arguably captures the guiding, over-arching notion interwoven throughout the TS.

    If I am correct, one may perceive why I am similarly, as was Paul, caught in a “strait betwixt two.” On the one hand I am anti-confessional (or more precisely, anti-friendly toward confessions) and on the other, I presently support and defend not only a public expression of a theological trajectory to which I’m generally inclined (i.e. TS), but also embrace a stunning public vindication of what I’ve opined on my site for six long years–an actual attempt to institutionalize Reformed theology within the Southern Baptist Convention. Not that it is an I-told-you-so-moment. Nor am I suggesting my swooning is completely pride and ego free (I do, after all, believe in human depravity; I just don’t believe it in the Augustinian-Reformed kind of way).

    What I am suggesting is, over 500 Southern Baptists–Southern Baptists including not only hundreds of pastors, church staffers, and mature dedicated “lay” people from mega-churches like Steve Gaines serves to large churches like you serve to small churches like I serve, but also a rich diversity of denominational servants from every level of convention-life, many servants of which are household names among Southern Baptists, not to mention a hefty and impressive representation from academia (ever tried to get someone from academia to publicly support your cause?)–publicly confessed they perceive the same phenomenon–or, at minimum, similar phenomenon–as I have and still do concerning the institutionalization of a strongly Reformed theological paradigm imposed upon Southern Baptists via our agencies and worthy cooperative endeavors. And, for that reason alone, Howell, you ought to sign it! (just kidding, my brother!:^).

    In essence, the statement about which you initially but rightly expressed your chill, I think, remains, both in intent and function, no more than a paper tiger. Namely, the TS is a push-back…a wait-just-a-doggone-minute-here public moment in which a group of influential Southern Baptists raised their hand and say,

    We’re Free Church believers. Baptists in their best have always been Free Church believers. Calvinism may have had its day in the 19th century. Granted. But being the Free Church believers Baptists are, Calvinism waxes and Calvinism wanes among us. And, empirical evidence demonstrates Calvinism definitively waned among us for over a century. Consequently, the overwhelming majority of us now are not of the Reformed persuasion–right or wrong, that’s a demonstrable fact. Being the Free Church believers we are, Calvinism may yet wax among us. We fully accept that as an authentic possibility because, like we say, we are and have been Free Church believers.

    So, our Calvinistic brothers and sisters, persuade away. Persuade till your heart is full. We bless you and support you in it. You are, or least have been, Free Church believers too.

    Nonetheless, as Free Church believers, pardon us in love if we refuse to have Calvinism imposed upon us from the top down. You may persuade us to become Calvinists but you will not prescribe Calvinism for us because of our Free Church belief.

    Now, we know some of you’ve been actively creating Calvinistic strongholds. You’ve used monies which came mostly from Free non-Calvinistic churches rather than Free Calvinistic churches to do so. For instance, one of our Free Church seminaries has come to be known in the evangelical world as “Ground Zero” for the “young, restless, and reformed”, and the president is on record publicly stating unequivocally that he intended to build back the reformed heritage the seminary lost over the last century. In short, Calvinism waned. But he intends to make Calvinism wax. We believe this proposal can and does, in effect, reduce to the institutionalization of Calvinism. Like we say, as Free Church believers, persuade us. But do not take us for theological morons when we appeal to our Free Church conscience and say enough is enough: if but Calvinism is either taught or embraced in our seminaries, what may be the expected result? Is this not the very question asked to the moderates/liberals at the beginning of the resurgence? Namely, if our students are only taught non-inerrancy, then, a) what do we expect will be the obvious result on the churches in the future; b) how does that represent the multitude of grass-roots Southern Baptists who embrace inerrancy and not non-inerrancy?

    So, once again, pardon us in love if we perceive the institutionalization of Calvinism through a similar lens, if not the very same lens, as we saw the institutionalization of neo-orthodoxy.

    My brother, Howell. Forgive. I was way, way too wordy.

    We will chat at the convention for sure.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    • June 14, 2012 at 11:45 AM

      Peter,

      Although we come at this from slightly different perspectives, I would say that you have nailed it, sir, in your analysis 🙂 As to confessionalism, I could not agree with you more. Growing up in FBC Lake Placid, FL, a Deacon, who also happened to be a history professor at the local community college, always reminded me that Southern Baptists are not a denomination and we are not creedal. I did not necessarily understand what he meant by those two statements, but I have come to appreciate the truths and nuggets of wisdom that he shared so long ago. It seems that too many in our Convention have forgotten both of those truths and would like it if we operated more like a denomination with top-down command and control and a confessional statement that was used as a creed to impose doctrinal uniformity within and among the churches of the SBC.

      I can affirm that the BF&M is a confession of faith that sets forth the doctrines that most Southern Baptists believe, but that our local church’s final authority for faith and practice is the Bible. While some moderates and liberals abused that principle, there is no good reason why conservative Southern Baptists should abandon one of our historic believes and move to a more non-Baptistic creedal position. If you were to write a post like that, you would have my unwavering support 🙂 I think that more conservative Southern Baptists need to take such a stand. With all due respect to Dr. Mohler and others, I think some would be very comfortable imposing the BF&M on the churches of the SBC. If that were to happen, I would lead my church to graciously decline that offer. We would still be Baptist, but we will not give up our autonomy, no matter how good the intentions of others might be. Thanks for your words of wisdom. Sorry they didn’t get posted earlier. My spam filter has a way of catching certain comments. Thus far, it has only happened to my non-Calvinist brothers and sisters. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that folks of a certain theological persuasion have hacked my WordPress account and are messing with me 😉 Have a great day and look forward to seeing you in NOLA! God bless,

      Howell

  2. June 13, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Howell,

    I appreciate your spirit and balanced comments and look forward to meeting you next week… hope you are going to be able to make it to Nawlins. Is it fair to say that there are those who deem the “finer points of soteriology” as being more important than most calvinists might see them? I believe that those who are leading the Reformed revival do not see regeneration as a secondary issue. I am convinced that they see it as a principle issue in the salvific process and because their sights are set on the entities of the SBC that is the issue that concerns me the most.

    I do not care that the church down the road is calvinist and a good calvinist church at that. I disagree with their theology but I have no issue with them being a cooperating church. Since I have serious issues with the DOG… I do not want those influencing the entities and ultimately the churches of the SBC.

    While I will agree they have every right to assert their influence, others have every right to say “not so fast.” This is what I see is the central issue behind everything that is taking place. When there are significant theological issues, fleshing out those differences is never easy but it is essential.

    Appreciate you. Email me and lets exchange contact info to cross paths next week.

    ><>”

    • June 13, 2012 at 2:49 PM

      Bob,

      Thanks for your kind words. I appreciated your article in the Florida Baptist Witness. I think you struck a nice chord while clearly articulating your opinion. I do think that you are correct that there are some who would love nothing more than to figure out how many angels can dance on the head of a needle. As I shared with Max over at Voices, I think that there is a broad agreement on the Gospel and the salvation that is found in Christ and Christ alone. It is when we begin to try to figure out the mysteries of God in such a definitive way that we get in trouble. I think when people try to impose views on the Convention as a whole when there is room for honest and charitable debate on some of the finer points of soteriology, then I fully understand the right of you and others to say “not so fast.” In many ways, I am very sympathetic to the Traditionalist view because that’s probably where my heart is, even if my head is not there. I too look forward to meeting you next week in NOLA. I’ll email you or FB message you with my info. Thanks again and have a great day. God bless,

      Howell

      • Max
        June 13, 2012 at 3:59 PM

        ” … that’s probably where my heart is, even if my head is not there.”

        Now, that’s a line! This debate is proving to be more intellectual than spiritual. Southern Bapt”ists” have become a list of “ists” with varying opinions springing from intellect rather than revealed truth. Traditional”ists”, Calvin”ists”, Biblic”ists”. Our labels and systems supersede our faith.

        Being stuck in the middle is like sitting on the fence. Gray is just a shade of black. We need to move forward as one man with one message. May NOLA bring some resolution to our dilemma.

        P.S. it’s amazing that we have any brain cells left after listening to songs like that when we were younger ;^)

        • June 13, 2012 at 4:31 PM

          “Being stuck in the middle is like sitting on the fence. Gray is just a shade of black. We need to move forward as one man with one message. May NOLA bring some resolution to our dilemma.”

          Max,

          I do agree that we need to move forward in a spirit of unity with one central message. While the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring that kind of unity, I do think that we have an opportunity show grace toward those we differ with while holding onto the core of Baptist soteriology, which is that salvation is found in none other than Jesus Christ. Some will argue that we have to flesh out that statement. That’s probably true, but the more finely we flesh that out, the further apart we seem to get and therein lies the problem. On this issue, is there no broad, middle way that can allow folks who differ on what I have called the finer points of soteriology to still cooperate together for the sake of missions and ministry? I think it’s possible, but it will take not only a reall movement of the Holy Spirit, but also a willingness to repent, humble ourselves, and call on the Lord. When sides get so entrenched that no one wants to blink, then we are headed for a major breach that we may not be able to repair. Hope to run into you in NOLA if you are going to be there. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

          • Max
            June 14, 2012 at 7:41 AM

            Howell – I won’t be attending SBC-NOLA, but will be viewing certain sessions livestream. I’ll be casting my votes by prayer this year. As I ponder the topics which will surely be discussed by that great assemblage (in sessions, hallways, and/or smoke-filled rooms), I will be praying for wisdom, understanding, and Spirit-led action.

            “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand.” (Prov 8:1-2)

  3. June 13, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    Well written. Your perspective and mine on this are similar. I guess I’m a little less traditionalist than you, but I follow your view on Calvinism closely (scarily so). I think, as time goes on, we will see this a a great hullabaloo about a minor issue.

    • June 13, 2012 at 7:52 PM

      Dave,

      Thanks. I probably am more comfortable in the Traditionalist camp (so to speak), but my doctrinal beliefs fall closer to Reformed. My practice is a lot closer to Traditionalist in the sense that I still offer a time of response (or invitation) at the end of Sunday morning worship, although I do not prolong that time of response nor do I make it a habit of trying to persuade people to come if they are not moved by the Holy Spirit. Like anything, these practices can be abused. I would like to think you are right about the hullabaloo, but I tend to think that things will escalate, particularly following the New Orleans Convention. Look forward to seeing you there. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • Tom Parker
        June 13, 2012 at 8:22 PM

        Howell:

        IMO what is going to be the main focus of next week’s convention is Calvinism. This will surely get a lot of news media attention. Do we not as SB have much more important issues to focus on?

        • June 13, 2012 at 9:22 PM

          Tom,

          I should hope we have much more important issues to focus on. I certainly hope that this does not become a major distraction at the Convention. After missing last year’s Pastor’s Conference and Annual Meeting sick in a hotel in Phoenix the whole week, I am looking forward to some great preaching and worship and meeting folks that I have only talked with online up to now. I am looking forward to Southern Baptists of all stripes preaching the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit and to come away having heard from God. Even with all of our tendencies to bicker with one another, surely we can all pray that the Holy Spirit will bring a revival to New Orleans next week. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

  4. Tom Parker
    June 13, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Dave Miller:

    You said:”I think, as time goes on, we will see this a a great hullabaloo about a minor issue.”

    But what about all the damage done by individuals calling each other names and claims of heresy and dividing up of people into camps.

    How will this be overcome?

  5. June 13, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    I think I probably lean more toward the Traditionalist view than you do, but like Dave mentioned, I relate to this post as well. I feel like I am stuck in the middle of a bad dream that just won’t stop. Very well said.

  6. June 13, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    Howell, so…you are “very sympathetic to the Traditionalist view because that’s probably where my heart is, even if my head is not there.”

    I’m glad Traditionalists have your heart, for “where your heart is, your treasure is there also”. 🙂 And “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart”. And since salvation is truly a matter of the heart, and changing the heart, then all that matters, to me, is that you love Jesus and find it necessary to share with everyone the heart change available through faith in Him.

    I’m glad I don’t depend on my intellect for anything except to say “yes”. I’ve never been all that smart, which is why I think Jesus made it simple to come to Him. He says come, and we follow or walk away. Just like the rich young ruler: We give up all to gain everything, or cling to everything and lose all. Our choice.

    Now…about that barbeque sauce… 🙂 selahV

    • June 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM

      Hariette,

      It is far too easy for me, probably because of my legal background, to depend upon my own intellect instead of depending on the Holy Spirit. That’s why I have come to the point in my ministry where I don’t concern myself with some of the finer points of soteriology when I am preaching or, like tonight, leading a young lady to Christ at our VBS. Do I do this with some fear and trembling? Yes, because I know that it is not me who saves, but God alone through Christ alone. Did I need to help this young girl realize that she had to respond in faith to God’s free gift of salvation? Absolutely. If we would all major on the majors and minor on the minors, things would be much better. But, somehow I don’t think that soteriology alone is at the root of this battle. I think there is much more, on both sides, that drive some folks. I think you are right when you said that Jesus made it so simple to come to Him that a child could do it. If I didn’t believe that, then we wouldn’t be having VBS this week (with at least 4 salvation decisions tonight and close to ten children and students who want to follow Christ in Baptism). Sometimes we overthink what Jesus has made so plain. As one of my senior saints says during my sermons when she is particularly moved, “Preach that Word, Pastor. Preach that Word.” That’s all that I’ve got to preach. That’s all any of us have to preach or proclaim. If we are faithful to preach the Word, then God will be glorified. I’ll work on another batch of sauce and have it in the mail 🙂 Have a great night and God bless,

      Howell

  7. Job
    June 13, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    Pastor Howell:

    “we are asserting that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life”

    I don’t have a problem with their not wanting it. I don’t want Calvinism to become the standard view in SBC life either because I honestly don’t know what a Calvinist SBC – or any other large Calvinist denomination – would look like.

    But not wanting it is one thing. Trying to do something to stop it is another. You only try to stop something – and do it in a way that would cause negative effects on people – if it is bad or wrong. The general attitude that something must be done to stop the growth of Calvinism in the SBC, and concrete suggestions (that have been made more than a few times by more than a few people) like restricting SBC funds available to Calvinist church plants would cause harm, and why cause that harm if you truly believe that Calvinism in the SBC is not bad or wrong? Calvinism can be “in” the SBC but not “influence” the SBC? Again, why if it is not bad or wrong? And if it is bad or wrong, why allow it to be in the SBC? Also, it is kind of disturbing that the people willing to lead this charge are perfectly willing to benefit from the positive legacy left behind by plenty of Calvinist Baptists so long as their Calvinism goes unacknowledged. (But any alleged negatives associated with Calvinism gets discussed ad nauseum, past the point of exaggeration.)

    Here is the most unusual part: what evidence is there of this Calvinist advance anyway? Take the Acts 29 issue, used as evidence that the SBC is being “Calvinized.” The entire Acts 29 Network is fewer than 500 churches, the vast majority of whom are not Southern Baptist. Meanwhile, there are over 44,000 Southern Baptist churches! Founders Ministries? More of the same. In Bob Hadley’s state of Florida, there are fewer than 90 churches associated with that organization. And Ed Stetzer runs Lifeway? As if he is going to keep that job for 100 years or something … the guy will move on in a few years and his replacement will almost certainly be General Baptist. Even the much-ballyhooed “30% of Southern Baptist seminary graduates are Calvinist!” … A) how many of these graduates become pastors of SBC churches and B) how many SBC churches are led by graduates of SBC seminaries? It would take decades to make a dent in the SBC demographics at that rate. Look at the SBC leadership at the convention and state level: you could practically count the number of presidents, VPs, board members etc. using your fingers and toes.

    Here is the rub. In my experience, the people who keep wringing their hands over the alleged Calvinist takeover of the SBC never deal with these facts. They never volunteer this information themselves. Even when confronted with it, they do not respond. They are perfectly willing to let – or cause! – people to believe that there are many thousands of Acts 29 and Founders churches, that Calvinist seminary graduates are flooding the landscape left and right, that Calvinists have taken over all the leadership positions and the SBC machinery, etc. If more people actually knew how far Calvinism was from becoming the standard view in Southern Baptist life then that would make the decision to issue “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” in response to a problem that does not exist a very spurious one indeed. At best, it is tilting at windmills, a solution in search of a problem.

    And that is why I am not “stuck in the middle.” The fact that the self-described majority traditionalist movement has so purposefully grotesquely exaggerated the Calvinism issue in the SBC – and has often mischaracterized Calvinist beliefs and produced an alternative, distorted view of history in the process – is something that I cannot overlook. How can I separate disgust at their methods from concern over their motives? A better question: why should I separate their methods from their motives? Why should I view each in isolation, as if one has nothing to do with the other? Why should I be refrained from stating that greatly exaggerating the “threat” of Calvinism in the SBC and then using the exaggerated threat that you created as some rallying cry and cause or justification for action is wrong?

    That is why I am not “stuck in the middle” because I definitely, explicitly set myself on the opposing side of the people that are behaving in this manner. And though I am not an Acts 29/YRR/New Calvinist sort, I refuse to draw some sort of equivalency between them and the Statement traditionalists. The former group is merely doing what they believe the Bible tells them to do; maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong. The latter group greatly mischaracterizes the numbers, beliefs and actions of the former in order to publicize, justify and advance an agenda. I am not going to take some “6 of one/half a dozen of the other” stance concerning the two groups because it just isn’t accurate. Ed Stetzer’s Lifeway producing a (4 point) Calvinist-friendly curriculum isn’t the same as doing your level best to create the utterly false impression there is this vast army of well-funded, well-organized Calvinists that pose a real threat to hi-jack the SBC so that you can use that false impression to advance your own agenda, and I am not going to pretend otherwise. More to the point: why should I pretend otherwise?

    A reason for not pretending otherwise is that the very thing that hinders pinning the exaggerators (for lack of a better purpose) down concerning their actions and motives is the idea that we all have to be civil for the sake of peaceful coexistence. How about peaceful coexistence and civility after they stop using Acts 29 (again, 500 churches, most of which are not SBC, on one hand and 44,000 SBC churches on the other) as an excuse to agitate for denying funds to Calvinist church plants, for example?

    No one who has been following the “traditionalist” haunts in the blogosphere should be surprised by the Statement. I am just waiting for their next move, and wondering what and when. Not too hard, though, because ultimately God is in control.

    • June 13, 2012 at 10:13 PM

      Job,

      Good to hear from you. Hope you are doing well. I assume when you say that the “self-described majority traditionalist movement has so purposefully grotesquely exaggerated the Calvinism issue in the SBC” that you are referring to some of the leaders in the movement. If that is the case and, if I am reading you correctly, then it is your contention that these leaders are engaged in purposefully sinful and unethical behavior that they know is wrong, but yet do it anyway for some ulterior motives. I think that is a bridge too far. I’m not sure I would want to even try to make that case with those who are on the opposite side of an issue from me unless there was clear and compelling evidence that they were acting from some sort of sinful motivation. Surely you would not purport to paint with such a broad brush so that anyone who signs the Traditionalist Statement would be guilty of such purposefully sinful behavior? I would not ask you (or anyone else) to pretend something that you did not believe. However, I would caution those on either side of this issue to heed Paul’s admonition in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” I don’t always hit that mark, but I am going to try harder in my future blogging endeavors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. God bless,

      Howell

  8. June 14, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Howell,

    So for Eric Hankins, Lumpkins, Hadley, Worley, and others to say that there is a conspiracy by Calvinists to make the entire SBC Calvinistic, and that there is an intentional and malicious “institutionalizing” of Calvinism going on, this type of unsubstantiated rhetoric goes without a single rebuke or questioning?

    Howell, I believe you are trying to be fair and honest in all of this, but letting your more “traditionalist” brothers make egregious claims like the ones noted and not bring them to task is disappointing.

    • June 14, 2012 at 8:20 PM

      Joshua,

      Hope all is well with you in Louisiana. I am looking forward to coming your way on Saturday for the SBC Pastor’s Conference and Annual Meeting. I hope since you are close to New Orleans that you will be able to attend the Convention. If you are, I would look forward to meeting you in person. I hope I am being fair and balanced (not to mention honest) in my assessment of the Traditionalist Statement, but I come at this from a slightly different perspective than you and others on the more Calvinistic side just as I come at it from a slightly different perspective than Peter or Bob and those on the more Traditionalist side. That being said, I probably don’t interpret the Traditionalist Statement nor the responses to it in such a way that I would be inclined to “bring them to task” whatever side they maybe on. While I may not always agree with either side, I’ve not read anything (which admittedly has been limited because of the sabbatical that I took when all of this blew up) that would cause me to call anyone out on my blog. If and when I do come across something that I think needs to be addressed in a public way, I hope that I will be fair enough to do that. Thanks again for taking the time to read and to comment. Hope to see you in NOLA! God bless,

      Howell

      • June 14, 2012 at 9:20 PM

        Howell,

        Would love to meet you in NOLA. I will be there, Lord willing.

        Thanks for replying.

  9. Lydia
    June 16, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    I think this debate is great and much needed. Probably because I live at ground zero and am one of the few left around here that does not interpret scripture through the Augustinian lens…and will admit it publicly. :o) But that is really no big deal as being a woman they think I am clueless AND a heretic. :o)

    One of the things that I see clearly from this debate is that many are using different definitions for the same words. If a traditionalist says they do not believe in original “guilt”, a NC responds with astonishment that they do not believe in original “sin”. I saw this one over and over. “Dead in Sin” means something different to a Calvinist than a Traditionalist.

    Another thing I noticed is how much historical human interpretation is depended upon in the Calvinist ranks. As in, “This is the historical interpretation”. Or this is what the council of so and so said. Some would say my education was lacking because I do not subscribe to such things but I remember something my mom said to me when I was young and asking about Martin Luther as we were studying history…her reply about ML was that he wanted to “Reform the Catholic church”. And that certainly is not us, now is it? (wink)

    I always had the impression we would identify more with the Ana baptists hiding in caves from the Reformed magistrates who wanted to force us to baptize infants and obey the state church. Oh well. I really appreciate Leonard Verduin’s work on the Stepchildren of the Reformation, btw. (with a Grant from the Calvin Foundation if you can believe it!)

    There is a place for history to be considered but we most certainly cannot ask old dead guys to explain some of their contradictions, can we?

    The problem I have with Calvinism is not just concerning imputed guilt or the ramifications of “being dead physically”. It follows a very hierarchical, top down, authoritarian view of polity. To deny this is to deny Calvin, himself and his ST. But I am finding Calvinism is really a buffet to pick and choose from. And I believe we have seen that hierarchical thinking in action (elder rule…oops, elder led) and in blog comments, etc, with the instantaneous charges of semi heresy.

    I think some very smart people should have done more homework on accusations of “semi” heresy before making the claims. And that is one thing that is coming out of this debate that is so refreshing. There are some pretty smart guys on the traditionalist side, too, that were able to further elucidate some of the sources used for such accusations. And offer other sources as Peter did on his blog

    In the end, I think many of us are just sick and tired of being called “Arminian”… I had to look it up so I would know what I was.:o) Or being grilled about our “point status” and the endless wrangling over how many pts before you are or are not a Calvinist and who has the gravitas to decide. Or the worst was being told you are a Calvinist whether you like it or not. But the saddest thing I have read is the position from some whose education has been subsidized by Non Calvinists is that the same non Calvinists are too ignorant to ask the right questions when hiring a pastor.

    The YRR movement needs better PR and I truly think they are now most likely moving in that direction….quickly. :o)

    I do agree with Peter about creeds, etc. They make me tired.

    Thanks for letting me rant over here at Cal/Trad Central. :0)

    • June 16, 2012 at 11:20 AM

      Lydia,

      I’m sitting in the airport in El Paso waiting for my flight to New Orleans, but wanted to thank you for your thoughts on this. I think you are exactly right about Calvinism’s top-down approach to church polity. We are seeing that more and more in many of the elder=led/run churches. I think that some of the SBC leaders have forgotten that we are a Convention of autonomous cooperating churches and are not a denomination. That’s why I think that some folks are so enamored with the BF&M because they so wish it could be used more like a creed than a confession. Of course, that is completely non-Baptistic, regardless of the historical revisionism that is rampant in some quarters, including where you live. I think that some of this YR&R types need to realize that we will never figure out everything this side of heaven. It might make for good hallway discussions at seminary, but it gets old when you are trying to do ministry. Hope you are doing well. Off to NOLA and to see what happens. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

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