NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–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.
Surveying 413 pastors, the July/August 2006 LifeWay Research survey asked Southern Baptist pastors to indicate their position concerning the following question: “Do you consider yourself a five-point Calvinist?”
LifeWay Research found that 10 percent of Southern Baptist pastors consider themselves five-point Calvinists. That number, while still relatively small compared to the 85 percent who do not consider themselves five-point Calvinists, still is a large enough group to deserve attention.
The survey also showed that 4 percent of respondents “don’t know” if they are five-point Calvinist. Another 1 percent refused to answer one way or another.
BELIEFS NOT AGE-RELATED
After analyzing the demographics of the 10 percent who affirm Calvinism, LifeWay Research also found no clear age correlation.
“Some have expressed views that this renewed interest in Reformed theology is tied to younger Southern Baptist students and pastors,” said Brad Waggoner, director of LifeWay Research. “It is interesting that the research revealed that there is no significant statistical difference in those who are over 40 years of age responding in the affirmative and those under 40. Therefore, age is not a determining factor in those who embrace Reformed theology.”
LifeWay Research also found that a slight majority (51 percent) of Southern Baptist pastors address Calvinism from the pulpit once a year or less, while 45 percent of SBC pastors address Calvinism several times a year or more from the pulpit. Four percent refused to answer the question regarding the frequency with which they address Calvinism from the pulpit.
Of the entire sample, 6 percent of pastors responded that they address Calvinism once a month and 7 percent discuss it more than once a month. The survey did not ask whether the respondents spoke favorably or negatively of Reformed theology.
EXPLAINING THE TULIP
LifeWay Research chose to make Calvinism the topic of its first project in light of the increased dialogue across the SBC and as speculation emerged on the prevalence of Calvinistic theology.
LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer announced the formation of LifeWay Research in February, saying the entity would assist and equip church leaders with knowledge that leads to greater levels of church health and effectiveness. The research seeks to measure accurately the beliefs and behaviors of people, the emerging practices of churches, the things church leaders are talking about, and the factors affecting churches today.
Research is a critical need because “the truth matters,” Waggoner said in a recent interview. “There seems to be a need for clarity and interpretation of all this information.”
LifeWay Research conducted the study on Calvinism through a sample of 413 Southern Baptist pastors surveyed by phone in July and August. The sample has a margin of error of +4.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval.
An Inside LifeWay podcast interview with Waggoner discussing the research’s findings will be available at LifeWay.com/news.
LifeWay Research has three more projects scheduled for the remainder of 2006:
— the formerly churched (why they left church and what would bring them back.
— churches that are effective in evangelism over a 10-year period and why.
— the sources from which Southern Baptist churches draw ministry help.
For more information, visit LifeWayresearch.com.
For a discussion of Calvinism by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel L. Akin and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Malcolm B. Yarnell III, visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=22970 for Akin’s column and http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=22971 for Yarnell’s column.