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Connect316 honors Steve Gaines with Jerry Vines Award

PHOENIX (BP) — Presentation of an award to Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and advocacy by Alabama pastor Eric Hankins of “loyal opposition to the rise of Calvinism in the SBC” were among emphases at the Connect316 banquet June 13 in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.

Connect316 — a coalition of Southern Baptists who advocate what they call a “traditionalist” understanding of the doctrine of salvation and disagree with some points of what they call “New Calvinism” — also hosted a panel discussion at the banquet exploring the relationship between evangelism and the doctrine of salvation.

Gaines, in receiving the Jerry Vines Award for Promotion of Whosoever Will Doctrine in Southern Baptist Life, called Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC to love one another and share the Gospel together.

“We are in times when there is a lot of debate, when there are a lot of differing opinions when it comes to theology,” said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. “And I hope that we would do what I tried to learn to do when I was in seminary.

“And that is, if I have a brother in Christ and I disagree with what he says, I try to say it in a way that [doesn’t] attack him. But I say, ‘I disagree with what you believe, but I love you,'” Gaines said.

Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairhope, Ala., delivered a keynote address commemorating the five-year anniversary of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” — a 2012 document that advocated the “traditional Southern Baptist” understanding of the doctrine of salvation and attempted to distinguish it from the beliefs of “New Calvinism.”

Hankins was the primary author of the so-called Traditional Statement, which has drawn some 1,200 signatures, said Connect316 executive director Rick Patrick.

Hankins — who served in 2012-13 on SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page’s Calvinism Advisory Group — urged banquet attendees to advocate doctrines expressed in the Traditional Statement “as an act of fidelity to all that the SBC stands for.”

Calvinism “has been pushed” in Southern Baptist life over the past 25 years, Hankins said. Today, “it’s clear that traditionalists, even though we are the theological majority in the SBC, are the minority in terms of leadership and influence in the convention.”

Southern Baptists’ “cooperative approach to missions and education,” Hankins said, could “be messed up if we let Calvinism move us” from the “core theological conviction” that “the preaching of the Gospel is sufficient to save any and every person.”

Among factors that could unwittingly undermine theological diversity in the convention and move the SBC in a “Calvinist direction” is continued use of the Abstract of Principles as a confession of faith faculty must sign at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Hankins said.

The Abstract — adopted at Southern in 1859 and Southeastern in 1950 — often has been interpreted as advocating “four-point Calvinism” “at minimum,” Hankins said, and is therefore too Calvinistic to be the theological standard at entities funded through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.

Additionally, Southern Baptists should consider amending the Baptist Faith and Message to make “crystal clear” “our conventional commitment to God’s love for every person, Christ’s death for the sins of every person and the savability of every person,” Hankins said.

All six SBC seminaries require faculty to affirm the BF&M.

During the panel discussion, Mississippi pastor Charles Harris claimed traditionalists have additional motivation for evangelism beyond the motives common to both Calvinists and traditionalists.

“We want to see people in heaven who would be in hell” apart from our witness, said Harris, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Miss.

Eddie Bumpers, pastor of Crossway Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., said traditionalists’ belief that the Gospel is a genuine offer of salvation to all who hear it enables strong evangelistic preaching. Calvinists, on the other hand, may struggle to preach the Gospel without “addendums” or “fine print,” he said.

Kevin Apperson, pastor of North Las Vegas (Nev.) Baptist Church, defended the “sinner’s prayer” as a valid method of leading new believers in “vocalization of the heart change” they have experienced.

Panel moderator Richard Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “A God who is ‘fatherly in His attitude toward all men'” — as Article II of the BF&M states — “never predestines a human being to go to hell.”