SBC Life Articles

Finding a Way Forward

A nineteen-member advisory team on Calvinism has concluded its work and issued a seven-page report called “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension."

The advisory team—not an official committee of the Convention—was assembled by Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee in August 2012 to advise him on developing “a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.”1

In the weeks leading up to the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans, LifeWay Research released a study that showed nearly equal numbers of pastors in the SBC consider their churches Calvinist/Reformed as Arminian/Wesleyan, and that more than 60 percent of pastors were somewhat or strongly concerned about the effect of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist family.

During his presidential address, then SBC President Bryant Wright called the tension between “traditional” Southern Baptists and “Calvinists” the “elephant in the room.” Wright said he was concerned that Christ-centered, Bible-believing Southern Baptists will be so engaged in correcting one another’s theological views when it comes to election and salvation that they will be distracted from their mission of rescuing captives who need to be liberated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“These two views on election and salvation can coexist as long as we stay Christ-centered and biblically based in our theology,” Wright said.

Page also addressed Calvinism during the Executive Committee report at the 2012 SBC annual meeting.

“Friends, I’m concerned because there seem to be some non-Calvinists who are more concerned about rooting out Calvinists than they are about winning the lost for Christ,” he said. Some Calvinists “seem to think that if we do not believe the same thing about soteriology that they believe, then somehow we are less intelligent or ignorant at best.

“I simply say to you today that it’s time to realize that a Great Commission Advance needs everyone,” he said. “Calvinists and non-Calvinists have worked together for decade upon decade upon decade in this Convention.”

As part of his report, Page announced his plan to assemble a group of advisers to help chart a way through the division surrounding Calvinism, pledging the group’s function would not include revising The Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptists’ statement of beliefs.

“I do believe we can find some ways to work together better, and I believe that the leaders of both of these groups can come together to say, ‘Here’s how we can return to working together like once we did,’” Page said.

Page enlisted longtime Southern Baptist educator David S. Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, to serve as chair of the advisory team.

The advisory team met as a full body twice in 2012—August 29–30 and November 6—and carried out extensive email and phone conversations during the first half of 2013. Members were responsible to provide their own funding for the meetings.

Following the first meeting, Page issued an interim statement.

“My goal for this initial meeting was not to argue theology or to try to change each other’s minds,” Page said. “It was to listen, to learn, and to hope. My hope is that we as a diverse body of Baptists can agree to a genuine, joint acceptance of Great Commission responsibility.

“We must reclaim the principle of respect in our dealings with others. A common theme around the table is that we need to stop the exaggerations and caricatures of those whose perspective on the extent of the atonement is different from ours. We must avoid the twin ditches of anger and arrogance that threaten to pull us off the road of cooperation.”

Noting that he was “greatly heartened” by the “civil tone that marked the meeting,” he characterized the room as “permeated with a spirit of reverence for the Lord and shared passion for the preaching of the Gospel and witnessing to the lost in our own nation and around the world” despite the vastly different “personalities and theological positions represented.”

Following the second meeting, a small writing team corresponded back and forth and held one additional meeting to craft a draft report that was circulated to the members at various stages of completion. A final draft was approved by the entire committee via email response in mid-May.

From the beginning, Page’s goal for the group was consistent.

“I want to see men and women, boys and girls won to Christ. This is my overriding concern. I think unity helps do that,” Page said.

“My hope is that this group will help us identify areas of agreement and disagreement in Southern Baptist life concerning how God’s redemptive purposes are achieved through Christ. Once these are more clearly identified, we hope to develop some positive strategies that will enhance our ability to work together for the proclamation of the Gospel and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

“Satan delights when he is able to divide and conquer,” Page said. “On the other hand, our Lord is honored when His prayer for us is fulfilled: May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me (John 17:21). I believe our unity—or lack thereof—affects our evangelism. The ultimate goal in my mind is that we work together in such a way that more people are won to faith in Christ.

“I truly believe that if we reclaim the principles of respect, honesty, trust, and Christlike selflessness in our dealings with one another, our brightest days of Kingdom advance are still before us,” Page said.

In addition to Dockery, other advisory team members, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Daniel Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina;
  • David Allen, dean, school of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas;
  • Tom Ascol, pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida;
  • Mark Dever, senior pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC;
  • Leo Endel, executive director, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, Rochester, Minnesota;
  • Ken Fentress, senior pastor, Montrose Baptist Church, Rockville, Maryland;
  • Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama;
  • Eric Hankins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Oxford, Mississippi;
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia;
  • David Landrith, senior pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tennessee;
  • Tammi Ledbetter, homemaker and journalist,member of Inglewood Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas;
  • Steve Lemke, provost and director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana;
  • Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, senior pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, Louisiana;
  • R. Albert Mohler Jr., president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky;
  • Paige Patterson, president, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas;
  • Stephen Rummage, senior pastor, Bell Shoals Baptist Church, Brandon, Florida;
  • Daniel Sanchez, associate dean, professor of missions, and director of the Scarborough Institute of Church Planting & Growth, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; and
  • Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, Florida.

Watch a discussion with the Calvinism Advisory Committee at the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention:

1 The Executive Committee is charged “to minister to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by acting for the Convention ad interim in all matters not otherwise provided for in a manner that encourages the cooperation and confidence of the churches, associations, and state conventions and facilitates maximum support for worldwide missions and ministries” (SBC Organization Manual, “The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention: Mission” (www.sbc.net/aboutus/legal/sbcec.asp).

    About the Author

  • SBC Staff