By Jim Law, Pastor First Baptist Gonzales
According to research by LifeWay, the chances are much higher today than they were 25 years ago that your future pastor will be a Calvinist. Quite frankly, this has a lot of Baptists scrambling and nervous.
With the surge in Calvinistic conviction, it wouldn’t surprise me if some pastor search committees begin to ask prospective pastoral candidates, “Are you a Calvinist?” before they query about conversion and call to ministry.
The conversation has become so acrimonious in some places that there has been more heat than light. I have heard some speak of the resurgence of reformed thought much like the way one would describe a melanoma, and many see Calvinistic doctrine as a cancer in the body of Christ called Southern Baptists.
For this reason, I don’t want to be known by the term “Calvinist” at the cost of being called and known by infinitely greater names “Christian” and “Brother in Christ.”
However, in full disclosure, I am decidedly in the Reformed, Calvinistic, Doctrines of Grace camp. If labels and camps are inevitable, I am convinced from Scripture that what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (with nuance) is true and sound doctrine. I also believe that I am well within the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the legacy of reformed conviction in Baptist history.
I am also a part of a family called the Southern Baptist Convention, a family to whom I am deeply committed, and to a local church that gives 18 percent of our undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program; another 2 percent to a church start seven miles from our location; an additional 3 percent for the purpose of sending our congregation to the uttermost parts of this earth.
So, I am writing as an insider. One who is in the family, and from that perspective, I would like to offer a modest proposal for processing the disagreement over Calvinism. I will hang my thoughts on three “P’s”:
I. PERSONAL STUDY
On this subject, I believe there is great promise for spiritual growth for us as a denomination through a prayerful study of the Scriptures. With the recovery of an inerrant Bible, conversations on the subject of election, predestination, regeneration, and the nature and extent of the atonement are inevitable.
How do you reconcile Romans 9 with John 3:16 and I Timothy 2:4? 2 Peter 3:9 with Matthew 11:25-27 and John 6:44? The task of every believer, like the Bereans before us, is to search the Scriptures that we might understand them and obey them.
At the heart of spiritual growth is the development of a systematic understanding of what the Bible says about everything. Certainly, examining the tensions between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility falls into that category.
II. PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL
AND THE GREAT COMMISSION
Any belief about election or predestination that seeks to quench evangelism, missions, and prayer is patently unbiblical and must be rejected out of hand as sinful. The God of the Bible saves by grace through faith, not by election.
And since “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), we must go high and low, far and wide, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a trustworthy statement that He saves sinners. He is our only hope, and the means for that announcement to the world is the faithful witness of God’s people.
The compassionate, well-meant-offer of the Gospel to every person must be our common conviction as it is based on the commands of our Savior. Our theology must fuel such obedience.
III. PATIENCE, FORBEARANCE
I would urge an honest reading from those who embrace the reformed position instead of exclusively from those who write polemics and raise-up straw men against it. For example, Timothy George provides great help in his work Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative-Our Response. Likewise, E. Ray Clendenen and Brad J. Waggoner have made a helpful contribution with Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue. Both of these works are by Southern Baptists, produced by LifeWay, and written from the Reformed position.
I am not saying this will bring universal agreement. Neither am I saying in a condescending tone, “Study what I believe and you will surely see the light!”
I think Dr. Johnny Hunt provided good leadership for us during his presidency by committing to read those from the Reformed position. He said on a YouTube interview, “Even though I am not a five-point Calvinist, I have a much deeper respect for those who are and know exactly how they came to that place in their life.” Can you say that of those with whom you disagree?
In navigating through the shoals of controversy, I would call us in the Southern Baptist family, pastors and congregations alike, to demonstrate love and respect for one another.
For us to understand that this doctrinal diversity has been the DNA of Southern Baptist life from our beginning, and we would do well to seek to understand the Scriptures and our history better.
Perhaps my words are too simplistic in a raging debate, but for me, I have no intention of having graceless debates about grace. My pastoral purpose is not to lead my congregation to follow any man-made system. My purpose always and only is to lead them to be followers of Jesus Christ. It really is all about Him.