By Gerald Harris, Editor The Christian Index in Georgia
John Calvin (1509-1564) was an influential French pastor and theologian during the Protestant Reformation. He is best known for his “doctrine of predestination,” which became the foundation of his theology – suggesting that God predestined certain individuals to be saved.
Calvinism is known for its five basic tenets summarized by the acronym TULIP. Those five points of Calvinism are (1) Total depravity of man, (2) Unconditional election, (3) Limited atonement, (4) Irresistible grace and (5) Perseverance of the saints.
There are some Calvinists who suggest that unconditional election means that God chooses, or “elects,” His children from before the foundations of the earth – that God does not just “know” what decision people will make, but that God causes them to make the decision to seek Him.
There are also those who hold to Reformed theology who believe limited atonement means that the death and resurrection of Christ is the substitutionary payment for the sins of only those who are God’s elect children, but not the entire world.
Many who embrace Reformed theology are motivated to allow it to influence their church polity by substituting congregational church government with an elder system of church government.
While elder might work well for some churches, James MacDonald, a self-proclaimed Calvinist and member of the advisory board for LifeWay’s Sunday School curriculum, writes, “Congregational government is an invention and tool of the enemy of our souls to destroy the church of Jesus Christ.”
Calvinism also influences other areas of theology and ecclesiology, but newspaper real estate prohibits a further exploration of all the facets of Reformed theology.
In 2007 Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., who has served as chairman of the trustees at Southern Seminary and is one of the most notable Calvinists in SBC life, wrote a series of blog posts titled, “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?”
In his blogs Dever listed ten reasons for the blossoming of Reformed theology’s TULIP within evangelicalism.Among the ten reasons cited by Dever for the resurgence of Calvinism were the rise of secularism and the decline of Christian nominalism, the writings of C.H. Spurgeon and the ministries of pastors John Piper and John MacArthur.
Frank Page, chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, was quoted in SBC Today, saying, “I think the challenges confronting the SBC today are different than they have been in decades past. I think one of the issues, which is a tremendous challenge for us, is the theological divide of Calvinism and non-Calvinism.”
Page continued, “Everyone is aware of this but few want to talk about this in public. The reason is obvious. It is deeply divisive in many situations and is disconcerting in others. At some point we are going to see the challenges ensuing from this divide become even more problematic for us. I regularly receive communications from churches who are struggling over this issue.”
Former SBC President Jerry Vines was also quoted in SBC Life, proclaiming, “Theologically, will the issue of Calvinism create further division in the SBC? I have been an SBC preacher over 50 years. I have worked quite well with my Calvinist friends, many of whom I invited to preach for me.”
Vines continued, “I have no desire to run all Calvinists out of the SBC; I think it would be divisive and wrong. But, current attempts to move the SBC to a Calvinistic soteriology (doctrine of salvation) are divisive and wrong.”
“As long as groups and individuals seek to force Calvinism upon others in the Convention,” Vines said, “there will be problems. There is a form of Calvinism that is militant, hostile and aggressive that I strongly oppose.”
“I have stated before, so it’s not new news,” Vines said, “that should the SBC move towards five-point Calvinism it will be a move away from, not toward, the Gospel.”
So, apparently the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence has been joined by a Reformed Resurgence. The Calvinists are here. Their presence is evident in many phases and places in Southern Baptist life.
Many great preachers and theologians have embraced Calvinism through the years, but today some greet the rising tide of Calvinism with delight, others with disdain.
While most of the Reformed pastors and churchmen I know are gracious and godly people with a profound devotion to the Word of God, Southern Baptists must decide if they are satisfied with what I would call the presumable encroachment of Calvinism in SBC life.