By Earl Blackburn, Pastor Heritage Baptist Church in Shreveport
Southern Baptists are people of deep conviction, fiery passion, and great heritage, which formed us into a working consensus of cooperation. Sometimes, these traits have caused divisions.
Calvinism has been one of the controversial issues, but definitely not the most divisive. For the past 75-80 years there has been a détente between non-Calvinists and Calvinists. From time to time, skirmishes erupted, but eventually we settled down and went back to fulfilling the Great Commission.
However, in the past 5-7 years the peace has been disturbed. So tumultuous has been the furor that attempts surfaced to build bridges and restore peace.
Two examples were the Building Bridges Conference at Ridgecrest (2008) and Dr. Frank Page’s appeal at the SBC in New Orleans (2012) in which he passionately pled with us to stop the in-fighting about Calvinism and get on with fulfilling our Great Commission mandate.
Page indicated he was forming a commission to present a report at the 2013 Convention on how Calvinists and non-Calvinists can continue to work together, as we have done “decade upon decade upon decade.”
It seems some are not listening to Dr. Page. Instead, there are rumors that some want to oust Reformed and Calvinistic people out of the Convention. Hence, the buzz and dis-harmony and it begs the question: Why?
In my mind, there are at least three reasons for this.
One, for over 50 years the evangelical world has been theologically poverty-stricken. Christian colleges and seminaries for decades have not focused on teaching biblical foundations and the whole counsel of God’s Word, which has produced ministerial professionals rather than Bible scholars.
With the advent of the subtle influence of postmodernism, there was a mixing of theological terms. For example, anyone who is moderately Calvinistic is almost automatically branded a hyper-Calvinist. This seems is apparent to me in some recent interviews I have read where the terms Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism were wrongly used synonymously and interchangeably.
Additionally, theories taught in our institutions have filtered down to our churches. What began this root of change? One source is the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the early 20th century, which caused a paradigm shift in Evangelicalism from being primarily a theology-centered faith to an experience-oriented faith.
This shift is pointedly illustrated for many Evangelicals (and Southern Baptists in particular) in the well-documented teachings of E.Y. Mullins, former president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The decades that followed Mullins’ installation in 1899 were impacted by his legacy that led away from exegetical and systematic theological studies to a personal experience-oriented religion.
Heavily influenced by the Liberal European theologies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl, which is clearly evident in Mullins’ The Axioms of Religion, Mullins shifted from the Christ-centered, evangelical Calvinism of J.P. Boyce (SBTS’s founder), John Broadus, and Basil Manly to the liberal, man-centered pragmatism of William James of Harvard and the personalism of Bordon Parker Browne of Boston University.
This shift left a black hole in evangelical theological training and education, especially among Baptists. The effect is that subjective experience has become the sine qua non of evangelicalism, instead of objective biblical, theological truth.
Two, there is a subtle intermingling of Greek philosophy with biblical truth.
Many times, philosophical presuppositions are assumed before the Bible is read. God is sovereign, many will adamantly confess, but not absolutely.
As a young Christian I often heard, “God can’t do anything unless you allow Him.” God is powerless unless man’s will allows Him to work is the standard view among many Southern Baptists. God is more like Aristotle’s “unmoved Mover” than the God of Daniel (Dan 4:34-35).
Man is viewed more like what Protagoras of Ardera stated: “Man is the measure of all things.” Pelagius, whose teachings were condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431), constructed his view of man and sin from Greek philosophy and then added occasional Bible references to reinforce his beliefs.
This is man-centeredness, not God-centeredness, and it arises out of Greek philosophy instead of biblical exegesis. Greek philosophy so plagued the early church – as it does us today – that Tertullian shouted “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Still a good question to ask!
Three, there is a paranoia and unfounded fear in some circles that Calvinism stifles evangelistic zeal and missions.
Some of the greatest soul-winners, missionaries, and revivalists were all staunch Calvinists and Reformed in their doctrine of salvation.
Study the life of the father of modern missions, William Carey, and Adnoriam Judson, the first missionary sent from America. Both were Baptists and fervent five-point Calvinists.
Read also of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield of the Great Awakening, John Newton of Amazing Grace fame, and especially read of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (whom Billy Graham called the greatest Baptist preacher ever to live). All were passionate Calvinists and zealous soul-sinners.
History shows that biblical Calvinism inflames, rather than quenches, evangelism.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, let’s stop the buzz. Let’s stop the in-fighting among us, and let’s get on with preaching Christ crucified and carrying out His last command: the Great Commission.