“So, I Hear Your Pastor is A Calvinist”
Written by Pastor Jim Law
According to research by Lifeway, the chances are much higher today than they were twenty-five years ago that your future pastor will be a Calvinist. Quite frankly, this has a lot of Southern 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 generated on the subject than light. I have heard some speak of the resurgence of reformed thought much like the way one would describe a melanoma, and many do 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 an infinitely greater name, “Christian” or “Follower of 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 believe that I am in good company with such convictions, both with believers in the past and the present.
I am also a part of a family called the Southern Baptist Convention and of a local church that gives 18% of our undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program; another 2% to a church start seven miles from our location; an additional 3% for the purpose of sending our congregation to the uttermost parts of this earth, including a focus on an unreached people group, and the start of a seminary initiative in East Asia.
In the aforementioned commitments, I see no contradiction between doctrinal conviction and missional living. Furthermore, I cannot imagine leaving my Southern Baptist family, ever.
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 the subject of God’s sovereign grace, 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 growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ 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.
2. 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 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.
3. PATIENCE, FORBEARANCE AND RESPECT
I would urge an honest reading of material 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. He is a Southern Baptist. The book is published by Lifeway, and he writes 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 during an interview broadcast on YouTube, “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.
I would urge pastors to remember that we are called to shepherd, not bully. We are called to teach the Word and trust it to do its work in the life of our congregations. May we lead gently by precept and by example.
For congregations, do not allow the issue of Calvinism to serve as a smoke screen for sinful agendas to be played out in the church. Do not allow charges of false doctrine to be labeled when the issue is really carnal pursuit of power and control in the church.
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.
*Published in Baptist Message-June 2011 and June 2012
As long as I have known you Jim, I have never felt compelled or bullied by you to believe what you believe. And the fact that I may disagree with you on this position, does not lessen my love for you, your family or the church you pastor. It is sad that we spend more time debating what we believe than actually studying the Bible. That being said, I am assuming by reading your article that you feel a compulsion to present this issue to a broader audience. Maybe greater strife in the Church? I guess it exists but I’ve not seen it, yet. Conversely, most people probably have no idea what you are talking about because they don’t have any foundational beliefs and are being swayed by any and every wind of doctrine. In turn, they become like the luke-warm church of Laodocia.
To your article, I too have studied this subject and have come to the conclusion that I don’t fit in any “camp” and I refuse to be labeled. In fact, I hate labels whether its Armenian, Calvinist, Hyper-Calvinist, Reformed, Baptist, Evangelical, Catholic, etc. No belief “system” perfectly interprets scripture and, so, should be viewed as just that, a system. I believe in God’s sovereignty in the salvation process as the Holy Spirit performs a work in our lives to enlighten us to His truth. I also believe that God can move outside of this “election” to make salvation available to others that don’t fit the model most Calvinist believe. This debate has been going on for centuries and will continue for centuries more if the Lord tarries. If the discussion of this subject causes a rift to occur between me and my brother, where is God glorified? I refuse to get into the debate. It’s not worth it. In homeschooling, I have felt the same tension. The home-school family will quote scripture to support their belief to home-school not really thinking that they are being perceived as a prosecutor to those who do not home-school their children. Likewise, the proclamation of one’s “system” beliefs can be misinterpreted as being prosecutorial, if that’s a word.
Sadly, it’s not enough for some that they are proven right, but they want you to know that whatever you believe is wrong. And that’s with any belief.
I applaud your appeal to have the focus placed squarely on Jesus.
Thank you much for this wise, reasoned and helpful piece. May we rally around this kind of commitment as Southern Baptists.
Thank you for your kind words. I have enjoyed following you on Twitter for sometime and am grateful for your leadership in SBC Life. I hope to see you in Phoenix!
Great article. I hope this kind of attitude prevails regardless of where we Southern Baptists stand on the five points.