That Reformation is Doctrinal Rather Than Political
With the Baptist debate at Liberty University this coming autumn concerning Reformed- or "Calvinistic"- soteriology [if you're not sure what I mean by "Reformed soteriology", please read my last post] and with excitement building for the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting this June in Greensboro, NC where Drs. Al Mohler and Paige Patterson will be having a conversation about the Calvinist doctrine of election at the pastors' conference (Mohler in support of Calvinism as biblical, Patterson opposing Calvinism as un-biblical), and particularly with news on who may be elected as the SBC president (with anti-Calvinist Johnny Hunt being mentioned as a nominee early on and with Reformed pastor Mark Dever also mentioned as a possible nominee- though both of these men have apparently declined), many Southern Baptists holding to Calvinist soteriology have begun to see hope for a return to Reformed convictions within the leadership of the SBC in the not-unthinkably-distant future. I don't think I'm alone in having thought of a possible "Calvinist Resurgence" similar to the "Conservative Resurgence", which took place within the SBC in the 1980s. In the Conservative Resurgence, the leadership of the SBC was reclaimed by men who were firmly convinced of and committed to the inerrancy of Scripture as a fundamental biblical doctrine- a conviction shared with earlier generations of Southern Baptists. The Resurgence did not come about as a series of random events, but was due to a carefully outlined plan orchestrated by such men as Dr. Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler. In thinking back on the Conservative Resurgence, I was wondering if it would be possible for a group to outline a plan for returning the leadership of the SBC to Calvinist soteriology, which the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention also held to be fundamental biblical doctrine. In discussing this matter with Stan Reeves, an elder at Grace Heritage Church, where I am a member, I was prompted to consider the fact that the Conservative Resurgence was not only successful due to the fact that inerrancy is the historic Southern Baptist position, but furthermore at the time of the Resurgence the average Baptist sitting in the pew believed that Scripture was God-breathed and thus without error. Before the Resurgence, the leadership of the SBC had stopped holding to inerrancy, but the majority of Baptists read their Bibles as copied translations of the inerrant word of God. On the other hand, though the SBC historically holds to a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture- which understanding has been rejected by most of the current political leadership of the SBC- the average Baptist agrees with their current leaders on this point. The majority of Southern Baptists would not affirm with Calvin and Luther that natural Man is utterly sinful, so that every part of Man after the Fall recorded in Genesis chapter 3 is in bondage to sin and therefore "since the Fall of the first man free choice has been a reality in name only, and... we can of ourselves do nothing but sin" and furthermore that God ordains all that comes to pass so "that nothing happens by chance, but everything befalls us by absolute necessity." In short, most Baptists currently believe that natural Man has a 'free-will' and that this 'free-will' plays a crucial role in salvation. And so, while many would like to see Reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention, a "Calvinist Resurgence", in terms of orchestrating a return of the political leadership of the Convention to Reformed thought would not be appropriate at this time. And not only from a pragmatic perspective- though such an endeavor would most certainly fail if it were attempted today- but also as a matter of principle. We who would like to see Reformation within the SBC would like to see the Convention become Reformed due to Baptists becoming convinced that Calvinist soteriology- the "doctrines of Grace"- are actually drawn out from the biblical text itself.
We must always remember that Christians are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), and so we who are eager for Reformation in the SBC should be eager to teach. We should patiently instruct other Baptists concerning the doctrines of Grace found throughout the Scriptures and particularly in passages such as John 6, Romans 3 and 9, Ephesians 1 and 2, and Hebrews 10. We should persevere in making our message clear despite any slander that might be spoken against us by those who are slow to have their traditions corrected by God's Word.
I'd like to close this post with the following quote taken from a cassette recording of a past Southern Baptist Founders' Conference, which Conference has been a pivotal means in beginning the process of Reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention:
I'd like to say some things about what this Conference is, what it intends to do, and upon what principles it operates. First of all, all who hear these tapes need to realize that this Conference is not a political movement. It has no designs on seeking to run any candidate for any office within any denomination. It is strictly a Conference for personal edification of pastors, elders, deacons, and members of Baptist churches. It is not a political movement of any kind. [Speaking of the various missions and benevolence organizations within the Southern Baptist Convention, the speaker continues]: We desire to see men within these who believe the Gospel. And we desire these men to come there, not through political manipulation, but through the individual training of minds, so that God in His providence may place people who are prepared in those positions. (S.B.F.C. Tape Library, "The Biblical Doctrine of Accomodation" by Tom Ascol (sbf055), afterword by unknown speaker [believed to be Dr. Thomas Nettles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary])