For at least the last decade, there has been hot debate within the Southern Baptist Convention surrounding the apparent resurgence in the theological system known as Calvinism. I will assume in this post that the reader is familiar with the “five points” or tenants of Calvinism which form the acronym, TULIP. If not, you can Google it and come back and see us. Sorry. I will also assume that the reader is well versed in the sides taken and major points made by Southern Baptists on both sides. What is intended here in this post is to encourage my fellow Southern Baptist Christians, especially pastors, to be true to the Bible, no matter your theological leanings. To keep your Bible open at all times when talking theology with others. To draw your theology from careful exegesis and preach with an exegetically informed theology. To not begin sentences with prepositions! You may be laughing right now because it seems too good to be true: “just stay in the Bible, son!” I don’t mean to sound trite, but we’ve all heard that before, right? I’ve even had people laugh when in answer to their question as to whether or not I’m a Calvinist, I replied, “I am a biblicist!” Of course I could have answered, “Neither, I’m a Baptist!” But we all know that dog don’t hunt with people of above average intelligence. So let’s consider some good points that the recent debate brings up.
Evangelism – Many are concerned with how the resurgence in Calvinism has effected or will effect evangelistic zeal among Southern Baptists. This is perhaps the main concern that I have heard coming from those who consider themselves “non-Calvinists.” The fact that we are concerned with this, is a good sign for our denomination. Regardless of where one falls along the spectrum of atonement or election, the Bible gives many examples of preaching with a zeal for people to be saved. It is also accompanied with an earnest invitation to the audience to repent and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. Some preachers are pictured in the New Testament as “begging” for sinners to be reconciled to God. Even the Calvinist who differentiates between a general call in preaching and an effectual call of the Spirit in preaching, should always plead with sinners to repent and believe. Such a plea does not deny the sovereignty of God in salvation, but rather manifests the design of Almighty God in salvation. (How will they call upon whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?) The Calvinist is not forced to give up “sovereignty” when pleading with sinners, for as he is pleading verbally with sinners, he is pleading in his spirit with God. The verbal plea should be directed toward the listener plainly and earnestly. The Bible teaches us to call sinners to repentance, let us continue to do so.
Evangelism is also a concern for the Calvinists in our convention, especially when involving the “public invitation.” Because our state conventions have all but abandoned their initial purpose for existence, which according to definitions of terms and history is to facilitate the “convening” of sovereign, autonomous churches, we have been inundated with baptism goal numbers and man-centered success stories that have led to false conversions and thus, unregenerate churches. I am not blaming the conventions for this, however the current view of many Southern Baptists is that the churches are subservient to the state convention. Because of the pressure to be a “benchmark church” or a “great commission church” or “hallmark church,” based on baptism numbers is so great, then churches and other ministries are creating their own numbers based upon “decisions” rather than the work of God. I believe that the resurgence in Calvinism is needed in the area of evangelism in order to restore our historic dependence upon the mighty power of God unto salvation. The manipulative use of psychology and suggestion directed at men, women and especially children from our Southern Baptist pulpits must cease and give way to earnest prayer and petition to the God who alone can convict and save souls. There are church roles flooded with unregenerate people who think they are going to heaven because they did “what the preacher told them to.” The Bible teaches us that God alone saves by His grace, through faith alone, in Christ alone, not a three step program, or a prayer, or a walk down the aisle. Let us embrace a restoration of full dependence upon God in our inviting sinners to repentance. Let our state conventions hold conferences not only on evangelism, but also on holiness and doctrine; on church health instead of only church growth.
Preaching –More to come.