The Southern Baptist Convention has certainly seen a mellowing out of what came to be quite a heated debate once again over Calvinism after the publishing of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” in May 2012. Of course, Dr. Frank Page’s appointment of the Calvinism Advisory Committee the next month in June 2012 and the unifying document they crafted and published in June 2013 called “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension” (aka, T5) has had a great deal to do with the mellowing out we are now enjoying, or at least I am.
Nevertheless, there are those still in the convention that are really concerned about the “problem of Calvinism.” In fact, I recently overheard a group of men eating breakfast before attending the Tennessee Baptist Convention discussing the issue of Calvinism in the SBC. One of them declared about Calvinism, “Why if I believed that, I’d never go out and share the gospel because it would already be decided who’s going to be saved!” Apparently this man understood SBC Calvinists to believe that people are saved apart from hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, which tells me that there’s still work to be done in communicating what SBC Calvinists actually believe. I thought to myself and almost chimed in across the aisle, “No, SBC Calvinists believe too that we’ve got to share the gospel if anybody’s going to be saved.” Unfortunately, that fellow had a misunderstanding of what SBC Calvinists believe.
There are certainly differences between the SBC Calvinist and Non-Calvinist (or Traditionalist, Savabilist, Hankinsian, Hobbs-Rogers Tradition, or whatever the label de jour is) positions on salvation, but some are false differences like with the man above. In other words, people think there’s a difference when there is actually agreement. SBC Non-Calvinists want to say, “We believe this, and you don’t.” But, SBC Calvinists want to say back, “No, we believe that too!” So, in the hope of clarity that will lead to greater unity in our convention, here are three things SBC Calvinists and Non-Calvinists actually agree on:
1. Nobody will be saved unless they hear the gospel and believe on Jesus.
There seems to be this notion that SBC Calvinists believe that God just saves whomever He wants regardless of that person’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is in fact not the case. Instead, SBC Calvinists agree wholeheartedly with their other SBC brethren that the gospel must be preached to every single person without discretion. They too affirm that hearing and receiving the gospel is man’s only hope for salvation. Therefore, God saves nobody apart from hearing and receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s for this reason that our duty and joy is to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth with much haste and beg every person to believe on Jesus.
2. Every person who wants to be saved will be saved.
Some seem to think that SBC Calvinists believe that there will be people who will want to be saved but will be turned away because God did not elect them for salvation. Along those same lines, these folks conceive that SBC Calvinists believe God will save people who never wanted to be saved and will drag them kicking and screaming into heaven. However, that is not what SBC Calvinists believe.
SBC Calvinists completely agree with their other SBC brethren that every person who wants to be saved will be saved and that those who don’t want to be saved won’t be. Therefore, there will be nobody on the Day of Judgment who will truthfully declare before the Lord that they wanted to be saved, but God would not let them. Those that did not want to be saved will not be saved, and those that want to be saved will be saved. Nobody is saved or condemned against their will. Both sides agree on this.
3. You can know you are elect and have assurance of heaven.
It is assumed by some that SBC Calvinists cannot ever know if a person is elect. They misunderstand SBC Calvinists to think that even if a person trusts Christ, they can never really know if they are elect and subsequently can never have assurance they will be let into heaven. However, that is just not true of SBC Calvinists. SBC Calvinists agree with their other SBC brethren that a person can know whether or not they are elect.
So, how do you know if you’re elect? SBC Calvinists along with their other SBC brethren1 say that you know you are elect if and only if you repent and believe on Jesus. God never reveals the status of a person’s election except through a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, election is directly connected to saving faith. Every believer in Christ can know they are elect and have assurance of heaven.
May the dialogue between SBC Calvinists and Non-Calvinists that has been called for in the T5 document continue. Where there are genuine differences, may we seek to understand each other, but where false differences exist, may we quickly get past them so that we can rejoice in the vast unity we have together as we work to win the world to Jesus.
1I have run into some in the SBC who would say that every single person is elect regardless of their faith in Christ. They would say that God elected everybody for salvation but leaves it up to us as to whether or not we are actually saved. However, it seems to me that this view is the vast minority. The majority position is the elect are only those who believe on Christ, such that there is a 1:1 correlation between those who trust in Christ and those who are elect. Both SBC Calvinists and Non-Calvinists fit into this majority view although they disagree as to how it is a person becomes elect.