Let me start by saying two things:
- I understand the arguments that have been made in favor of “traditionalist” as a designation for those who are Baptists but do not subscribe to the Calvinists’ so-called “Doctrines of Grace.” They have been called Arminian, but most bristle at that. They have been called anti-Calvinists and there are certainly a few of those around, but there are a lot of people who reject Calvinism but do not reject Calvinists. The most common term has been non-Calvinist. But people do not want to be known simply by what they do not believe.
- However, in spite of that, I do not like the name “traditionalist” and hope that this group will not try to establish that term as their descriptor. Both wings in this debate can claim a piece of Southern Baptist tradition. I lean to the Calvinist side, but I’m pretty traditional as well. I do not think that the name traditionalist is a good one and hope it will not gain traction.
Here are a few brief thoughts about the SBC and Nomenclature.
1) A group has the right to self-describe, if the self-description is reasonable.
Calvinists should not insist on pinning a name on the other soteriological side. Many call anyone who is not a Calvinist an Arminian or an anti-Calvinist. Those names carry pejorative meanings. There are Arminians and there are anti-Calvinists, but it not fair to call all non-Calvinists by those names.
If this group consistently uses the term traditionalist, we should probably respect that, even people like me don’t like it. My hope would be that they would come up with a different name to describe their position.
2) We ought to eschew combative nomenclature.
Too often, a name becomes a weapon with which to fight our battles. We designate ourselves not only as self-identity, but also as a subtle insult to those who hold other positions – whether intentional or not.
Several groups self-described as “majority” or “grassroots” group. By describing my group as the majority group I am essentially marginalizing those who disagree by casting them as outside the norm, as a minority opinion.
I had this problem with the tendency of some Calvinists to use the term “gospel” as a descriptor for those with Calvinistic views. If I call my view “gospel-centered” I am insinuating that those who do not hold my views are not focused on the gospel.
This is my chief quarrel with the name “traditional.” It tends to marginalize Calvinism as not really a part of the history and heritage of Southern Baptists. It is combative nomenclature and the name seems to me to carry an inherent if subtle dig at its opponents.
3) Our names should encapsulate our views accurately.
The Calvinist side has several names that describe their views. Calvinist, of course. Reformed. Sovereign Grace. Doctrines of Grace. (I have a problem with Doctrines of Grace – see point 2). They encapsulate and describe the viewpoint. The TULIP acronym is a helpful if imperfect way of summarizing views. If I say, “I’m a four-pointer” you have at least a broad outline of my views.
The desire of the signers of that document to have such a name is understandable, but I do not find the name practically accurate or theologically sound.
First of all, there are so many implications of the word “traditionalist” that I question the accuracy of the word in this case. There is a lot of baggage that attaches to the word.
Besides, we do not do theology on the basis of tradition or majority vote. We do theology on the basis of biblical interpretation.
For these reasons, I do not think that “traditionalist” is a helpful term that should gain wide acceptance in this context. Maybe its supporters can make it stick, but I doubt it and I hope not.
What Should the Term Be?
I don’t know and I guess its not for me to choose. It should encapsulate the views defined in the Hankins document without being combative or dismissive to other Baptists.
I understand the desire to get away from being described negatively as “non-Calvinists” but in my opinion, the current term “traditionalist” is not the answer.