Toward a Productive Discussion of Calvinism

Some months ago, I reached my limit on Calvinism discussions here at SBC Voices. We’ve had a few articles posted here related to the topic, but I have turned down several posts that have been submitted to me that focused on Calvinism – pro or con.

Based on my observations of dozens (hundreds?) of posts and thousands of comments on the topic, I formed the opinion that Southern Baptists generally lacked the ability to discuss this issue in a Christ-honoring and productive way. Comments seemed to devolve into petty mudslinging almost immediately.

Then Dr. Frank Page formed a Calvinism study group to try to find a way to bring peace on this issue. Since there was a blue-ribbon panel of our leaders trying to hash this thing out, there seemed to be little point in us continuing our verbal bash-a-thons on this blog.

So, I shut it down.

And I have been so glad that I did. Since we stopped hosting Calvinism-based food fights, I have been thrilled at the progress of this site. We have had productive discussions on a wide range of topics. Our traffic has not gone down (as some warned it would) and we’ve had a lot of productive, insightful and helpful discussions. And, best of all, I don’t have to be ashamed of being editor of this site when I put my head on the pillow every night!

But I cannot escape what a prominent Southern Baptist, a member of Dr. Page’s task force, told me last year in NOLA. “Southern Baptists have to have this Calvinism discussion.” He was right. We have to talk about it and it won’t go away. I firmly believe that most of us are where I am – Calvinism moderates. We buy into some, but not all of the Calvinist system. Some leaders in our denomination who are passionate Calvinists and desire to promote that doctrine. Other leaders are passionately opposed to the upsurge in Calvinism and stand against any further spread of the doctrine among us.

If some folks are promoting a doctrine and others are opposing it, it is going to lead to conflict. The discussion needs to be had. One of these days, Dr. Page’s task force is going to bring forward a report with recommendations and the topic will be right back to the top of the topic list (if it ever went away).

So, can Southern Baptists have productive discussions related to Calvinism? I am not yet convinced, but I remain hopeful. I think there are a lot of people who are tired of the mudslinging, us-against-them, take-no-prisoners tone of the discussion to date and are ready to discuss this issue in a different way. I’ve seen some academic discussions that have been productive, but we in the blue-collar blogs need to up our game and develop a new pattern for conversations about soteriology.

This post is not going to be about Calvinism, but my thoughts on the process of discussing the topic (which we will start doing again just as soon as the task force brings its report).

The Problems

As I’ve observed our discussions, several problems have been apparent to me. I have worded these in the first person plural because I believe them to be widespread, almost systemic problems. But obviously, not every person is guilty of these offenses and I in no way intend to make a blanket accusation.

1) Some folks are just plain obsessed with Calvinism (pro or con). 

Cage-phase Calvinists abound in the SBC – its all they want to discuss. But there are just as many among the various non-Calvinist stripes who should probably be in a cage as well.  Cage-stagers, on either side of the aisle, are an obstacle to peace and Christian unity. They are ideologues who are so blinded by the righteousness of their cause that whatever damage they do is justified in their minds.

Are you obsessed? Simple test. If you write posts, look at the last 2o or 25 you have written. If more than half of them are about the topic, you might need to consider climbing out of your cage and getting some balance in your life.

2) We are not good listeners. 

“Well, what you are saying is that you hate Jesus and want to drown puppies.” Ever been there? You made a point and someone drew a conclusion from your point that never crossed your mind. But the reader heard something you didn’t say, ran it through the filter of their own experience and theology and drew a conclusion that never crossed your mind.

I have watched (and perhaps participated) in amazement as a discussion escalated emotionally when there was very little difference in the participants’ positions. They were talking past each other and failing to understand one another.

3) We play the victim.

They are trying to take over the convention. They are trying to drive us out of the convention. Both sides view themselves as the innocent victims of the big bad ogres on the other side.

It is not uncommon at all to watch someone who has come on a comment stream with guns blazing get his (or her) feelings hurt by what someone else says. That is normal human behavior, I guess. Of course, we have the Spirit of God and can aspire to greater things.

4) We adopt pejorative and exclusive terms. 

Look at the self-designations of various groups in the debate. Majority Baptists. The Founders. Traneditionalists. The use of the term “gospel-centered” as a synonym for Calvinism. Each of these names in one way or another lays exclusive claims to Southern Baptist identity. But what is the effect of these names? Each of them also is an insult to the other side. “We are the keepers of the flame, the true Baptists. Not you.” That was likely not the intent of any of these folks, but it is the effect.

We also tend to label the other side with negative and pejorative labels. I could list a million of these, but I doubt I really need to.

5) We demonize the other side.

Calvinists hate evangelism and want to take over the denomination. Traditionalists are semi-Pelagian, or Arminian. “They” twist the truth to paint “us” in the worst possible light.

Demonizing the brethren is not really the way to build the Body of Christ, is it?

6) We justify and rationalize our behavior.

If you talk to some Calvinists, they are utterly convinced that they are innocent pursuers of truth and peace who are being hounded by the evil Traditionalists who are determined to misrepresent and harass them. If you talk to some non-Calvinists, they are utterly convinced that they are innocent pursuers of truth and peace who are being harassed by the evil Calvinists who are determined to dominate and harass them.

And what “we” are doing is justified in response to what “they” have done. “They” started it and are must worse than “we” are, after all.

The Solution

What is the solution to all of this? Perhaps the words of that great counselor, Bob Newhart would suffice. “STOP IT!” But let me make a few more specific suggestions.

1) Show family honor

Treat fellow-Christians as fellow-Christians, as co-laborers in the cause of Christ and sharers in the Blood of Christ and the gospel that proclaims it.

You just don’t treat your family like the enemy.

And we are family. Yes, there are some weird uncles on both sides of the aisle, but Baptist Calvinists and Baptist Traditionalists and Baptists at every point along the way in between are part of the same family of the redeemed and must be treated with honor because of that.

The same Bible that gives us all the details about election and predestination and regeneration also gives us unequivocal commands to love one another inside the Body and to show honor and respect to one another. Really, if we would just do this, most of the problems would be solved.

Read the Love Chapter. Have the actions that describe love in that passage marked your interactions with those who disagree with you soteriologically?

NOTE: It is not enough to simply say, “Calvinists are my brothers” or “Traditionalists are my brothers” in an introduction or conclusion. Too often those are empty words of flattery, meant to take the edge off of harsh words. What matters is that we treat one another with relentless honor and respect, even when we disagree.

2) Accept that both Calvinists and n0n-Calvinists are theologically and historically Baptists. 

Dr. Dockery presented a lecture on the history of Southern Baptists at the Kentucky Conference that demonstrated that the Calvinist thread and the non-Calvinist thread have both been an integral part of our history. There has been an ebb and flow – sometimes Calvinists rose to prominence and sometimes that theology died down to a remnant, but both positions have been represented throughout the history of Baptist life.

To present one side or the other as “the most Baptist” is divisive, historically inaccurate, and just plain silly.

3) Seek to understand

Dr. Howard Hendricks and Dr. Chuck Swindoll went to seminary together. Hendricks told us how they used to sit in the square at night and have theological debates. After debating a point for a while, they would switch sides and argue the other side. What a healthy exercise.

I think misunderstanding, intentional or not, is at the root of a lot of our issues.

I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has complained that another misunderstood what was said. And much of the time, the complaint is accurate.

It is all about listening!

4) Talk biblical exegesis more than theological system.

I’m not trying to denigrate systematic theology, but I believe it has some inherent dangers. Our systems ought to be built from exegesis. There is a danger when we bring a theological system to a passage and let the system skew the exegesis.

In my observation, biblically based discussions have been the most productive. The Traditionalist Document made it clear that one of the roots of our differences is anthropological – how is sin passed on from generation to generation? While there have been some harsh words exchanged in that discussion, there have also been some productive explorations of biblical passages.

Those tend, in my estimation, to be more productive.

5) Eschew accusations of dark intent.

The convention is not divided into good guys and bad guys (along theological lines). Bible-loving, Christ-serving, gospel-preaching Calvinists serve alongside Bible-loving, Christ-serving, gospel-preaching non-Calvinists in this convention of ours. We have some different emphases and different methods, and we do undeniably disagree on some theological issues. But on those things that really matter, we are one.

And we ought to stop trying to paint one another as dastardly foes.

6) Choose to see the best. 

What if we simply did what the Bible commands us to do. Love, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.”

What if we actually did that? What if we bore with the failings and foibles of the brethren and accepted them as brothers in spite of it all? What if we believed in the power of the Spirit to guide us into all truth and to complete the work of Christ and kept hoping all the best for one another? What if we persevered through disagreement and even injury to seek the way of God?

Things in the SBC might start to turn around if we took the Scriptures that command unity as seriously as we do the Scriptures that advocate certain theological points.

So, I agree with the man I spoke to in NOLA. We have to have this discussion. But we do not have to have it the same way we have had it in the past.

We can do better, of that I am convinced.



  1. says

    I would add that there is a sizeable group of folks, largely silent, because they want to take neither position. Despite the polarizing nature of the debate, there are at least some who are not involved because they feel that the debate has been framed as black/white, either/or, in/out when they see other alternatives.

    The fact that neither side will allow for a widening of the discussion to accommodate the possibility that there might be more to this than just one or the other tends to shut down productive conversation or exploration. And it certainly creates an intolerance that breeds and festers among the combatants.

    As soon as there is room for the one who says, “You’re both wrong and here’s why…” we will see progress away from the cage matches and into genuine exploration, consideration, and thoughtful deliberation about the possibilities. Until then, the entrenched interests will draw the battle lines, wage war, and fight the fight.

    I applaud your efforts to initiate civil conversation on the topic. I am not hopeful that you will achieve your objective, but I wish you well. And even more importantly, do people in the pews really care about this? As much time and effort that is spent on this and with all the political fallout taking place, is this really an issue that touches the people that churches are supposed to be ministering to? Are people really grappling with this question outside the pulpit, looking for answers, and seeking to have this answered once and for all? Or is this just a ministerial spitting match?

    • Max says

      “And even more importantly, do people in the pews really care about this?”

      Rick – I doubt that most folks in the pews at 45,000+ SBC churches know enough about this issue to know whether they care or not. The multitudes of Southern Baptists are either uninformed, misinformed, or willingly ignorant. Perhaps it’s time for 45,000+ senior pastors to hold a “family meeting” with the folks they shepherd to wake them up and get a pulse re: the essentials of soteriology.

      • Nate says

        Max, I don’t know that I would go so far as insinuating that people in the pews don’t care. I think, rather, they sit under the pastor’s preaching and teaching, and that pastor, wherever he is in this matter, is teaching that to the congregation. I know that the church I grew up in never discussed this issue, or say issues related to eschatology either. The pastor just preached what he believed to be true.

  2. David (NAS) Rogers says

    Very good post. I believe the discussion does need to advance. People should hold their theological positions due to rigorous analysis of the texts rather than by mere osmosis of the viewpoints of favorite preachers.
    The points you made in your solution are very well-stated.

    Plus, any reference to the great Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart) improves any post.

  3. Adam G. in NC says

    Dave, in light of “having this discussion” and following your key points, what is your opinion about allowing this website to be a host for bloggers who regularly violate the spirit of your article?

    Not being critical toward SBC Voices by any means, but there are regular blogs on here that when it comes to this topic, they are a vitriolic one-trick-pony.

      • Adam G. in NC says

        whats your opinion of regular blogs (posted on SBC Voices) that seem to comment ONLY about Calvinism (pro or con)? I can think of a few that always have a vitriolic article to contribute.

          • Adam G. in NC says

            Yep. Seems some of them are just one-trick-ponies when it comes to Calvinism in the SBC. Love it or hate it…its ALL they can write about.

          • Dave Miller says

            The SBC Watchlist is a compilation of blogs/blogsites that seem to influential and trendsetters in the SBC.

            We are not “posting” them, but only linking to them. Tony (our blog owner) believes that all viewpoints within the SBC should be represented. SBC Today, for instance, is certainly an important blog in the SBC world. You don’t have to like it, or read it, but it can hardly be argued that it is an influential blog.

            And, Adam, just because they disagree with Calvinism does not make their posts unworthy. Yes, they have certainly been one of the blogs that have kept the Calvinism issue humming, but that is their choice.

            I find Dr. Harwood to be a fine Christian gentleman (on blogs-never met him in person) who advocates well a position with which I do not agree. But he can and SHOULD promote his position. Have there been posts there I thought were unworthy? Yes. But that is not my choice.

            And this brings to mind one of my complaints with Calvinists in the SBC. (Remember, I lean to that side, so this wound comes from a friend.) Calvinists tend to see posts that advocate non-Calvinist positions as a personal attack on Calvinists and Calvinism.

            SBC Today is one of the more important blogs in the SBC. To dismiss them from our SBC Watchlist would be a travesty.

          • says

            I don’t think Adam is only pointing to Anti-Calvinism posts in the Watchlist – he’s pointing out that there are blogs, both pro and con Calvinism (“that seem to comment ONLY about Calvinism (pro or con)?” and “Love it or hate it…its ALL they can write about.”, with ‘it’ being Calvinism) that seem to be, as he says ‘one-trick ponies’. And he’s misunderstanding the nature of the Watchlist.

          • Adam G. in NC says

            Hey, I didnt say you should take them down, just wanted your opinion…and I got it. thanks!

            …and if isnt an anti-calvinist one-trick-pony then I must be really schizophrenic. I mean, I really could agree with this guy on a lot of other points, but I’ll never know because I’ll never get to read about it.

            I actually enjoy SBC Today…they have a good, wide range of discussion topics

  4. Rick Patrick says


    While you raise some good points, I have to challenge a few.

    1. Why should it matter if someone writes 100 posts on this topic, or its many related subtopics, if this family of issues is a concern to them? Free speech is a good thing. It does not mean they have no “balance in their life.” It means they have an interest in expressing their point of view using a variety of different angles and lines of argument to express themselves. If people don’t like it, they can turn the page or change the channel. We should not pressure people to avoid this subject, as if it were taboo. It’s not. It’s quite germane to modern Christianity, church issues and the SBC.

    2. Calvinists need to stop flattering themselves by claiming that every article expressing Traditionalist viewpoints is about them. When I discuss my theology, the fact that it happens to contradict yours does not mean that I am talking about Calvinism. I am merely presenting what I believe about God. You have the right to do the same. Let me share my beliefs without charges that I am attacking yours. Yes, my promotion of things like free will and altar calls and the use of the sinner’s prayer and sin coming before guilt and faith coming at the moment of regeneration not afterward will always strike you as “Non-Calvinist” or “Anti-Reformed” or some other phrase you choose to relate to your position. But the fact is, I’m just saying what I believe. It is nothing personal. There is no animus. We are brothers. It is only our convictions themselves which are in conflict.

    3. There are a family of issues related to Calvinism that are not theological debates over the five points themselves. These include: Representative SBC Seminary Leadership, Representative SBC Committee and Trustee Leadership, Cooperative Program support versus reformed missions groups like Acts 29 or 20 Schemes, the disunity inherent in the purpose statement of the Founders Ministries, the use of the Sinners Prayer, the use of Altar Calls, the influence of outsiders like John Piper and Mark Driscoll upon the SBC, the selection and theology of speakers at the SBC Pastors Conference, the willingness to complete the Annual Church Profile thus disclosing one’s true investment in the SBC, the historical existence first of the General Baptist theological tradition and then later of the Particular Baptist theological tradition, the interpretation of certain sections of the BFM 2000, and so on.

    Although these are all related to the impact of Calvinism upon the SBC, I would argue they are each specific topics worthy of discussion. In other words, not all the articles you consider to be about Calvinism are really about Calvinism. They are about history, education, our confessional statement, our denominational representation, and so on. Admittedly, Calvinism provides the overarching backdrop, but these are separate issues.

    • Randall Cofield says

      1) Show Family Honor
      “NOTE: It is not enough to simply say, “Calvinists are my brothers” or “Traditionalists are my brothers” in an introduction or conclusion. Too often those are empty words of flattery, meant to take the edge off of harsh words. What matters is that we treat one another with relentless honor and respect, even when we disagree.”
      Dave Miller


      “Calvinists need to stop flattering themselves…………..”
      “We are brothers.”
      Rick Patrick

      • Rick Patrick says


        I truly did not mean that, or anything else in my observations, to be offensive, so please forgive me if my terminology was too sharp, and let me try to rephrase it this way, with less of an edge:

        “I wish that some Calvinists would check their tendency to view the Traditionalist essays often published at SBC Today, SBC Tomorrow or other blog sites as being ‘Anti-Calvinist’ as if our theological position could only be described in reference to theirs. This may not properly be considered ‘flattery’ (which seems pejorative) but possibly a bit self-absorbed, as if everyone is talking about Calvinism, when they are really talking about their own understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation, which admittedly represents a contrast to the reformed position.”

        Randall, I would feel the same way if Democrats regularly described Republicans as simply being “Anti-Democrat” or even “Non-Democrat.”

        • Nate says

          “…I would feel the same way if Democrats regularly described Republicans as simply being “Anti-Democrat” or even “Non-Democrat.”

          If that were the only things Democrats described Republicans as we actually might be able to work across the aisle with them. :-)

  5. Charles Thomas says

    A LONGGGGGGG time ago, I was confronted with making a choice of following the teachings of John Calvin or Jacob Arminius. However, God told me to follow His inspiried writings and teachings through the Apostle Paul when He said, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” I Corinthians 2:2

    I haven’t found any inspired writings in the scriptures from Arminius or Calvin, but I have found volumes of truths from “holy men of God who were moved by the Holy Spirit” to write biblical truth which I’ve embraced and found to be ALL that I need. I’m sure that Calvin and Arminius did not intend to create such a division among Baptists, but needless to say it has sadly happened in many corners of the world.

    I’m no spiritual giant, but when men whom I respect and love endeavor to enlist me in to such discussions that I know only divide instead of unite, I, as graciously as possible, ask not to be involved in such discussions and bow out.

    • Max says

      Charles – You have discovered a secret that many Baptists have yet to realize: debating is not preaching the Gospel. I certainly find myself drawn too much into theological wrangling while trying to contend for the faith without being contentious. I’m working on that weakness.

    • Nate says


      While I appreciate the point, I think you might be oversimplifying the issue. We all are sitting under teachers from the time someone witnesses to us, until we die. Whether it is a pastor, professor or author, you will go to someone when you have a question in Scripture that you want some explanation on. Calvinism vs. Traditionalism is no different than you discussing baptism with a Presbyterian (if you are a Baptist), or speaking with a Pentecostal about the gift of the Spirit.

      In other words, theological discussions are necessary for sanctification because we are a people of the book, not simply a people of faith–although we certainly are that. But we don’t (I probably should say shouldn’t) simply have faith in faith.

  6. John K says

    I applaud you Dave for thinking so highly of your fellow brothers in Christ for some reason as I read your article Luke 11:13 came into my mind:

    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

    Christ was talking with his disciples at the time as you know, yet he knew their true heart. I think one of the core issues in the debate is we feel the opposing side on soritology truly does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. That may be our flesh speaking in us. I will pray that we instead ask our Lord in this discussion that we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit who dwells in those on both sides of the issue of soritology. Knowing that only God has all the answers on soritology, and not look to man for the answers.

    • Christiane says

      Some of the integral parts of the ‘argument’ have been attempts to delve into and explain what cannot be explained in this world.

  7. says


    Probably the best statement in your post was the following: “If some folks are promoting a doctrine and others are opposing it, it is going to lead to conflict. The discussion needs to be had.” There is NO QUESTION about the hightenned promotion of Calvinism in the SBC and I believe the discussion MUST take place and some decision made and direction taken.

    A comment or two about your Problems and Solutions.

    1) Some folks are just plain obsessed with Calvinism (pro or con). Since I am fairly confident I will fit your definition, let me say I have MUCH more on my plate than the issue of Calvinism BUT I do not spend much time writing on other issues because as I see it, that is one of the most pressing issues facing the SBC today that needs to be addressed… obviously that issue is secondary to the lost in our communities and declining churches etc… but the fact that these other problems exist does not take away from the importance of theological issues as well.

    You are 200% correct that we are not good listeners and even poorer readers… people do not pay much attention to points being made and simply jump in with their own arguments paying little to no attention to statements being made.

    I think that pretty much summarizes what else you say in demonizing one another… etc. etc.

    Now to your suggested solutions.

    Show family honor. To me that is a response on the other person’s part… I do not take matters personally… my position on a theological perspective has NOTHING to do with anyone personally… and I do not take what others say to me as being personal… (although many fail to keep the focus on what is being said and resort to personal attacks… I just consider the source and try to stay focused on what is the main thing as I see it.) So that solution seems moot to me with the exception that I try not to be critical of individuals but keep my focus on the issue itself.

    Personally… I can care less who is theologically and historically Baptist… that means absolutely nothing where the theological tenets themselves are concerned Scripturally. To me that too seem to me to be a moot argument.

    AS far as seeking to understand… if you mean understanding the tenets of a particular theology that is fine… but seeking to understand one other given our differing theological positions… does leave much room there… we disagree… I mean why do we expect others to understand us… or appreciate our position… I can even appreciate the positions and the tenacity to promote that position and still disagree with them… but it does not mean I do not understand them. That is a little pompous as I see it.

    As far as the talk Biblical exegesis versus theological system, that seems to be the common cry of many… if we disagree then one of us cannot be Scripturally sound… so guess who that one is?

    Choose to see the best… well how can I do that when we differ on what we believe the Bible says about Salvation… I mean I can agree to disagree on a LOT of things where the Scriptures are concerned and practicality comes in… but frankly… when it comes to how a person comes to Christ and asses from death unto life… and the character of God is at the forefront of the discussion… I am afraid it is going to be difficult for me to see the best in someone when we are so different in our positions…

    Now that being said, for me it has nothing to do with us personally… as I said earlier… I do not see this as me against anyone else… I fully support your right to believe as you are led to do… I am concerned about the level of influence Calvinism has where the entities are concerned… in this case “choosing to see the best” is seeing that influence decreased and not continuing to see it increased.

    Just my 10 cents worth.


    • Dave Miller says

      You are certainly entitled to your view, Bob. But, one question. Do you think those who you discuss and debate with over the issue feel that you treat them as family and with honor and respect?

      I think we have to ask ourselves how our attitudes and actions project to others.

      I was complaining to a friend of mine many years ago that my wife was looking at certain things I did and interpreting them in a negative way.

      He told me, “Dave, if your wife has a problem, you have a problem. Whatever you mean, if she is getting a certain message from you, then it is on you to deal with it.”

      You may see nothing wrong in the way you interact on blogs, but do you believe that Calvinists feel honored as Christian brothers and respected as part of the family?

      We have to have as much concern for obeying the Scriptures about unity and honor within the Body as much as those that are theological and doctrinal.

      • says


        Let me answer your question in two ways. First, blogging is a relatively new venture for me and when I began blogging my interaction was not as gracious as it should have been. I learned some valuable lessons and changed the focus of my comments from Calvinists to Calvinism… and for the record, more toward the influence of Calvinism in the SBC than to the theology of Calvinism although I do from time to time engage in conversation related to the theology.

        Here is the deal. How people perceive me or anyone else for that matter is according to their own respective positions… and when we disagree some people do a better job of understanding that the difference in not personal but rather theological in our case.

        I encountered this when I was training corporate sales people for car dealerships… new people had a difficult time with people telling them no… because they took it too personal as if the prospective customer was telling THEM no… there is a difference.

        I have 100% respect for your position and your right and responsibility to have that perspective. However, I have mine and since this is a blog we have opportunities to express our positions and then people who read what we write have opportunities to make up their minds. I KNOW that you get a number of emails from people who may never comment on the blog thanking you for what you do… my blogs are less frequented but very seldom does a week go by that I do not get someone thanking me for taking the time to explain my position where people can understand it.

        I have also learned a lot from the discourses back and forth… so I am indebted to the process personally.

        I understand the call for unity but I am also reminded of the passages that warn us of being unequally yoked… I am sure I would not have to go far to prove that unity is not always the goal even in our respective ranks… I mean how much unity are we willing to give the prosperity gospel folks… or the baptismal regeneration folks… need I go on?

        This cry for unity is way over-emphasized and all too often one that is employed to get people of opposing views to accept their view… and offers little to no compromise on accepting the other person’s view.

        Your friend was correct. If your wife has a problem YOU do have a problem. However, if I have a problem with you… you do not have a problem. I do.

        I do appreciate the job you do even though we do see things from very different viewpoints.


        • Randall Cofield says


          I am sure I would not have to go far to prove that unity is not always the goal even in our respective ranks… I mean how much unity are we willing to give the prosperity gospel folks… or the baptismal regeneration folks… need I go on?

          Brother, do you honestly view Calvinism through the same lens with which you view prosperity gospel and baptismal regeneration?

          Your friend was correct. If your wife has a problem YOU do have a problem. However, if I have a problem with you… you do not have a problem. I do.

          Nay, brother. If you have a problem with me, as your brother within the family of God, then we both have a problem. Our testimony before the world is at stake: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

          • Rick Patrick says

            Well, to the surprise of no one, I have to agree with Hadley on this matter of “playing the unity card.”

            I agree with the idea of a civil tone and discussing the issue rather than attacking the person. But if one tries to suggest that one’s theological opponent should “be quiet, sit down, go away, get over it, and refuse to make an issue out of it” all for the sake of unity, then I think this is a manipulative tactic used to stifle opposition, one which will ultimately backfire as people avoid the transparent discussion of real problems and instead internalize the conflict so that it never really gets resolved.

            Avoiding the discussion of a problem is a lousy way to make it go away, for even if your motive in avoiding it is to bring peace, the unresolved conflict still remains.

          • Dave Miller says

            Calling on people to behave in accord with biblical commands is not manipulation or stifling debate. It is simply a call to Christlike behavior.

            The appeal to unity is a truly biblical mandate.

          • Rick Patrick says


            Sure, we appeal to the biblical command for unity in the sense that we love one another and have good will toward each other.

            This unity does not require, however, that we remain silent about the two visions for the future of our denomination. We are not bound by the requirement for unity to join together with people who are not promoting our beliefs, like Methodists or Presbyterians, although we have unity with them in Christ.

            While this unity extends to all Christian believers, we can be unified in our love for Jesus but espouse very separate views of the future of our organization in terms of the kind of churches we want to plant, the kind of seminaries and colleges we want to sponsor, and the kind of missionaries we want to appoint.

            If, in the interest of unity, you are trying to fit some type of requirement that we all go along and get along and not make an issue of the majority view paying to promote the minority view, then THAT is the type of unity that I consider manipulative, not allowing dissent, but mischaracterizing it as unnecessary disloyalty or a trouble making, mean-spirited attitude.

            As long as your view of unity allows everyone to express their disagreements openly and honestly, I don’t have a problem with it. However, when the appeal for unity is used to bully people into silence, that is indeed manipulative, whether you care to admit it or not.

        • says

          “I understand the call for unity but I am also reminded of the passages that warn us of being unequally yoked…”

          Recognizing the importance of properly interpreting Scripture, one might do well to remember that this is talking about believer with unbeliever, which means it does not apply in this case.

        • says

          Love for one another has very little to do with our disagreements… how people handle their disagreements has everything to do with their respective levels of unity.

          My point in referencing the prosperity gospel and baptismal regeneration guys was to point out that we as brothers are not always interested in unity… there does not seem to be any push for unity there… same with the conservative resurgence… no love and unity for the theological liberals…

          I believe we are in the same position with the issue of calvinism in the SBC. As I see it, it does not belong in our entities…. like it or not, that is my position.


          • Randall Cofield says


            So, brother, to be clear, are you saying there can be no unity between yourself and Calvinists in the SBC?

            Are you saying that, just like the theological liberals during the the CR, Calvinists should be unilaterally pushed out of the SBC?

          • Christiane says

            ‘unity in Christ’ is a work of the Holy Spirit . . .

            the kind of ‘unity’ that the Holy Spirit enables is a unity that TRANSCENDS barriers which normally cannot be crossed by human effort alone

            and love has EVERYTHING to do with that kind of unity . . . everything

    • Joe Blackmon says

      Show family honor. To me that is a response on the other person’s part…

      I.e. “It’s their fault, not mine.”

      • says

        Incorrect… it means we have NO CONTROL over someone else’s response to what we write or say… even HOW they interpret what we say.


        • Randall Cofield says


          Your position here presupposes that the writer (you?) is incapable of writing disrespectfully and dishonorably…does it not?

        • says


          My comment has NOTHING to do with the intention of the writer but everything to do with the inability of the writer to control the response of the reader.

          Obviously the writer can be guilty of the points you raise but that was not the point of my comment.


  8. says

    Calvinism schmalvinism. I never have understood why we get so hung on this one. But if your prominent SB bud says “we have to have this talk,” then I suppose we do. I like your suggestions, Dave, but I will probably check out of any new round of Calvinism debate marathons.

  9. parsonsmike says

    Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, obeying God’s Law perfectly, and willingly went to the cross of Calvary and suffered and died for the sins of men rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand on the throne of God, and Bob, if you believe these to be true and trust in Jesus repenting of your sins, He will save you from your deserved fate by His grace and mercy.

    What disagreement with the above do you have?
    … a calvinist

    • says


      I have no problem with your statement. I do have a problem with the disclaimer that calvinism throws into that statement… that only those that God effectually calls will believe and trust Christ and repent. But I am not going to violate Dave’s post. I do not really care about disagreeing with calvinists… I disagree with the tenets of calvinism; there is a difference.


      • parsonsmike says

        you said,
        “I mean I can agree to disagree on a LOT of things where the Scriptures are concerned and practicality comes in… but frankly… when it comes to how a person comes to Christ and [p]asses from death unto life… and the character of God is at the forefront of the discussion… I am afraid it is going to be difficult for me to see the best in someone when we are so different in our positions… ”

        Now it seems to me that you are not disagreeing with me in “how a person comes to Christ” but rather in why people come to Christ. Where as i see God’s free will decision resulting in man’s free will act, you see man’s free will decision resulting in God’s free will act to save. But in “how”, we agree. The Gospel is preached and people believe.

        Now as to the character of God, please forgive me if I think you are slightly myopic in thinking there is any real difference between us. You believe [and I want your correction if I am wrong as well as your forgiveness] that God foreknows all things including who goes to Heaven and Hell and yet created the world KNOWING that millions upon millions if not billions would go to Hell and that there was nothing He would [or could?] do to prevent it, and created anyway. Is this not true of your beliefs? I believe that as well. In fact, unless one is an Open Theist, we all in the SBC believe that.

        Now generally speaking, what lack of God’s character do you attribute to Calvinistic thinkers?

      • says


        I believe there is a major difference in acknowledging God’s omnipotence where conversion is concerned and positing that God and God alone determines who does and does not go to heaven. The second does speak to the character of God as I see it… and as a calvinist I would think you would agree with that statement. You should see any position that “lessens” God’s sovereignty in salvation as being a statement related to God’s character…


        • parsonsmike says

          What I see is since you did not correct me that we agree that God created the world and did so with the idea that He was not going to ‘make’ everyone get saved, and that He KNEW just who was going to Hell and despite that knowledge created anyway.

          So whether you are right or not on why some go to heaven and others do not does not change the truth that God in His omniscience created knowing just who He was going to condemn forever, and who He was going to save. And created anyway.

          And thus there is NOTHING that can change what God knew then and obviously still knows today. God isn’t changing it. We can’t. Therefore Bob there is nothing different in our vision of God’s character despite I being a C and you not.

          So let us not get romantic and sentimental or whatever the word is when we think of God and the lost. He made them knowing their fate: that they chose to sin and rebel against Him and [for whatever reason] He wasn’t going to save them. He KNEW it, He KNOWS it. it isn’t changing no matter what we do. Does that mean we should not witness to all? of course not. We should witness of Jesus to everyone telling them that unless they repent and trust in Him, they will surely perish. And go to everlasting punishment.

          Be real about it. God isn’t trying to get more in: He knows the exact number and has always known it.

          • Kevin says

            1 John 4 – God is love. Love presents a choice. Love does not mandate, it merely woos,beckons, calls out. If God mandated our conversion to Him, that is not a show of love but a show of force. Now God could do this if He chose, because He is God, but my understanding is that He gives mankind a choice through calling out to us to turn to Him. While you may argue there is no difference in the way one arrives at Hell, I believe there is a significant difference in attributing the finalk destination of Hell to God rather than mankind’s refusal to receive forgiveness and salvation. IN this case, it is not potato, potaaato, or tomato, tomataa, but a REAL diffence that underlies the character of God in presenting a choice.

          • parsonsmike says

            Let us suppose:
            God is a most wonderful being that all those to whom He opened their spiritual eyes so they might glimpse Him would desire Him. And in looking upon His magnificence, even the small glance we get, we by nature compare the glory of Him to the inglorious world and choose Him every time.
            How does that violate love?

            What then of those who not get this amazing sight? Do they see nothing of God? Of course they do, they see His holy Law and repeatedly turn against Him.

            Now what is love but the sacrifice of one’s self for the overall good of another. Yet God made the world knowing those who end up in hell due to their own sinful ways. Even under your idea of God’s love for all, God knew they would go there and created anyway. Do they realize how terrible hell is? How long eternity is?

            Certainly would be quite insane to choose suffering forever and relinquish eternal life forever because for a life time that is compared to a puff of smoke, they wanted autonomy? One would be considered quite mad to glimpse the greatness of His glory and desire the world with its sorrows and grief?

            And likewise, how is it love to create billions knowing they are going to suffer forever?

            Love does present a choice. And for all those called by the Spirit and whose eyes are opened to God’s glory choose Jesus.

            And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2nd Cor. 4]

        • Jason G. says


          Perhaps you missed my question. I think it will give me (and others) helpful insight to you and your position.

          Do you believe that calvinists believe (and therefore preach) a different gospel than you believe and preach?

        • parsonsmike says


          as to this:
          “and as a calvinist I would think you would agree with that statement. You should see any position that “lessens” God’s sovereignty in salvation as being a statement related to God’s character… ”

          I guess you are saying that since I disagree with you on why some one is saved that we must disagree on God’s character.

          Well certainly Bob it does seem to me that any disagreement in theology is truly a disagreement about the nature of God in some way or the other. But i don’t consider you to see God as less sovereign in salvation just because you have a different understanding of why someone gets saved. If you are right, then that is the way the sovereign God decided to do it, eh? And i am right, then do you think God is less sovereign than in the way you perceive Him?

          So the issue is, as I see it, is not in our perception of His sovereignty but in the inconsistency of your position between the omniscience of God concerning those who are and ever will be lost when He created as opposed to now as time is playing out.

        • says


          He KNEW it, He KNOWS it. it isn’t changing no matter what we do.

          I will bow out at that comment. It is a fundamental difference in our positions OR we would not be having this conversation.


          I saw your question and purposefully am not going to go there. Seems to me there is already enough rhetoric out there on who is preaching the TRUE GOSPEL and correcting the gospel today so I will leave it at that.

          Good day all!


          • parsonsmike says

            It seems that you believe there is a fundamental difference but aren’t willing to actually point it out.
            It seems like you are saying God does not know the future, not then, and not now.
            If so, that would be a fundamental difference.
            And it [open theism] is where many non-C’s have gone to escape the implications of a omniscient God.

          • Jason G. says


            I was asking you to go PAST the rhetoric and answer a straight-forward question. I don’t want rhetoric, I want people willing to take a stand and say what they believe and answer questions straight up.

            I don’t care what rhetoric is out there. I want clarity. I suppose that is too much to ask for some.

            BTW, a non-answer to that question IS an answer.

          • says


            Surely you are not suggesting that there is really no fundamental difference between the theological position of the calvinist and the non-calvinist?

            If you want to play theological ping pong then I am capable of holding my own. Consider the following statement: So the issue is, as I see it, is not in our perception of His sovereignty but in the <b?inconsistency of your position."

            Maybe I am missing something here… but I think that is a perfect example of Dave’s original post…

            Jason… “I don’t care what rhetoric is out there. I want clarity. I suppose that is too much to ask for some.

            BTW, a non-answer to that question IS an answer.”



          • parsonsmike says

            If you don’t want to answer the question, that is your right.
            If you wish to avoid any more discussion, that’s up to you.

            But you said some things, and I was responding to them.
            And i asked you for clarification and you said you were bowing out.

            What I was try to show you from the first was how much we agreed on: the Gospel and the omniscience of the Lord. You, in your original comment focused on some of what you disagreed with C’s.

            Now just because i said we agreed, does not mean we agree on everything.

            Now do you agree that God is omniscient? And that He knew from the foundations of the world whom He would save and whom He would not? if you do, we agree.

            We agreed on my Gospel statement.
            And if you agree with God knowing who will be saved and who will be not, than that makes two places we agree.

            So why are you not willing to state what you believe?
            I guessed it is due to the inconsistencies you hold inherent in your theology.
            Please correct me by explaining what you believe.

          • says

            Are you suggesting that there are NO points of disagreement where calvinism is concerned? Look you can frame the discussion any way you want to but understand the points of agreement no matter how broad those points may be do not put us on the same theological plain. I am confident you understand that.

            Speaking of not answering questions, I see you failed to answer mine… Surely you are not suggesting that there is really no fundamental difference between the theological position of the calvinist and the non-calvinist?


          • says


            Differences, sure, but the similarities are much greater. Our differences are not so fundamental that they necessitate division – nor are they such that we should relegate non-Calvinists (or Calvinists) to the back seat of the bus, excluding them from leadership positions, etc.

          • parsonsmike says

            I am sorry you didn’t see my answer.
            I said that just because we agree on certain points, does not mean we agree on every point.
            Now you asked if i suggested that we totally agreed.
            You inferred what was no where implied.

            Instead of explaining your beliefs or at least stating them, you are avoiding a discussion.

            You ask for answers but you are not giving them.

            So I see this, and correct me if i am wrong, if you would please:
            You want God to be trying to save as many as possible, on the one hand, BUT on the other hand, you believe in His omniscience and would like to keep that view of God separate because it conflicts with your other position.

            Meanwhile you would like to hold against C’s their idea of a God who only chooses to save some while conveniently disregarding the truth you also believe that God made the world KNOWING billions would be damned and that He either could not or would not save them and yet He created anyway.

            Now Bob, ask yourself this, why is it you think I am suggesting we agree on everything when I have only said we agree on the Gospel and on the Omniscience of God?

            You have a blessed day brother and may His peace continually fill your heart since His blood has forever covered your sins.

          • Frank L. says

            “”Meanwhile you would like to hold against C’s their idea of a God who only chooses to save some while conveniently disregarding the truth you also believe that God made the world KNOWING billions would be damned and that He either could not or would not save them and yet He created anyway.””

            These two positions are not the same and make categorically different implications in regard to the character of God as revealed in the Scripture.

            I think this is a key sticking point in C-ism of the “Five Point Variety.” I don’t think it can be summarily dismissed.

          • parsonsmike says


            If you would please, expand what you are saying,

            God knows the end from the beginning. He knows who will be going to punishment. He has always known it. He knew it before He created. And He created anyway. Knowing their destiny. Knowing that He wasn’t going to save them [for whatever reason]. Knowing [as a non-C might put it] that despite everything He could do they were going to reject Him. And yet, He still created them.

            Is a short life on earth, whether terrific or miserable, worth an eternity in the Lake of Fire?

  10. says

    “I think misunderstanding, intentional or not, is at the root of a lot of our issues.

    “It is all about listening!”

    I agree, and I find the preponderance of misunderstanding unsurprising. Fact is, few people are good listeners, and, unfortunately, I can’t see that the church emphasizes developing that skill much.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that becoming a good listener should be a prerequisite to doing theology. The theologian is, essentially, trying to listen to God accurately. If you haven’t shown an ability to listen to people accurately, why in the world should we think you’re especially good at listening to God accurately? This makes listening to a theological argument where misunderstandings are flying back and forth doubly consterning. You want to say “Guys, the way you’re arguing undermines any confidence we might have in you at all!”.

    Not that good listening is an easy thing to learn. It’s not. But step one is admitting how lousy you are at it (just like everyone else). If you think you’re a pretty good listener, chances are, you don’t have a clue.

    • Christiane says

      ‘Listening’ is a kind of Christian ministry rooted in love.
      Christian listening is not ‘self-seeking’, not ego-based or coming from a desire to ‘trap the other’ by their own words, no.
      Christian listening is a gift extended to those who are cared for in a ministry that wants for them to have an opportunity to be heard, to be understood, to be acknowledged as ‘other’, to be affirmed as a person who has something to say that is of meaning to themselves, as a person who has had enough courage to speak and to share what may be painful, or embarrassing, or of a sadness beyond our knowing, unless we listen and hear.

      Perhaps developing the ability to ‘listen’ is not so easy. You can’t ‘teach’ it. It ‘comes’ into its own when folks are at peace with God, with themselves, and with others. Only then, is the ministry of ‘listening’ possible.

      When people are not at peace within themselves, then they are more in the mode to be ‘listened to’ . . . they are the ones in need.

      Who do you know among you who have the gift of Christian listening?
      They are blessed and are a blessing to others. They carry within themselves the peace of Christ.

      • says

        You couldn’t possibly be suggesting that I’ve become repetitive on this subject, could you? Yes, this is one of the things I tend to harp on. On the other hand, for some strange reason, all of the poor listeners out there aren’t listening to me on the subject!

      • Dave Miller says

        No, sir. I was trying to be funny. You were talking about listening skills and I was pretending not to have heard you.

  11. Greg Harvey says

    “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God
    I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by the blood
    Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod
    For we’re part of this family
    The Family of God”
    –William J. (Bill) and Gloria Gaither–italicized word modified from “I’m” to “we’re”

    I support the tone, purpose, and expression of this blog. We need the discussion and in spite of it being a wearing one, we have more in common than we have that divides us from the joint family. Our focus on inerrancy is a great uniter and we should treat it as such. But inerrancy as a doctrine doesn’t solve the problem of differing interpretations and never has. The only way to solve that problem is enforced conformity.

    I do not like the nature of most of the choices for how one goes about enforcing conformity. In most “denominations”, it ends up being top down with the local church being wagged by a larger dog somewhere else. Might I offer that Baptist ecclesiology borders on brilliant to the extent that it emphasizes the freedom of the local church to accomplish its directly assigned mission in cooperation with the Holy Spirit via the illumination of the Bible and with no other source of authority? And that additional cooperation flowing from that sense of empowerment by the Holy Spirit is precisely the correct missiological funding method for other, cooperative work?

    The Cooperative Program recognizes the essential–both necessary AND sufficient–importance of the local church in organizing itself and in emphasizing doctrine. Yes, it was convenient when you could go from one SBC church to another and you could never tell a difference. Except that time never really existed. Each congregation has always had its joyous quirkiness in my experience. Each. And…boy…have I been in a BUNCH of ’em.

    Note that Dave actually is directly addressing a very specific objection: that we’ll allow–in our effort to get along–a dumbing down of doctrine eventually leading to false doctrine creeping in. NO: we won’t. As long as careful exegesis of the Bible remains the key source of discussion of doctrine. We’ll still disagree on occasion. For whatever reasons the church seems to always find a way to keep some form of disagreement brewing. But that is the sign of disciples searching Scripture–not commentaries or rabbinical tradition–and learning. It’s a process.

    And, like the Mastercard commercials, the process of discipleship is messy, but it’s priceless. It’s an individual believer coming to truly accept and to personally apply in his or her life that the Creator of the Universe really does want to have an ongoing relationship with him or with her. Priceless.

  12. Jason G. says


    I think what I have seen in this comment thread leads me to believe there is no hope in discussing this issue.

    When you have some people who believe that those who are calvinists teach a different Gospel than what they believe, we have moved past the point of meaningful dialogue and productivity. That means that they do not view these people as their brothers in Christ, but heretics in need of correction or expulsion.

    That context breeds strong reactions in response…and thus no meaningful dialogue.

    • Dave Miller says

      I hope you are wrong, Jason. Some perspectives:

      1) The loudest voices are not the only voices.

      There are extreme voices in this debate who tend to want to see the other side as the enemy. They are often the loudest and most strident voices. But I think there are a LOT of people who express the view of David Rogers above, who are more interested in doing the work than fighting about Calvinism.

      Don’t lose hope.

      2) The danger is to see the other side as the source of all the problems.

      As an observer of this, I’ve seen people on all sides of the debate commit offenses against the other side, but consistently tend to see fault only on the other side.

      It is self-delusion.

      But we need to be careful to look for the beam in our own eyes and not just pick the slivers out of the eyes of the other side. As long as we are simply looking at the other side for fault, little progress will be made.

      • says

        “As an observer of this, I’ve seen people on all sides of the debate commit offenses against the other side, but consistently tend to see fault only on the other side. It is self-delusion.”

        Is it also a sign of a self-righteous spirit? John Newton seems to think so (this was directed at his fellow Dortians, but it seems to me to apply just as well to those of us on the more Hermanzoonish side of theology):

        “Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. ”

        How many can read that without saying “Ouch!”?

  13. William Thornton says

    I commend your efforts here. My dad used to tell of the man who would sit on the curb and whack his shins with a hammer. When asked why, he would reply, “Because it feels so good when it stops hurting.”

    Keep whacking away at the calvinist/traditionalist stuff, bro. You do a good job.

    I agree with Rick Patrick in his assessment that aside from the theological issues there are a number of indispensible ancillary issues on Calvinism in the SBC. I have little interest in the doctrinal debates because I see those as unresolvable and have heard it all over the years.

    I had thought that Frank Page’s informal committee would be beneficial and spur healthy discussion, patient consideration, and possibly a modicum of resolution for the way forward. My optimisim has waned somewhat since it appears that the committee meet and discuss privately and then will finish, make a pronouncement, and then we will go back to competing websites, blogs, and arguments. Perhaps I am wrong on this.

    I find few people who are active in the discussion to be objectionable or out of bounds. Rick Patrick has a sense of humor that he should franchise to Calvinists who seem to lack the same. Adam Harwood is polite and patient with responses. I have always thought that Tom Ascol handled himself professionally. Eric Hankins does well, also.

    It seems that the SBC hoi polloi will continue to find arenas like this one as their main venue for discussing the thing. I appreciate your attempt to maintain sanity and congeniality in doing so.

  14. says

    Question is, are those ‘some people’ the entirety of the Traditionalists (for lack of a better term), or just a portion of them? If (as I believe is likely) it’s just a portion, then you’ve got two groups of people, one group with which you can have a meaningful dialogue, and one with which you can’t. Next question is, how do you then manage a dialogue with those in the ‘can’ group when you will also have those from the “can’t” group in the mix.

    • Greg Harvey says

      My father-in-law Craig heard my youngest son Timmy say–one too many times this past Christmas in a trip to Marion, IA–that he “can’t” do something he’s asked to do.

      Craig asked Timmy to bring him a black marker and a piece of printer paper and he wrote this and told Timmy to put it on the refrigerator:


      Now are you ready for a surprise? Timmy says “can’t” a whole lot less. And when he hears an older sibling use the word, he points to the refrigerator.

    • says

      Hey Ben,

      Would it not be fair to say that those who are in the “can” category you describe are those who are a little more amicable to looking for agreement as opposed to points of disagreement and is that not a matter of personal perspective on our part when we make those kinds of distinctions?

      A real good example is your own question… in your eyes apparently it is the Trads who have these “can’s” and “cant’s” … so it seems to me there is a judgmental fallacy in your question to begin with. See my point?

      For the record… I do not see people in the calvinist camp as being “can’s” or “cant’s” and the real reason I write as I do is for the benefit of those people who are honestly looking for answers… they read one person’s perspective and another’s and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will guide them in the right direction.


      • says

        Actually, I phrased the question that way because I was replying to Jason G’s comment (though I somehow didn’t get my comment attached to his), and he seemed to be coming from the Calvinist side seeing all Trads as “undialogable”. My point was that just because some Trads are undialogable, that doesn’t mean that all are, and thus there is some hope (as opposed to Jason G’s saying there’s no hope). I’m much closer to the Trad side, so it’s unlikely that I’ll see that Trads as the whole problem. Seems to me there’s plenty of self-righteousness and arrogance on *both* sides (though, happily, not permeating both sides – as in not everyone on both sides is self-righteous and arrogant, just some of them).

        I think there are a number of different things which put people into the ‘can dialog with’ category. Some have actually learned something about listening. Some have learned enough about their own fallibility and ability to get things wrong to figure out that arrogantly refusing to listen to others is neither profitable nor justifiable. Some have figured out that, strange as it may seem, sometimes you can learn from people who are (mostly) wrong. Some have actually paid attention to 2 Tim 2:24 (“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone……correcting his opponents with gentleness”). It goes on.

        • Jason G. says


          To be fair, I was not accusing any one side as being more guilty. I referenced comments/allusions made in this particular thread about calvinists believing a different gospel as being an example of how this discussion seems hopeless. If there are calvinists saying that traditionalists believe and preach a different (and thus, false) gospel…then they would be equally to blame. I just had not read such a comment in this thread.

          Here was my point: when any side holds such a position they make dialogue next to impossible because it moves the discussion away from brothers discussing doctrine, to believers vs. heretics. I just don’t see that as helpful or promoting meaningful dialogue.

          I did not mean to imply that one side is solely to blame in the overall discussion. Nor did I state or imply that “all” of any side are unable to dialogue.

          Maybe I should elaborate a bit…I don’t see the whole discussion as hopeless. If I did, I would not respond at all. I just find statements that call into question how much people believe and preach the Gospel, regardless of what side they come from, irresponsible and unbecoming of Christian brothers.

          I hope that clarifies my comments.

          • says

            Except that, as far as I can tell in this comment thread, you’re the only one using the ‘different gospel’ terminology. No one *has* asserted that the other side believes a ‘different gospel’.

          • says

            To be pedantic, I’ll note that Jim G does refer to the “you preach another gospel” accusation inevitably show up, but I can’t see where anyone has actually made the ‘different gospel’ accusation against anyone else here.

          • Jason G. says


            Bob made some comments down that line when someone defined the gospel. I asked for clarification, and he refused to take the opportunity to tell me that was not what he was saying…and used a smiley face emoticon when I said that a non-answer is an answer.

            I didn’t “use” that language. I asked if that was what he was saying. If that is not what he was saying I will be glad to retract my subsequent statements. Fair enough?

          • Jason G. says

            Here is the original comment that caused me to ask my question…

            “when it comes to how a person comes to Christ and asses (sic) from death unto life… and the character of God is at the forefront of the discussion… I am afraid it is going to be difficult for me to see the best in someone when we are so different in our positions…”

            This comment speaks of Gospel (“coming to Christ”, “pass(ing) from death unto life”) and then says the very word in question “different in our positions”.

            Thus I asked for clarification if he really meant that those that differ from him preach/believe a “different gospel”. I made no accusation, just asked a question…a legit question, considering the topic of the thread.

      • says


        Thanks for the response. Obviously that is one of the problems with reading and writing… sometimes the reading is in the wrong frame and the writing is in the wrong place!

        I agree with you… reading and writing and dialoging with people that I disagree with has been very educational for me personally because it has challenged me to see what I write through the eyes of others and that has brought about serious changes in my perspectives at times and it has also challenged me to make sure that what I believe is valid for me in light of what others believe. So I am really appreciative of the opportunity for dialogue or I would not be doing it!

        And… there are some who are not worth arguing with… (realizing that many will put me into that category…) BUT… I do listen very well and I do give every comment that is written to me the benefit of the doubt… I may not engage but I do give the writer that benefit of reading what he has written.

        Have a great weekend…


  15. says

    Dave, great points in your solution!

    I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to promote it, there are only two things in this soteriology debate that we need to agree on:

    1) That God is sovereign.
    2) The man is responsible for his sin.

    Obviously there’s more to the gospel than that, but this age-old debate centers on these. We generally associate Calvinism with #1 and non-Calvinism with free will. I think it’s more helpful (and more biblical) to think of free will in terms of #2. The thing is that Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike believe both #1 and #2. However, in our debates passionate non-Calvinists often try to push Calvinists off of #2 and cage-stage Calvinists often try to push non-Calvinists off of #1. Both are uncharitable mischaracterizations and they breed distrust.

    I would say that in our discussions, if we first discover that we agree on these two points, then the discussion will center on honestly (honestly, not just trying to bait each other) trying to understand each other in a loving way.

  16. Jim G. says

    “4. Talk biblical exegesis more than theological systems.”

    I think that one of the greatest drawbacks in this whole debate is our (C and non-C alike) failure to see that we are looking through the eyes of tradition – that is, an interpretive, hermeneutical framework.

    Exegesis is a wonderful thing, but it will not – I repeat, will not – solve this debate. This debate, as much as the opponents wish and think otherwise, does not turn on Scripture. It turns on how we read Scripture (whoever the “we” is). This debate goes all the way back to the early 5th century. Surely if exegesis has not solved it in 1600 years, it won’t now.

    This debate is hermeneutical and theological. Both sides use what the Bible says (exegesis) to frame what the Bible “says” – that is, means (hermeneutics) to argue their respective positions. The trads are the Baptist wing of the patristic free-will tradition on nature and grace of both east and west. The Calvinists are the Baptist wing of the Augustinian tradition on nature and grace. This is a debate over hermeneutical tradition, theological method, and other such commitments; Scripture is ancillary. Until we are willing to first admit this – on both sides – reconciliation will only be a cease-fire, because the “You preach another gospel” accusation cannot help but show up.

    If we can learn to separate exegesis and hermeneutics, that will be a solid first step. As for the idea that theology should always follow exegesis, I don’t think that holds water, nor should it always be so. The very fact that the church flourished before the writing of the NT (and developed short rules of faith like “Jesus is Lord” or “Maranatha” – theological enterprises nonetheless) should give us a pause, at least for a moment.

    Jim G.

    • parsonsmike says

      The church had the Word before it was written. The Spirit brought to their minds the words of Jesus and gave them remembrance of it… all things.

      God wants us to wrestle with these things but surely in a proper way.

      • Jim G. says

        No disagreement here, Mike. But we must also agree that the Spirit gave instruction on matters Jesus did not address (Acts 6 and 15 immediately come to mind). And I do think there is a proper way. :0)

        Jim G.

    • Debbie Kaufman says

      JimG: You are right. I can agree with this. So why talk about it? Why fret that either view is being taught in churches or even seminaries. Both should be left alone to teach as they believe. Traditionalists as well as Calvinists. Both should be in the SBC. Both should hold office if qualified. Both should get along and respect each others views. That has always been my point. One should not be going after the other as far as doctrine. Both should be welcome in the same room.

    • Randall Cofield says

      Jim G.,

      This debate is hermeneutical and theological. Both sides use what the Bible says (exegesis) to frame what the Bible “says” – that is, means (hermeneutics) to argue their respective positions. The trads are the Baptist wing of the patristic free-will tradition on nature and grace of both east and west. The Calvinists are the Baptist wing of the Augustinian tradition on nature and grace. This is a debate over hermeneutical tradition, theological method, and other such commitments; Scripture is ancillary.

      I think this is precisely why we need to return to the apostolic hermeneutic. We do, after all, have a significant body of their work from which to learn. And there has been a massive amount of scholarly work done in this area over the last 40-50 years.

      That’d solve the substantial problem of Scripture being ancillary in this debate.

      If accurate exegesis of the Scripture cannot resolve the debate we really have no ground upon which to have a debate.

      • Jim G. says

        Hi Randall,

        I’m not sure that would bode well for the Calvinistic strain. The first real systematic theologian of the church was Irenaeus, who was a third-generation Christian (He was the disciple of Polycarp who was in turn a disciple of John). Irenaeus stands firmly in the free will tradition (AH 4:37 is but one example). So does everyone else through the 4th century. We do not have anyone in the Augustinian tradition until, well, Augustine, and that did not occur until 395. So there were approximately 350 years where only the free will tradition shaped Christian anthropology. In the era where received tradition and apostolic succession were the order of the day, it would be hard to believe that everyone who lived in the period between the apostles and Augustine failed to understand the apostolic hermeneutic.

        Jim G.

        • Randall Cofield says


          Should we be concerned with protecting either “strain” involved in this debate?

          I simply want to know the truth. Accurate exegesis is the only means to that end, and defining and following the apostolic hermeneutic should represent the common means of accurate exegesis.

          If they didn’t get it right we are all merely rearranging doctrinal deck-chairs on a sinking soteriological Titanic.

        • Jim G. says

          Hi Randall,

          I think you might have missed my point. Irenaeus (who was of the free will tradition) certainly believed he was following the apostolic hermeneutic. He was only two generations from it.

          On the other hand, the Augustinian hermeneutic did not arise until 300+ years after the apostolic era. It would be hard to argue that the hermeneutic practiced by today’s Augustinians (largely Calvinists) is the true apostolic hermeneutic. It would be much easier to argue that Irenaeus’ hermeneutic is the one the apostles practiced. There is a clear line of continuity from the apostolic fathers through the apologists to Irenaeus and to the Africans (both in Carthage and in Alexandria). Augustine is a departure from the received tradition.

          Jim G.

          • Randall Cofield says


            So you are contending that the “Trads” are exegeting all things soteriological according to the apostolic hermeneutic?

          • Christiane says

            Irenaeus is known to have heard the preaching of St. Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John . . .

          • Jim G. says

            Hi Randall,

            No. I’m saying the great free-will tradition (of which the Trads are but a part, and not the whole) has a much better chance of being closer to the apostolic hermeneutic than the Augustinian hermeneutic does. Arguing for a return to the apostolic hermeneutic does not help your case as a Calvinist.

            But back to my original point, both sides need to see they are utilizing a hermeneutic. A little shot of critical realism does a body good, whether a trad or C.

            Jim G.

          • Randall Cofield says

            Jim G,

            Well, brother, if John’s (12:37-41) interpretation of Isaiah is any indicator I think the “great free-will tradition” might be a little more difficult to arrive at by the apostolic hermeneutic than you seem to think; but I’ll agree with you that a little critical realism would be good for us all.

            Thanks for the exchange, brother.

  17. parsonsmike says

    Jason G.,
    Here is a comment I made after the one that prompted your inquiry to Bob:

    Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, obeying God’s Law perfectly, and willingly went to the cross of Calvary and suffered and died for the sins of men rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand on the throne of God, and Bob, if you believe these to be true and trust in Jesus repenting of your sins, He will save you from your deserved fate by His grace and mercy.

    What disagreement with the above do you have?
    … a calvinist

    and Bob did reply:

    30 Bob Hadley February 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm


    I have no problem with your statement.

    • Jason G. says

      Right. To which he also said: “I have no problem with your statement. I do have a problem with the disclaimer that calvinism throws into that statement… that only those that God effectually calls will believe and trust Christ and repent.”

      Thus my clarifying question is important. Honestly, this whole situation could be cleared up, if Bob answered the question I asked.

  18. says

    Jason G,
    I would ask you the same question in reverse.

    My take is that I am hearing so many variations that pinning one label and answering the question would be misleading.

    If one teaches that a person is born lost and can never ever be saved or have opportunity to be saved, then yes, that is another gospel.

    If one teaches that God knows who will and who will not but offers salvation to all, then that is the same.

    • Jason G. says


      Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this. I appreciate it.

      First, I do not, for one second, believe that calvinists or anyone along the spectrum of ideas other than calvinist within the SBC preach different gospels.

      I believe we preach the same gospel. I believe we may emphasize different aspects of that gospel, but I do not believe that it is a different gospel at all.

      That doesn’t mean that I don’t hear things that trouble me. But it means that at the end of the day I trust that we tell someone the exact same good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the need for all people to repent and believe.

      Now, to your specific question: the scenario you set up is an interesting one, as it gets to the issue of whether or not every single person who lives has access to the Gospel. That throws this conversation a different direction. If what you mean by that question is (and I think this is what you mean, but correct me if I am wrong), do I feel that every person who has heard the Gospel has a legitimate opportunity to come to faith in Christ, then the answer is yes. Every time I share the Gospel I am working from the position that the person who hears it has every opportunity to repent and believe, and I call them to do so.

      Does that help?

      • says

        Jason G,
        You and I answer it this way, yet many Calvinist have shared with me (one even did so in NO at the SBC) that the difference between us was that I think I got saved while he just realized he was saved.

        That is a different Gospel to me. If one is born saved (elect) and just needs to realize it, we have a problem.

        • Jason G. says

          OK, that is troubling. I would ask him to flesh that out a bit and get to the heart of it. I have heard bad explanations of the Gospel from both sides…what I want to get to is: what would you tell an unbeliever they must know and do to be saved?

          Sometimes our theological discussions obfuscate what we really believe…the above question gets to the heart of their understanding of the Gospel. Sometimes we can over-think it when we get in debates and discussions, especially if we are trying to emphasize a particular point. But the heart of the Gospel is still the message of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection – and then the Gospel presentation makes a demand on the hearer to repent and believe. I doubt you find to many SBCers who would differentiate on those core beliefs.

          • says

            Jason G,
            You and I would hope to not find people who would differentiate yet they do exists. Hard for me and others to accept that we have those coming out of college and seminary who actually preach to their people that “their children may not be part of the elect” thus “praying wont change that”. Yet, it has and is occurring in churches today.

            I have said for the last few years that many of my mentors and their friends would have fit a “4 point” identity but being Calvinistic was never their goal. The younger version of the 5 point type is far more aggressive and even willing to say that they have the Gospel while those disagreeing do not. Tis a sad day!

          • Jason G. says


            I will not discount what you say, but I have never encountered anyone who says or believes what you have said. You would think as a “younger version of a 5 point type”, who attended a seminary which is calvinist-friendly (you might say worse), that I would have encountered at least one person who believes what you just posted. But I haven’t.

            But anecdotal evidence like that can be presented on both sides and is not really of much value in this discussion. Each of us have met “that guy”, and those guys exist on both sides. Poor theology and inability to communicate knows no theological boundary. There is a crucial questions to ask in response to anecdotal evidence: Is that position what the majority of “the other side” hold or is this an exception? If you can find some verifiable evidence of someone who has written and/or preached such things, then such an anecdote might be useful. In the absence of such, it is useless.

            I would go on to ask: Have you encountered someone on this website who holds those views? I have not.

            It is hard for me to respond to the view of “some guy” when I have never heard anyone say that, never read anyone say that, and never been presented with any evidence that such a statement was ever uttered by a SBC young calvinist. You know what I mean?

            My whole point was that both sides need to avoid thinking that we have the market cornered on having the Gospel. Too much of that talk going on. We are on the same team.

  19. Jon says

    Focusing on exegesis instead of theological systems is crucial. Anyone can filter Scripture through a theological system. If we begin with Scripture and interpret it faithfully, I think we will all come out a little of this and a little of that. We’ll probably find that no system was wholly correct or false and that they all contained some truth.

    • says


      You’re not being real, here. Everyone filters Scripture through a theological system to some degree. “A little of this and a little of that” is not how we arrive at a coherent understanding of the whole of Scripture—without any contradictions or inconsistencies. God does not contradict Himself, and that same God calls us to study His word to understand it the best that we can possibly understand it. We cannot settle for a little of eternal security and a little of insecure salvation, a little of law and a little of grace, etc.

      • Jon says

        Ken Hamrick:

        I believe you missed the point of what I said. If we study Scripture apart from theological systems, we will find that just about all theological systems reflect Scripture to some degree or another, though none of them do so fully. We’ll find that each system was right in some areas and wrong in others. We’ll come to see what the Bible says, in other words. Significantly, the Bible does not contradict itself. But I don’t think we can fully understand everything it has to say, and I suspect that from our vantage point a certain amount of paradox will remain. I think ambiguity and tension remain because we are finite creatures attempting to understand the Word of God. I don’t think it will look extremely logical and altogether coherent at all times.

        Thanks for your response.

  20. says

    Here’s the root of the disagreement over Calvinism, from which all other disagreements stem:

    The libertarian (“Traditionalist, if you prefer) view of God leaves no room for any disparity in God’s full desire to save all men (which would impugn God’s goodness and love for all men); while the Calvinist’s view of man leaves no room for any disparity in the sinners’ complete aversion toward God (if merely “enabled” to make a free choice, all men would freely reject God).

    When, for example, the libertarian argues for the salvation decision to be ultimately in the sinner’s hands, and the Calvinist objects that the credit for his salvation must then go to the sinner who chose rightly as opposed to the sinner who chose wrongly, the libertarian seems to have a mental block at that point and will never acknowledge what amounts to a valid criticism. The problem is that freedom of will is not where the libertarian starts. It is not his goal to defend free will but to vindicate God’s goodness—defending free will is merely a means toward that end. So when the defense of free will leads to the quagmire of having a superior group of sinners acting rightly to save themselves, the discussion bogs down.

    The Calvinist emphasis on grace results from his view of the equal depravity and aversion to God, since such a condition would require that the grace of God of itself bring the man to faith, accomplishing what the man does not have within him to accomplish or even assist in. Calvinists are not primarily arguing for passivity for its own sake, but rather, they are arguing primarily for equal aversion to God (equal depravity). The libertarian version of depravity is not the same as the Calvinist—it is not an equal depravity (inconsistent objections to the contrary notwithstanding). The inequality shows up when the libertarian posits that there is a decision point just short of actual faith, at which God has enabled sinners to arrive, and in which God has left the decision up to the men, resulting in some who accept and some who reject. The Calvinist objection that such believers have earned their salvation is not the real objection—the Calvinist is really objecting to the unequal aversion to God such that some are more averse to God and some not so much. Such a moral disparity is the logical result of the libertarian view, but not what they primarily are arguing for.

    For an example on the other side, when the Calvinist argues in ways that seem to invalidate the role of the will of men all together, and the libertarian objects that it makes God the author of sin, the Calvinist seems to have a mental block at that point and will never acknowledge this valid criticism. The free will of men is not what the Calvinist is really denying, though he seems to use such arguments. His real goal is to defend the tenet of equal depravity of all men, such that no disparity of moral quality or spiritual responsiveness exists. So the discussion bogs down at that point.

    The libertarian objects to determinism primarily because it has God predestinating people to hell (even if only by default), which impugns God’s goodness and love for all men. The objection to God being both author and punisher of evil is offered in support of this primary objection. It is not in response to the Calvinist’s main presupposition, but is one of those critiques of the logical result of the opposing view.

    Neither side will admit what they do not intend, even if it is the logical result of their argument. And, both sides have logical results that they do not intend. Thus, the most frequent complaints are of misrepresentation. For those interested in attempting real progress, I suggest that we first admit that our imperfect systems leave us with some unintended but logically valid consequences. Second, we should address the root issue as spelled out above. Face it “head-on” and dispense with the futility of secondary issues.

  21. says

    Do you really want progress on this debate? Then work toward a valid, systematic explanation of how God could genuinely love all men—men who each one would reject Him unless He chose to successfully persuade them—but elect to save only some. Both sides begin with the false assumption that God cannot do both; but that assumption does not come from Scripture but from faulty logic.

    • Frank L. says


      I think I agree with you if I understand you correctly. But, there is nothing to “work toward.” You have stated it as far as it can go. I agree it is perfectly logical for this matter to be incomprehensible.

      It may warrant a casual conversation over lunch among friends, but it does not deserve a whole lot of attention otherwise. We should concentrate on things like, “how can I love my neighbor in a tangible, godly way” that will present God in all His glory as God draws my neighbor to Himself.”

      That’s a productive discussion in my opinion.

      • says


        I think it is strange that those like you who want to shut down the discussion by declaring it incomprehensible assert such a declaration with a comprehending confidence that belies your assessment. If it really were so incomprehensible, then you would not be so confident that no one would be able to arrive at a satisfactory solution; and if you are able to comprehend the topic so well as to confidently declare that no one will be able to take it any farther, then maybe its not so incomprehensible after all.

    • Randall Cofield says


      I’m aware of several notable Calvinists who have developed a pretty solid, systematic explanation of how God can genuinely love all men…and elect to save only some.

      Could you point me to a few non-Calvinists who have developed a solid, systematic explanation of how God can elect to save only some…and genuinely love all?

      • says

        I would love to read such an explanation from a Calvinist. Remember, though, that any supposed love that does not include a genuine desire of any kind for their eternal salvation falls short. R. L. Dabney came close, I think, in pointing to the fact that the “Scriptures ascribe to God pity toward the lost,” and saying that Calvin and Turretin were “afraid lest God’s principle of compassion (not purpose of rescue), towards sinners non elect, should find any expression, and thus mar the symmetry of their logic.” Dabney held that God does indeed have compassion for the lost, but which He was could not act upon due to other exigencies in His nature. He says,

        For instance a philanthropic man meets a distressed and destitute person. The good man is distinctly conscious in himself of a movement of sympathy tending towards a volition to give the sufferer money. But he remembers that he has expressly promised all the money now in his possession, to be paid this very day to a just creditor. The good man bethinks himself, that he “ought to be just before he is generous,” and conscience and wisdom counterpoise the impulse of sympathy; so that it does not form the deliberate volition to give alms. But the sympathy exists, and it is not inconsistent to give other expression to it…
        …This view has a great advantage in that it reveals and enables us to receive those precious declarations of Scripture which declare the compassion of God towards even lost sinners. The glory of these representations is that they show us God’s benevolence as an infinite attribute, like all His other perfection’s. Even where it is rationally restrained, it exists. The fact that there is a lost order of angels, and that there are persons in our guilty race, who are objects of God’s decree of preterition, does not arise from any stint or failure of this infinite benevolence. It is as infinite, viewed as it qualifies God’s nature only as though He had given expression to it in the salvation of all the devils and lost men. We can now receive, without any abatement, such blessed declarations as Ps. 81:13; Ezek. 18:32; Luke 19:41, 42.

        Personally, I see the exigency that constrains the operations of God’s loving grace on the race is that of immanent justice. A sinner who kills his wife may repent and be saved, but the immanent justice of the situation remains, as God will not bring back the wife. Just so, the race sinned in Adam; and that sin will result in the majority of the race perishing in sin as a matter of immanent justice for the race as a whole. The fact that not all will be saved, and thus not all have been elected, is not due to divine indifference or lack of love, but only due to the divine necessity for an immanent justice regarding the race as a whole. It is the same remnant principle illustrated in God’s dealings with Israel in the Old Testament.

        • Randall Cofield says


          No example of non-Calvinists who have “come close” to reconciling God’s election unto salvation with God’s love for all men?

          I think you get my point.

        • parsonsmike says


          Here is my standing position:
          How is it love that God created knowing not only how many [billions?] but also each as individuals and by name who would go to everlasting punishment and that He either would not or could not change that truth and yet created anyway?

          Love being defined as more than a sentimental feeling towards but also as self sacrificial action for the good of the one loved.

          That in the case of those saved, He chose [elected] them and so performed and saved so that they escape their deserved just condemnation by the blood of Jesus.

          Those who perish, as per your understanding, do so out of divine necessity to His own Justice which is overcome by Jesus for those who are saved.

          Individually, God saves some from divine justice and allows others to perish. The difference between heaven and hell then is God. God saves the ones He loves and loves the ones He saves.

          • says


            Scripture declares that God is love. You would have it explained that He is love only for a few. Since as a fellow traducianist you agree that man comes from a common spiritual stock (Adam), then you know that there is no way for God to create only the elect unless He elects all. Therefore, you are begging the question of whether or not there are exigencies in God’s nature that demand an immanent justice for the race that results in only a remnant being saved. If the fact that so many perish is rooted in God’s justice, then it is NOT a matter of His love or lack thereof, since love as you define it would only leave one option: not creating at all.

        • says


          I’m a non-Calvinist, and I gave you a prettty solid and Biblical solution. Reading parsonsmike’s reply should enable you to get my point.

          • Jon says

            Ken, that’s a good point! If we are all originally in Adam, and Christ is the elect one, universalism logically follows. But we don’t believe this. So we have to be careful in our use of federalism.

  22. Jess Alford says


    The other day I was looking up toward Heaven, and it was as if a loving
    warmth came over me. A strong voice spoke to my heart and said that
    I was the best Baptist he had seen in a while.

    Of course that didn’t happen, but it seems as though it has happened to alot of folks including me. The way we carry on is enough to cause a drunk to get sober. Only my point of view counts.

    There has been times I’ve gotten a little hyper, not one thing was accomplished by it. I believe we love one another and learn from
    one another the truth found in God’s word. I know SBC voices has been good for me. Thanks Dave.

  23. Jess Alford says


    I hope the blue ribbon panel can come up with a way to bring harmony
    to Calvinist and non Calvinist. I really think both are wrong for not following scripture. Yes, I did say both!

  24. Bruce H. says

    My journey into the doctrine of Grace was a personal intimate relationship with the Author of it. I was not convinced by debate nor was I won over by overwhelming evidence. I just don’t think many are. Calvinism is ugly in written form and so is Arminianism. As the truths of grace began to open up in scripture I would see into the eternal what I never could see before. I had several commentaries and would begin to compare their thoughts with mine to see if I was seeing the truth the right way. I was amazed that I was able to accept the thought that I was chosen before the foundation of the world. I was not chosen randomly nor was I the last to be chosen, either. I was chosen to be arrayed with His love, His life, His death and His resurrection. I enjoy discussions on this doctrine with others of like mind. That is why I drop hints in lieu of being obvious in order to find others who enjoy this beautiful doctrine. Those that are seeking, like I was, will pick up on the hints and begin to ask questions. If it is all of grace, we who have sensed it must be sensitive to it working or not working in the lives of others. Debate is a red flag to me that grace is not active.

  25. William Thornton says

    One of the odd things in the Calvinist debates is that critics of Calvinism are told that they may not bring anecdotes to the discussion and if they do they are blithely dismissed. To wit:

    Tim G above says, “Hard for me and others to accept that we have those coming out of college and seminary who actually preach to their people that “their children may not be part of the elect” thus “praying wont change that”. Yet, it has and is occurring in churches today. ”

    To which Jason G replies, “But anecdotal evidence like that can be presented on both sides [Really? I’ve never heard it from the other side, never in decades of pastoring] and is not really of much value in this discussion. Each of us have met “that guy”, and those guys exist on both sides. ”

    Tim expresses a concern that is derived from Calvinistic doctrine and, more important, Calvinistic practices in an SBC church. Tim is not alone in such observations. Jason asserts that such anecdotes are across the theological board and have little value.

    I have observed this exact proffer and response repeatedly and have gotten the same dismissive reaction. Such tells me that Calvinists are not willing to address some of the concerns of the Traditionalists, concerns that affect the life and health of churches and, incidentially, how they (Calvinists) will be viewed.

    The result is that we now have DOMs, state convention executives and others who are highly suspicious of Calvinists and who look askance at graduates of two of our seminaries, as if they will all be tainted. Some of these associational, state convention, and national SBC leaders will actively work to keep such grads out of churches in their areas.

    Seems to be that a productive discussion of Calvinism would accept these anectotes that are reflexively dismissed and attempt to understand why some object to the beliefs behind them. As it is going now, and I recognize that blogs here and elsewere do not fully define Calvinists, many SBCers get their only view of Calvinism and Calvininsts here, we seem to be moving to the place where churches and others seeking ordained staff will be forced to classify candidates on the basis of their Calvinistic beliefs or lack thereof, Calvinism becoming the Scarlet Letter for our denomination.

    I do not know a solution to this. Maybe Page’s committee has one they have developed in secret and are about to shovel out to us.

    • Rick Patrick says


      “…we seem to be moving to the place where churches and others seeking ordained staff will be forced to classify candidates on the basis of their Calvinistic beliefs or lack thereof…”

      We’ve screened for Calvinism in our last two youth ministers. Most associations do so at the DOM level. In most interviews today, this question is one of the first to be asked. So this is already happening.

      Because it is already happening with regard to established churches, the question becomes, “What do we do about FUTURE churches, like church planting at NAMB, and the appointment of missionaries around the world?” Do we screen there as well? According to what proportion? How Calvinist or Traditionalist a convention are we seeking to build?

      Believe me when I say that many Traditionalists expect their tithes and offerings to promote Traditionalist church plants and send out missionaries who will have altar calls, invite people to pray a sinner’s prayer, and basically look like them, while many Calvinists want their tithes and offerings to promote Calvinist church plants and send out Calvinist missionaries–Acts 29 and 20 Schemes come to mind.

      • Randall Cofield says


        We’ve screened for Calvinism in our last two youth ministers. Most associations do so at the DOM level. In most interviews today, this question is one of the first to be asked. So this is already happening.

        Just curious here, but would your church “screen out” such men as Danny Akin, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, or Dave Miller if they interviewed for a position on your pastoral staff?

        • Randall Cofield says

          Or, how about David Platt? Or John MacArthur? Would these men be unable to “make the cut” at your church?

          • Rick Patrick says


            I’m certainly not saying these are not good men. I’m saying we do not want a youth minister to teach our children things we don’t believe about God. Our youth parents are united on this matter, as is our church staff, as is our congregation.

            It works the other way as well. Mark Dever is not going to call a Traditionalist as his next youth minister. Al Mohler is not going to call a Traditionalist as his next Dean of Theology.

            This is not so much about “making the cut” in terms of quality as it is about “having the right fit” with your organization theologically.

          • Randall Cofield says


            I beg to differ. I know a number of Calvinist pastors and churches who have people on their staff who do not completely agree with them soteriologically. And Mohler does indeed hire professors who are not Calvinists.

            It is your approach (the approach you are advocating for the entire convention) that seems to be a thoroughly jaundiced, prejudicial one-way-street, not the Calvinists’ approach.

          • says

            I have a staff with one Calvinist and one non-Calvinist (not sure where he would stand on the Traditionalist Doc) – I’m probably in the middle between the two of them. We don’t make Calvinism an issue here. Some are and some aren’t. If I went to another church and started hiring staff, I would want that same kind of mixture of Calvinists and non-Calvinists. As long as they are not obsessed or belligerent, it works pretty well.

        • John Wylie says

          I’m not against Calvinists but what is wrong with screening out people who wouldn’t really fit in with your church theologically? I personally wouldn’t hire a Preterist or an Amil leaning staff member.

      • says

        Rick, when you talk, I get this impression that I hope is wrong. You have said that you do not want your CP dollars to support Calvinists. Is there a place for Calvinists in the SBC you envision? More specifically, is there a place in SBC leadership for Calvinists? Should entities screen for and eliminate all Calvinists from all positions of influence?

        I am left to wonder if there is any place in your SBC for Calvinists, or if you would prefer that they all vanish.

        • says

          My vision is of a denomination that unites around a worldwide mission, based on a common (conservative) theology of salvation by grace and basic Baptist principles, but welcoming Calvinists and non-Calvinists, Traditionalist churches and those who are more contemporary in their cultural approach – whatever. A Big-tent conservative Baptist denomination.

          But that necessitates that we not exclude people for their views on the wide range of issues related to Calvinism or for their cultural views or whatever.

          It is my impression that you do not share that kind of vision. Am I wrong? Your statements tend to paint Calvinism as outside the boundaries of Baptist life and express a desire not to fellowship with or support Calvinists, so I am left to wonder.

          What is your vision of the SBC of the future?

    • Debbie Kaufman says

      William: The same can be said for non-Calvinist aka Fundamentalist churches and ministers too. Any anecdote brought is also dismissed by non-Calvinists. There are many abuses on both sides of the spectrum. That should be addressed and simply stopped. But neither has anything to do with Theology and we both know that. That has to do with sin. It should be called out and stopped. You seem to take aim that it is just a Calvinist problem. Not really, it’s a SBC problem as a whole and has been for 20 plus years. Many in the SBC are simply jerks. Mean. That is what has to stop. Not these silly doctrinal wars that have nothing to do with doctrine.

      • Debbie Kaufman says

        That should say 120 plus years. No matter the length of time, that is what needs to stop so that we can have a heart for the reason we are in here. Missions.

      • cb scott says


        I may be mistaken, but I do not think your pastor describes himself as a Calvinist. Therefore, would you call him an aka Fundamentalist-non-Calvinist or is he beyond such descripters?

      • William Thornton says

        Debbie, the anecdote used by Tim G above is directly related to theology. I presume that is why he used it.

    • Jason G. says


      Since you have quoted me, I feel I should clarify, I think anecdotal evidence can be useful…but only a certain type of anecdotal evidence.

      I don’t know Tim and he doesn’t know me, personally. So the internet adds a difficulty level to this discussion. But here is my point…anyone can just bring such evidence to the discussion, and there is no way to verify its acuracy. To spend our time discussing some anecdote that I have no idea ever happened is not useful nor fruitful…no matter who brings it. In personal discussions it may very well be helpful if we know each other, but even then it is tenuous. But in internet discussions I just don’t see the value of sharing the story of a nameless, faceless guy that I have never heard of saying something I cannot verify that he said. Now, some anecdotes can be helpful and cannot and should not be disregarded. If there were an audio recording or a book citation or a blog entry that were presented, then that would be legitimate evidence worthy of discussion because we have something tangible in front of us to discuss, something verifiable.

      I cannot respond to something someone claims they heard…because I know nothing about what they heard. I hope that makes sense. I am not reflexively dismissing the existence of anecdotes. I am saying that entering into evidence “hearsay” would not stand in a court of law and it creates a problem in discussion. I believe this is pretty obvious. Now, providing proof of a statement (blog, book, sermon, etc) is not hearsay and we can actually discuss. It becomes actual evidence. So it is not ALL anecdotal evidence that is unhelpful…but the “I know a guy and he said…” type of evidence that is unverifiable and thus unhelpful for productive discussion. That sort of “evidence” is unfair because of its very nature (which is why courts disallow it).

      I thought I made that clear before, but evidently not. I hope this helps you understand what I mean.

      • William Thornton says

        Part of the reality of Calvinism in the SBC is that there are not a few Calvinists who behave in this way. I appreciate it when the more sensible, more mature, probably more thoughtful Calvinists such as the ones who comment here disavow such things. At the same time it puzzles me why, when it is asserted here by people like myself or Tim G or several others we are chastised for attempting to frame the discussion with anecdotes and told it is ‘unfair’. It is part of the reality of the Calvinism/Traditionalism conflict in the SBC.

        • Jason G. says

          Yes, but how can you expect anyone to respond to an incident which they have no idea of its existence or what was said. How many times have you as a pastor said something, which you thought was very clear, but people misheard you or misrepresented you because they wanted to hear what they want to hear?

          I just believe we should deal with facts…verifiable facts. If you bring a book citation or a sermon or a blog post, we can all look at that information and evaluate it more fairly…because it is verifiable. The idea of having actual proof, verifiable proof is not crazy. Multiple witnesses must verify a charge against an elder in SCR. Hearsay evidence is not admissible in court. Why? Because we cannot evaluate unverifiable “evidence”. That is not unreasonable.

          I want to disavow bad representations. I have denied bad representations as they have been offered up. I did so in this thread. No one is denying that such bad examples actually exist. Asking for verifiable evidence is not a denial that such evidence exists…it is just asking someone to do the work. Again, not unreasonable.

          Yes, there are jerk calvinists. I know this. Yes, there are people who say they are calvinists and believe some screwy stuff. I agree they are out there. I have met some too. Is that your point? If so, I don’t think you need to keep on making it….we get it, and we agree. But I don’t think those few disprove the majority and they definitely don’t disprove the beliefs that the majority hold.

          And…I don’t think citing those few unverifiable assertions (that wouldn’t even be admissible in court) helps prove your point or helps us have a better discussion.

  26. Randall Cofield says


    You state:

    One of the odd things in the Calvinist debates is that critics of Calvinism are told that they may not bring anecdotes to the discussion and if they do they are blithely dismissed. To wit:

    William, I don’t think that statement is a reasonable representation of Calvinists. After all, we even have a term for those so often offered as anecdotal evidence. We call ’em “cage stage” Calvinists precisely because they have not yet learned to handle truth wisely and are, therefore, dangerous. Your side has ’em too, brother, and they are no less dangerous.

    To which Jason G replies, “But anecdotal evidence like that can be presented on both sides [Really? I’ve never heard it from the other side, never in decades of pastoring] and is not really of much value in this discussion. Each of us have met “that guy”, and those guys exist on both sides. ”

    Really, brother? You’ve never, in decades of pastoring, had a Calvinist offer you anecdotal evidence of error on the part of non-Calvinists? Never had a Calvinist point you to non-Calvinists who are radical decisional-regenerationists, abusive repeat-prayer advocates, emotional manipulators, or conscienceless membership-drive maniacs, etc., etc.?



    • William Thornton says

      Randall, you are using fudge words in your response as when you say that the eschewing of anecdotes such as cited are not a “reasonable representation” of Calvinists. No one can define “reasonable representation” but folks like Tim G, myself, and others here can state plainly that this is one of the things we have regularly heard. In many years of these discussions, I can always count on someone offering an anecdote and some Calvinist dismissing it.

      One thing for certain is that these practical expressions of Calvinism in churches are not being dismissed by churches, DOMs, and others who recognize a problem. It may be judged that this reaction is unnecessary but it cannot be said that such does not exist.

      You did not read closely what I wrote. It was stated that Calvinists are saying to church folks that “their children may not be part of the elect” thus “praying wont change that”. I have never heard that except from a Calvinist and have heard that or a version of that many times. It is one of the top tier Calvinist salvos that cause them harm. Your better response would be to distance yourself from it rather than to discount it or to maintain that non-Calvinists say such things as well.

      The reality on the ground here is that Calvinists are being increasingly scrutinized by churches, search committees, DOMs, and pastors on the front line. I know of one church close by that, like Rick, has pushed Calvinism to the forefront of their discussions with staff candidates.

      I am middle of the road on this and know Calvinist pastors whom I have great respect for and whose churches are ones that I would be pleased to be a part of. I do find it troublesome that concerns of Traditionalists are treated dismissively.

      • cb scott says

        Randall Cofield,

        Just recently I worked with a church wherein several members related a testimony almost word-for-word that of which Tim G. described in his comment and to which William Thornton referenced in response to you.

        In addition, my opinion on this matter has become increasingly similar to that of William Thornton on this issue.

        I remember a time in the SBC when Calvinists and Traditionalists did not refer to each other as “your side” or “our side.” Tell me, Randall Cofield. What caused such a drastic change? And please do not tell me there has been no change.

        • says


          This isn’t the whole of it, but I do believe that a rise in immature Calvinists (with a ‘your side’ or ‘our side’) has to do little with Calvinism itself. As one who was once an immature and jerky Calvinist (and probably still can be) it didn’t come from the system I had embraced it came from my spiritual immaturity.

          But what I believe happens quite frequently is that young Calvinists assume that correct doctrine=correct living. We get our theology nailed down but don’t do the harder work of conforming our hearts to the risen Christ. At times I think that due to a lack of wisdom we can say things that might be theologically true but wrongly applied (kind of like Job’s miserable counselors).

          And so as Calvinism has seen a resurgence I think you also see the negative side of that resurgence; namely, young men and women theologically embrace the doctrines of grace without the spirit of grace. Happened in the Calvinistic resurgence that came with the Great Awakening in the 1700s and its happening in our day. For those that do not embrace the doctrine of Calvinism these immature examples provide a handy whipping boy. And in some ways rightfully so. Angry and divisive Calvinists do sinfully split churches. They do say things that are immature and unwise. And they ought to be called to the carpet. But sadly its chalked up to the “system” rather than the hearts.

          And so we keep fighting about all of this and using anecdotes, etc. Honestly, we sound like those ideologues after school shooting and such that want to blame everything except for where the real problem lies…in the human heart.

          • William Thornton says

            Mike, you are a reasonable guy and I appreciate that and I am not fighting about anything. I am merely pointing out that at some point Calvinists must recognize that anecdotes are both real and significant. Perhaps we should stop speaking of ‘anecdotes’ as if those are imaginary things and start speaking of ‘evidence.’

            If you or Randall or others wish for a discussion to be on a completely hypothetical and theoretical plane, just say so and that can be done. If we wish, however, to discuss Calvinism in the SBC, we cannot ignore or dismiss the hard facts about Calvinists and their impact on churches, anecdotes if you prefer.

            Have a nice weekend.

          • says

            I must really stink at communicating. One of my major points there was to acknowledge that those anecdotes are real. But also to say that a discussion of Calvinists and Calvinism is a different thing.

        • Randall Cofield says

          C.B. Scott,

          What caused such a drastic change? And please do not tell me there has been no change.

          A combination of cage-phase Cals and immature Trads who have no idea how to deal with them spurred on by militant “Trads”?

          I’ll ask you the same thing I asked William: Wouldn’t most of the Calvinists you know soundly rebuke church-splitting cage-phase Calvinists?

          • cb scott says

            Randall Cofield,

            ” Wouldn’t most of the Calvinists you know soundly rebuke church-splitting cage-phase Calvinists?”

            You have asked a question that has been answered in my presence many times. Several other guys I know who are and have been Calvinists for a long time state that there are Calvinists guys behaving in a manner now who have caused them (older Calvinists) to feel uncomfortable to say they are Calvinists.

            They say they are embarrassed to be associated with them.

          • Randall Cofield says

            C.B. Scott,


            When Al Mohler says “we need to marginalize those who need to be marginalized” I think he is speaking of those Calvinists behaving badly…and those “Traditionalists” behaving badly.

            The extremists on both sides need to be marginalized or they will spit the entire SBC.

            If I don’t miss my guess, this will be the determination of Frank Page’s Panel on Calvinism.

      • Randall Cofield says


        No sir, I don’t use “fudge words.” I say what I mean and I mean what I say. Nor did I fail to “read closely” what you wrote, viz:

        You did not read closely what I wrote. It was stated that Calvinists are saying to church folks that “their children may not be part of the elect” thus “praying wont change that”. I have never heard that except from a Calvinist and have heard that or a version of that many times.

        I responded to exactly that when I noted that we even have a name for such: Cage-Phase Calvinists.

        Now, if you want to put all the emphasis here on anecdotal evidence, allow me to offer an anecdote: I don’t know a single Calvinist (and I very well may know more Calvinists than you do) who would not soundly rebuke anyone making the kind of statements you just proffered in your anecdote. Heck, you know Calvinists that would do the same. Would I be off-base to say that most of the Calvinists you know would rebuke them?

        So, to frame the debate by saying that in your experience Calvinists “dismiss” anecdotal evidence of wicked behavior (further anecdotal “evidence,” by the way) is just as I stated–unreasonable.

        And, speaking of “dismissing,” I couldn’t help but notice your own silence concerning my anecdotal experience–namely that I know non-Calvinists who are “radical decisional-regenerationists, abusive repeat-prayer advocates, emotional manipulators, (and) conscienceless membership-drive maniacs, etc., etc.”

        If we want to make this an anecdotal debate I’m pretty certain I can give you 2:1 on “Trads” behaving badly vs. “Cals” behaving badly.

        Cals certainly have not “cornered the market” on this issue.

        • William Thornton says

          Relax, Randall. A specific experience was offered and summarily dismissed, as if only examples that are a reasonable representation of Calvinists are permitted. My reading of your response led me to conclude that while you will not maintain that such examples were untrue, they are unworthy of discussion under what I call a ‘fudge parameter’, ‘reasonable representation.’ My opinion that you reject. Fine.

          But such dismissiveness happens all the time in these discussions. I’m not attempting to frame any discussion around anything, just making a point and one that is generally, well, dismissed.

          Others, Mike for example, classify such as examples of a certain “stage” of Calvinist. Perhaps, but then it doesn’t matter to the church or individuals involved what stage the Calvinist happens to be in. They just hear the teaching.

          You asked about my knowledge of other pastors behaving badly. Sure, I know a good many but I wouldn’t frame a discussion of Calvinism around the aberrant teachings of non-calvinists. Perhaps Dave would entertain a topic on that. I will happily contribute.

          It strikes me that this is ground hog day stuff. Someone shares an example that involves a Calvinist and his teaching in an SBC church. It is (a) dismissed as an anecdote, (b) said to be not representative of all Calvinists, and (c) countered with the argument that non-Calvinists behave badly too….again…and again…and again.

          Seems to me that a reasonable and profitable discussion of Calvinism and the SBC has to include what many DOMs, state convention staffers, churches and committees, and fellow pastors have seen and heard from self-identified Calvinists. No one dreams this stuff up.

          And I would ask if you are aware that this business has been noised about so much and so loudly that Calvinists can be expected in many areas to receive extra scrutiny on that account? One DOM who has posted here says his entire association looks askance at grads from SBTS and SEBTS because of the perception that these are Calvinist schools (Danny Akin, I recently blogged, has declared that SEBTS will be a Calvinist seminary “over his dead body”). I have heard state convention execs express strong reservations along the same lines, though not directed specifically at any seminaries.

          I would like to have some optimism for the way forward in all this….

          • Jason G. says

            Again, since I have qualified my statements multiple times…to have you continually use me an example of “dismissiveness” is quite unfair. I would appreciate you dealing with my multiple responses.

            But to say it yet again…if judges would not allow hearsay evidence into a legal case, why would we? What has been presented aren’t “facts” (as you suggest), but simply hearsay statements.

            I just think we should focus on the concerns, not the anecdotes. Why can’t you or Tim G or whoever say, “my concern is that there are people that might not want to pray for the lost”. That makes the issue one that comes from the heart of the person, and not from some unverifiable incident a person is citing (not that the incident didn’t happen, it just isn’t verifiable). No I can address your specific concern without talking about what some guy I never met said or did. Let’s deal with the issues without trying to throw out some sort of “i know this guy” trump card. That is all I have been saying. That isn’t being dismissive…it is dealing with the actual concern and not just the unverifiable incident (again, unverifiable does not mean I am saying it didn’t happen, just that it is not verifiable).

          • says


            I don’t think that you are entirely wrong. Nor do I think that you are being entirely fair. I do believe that there are Calvinists that act aggressive, divisive, etc. And I also believe that at times they say things that might be theologically true but perhaps without grace or wisdom. (I know I’ve been there and probably fall into that trap at times).

            I also believe that Calvinists have been often maligned and misrepresented. I’ve been to events and read articles where the sinful doctrine of Calvinism is exposed. And the entire time it was only a misrepresentation of Calvinism. What often happens is that those very real experiences of Calvinistic pastors that hold their Calvinism wrongly and with sinful hearts harming churches are hailed as “see the problem with Calvinism”.

            And I really do understand what you are saying. This does belong in the discussion on the effects of Calvinism. But it needs to be held in its proper place. It doesn’t need to be said, “Calvinism is destroying our churches…see look….” That is what really bothers Calvinists like myself.

            And might I say that we Calvinists can be just as offensive and wrong whenever we say, “Non-Calvinists manipulate people with their lengthy altar calls, forcing people to say the sinners prayer, etc.” There are very real problems in churches led by non-Calvinists. But we err when we say…”Calvinism would fix these problems. Non-Calvinists are destroying churches with their shoddy theology…see look…”

            Again these belong in the discussion but they need to have their proper place. And it’s not at the top of the list…

      • Jason G. says


        I have responded to the use of anecdotal evidence in a reply to another of your posts, I hope you will see it and respond. I know the format of replies here is difficult to find sometimes.

        Ok, now to reply to this post. Though I feel the replying to such hearsay is unhelpful, I will reply.

        If some guy made such a statement…then he is wrong. There is no theological or pastoral reason to ever make a claim as to the election of an individual, especially in such a negative way. Perhaps this brother was mistaken about the doctrine of election, perhaps he misspoke, or perhaps someone misheard him (that never happens to pastors, right?). If he said it, he is definitely wrong.

        As for the statement on prayer…it is also wrong. I have never heard a calvinist make such a statement (and I know, read, and listen to quite a few). Such a statement would not be representative of what calvinists believe. I am shocked to hear someone say that (again, with hearsay evidence – if he said it he is wrong, but maybe he didn’t say it or was unclear, or was misheard)…if he did, that view needs to be rejected and he needs to learn quite a few things (among them, a bit of pastoral care).

        I also want to add this, since I feel you misunderstand my intent a bit. I have not, do not, and will not dismiss the concerns of Traditionalists. I take their concerns VERY seriously. However, that does not mean that I must take every anecdote offered as gospel truth and address it. Those anecdotes are often just hearsay. What I am advocating is moving past those anecdotes to the theological concerns behind them. Dismissing an anecdote is not the same thing as dismissing the concern. Fair enough?

        Here is my concern…at what point have we answered enough anecdotes? Is there any know writer, teacher, or even known poster on here who advocates not praying for lost people. Anyone? How many times has that been addressed? At what point can “Traditionalists” say, “ok, that has been asked and answered…they are not saying we should not pray for lost people”? There comes a point where these anecdotes are DISTRACTING from actual discussion because they are rehashing things that are KNOWN to not be a part of what calvinists are saying on the whole.

  27. Jess Alford says

    I think religious fights have been some of the worst fights in history,
    down right bloody. I don’t believe there will be a uniting of Calvinist
    and non Calvinist here on earth. I think this faction will only be solved by separation. We might as well get ready for it. As long as people have different convictions of what the Bible teaches there will be no unity.

    History teaches this is why we have different denominations all over
    the world. Sharp differences of belief, good or bad, I don’t know, but
    I do know you can’t put a bandaid over a large deep wound.

    Please forgive me for being negative, but unity aint gonna happen.

    • Jon says

      Why do people assume uniformity should exist in all understanding? I don’t think that’s at all desirable for anyone. The problem is that some people want to insist on their technical beliefs whether they are Arminian, Calvinist, or otherwise. People need to get used to ambiguity and dissent and organize around what’s fundamental.

  28. says

    I have been intending to comment on this highly crucial blog, but having limited amounts of time and energy and strength these days I have been unable to get to it. David, what you are really dealing with is a resurgence, a renewal, a revival of the original theology that made Southern Baptists, their churches, assns., conventions, and this nation. That theology produced the liberal approach of allowing for differences in order to fulfill their desired truth and practice of religious liberty, of allowing people to develop their own understanding in order to be able to change and to adjust. Just the idea of allowing “”the preaching that Christ tasted death for every man shall be no bar to communion” underscores the reality that it was a group of Particular Baptists or Limited Atonement advocates that made such allowance. These same folks were the ones who would launch the modern missionary movement. In fact, the first convert won by a minister in that movement was actually won by a man charged with being a hyper calvinist (Dr. John Thomas), who actually went insane with joy, and so Krishna Pal was baptized by the five point calvinist, William Carey. I should add that Carey, Fuller, Judson, Rice, and others were praying for the beginning of missions, following the directives of Jonathan Edwards’ Humble Attempt. Edwards work contains nearly a 100 verses, prophecies which can be pleaded as promises in prayer for such a blessing of God. The first missionary of Southern Baptists to China, Matthew T. Yates, came out of the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church (I was a member there for a brief few years) which was founded in 1814. The articles of faith adopted at the founding discusses Christ dying for the church. Not one word is said about him dying for the world and everyone in it. Thus, Yates, who served as Moderator in 1820, set out to win the Chinese with the teaching that Christ died for the elect, the church. While Edwards was a Congregationalist, he sought to unite Christians of all Protestant Faiths to pray for the propagation of the Gospel in foreign lands. The First and Second Great Awakenings (and the latter until 1820) along with the modern missionary movement and what Latourette calls The Great Century of Missions plus the American Republic were the effects, results, etc., of so-called calvinistic the theology, the most exciting, engaging, enthralling, enthusiastic, enduring, enticing, and eulogizing truths concerning the God of the Bible, even of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    The problem is that we do no know about what happened back in the beginnings. Though I have an M.A. in American History and even 18 hours toward a Ph.D., it would take most of my life before I discovered that America in the first century after it was founded was called a “Calvinistic Republic” by historians of that period.

    What we are facing is a deliberate and determined effort that is daily becoming more and more evident to stamp out the biblical faith, regardless of the theology. However, resistance usually comes from those who are very much committed to some theological system that they consider to be from God Himself. Believers are people who are likely to be the martyrs for their faith, and they win their opponents by their martyrdom. In any case, the theology for an awakening, even the Third Great Awakening for which so many have been praying for the past century or more, must be the same as the theology that produced the First and Second and launched the Great Century of Missions/the modern missionary movement, a theology more than equal to the task. And those who advocate must learn to be gentle, patient, willing to wait God’s time for opening the eyes. Even Billy Graham over the 60 years of his ministry gave evidence of change in his theological view point. This is nowhere more evident than in Lewis Drummond’s biographical work on Billy, The Evangelist, in the chapter on the Sovereignty of God. I can remember hearing Billy on Radio and Television making remarks that were sounded Pelagian. That was some 50-60 years. As time passed, he began to show evidence of a change in his theological thinking and methods. I leave to the readers to determine how much of a change he made. It was this kind of thing that the original calvinists (really Sovereign Grace believers) sought in allowing for variations.

    When we go back in our history as a denomination, we find prototypes of present day thinking. The Life and Times of Elder Reuben Ross provide us with an example of our modern day traditionalist. His theology is virtually the same as that the traditionalists preach, and yet he was won to Christ by a calvinist and his funeral was preached by one.

    Brethren, I believe we are going to have that Third Great Awakening. It, therefore, follows that we will have the theology that produces such a visitation, the doctrine that sparks, sustains, and maintains such a blessing, being preached and discussed. You will also find it being argued, which simply indicates that we and they are alive and doing alright. What we must avoid is the pathology of playing hardball. I, like any other person, like to win, but I want to win with the truth, with facts, with legitimate, non-manipulative persuasion, the way our Lord intends for the victory to be won.

    • says

      “Brethren, I believe we are going to have that Third Great Awakening. It, therefore, follows that we will have the theology that produces such a visitation, the doctrine that sparks, sustains, and maintains such a blessing, being preached and discussed.”


  29. Jon says

    Dr. Willingham, I agree the Calvinists of the nineteenth century were mission-minded and played an enormous role in missionary work at home and abroad. The Calvinist resurgence which is now underway, however, is a different animal. When something is revived, it often reappears in a different way, and I think that’s what happened here. I’ve interacted with many Calvinists who are of the resurgence. They don’t strike me as being cut from the same cloth as those I read about from the nineteenth century or earlier times. Some of them are nice. Others aren’t so nice. But what I notice is that it’s different.

    I appreciate certain aspects of Calvinism and believe that much of what Calvin wrote in the Institutes and what I’ve read from him elsewhere is true. I think it would be a mistake, though, to accept the Calvinist system wholesale, or to explain it all when delivering the Christian message. i simply think it becomes absurd at a certain point. It gets too specific and overly explanatory, and risks speaking about what we do not fully understand. And I can’t help but notice a certain attitude or stance at times that I find off-putting. I’m not sure whether it’s due to Calvinism or the style it’s assumed through the resurgence. It’s also difficult to question or disagree with many Calvinists because they don’t all have a sense of collegiality. It’s not always possible to ‘agree to disagree’ and move forward.

    • says

      Jon: What is true now was true in the days of the Awakenings. Human nature is always the same, a key factor in realizing how life continues. Even when the Son of God Himself was present in the flesh, the Apostles were arguing over who would be occupying chief places in His Kingdom even up to the night of His betrayal. Even so the greatest event in world history took place, salvation was wrought by the shed blood of the Son of God. And amid all the fussin’ of the 1700s the First Great Awakening took place. Then the Second and the launching of the modern missionary movement and the Great Century of Missions. The fellow who was first named member of the committee that wrought out the permission for the variation in the Union of Separates and Regulars, Ambrose Dudley, would go on to become a mossy back Primitive Baptist, though he would still have some good things to write and say. It is hard to achieve that dynamic balance of theology and doxology, of principle and practice, harder yet to maintain and sustain it. Only a few like George Whitefield ever remained at White Hot Heat and even Georgie let his good sense get the better of him, when it came to slavery in Georgia. I feel just as angry at him today as the son of the founder of Georgia did, when George advocated the bringing in of slaves. O well, you can’t win them all, though we are supposed to try. I must go to a church prayer meeting now. God bless

      • Jon says

        Dr. Willlingham, your knowledge of church history in the southeastern seaboard and backcountry is phenomenal. Many interesting things happened there. But I maintain the Calvinist resurgency is a break from the past.

  30. Jess Alford says

    dr james willingham,

    Brother, I hope you begin feeling better soon and have energy to spare.
    I know little about the 3rd Great Awakening and would like to learn more.
    Where do I get this info.

    • says

      To Jess Alford: Do research. Make a list of works from the periods under consideration, especially what would be called primary sources (stuff written by the original participants), then secondary sources, interpretations of the primary stuff. Look at original records, simple reporting of events, theology involved, sermons preached, etc., converts and their stories. Take about six years, accumulate some 3000 5×8 note cards. That is the old way. Or buy a hand held scanner, develop a method/system of organization, scan the sources under headings, topics, subjects, personalities involved, events, etc. Proceed to evaluate what you have found. My materials in the beginning were not well organized, being by books and authors. However, I learned as I went along. I also learned how to use shorthand (my own, with my own symbols) which helped speed things up until scanners came along. Learn how to look at all participants, read stuff you dis agree with , etc. weigh, balance, evaluate, analyze, synthesize. Write summations, footnotes and all, get evaluations by peers in the fields. That’s the beginning. Live 50 years (It was 50 years ago this Spring when I began my research that would accumulate 3000 5×8 note cards covering over 250 sources. I took notes on many works, including Ph.D. Dissertations, church minutes, autobiographies, biographies, etc. I developed the habit of collecting multiple volumes in fields of study. For example, I taught a seminary extension course on the Book of Hebrews. I have perhaps 50-60 volumes of commentaries, word studies, etc., on that letter alone. I was speaking with a friend yesterday who was to preach on worship today, and I dropped a clue in his heart about coming to the center of heaven in church. If Christ is in the church, and He is the center of Heaven, stood a lamb as it had been crucified in the midst of a throne, then to be in the assembly of worship, the church, is to be in the center of Heaven, Hebs. 12:22ff. Surely, the Lord is in such a place, and we do not know it and are not aware of His presence.

          • says

            To Jess and Dale: No, you are not too old to do research. I got my last degree in my forties, and I would have had my j.d. by 2008, if my wife had not set her foot down and said no (cause she was afraid I have another heart attack and kick the bucket). anyway, I don’t have the money for such a venture now. Googling does make it a lot easier. I looked up some materials on Dr. John Thomas, the first missionary to India, and the fellow who won Krishna Pal to actually commit to be baptized.

      • Dale Pugh says

        Hasn’t the Third Great Awakening already occurred? In the late 1800’s it produced the social gospel movement, the Holiness movement, the women’s temperance movement, and the rise of such men as Josiah Strong and D. L. Moody. It was postmillenial in nature, and doesn’t seem to have resulted in very Calvinistic ends, so I don’t think one could point to Calvinism as it’s seedbed.
        Others would say that the late 1960’s was a period of the Fourth Great Awakening. Evangelicalism, parachurch ministry growth, the Jesus Movement, and even the surge in baptisms among SBC churches is often cited as evidence for Awakening 4. Again, Calvinism doesn’t seem to have been a catalyst.
        Maybe those two really weren’t “Awakenings” but “Mild Stirrings?”

        • Jon says

          There are two ways to understand the movements. Some say it was the third, others say the third was in the 70’s (they are serious!). It depends what you count and when you count.

  31. Dale Pugh says

    Blog post title: “Toward a Productive Discussion of Calvinism”
    I have purposely stayed out of the fray up to this point, but I think the comments show that a simple adherence to Bob Newhart’s “STOP IT!” might be more helpful than your six suggestions, Dave.

    • Randall Cofield says

      Dale Pugh,

      STOP IT!, brother. You are interfering with a perfectly good Southern Baptist slobber-knockin’ debate.


      • Dale Pugh says

        Now THAT comment made me chuckle.
        I know, Randall. I was practically born in an SBC nursery baby bed, so I’m well-acquainted with our glorious traditions.
        I pray that we all take heart in the fact that the good news of the cross and a risen Jesus will be proclaimed by each of us tomorrow.

        • Randall Cofield says


          Indeed! I’m preaching through the gospel of John this year and am at 1:29–Behold! The Lamb of God!

          I’m so restless to get into the pulpit tomorrow my palms are sweating…

          He is Altogether Lovely!

          • Jess Alford says

            Randall Cofield,

            When I get get restless like that I try to pretend every one in the congregation have monkey faces, this way I can smile and preach.

          • Dale Pugh says

            I did a series from John a couple of years ago. I called it “The People Jesus Met.” It’s interesting how John places an emphasis on the different people Jesus encountered and how He related to them and their various needs. My point was that we are so much like those people in many ways, that our needs are much like theirs were, and that what they found in intimate fellowship with Him is what we will find in Him–salvation, hope, life, truth, etc. It was fun!
            Blessings on your work and words!

  32. Jess Alford says

    I don’t believe there is any such animal as hyper Calvinists nor a Calvinist.
    Calvin wasn’t even a Calvinist, only those who followed Calvin’s teaching
    called themselves a Calvinist. There is no such thing as a Traditionalist,
    tradions change. We all like to identify ourselves with cute names that
    don’t amount to a hill of beans.

    We all should be Christian.

    • says

      Funny part about that is we have a denomination that calls itself Christian, and many of them made baptism essential to salvation. Alexander Campbell and his crowd called themselves Christian and churches of Christ (a term Baptists use to use). It ain’t the name; it is the reality of what ever it is, regardless of the name it bears.

  33. Jess Alford says

    One more little thing, in honor of the late great John the Baptist,
    We all should be Baptist Christians and adhere to the BF&M2000.

  34. Bill Mac says

    So what is the point? What is the point of bringing up these incidents of Calvinists who have behaved badly? Is it guilt by association? If not, why keep bringing it up? What do you want the rest of us to do? Do you want some kind of Calvinist tribunal to sort out the good from the bad? There are Calvinists who won’t be happy until the entire SBC is Calvinist. There are traditionalists who won’t be happy until every Calvinist is rooted out and sent packing. We need to stop letting ourselves be defined by the extremists in our own theological camp.

    I will say this to those on both sides who think the other side preaches a different Gospel. That is a serious charge. It is a charge of heresy, and if you will put your money where your conviction are, then you have no choice but to denounce and eradicate them from the SBC.

  35. Jess Alford says

    Bill Mac,

    Someone once said Abraham Lincoln could say the most in the fewest words than anyone he has ever known.

    Brother, you said a mountain of words in just a few sentences.

    • says

      Randall, Thomas wants to blame Calvinism. But no wonder he was confused by doctrine. He was lost!! Perimeter is a good PCA church. Blame them not. And blame not the glorious truths of the doctrines of grace, Thomas. You were blind, but God saved you and now you can see. You’re a believer now and you have no one to thank and praise for that except almighty God!

        • cb scott says

          You guys are right. This guy was not saved out of Calvinism. Bless his heart.

          Probably some old shallow Presbyterian pastor told him to simply embrace the doctrines of grace and pray and he would be saved, you reckon fellows?:-)

          However, I am sure we all agree and thank God for extending him grace by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that he might recognize himself a sinner before a just and righteous God, repent ,and believe the biblical gospel for the salvation of his lost soul. . . Amen!

          • cb scott says

            I am sure we are also glad that Thomas did not go ask some numbers hungry, ladder-climbing, nest-feathering Southern Baptist preacher what to do and he was told:

            “Just denounce those godless, Presbyterians, read this prayer off this card I keep just for these occasions, and let me baptize you and you will be saved forever. Oh and before I forget, let me tell you about the tithe.”

            Surely, true Bible believing Baptist Trads and Cals can agree here, right fellows? Amen!

          • Randall Cofield says


            I am sure we all agree and thank God for extending him grace by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that he might recognize himself a sinner before a just and righteous God, repent ,and believe the biblical gospel for the salvation of his lost soul. . .

            Not much recognition of personal sin and the holiness of God evident in his testimony. I sure hope the boy got saved, brother.

  36. William Thornton says

    Would it be productive in this discussion to ask if my Calvinist friends here admit that there is a problem in the SBC that involves Calvinists and Calvinism and, if so, what do you think should be done about it?

    • Randall Cofield says


      Brother, I was too brusque in my last response to you further up the thread. I ask your forgiveness.

      I cannot offer any personal “anecdotal” evidence that there is a problem with Calvinists and Calvinism in the SBC, but judging from the decibel level of the caterwauling there very well may be.

      If, in fact, there is a problem with Calvinists and Calvinism in the SBC, I think Al Mohler put his finger on exactly what should be done about it some months ago when he said: “We need to marginalize those who need to be marginalized.”

      I’m pretty sure he was referring to extremists on both sides of the issue.

      From years of experience in Biblical counseling, I can assure all here that this is not a one-dimensional issue. There’s blame and sin to be owned on both sides. Cals cal, Trads trad, and sinners sin. This is the nature of our falleness.

      If the extremist Trads (now there I can give you some personal anecdotal evidence) and extremist Cals are not marginalized, they will split the SBC.

      IF I don’t miss my guess, that will be the primary conclusion of the Page Panel. Not because it’s Mohler’s position, but because it is simple wisdom.

      And, if my guess is correct, the extremist Trads are going to be some kinda’ hacked off, thus demonstrating that they do, in fact, need to be marginalized.

    • says

      A) That hasn’t been my experience. Nevertheless, I’ll give my brothers who say it is the benefit of the doubt.

      B) My personal experience has been anger and hostility from nonCalvinist brothers with accusations that I started it just by bringing up the sovereignty of God in a discussion. Will you give me the same benefit of the doubt?

      C) If there has been a problem with some Calvinists, there seems to have been an overreaction by nonCalvinists that has been just as bad. Can you admit that?

    • says

      Plodder, you just ache to stir up trouble. I want to see a Third Great Awakening, and as soon as I can get folks persuaded to start and to continue to plead the promises in Edwards’ Humble Attempt, the sooner we will have that visitation which shall last for a 1000 generations.

      • says

        Hmmm. That’s two concise comments in a row. Who are you and what have you done with the real dr. james willingham?

        Just kidding. Actually, I like it. And I just couldn’t resist taking a friendly poke, even though I should have resisted.

  37. William Thornton says

    While I have stated a couple of times here that Calvinism should be on the discussion agenda for any church search committee, here are some behaviors I am uncomfortable with from non-Calvinists:

    1. Drawing a line that ipso facto rules out Calvinists from convention offices and leadership. Heck, I would have voted for Dave Miller had I been on a big expense account and in attendance at NO like most of you guys. When a church decides this, I acknowledge that such a policy is perfectly legitimate though I think such would be too rigid and inflexible for me.

    2. Classifying all recent graduates of SEBTS or SBTS as tainted because they attended so-called Calvinist institutions. I have heard folks express just such a view.

    3. Any purge movements.

    4. Any tacit division of SBC entities into Calvinist and non-Calvinist, as if we have some quota.

    I actually think Calvinists have been and can be helpful in the SBC in some ways. I have an old article Dave put here entitled “What I like about Calvinists.”

    BTW, I preached at a church this morning who had on their weekly calendar a “Happy Elders” meeting. Well, if a church is going to have elders, they should certainly be happy elders rather than the usual dour stone-faced killjoys.

    Hope all of you are having a good Lord’s Day.

    • says

      Thank you, Mr. Plodder, for you contribution to humor for this very gray day in the North Carolina. Even I would oppose them folks who are determined that nothing but “our brand” is to be taught in the schools. Like I said, you gotta give folks the time to think, to change their minds, even if it is negative to what you want. All you can do about the problems is set the parameters as loose as possible and deal with those who have the temerity to violate them. I think of Dale Moody and his throwing out eternal security. And then there were the folks who rejected verbal inspiration. I can accept some dynamicists, e.g., Basil, Jr., and A.H. Strong. I do have a problem with theistic evolution, but even there I realize it takes years and some real scholarship to work out the differences/

  38. says

    God hasn’t left us without His truth. It’s impossible for Him to do so because He Himself is truth, and He hasn’t left us.

    I will agree (as a strong anti-Calvinist) that popping the “C” word causes all sorts of problems. Get five Calvinists in a room and on examination you might very well find more than five theologies at play. There really isn’t any one type of ‘Calvinist’ anymore that I can see, and I see that across the spectrum of belief on ‘the other side’ of the aisle as well. Therefore I think that speaking to the issue of ‘Calvinism in the SBC’ is a red herring, as is the issue of Calvinist speaking against _______ (fill in the blank – Arminianism, semi-Palagianism, etc.)

    God is love, but He is also truth. If we are to preach Him we must be concerned with both. And God has given us a huge body of history that can be used to detect error in those areas where understanding might be clouded. Studying it requires asking, seeking, and knocking to benefit from it, but it’s there. I am not speaking here of toeing the line with some flavor of Christian tradition. What I am saying is to simply take the first several hundred years of Christian belief, and set it beside the first several hundred years of Gnostic belief, and use the brain God gave you.

    Study the ancient fatalistic philosophies. Study the ancient Gnostic heresies. Look at the body of what they believed in its various forms. Look at why they believed what they did. Look at Manichaeism. Study what they believed in detail, and why. Read what the first several centuries of Christian writers penned in opposition to these beliefs, and why they wrote what they did.

    No matter where you fall in attributing ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to the various arguments, what will become quite plain is where the foundational ideas in what we call “Calvinism” originated.

    They didn’t come from Calvin, he looked back to Augustine. They didn’t come from Augustine though, because we see those same ideas preceding him in history. Calvin could look no further back than Augustine because the earlier Christian writers specifically called what Calvin believed heresy, both because they were seen as incorrect in regards to Scripture, but also because the people that believed them were clearly outside and opposed to the church of Jesus Christ.

    Which is of course to say, these beliefs didn’t come from the early Christians because they were in no way representative of their beliefs and understanding of Scripture.

    It isn’t that these particular beliefs were unknown. They absolutely were known. It’s just that they weren’t known anywhere INSIDE of the church. They were only known OUTSIDE the church. And this was true for hundreds of years up until Augustine (and Jerome) introduced them into the church.

    So is it possible the Gnostics were perhaps the ‘real’ Christians and what we have in the early church fathers were the true heretics? No. When you study Gnostic belief you see they were completely heretical in what they maintained about the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit – grace, faith, cosmology, etc. Did the early church fathers get everything right? Doubtful to the point of a certain “no”. Does that make them unusable? No, for which of us would say he has everything down absolutely correctly? Where the early Christians are very useful is studying ancient belief that was clearly outside of the church, and why.

    You see, what is concerning to me is that parts of the ancient Gnostic heresies have crept into the church. Calvinists and Arminians (for instance) can argue all day long about who is ‘right’. But I don’t believe that Calvinists can successfully argue that they are more like the first three or four hundred years of Christians than they are the Gnostics in their foundational beliefs regarding the nature and character of God, the Gospel, and man’s will. And what is even more bothersome to me, is that I’m not sure they would try. My experience is limited, but what I have seen is something along the idea of “well, the early Christians were practically heretical themselves and it seems the Gnostics, for all their error, got some things right”. God help us.

    Equally bothersome is the idea that says, “Well, it’s here now so why can’t we all just get along and just love each other because that’s more important than the truth”.

    That kind of thinking is deadly and even more importantly, it is completely opposed to Scripture. Never do we find Christ or His Apostles subjugating truth under the banner of love. We do find them subjugating non essential issues under the banner of love – but never is God’s nature and character, the nature and extent of the Gospel, or the nature of man treated as a non essential issue.

    I assume most of us here are preachers. What God, what Gospel, and what condition of man shall we preach?

    John Wesley called Calvinism a cancer. Those are very strong words, but in my view quite accurate, and modern in a surprising way. Why?

    Cancerous cells are cells that have been compromised by an outside force that effects an important inward change. They pretend to be one thing but are another: they pretend to be normal, but are in reality abnormal. Their ‘goal’ if you will is not to keep their place in the body, but instead to spread and reproduce at an accelerated rate until the natural cells are shoved aside or destroyed.

    And even more interesting with this analogy, is the truth of how many thousands of people right now are walking around with cancers in their bodies of which they are unaware.