Ed Stetzer, Vice President of the Insights Division at LifeWay and phenomenal researcher/writer, was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions regarding SBC life. I hope this will encourage us all!
BRANDON: There has been a semi-resurgence of debate surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism among Southern Baptists as of late. How can we find and focus on unity and what does the future hold?
ED: Many were concerned that the issue of Calvinism vs. Arminianism would prove more problematic than it was at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. Despite a respite from the issue this year, Southern Baptists must reach a peaceful definition of a Southern Baptist on a theological level. I think that the tone of the SBC meeting is a good sign—statesmen spoke up and drowned out the voices that wanted to attack—but there are still issues that need to be addressed.
As I see it, there are two groups currently exist in the Southern Baptist Convention that ultimately, I don’t think will stay in the SBC.
The first group is composed of the anti-Calvinists who fundamentally believe that Baptist Calvinism is close to heresy and must be rooted out of the denomination. In many ways, these are the same people who believed both the contemporary church movement, and later those who called themselves missional, needed to be rooted out of the denomination. These individuals often do not want to have anyone in the denomination who is unlike themselves. For this reason, they will ultimately find they are not comfortable in the Southern Baptist Convention. They want a more narrowed parameter than the Baptist Faith and Message provides.
The second group of individuals I think will not remain in the denomination are those whose defining narrative is Calvinism. Though they are by no means the majority of Calvinists, some of the more vocal and well-placed Calvinists are driven by a strictly Calvinist agenda. They will struggle being in the denomination. I’m not sure they like the convention and, when they see they can’t reform it in the way they want, will ultimately leave.
However, the anti-Calvinists and aggressive Calvinists are small groups. They are not MOST Southern Baptists. Most Southern Baptists (and, it appears those who voted at the SBC this year), want a convention that is united around Jesus, believe the Baptist Faith a Message is our shared confession, and wants to cooperate for evangelism, church planting, and global missions.
So… despite certain groups whose beliefs and agendas may not fit in the SBC, Southern Baptists, regardless of where they fall on the Calvinism issue, can unite under belief in a common confessional system, statement of faith, and desire to cooperate with one another. The starting place for such unity is an honest conversation. I trust Frank Page to lead that conversation and Southern Baptists to engage in it with grace and discernment.
When parameters were narrowed in the past, many Calvinists did not join with us to defend those who were the targets then. Now, those same Calvinists are shocked to discover the impact they felt when they were narrowed out beyond the confines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. My hope is that some of those Calvinists will defend others who, in the past, were preached out—and my hope is that all Southern Baptist will see that it is the wrong path to make the majority way the only way. The Baptist Faith and Message really should be our standard.
Interestingly, being in favor of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is now considered by some the “liberal” position. While this demonstrates that some people are driven by a narrower agenda, ultimately a denomination needs a faith statement that it actually lives out, believes, and uses as its standard of cooperation.
BRANDON: What is your greatest hope for the future of the SBC?
ED: After the convention each year, many ask questions concerning the future of the SBC. I believe the greatest hope for Southern Baptists as a convention is that we hold a high view of the Word of God. The battles for the Bible really mattered.
I attended a Southern Baptist seminary before/during the conservative resurgence. There, I was actually taught that the Bible could not be trusted. I was taught things that were more influenced by Hellenistic culture than the inerrant, authoritative Word of God. As a result, I am incredibly encouraged that the kind of arguments we are now having are driven by people who love the Word of God and take it seriously. Therefore, one great hope is that we will continue to stand on the inerrancy of the Word of God.
A second great hope for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention is our love for global missions. Southern Baptists have always emphasized global missions, which, of course, is incredibly important. However, I find hope in seeing individuals think and act like missionaries right where they live as well. God’s children no longer have to look beyond their neighborhood to find hurting people in need of a Savior, or people of other nations in need of basic care. My greatest hope is that Southern Baptists will be driven by a missional impulse, both here and around the world, that changes everything.
Thank you, Brandon, for the interview. I’m looking forward to seeing what people have to say. I might even interact a little bit since it seems now that even agency VPs are allowed to interact. Thanks!