It has certainly been a lively day at SBC Voices, hasn’t it? We will probably end the day with numbers that we usually see only in the run up to the convention or when there is some kind of scandal at one of our entities. I have said often, “I am so tired of the Calvinism discussions.” But the fact is that there are evidently quite a few people who are not tired of it. Many have an almost insatiable appetite to either promote or denigrate Calvinism. I am about to, as I said this morning, close comments on the topic. I thought it might be fair if I floated my own beliefs on the topic as the day drew to a close. So, here it goes.
1) There are “problem Calvinists” in the SBC.
Anyone who denies this is probably one of the problem Calvinists. There are commenters here who never want to talk about ministry or missions or theology or anything else that this site’s posts are about. But when the topic is Calvinism (pro or con) they are all over it and they never stop the debate until I finally close the comments. There are Calvinists who are all about Calvinism. Dr. Mohler talked years ago about men who would “walk across the state to debate a point of Calvinism but will not walk across the street to share the gospel.” That was the Cal-father himself, guys. Such men do exist.
There are Calvinists who come into churches with a “Reformed agenda” but do not reveal their entire agenda when they candidate with the church. I could name churches right now where it has happened. It is not a phenomenon unique to Calvinism, but neither is it a myth that such happens.
There are angry Calvinists who seem to care little about advancing the gospel but most about “calling out” those with whom they disagree. There are Calvinists who want nothing more or less than to Calvinize the SBC and will not be satisfied until the SBC Logo is replaced with a picture of Johnny C.
2) By far, the VAST majority of Calvinists are NOT problem Calvinists.
Most Calvinists I know have no intention of trying to Calvinize the SBC. We care about proclaiming God’s Word and carrying out his mission in the world. I don’t know the percentages, but I would estimate it may be less than 10% of Calvinists who are “agenda Calvinists.” Many of us are not even sure we are Calvinists. We believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation, but we don’t accept much of the Reformed system as biblical and therefore are not even sure if the Calvinist label fairly applies to us.
I have no agenda of “reform” in my church. I have a “conform” agenda – to see God’s people conformed to Christ. When I preached Ephesians 1, I addressed the issue of election and predestination. But there has not been a single moment in my nearly 9 years here, or in the 14 1/2 at my last church, in which I have made Calvinism front and center. We’ve used materials from a wide range of publishing houses (some Reformed-leaning, some not).
I am convinced that the vast majority of Calvinists fall into this category, not the other. It is grossly unfair of the non-Calvinists who paint the extreme as if it were the norm. Can you identify misbehaving Calvinists? Of course you can. Are they the norm within SBC Calvinism – I say NO.
3) There are “problem non-Calvinists” in the SBC.
I’m not sure of terminology here. I use the word Traditionalist only to refer to signatories of eponymous document. I don’t know what other term to use.
But there are some angry and aggressive anti-Calvinists out there who make wild accusations against the behavior, motives and purposes of Calvinists in the SBC. They identify misbehaving Calvinists and intimate that we are all like that. They make wild misrepresentations of what Calvinists do (“Calvinists don’t evangelize”) and what Calvinists think (“they are hyper-Calvinist”) and what Calvinists purpose (“Calvinists are trying to take over everything”).
4) By far, the VAST majority of non-Calvinists are NOT problem non-Calvinists.
Most non-Calvinists have an appreciation for Calvinists and are willing to work together and partner with Calvinists for gospel work. They are willing to peacefully coexist and rationally discuss their differences. They are willing to serve with Calvinists and while they may oppose Calvinist doctrine they have no desire to go to war with Calvinists in the SBC.
5) For too long, the extremes have dominated the conversation.
Blogging is at fault here, at least in part. Blogging too often rewards the loud voices, the angry voices. The fact is that the SBC is not nearly so divided about Calvinism as the extreme voices make it appear. They may be the loudest voices, but they are not the majority of voices. Of that I am convinced. All over the country there are churches where Calvinists and non-Calvinists get along great. There are associations and state conventions which function well with a minimum of soteriological conflict. Where the extreme voices roil the waters, sometimes there is discomfort, but it is much less significant than blogging makes it seem.
6) It is time for the cooperative middle to assert itself.
Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike need to rise up and rebuke the extreme voices – or just ignore them. Any man has the right to get up and say what he believes. But I also have the right to pay him no attention, once I’ve determined that his is a voice of anger and division in the body. We must do this. We must seek to build relationships that focus on mission, not on the secondary or tertiary issues on which we so often divide.
Yes, everyone has the right to have their say. But no one has the right to demand that I listen (at least not over and over again)! Tune out the squawking voices of anger and hate. Embrace one another. Honor one another. Read outside your “group” and fellowship outside of it. Realize that someone can be theologically astute and love God’s Word while still disagreeing with you. Present your views. Listen to others’ views. Discuss them reasonably. Partner for the gospel in spite of the differences.
7) Calvinism is an important issue, but OUR Calvinism debates have been largely useless and destructive.
“This is an important issue and we have to have this debate.” Of course. The theological issues of Calvinism vs Arminianism (and every point in between – where most Baptists fall) are germane and important. They should be dealt with biblically and theologically. But the mud-throwing, petty debates we have had are not theological in essence. They tend to be personal. They tend towards insult and derogation, toward motive assignation and denominational splintering. They make it seem like it is us against them and you have to choose a side. That is nonsense.
As far as Calvinism is concerned we should discuss theological issues. We should exegete scriptures and argue what this word or that phrase means. But most of our debates are the theological equivalent of “I’m rubber, you’re glue.” They are petty. They are divisive. They are pointless.
The Future Here at SBC Voices
Calvinism Thursday is just about over. Once the curtain closes on this day, comments will also close. I will also begin, for a time, refusing posts that focus on Calvinism or anti-Calvinism or Traditionalism or whatever other branch of this debate should be named, unless they are exegetically and theologically based. Write a post on the extent of redemption – the biblical case for limited atonement or for general atonement. I will not turn down exegetical posts. But no more of the “they did me wrong” posts. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have other forums that give honor to the more strident voices. Use them.
Here, we are going to move on to other things. I realize I will make people mad with this. Since I got involved in SBC Voices I’ve had to learn to live with people being mad at me. Guess what, I’ve learned I can survive angry words and insults. So, be angry all you want. But for the foreseeable future (barring a specific event that warrants such a post) I’m going to reject battle-blogging posts on the Calvinism topic.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?