Will Voting in Fred Luter, Jr. Matter?

by Brandon Smith on June 19, 2012 · 36 comments

By the team you read this, Fred Luter, Jr. may have already been elected as President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Most Southern Baptists have prayed for years that we as a convention would atone for our regrettable past in the slave debate and both privately and publicly initiate racial reconciliation on a grand scale. Our prayers have been surely answered as we await and celebrate the presidency of Luter, a descendant of slaves. I’m also proud to say that Criswell College, the school at which I work and study, recently bestowed the honorable Doctor of Divinity on him. With our continued excellence in missionary work both home and abroad, the SBC has much to be proud of. The question is, will this landmark election really matter? Will we move forward, or continue to get in our own way?

On this very blog, a guest author made the claim that the Acts 29 Network was a dangerous alliance for Southern Baptists to consider. He likened the “Acts 29 invasion” to a “terrorist attack.” He has a right to his opinion and the post was great fodder for blog debate, but posts like that are exactly what are hurting - not helping - our convention. This post is in no way about the Acts 29 Network (of which I gladly dually align), but Acts 29 is not the problem. The reason that my generation of pastors are flocking to the Acts 29 Network is not because of Calvinism or rock star preachers (not the majority, anyway); they are flocking to Acts 29 because they see two things: a focus on Scripture and a focus on evangelism. I’d submit that Calvinism is a by-product, not the cause. This generation wants to be a part of something world-changing, as Thom Rainer has excellently noted. While the SBC fights amongst itself, young Southern Baptists are looking for a brotherhood focused on the gospel. This insistence upon the gospel has brought about a generation that is dying to join Father-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered pastors and churches on mission for Jesus.

As this 2012 annual meeting approached, I began to get excited (for the first time in a few years) about the direction of the convention. The backbiting seemed to be subsiding and we were all supposed to be focusing on the Great Commission Resurgence. What’s more, we were heralding to the watching world that our longstanding history of racial tension was on the precipice of eradication. But, as if we don’t know any better, we shot ourselves in the foot again with the unveiling of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” at SBC Today. Why this statement was drafted is beyond me. Why this statement was released right before the convention bothers me tremendously. I’m not nearly as unsettled by the anti-Calvinist jargon from its authors - I’m not a 42-pointer or anything ;-) - as I am about the message of division that it promotes. With all due respect that I can possibly offer to the great men who signed this statement, how in the world does this help the SBC? Can we not approve the Faith and Message and settle there?

Brothers and sisters, our convention’s future hinges upon unity. We are all one in Christ, for the gospel is the power to save both the Jew and Greek, Arminian and Calvinist, Baptist and Pentecostal, Republican and Democrat. Even if you disagree with everything in this post, please affirm that Christ should always be our focus. My generation truly gets that. Let us rectify our past without continuing to battle over things of much less severity. If we travel down this road for another fifty years, we will slowly but surely fade away and our impact in missions will fade with us. This will hurt the lost people of the world much more than it will ever hurt us.

May we major on the majors and minor on the minors. May we spend less time planning conferences, writing books, adopting documents, and more time collaborating in culture renewal. May we have healthy conversations about theology, but not insult one another. May we see that if even two brothers have anger in their hearts toward one another, it’s of eternal consequence.

May we exalt Christ and his gospel of first importance, laying aside all weight for the sake of the salvation of the lost.

-

*For a good perspective, check out this balanced post by my friend Steve Bezner, a non-TULIP-sniffer.

1 Rick Patrick June 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Well, hello, Brandon. To be perfectly clear, the analogy to terrorists and aliens, though admittedly provocative, was limited to the method of organizational advance within a country by a terrorist cell or within a human body by an alien. The point was that Acts 29 can slowly grow in influence within the convention without anyone really recognizing that they are using so-called semi-Pelagian dollars to plant Calvinist churches.

As to the Statement’s purpose, it was for (1) self-identification, simply to say we don’t agree with all that we are hearing these days, and (2) to create a different rubric for discussing soteriology than the worn out five point system of Calvinism- Arminianism.

Blessings, brother.

2 Brandon Smith June 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm

We don’t need a different rubric, we have the BFM. Isn’t that a rubric that we’re also supposed to agree on? I think we need to leave it there. It has been said both publicly and privately by those signing the Statement that they want to get rid of Calvinism. That doesn’t sound like an attempt at advancing the conversation.

My post is not intended to start division, but to rebuke where there is division and hope it helps lead to unity.

3 Rick Patrick June 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I have met with the signers of the statement…even the author of the statement. No one I know wants to remove Calvinism from the convention, but no one wants to allow Calvinists to reform the convention to a different soteriology, one church at a time, without a response from the other side.

As to whether the BFM is sufficient in its clarity on soteriology, consider this: when one Southern Baptist says he believes THIS and another Southern Baptist says he believes THAT, and the first Southern Baptist says, “THAT is heresy,” but both can claim adherence to the BFM, something is wrong. It MAY be too broadly worded.

4 Brandon Smith June 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Maybe. On the flip side, I don’t know a single Calvinist who wants to take over anything one church or one Sunday school class at a time. Those I know, including myself, want room at the table without being blasted. I’ve legitimately felt like a Mormon in some of these circles, judging by the way I was looked at. Shouldn’t be.

5 Rick Patrick June 19, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Truly sorry you felt marginalized. If the SBC has room for a black President and a lime green sport coat, I know it has room for us.

6 Christiane June 19, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I like your comment, RICK. :)

perhaps, through the grace of the Holy Spirit,
this election will bring ‘a time to heal’
as ‘the LORD binds up the bruises of His people’.

7 SBC Layman June 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Straight off the Founder’s web-site library:

“In Chapter 2, we offered our diagnosis of the problem with American evangelicalism: It is sick and dying because it has abandoned its Calvinistic foundations. Our prescription for a cure is that our churches return to the old paths from whence they drifted.
We have reasons to hope for a full recovery.

In the first place, Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism.”

I’d say that a chapter titled “The Beginnings of the Reformation of the Southern Baptist Convention” in a book titled “The Quiet Revolution” with the above citation goes to intent. The rest of the chapter in full context is available at the link below. I know many will try to disavow Reisinger today, but his legacy is Founders Ministries and he is still revered and referenced there. I believe that the Founders were the only theological affinity group formally meeting at the annual meeting today.

I don’t fault them for holding to their convictions, but it can’t be argued that there are no SBC Calvinists pushing an agenda nor that they are hard to find.

http://www.founders.org/library/quiet/quiet3.html

8 William June 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm

“In Chapter 2, we offered our diagnosis of the problem with American evangelicalism: It is sick and dying because it has abandoned its Calvinistic foundations. Our prescription for a cure is that our churches return to the old paths from whence they drifted.
We have reasons to hope for a full recovery.

In the first place, Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism.”
AMEN !!!!!!!!!!!

9 Frank L. June 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Layman

I find it highly offensive for you to interject facts into this discussion!

10 John O'Keefe June 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm

i am neither southern baptist, nor an i calvinist – but it seems to me that this dialog makes your point.

11 Brandon Smith June 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm

“SBC Layman,”

I don’t deny that there are both sides of this coin, though I think I could argue via public posting, writing, and dialogue that it’s more against Calvinism than the opposite. That said, I don’t want any division from either side and I’d like to dialogue with someone with a real name! :-)

12 Jeremy Parks June 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm

In a slight change of pace….who is our newly minted 2nd VP? Did Dave Miller carry the day?

13 Dave Miller June 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

The 2nd VP election is at 8:30 tomorrow morning.

14 Doug Hibbard June 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm

He must carry tomorrow, instead.

15 SBC Layman June 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm

You could certainly argue and I’ll readily concede there has been plenty on both sides — too much.

P.S. I have a real name, but I kinda like this Batman thing. :)

16 James Ellis June 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm

1. If the your generation wants unity why address this issue as a generational problem. That in itself is a line of division.
2. You started your statement with sins of past SB then come across as yhe younger generation is correct and while past generations were wrong to reject the label of theology you choose to use.
3. It does appear to many that a Calvin/reformation theology that has never been used to describe SB that I know of.
4. Until you understand and not just ignore, reject, or belittle those who disagree with your generation you are a tool for division not unity.
5. One of the 5 points of Calvinism is limited atonement ( Christ only died for the elect) but SB have always taught that Christ died for all and that anyone can come to salvation. That is the belief that have caused SB to be so greay in evangelism the main reason the SBC exist to unite together for evangelism. Keep using the reformed theology or Calvin label and you will continued to be seen as someone seeking to divide and convert SB. That may not ne your intention but when you use those labels that will be the resault i did it 20 yrs ago and the same thing happenned.
6. The man I call my pastor is Micheal Satterfield a black preacher. Bit it is not because he is black but because he is a godly man who has loved me like Chist loved His disciples. The argument you make for Luter aeems to be we need to prove something based on race if he is the man for the job hisdoes not matter cilor

17 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 12:08 am

Stupid phone didnt let me review hope that makes sense. But point 3 was that many SB know of Calvinism as contrary to traditional Baptist teaching si to suddenly say the label that has always been rejected should suddenly be accepted is seen as a slow take over of baptist churches. Maybe not a planned take over but a takeover all the same.

18 Brandon Smith June 20, 2012 at 7:55 am

James, it actually doesn’t matter if Calvinism in the SBC started last week, but I think it’s been demonstrated by good Baptist historians that Calvinism is nothing new.

19 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

The rise of Calvinism in the Baptist church is new. You once said that Baptist are Protestant and that you have never read anything other than that. That my friend shows your ignorance on Baptist history. The very church you are in now had a guest preacher preach a Baptist are not Protestants message only a year and a half ago and people loved the message and thought it to be very educational. I am sure on the shcools you went to you formed a circle of riends and have also surrounded yourself with like minded people who suppprt your point of view as most oeople do. But intil you are wulling to take an unbiast look at the othersides perspective and examine what they believe and why they believe it you will only end up feeling superior and looking down on others. If this is a young verses old generation difference. Then who does the bible tell us to listen to.

20 Smuschany June 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

Am I to suppose you believe there is a unblemished line of “baptsits” reaching back beyond the protestant reformation reaching back to the apostles? Because most people I have meet who react to the protestant heritage of Baptists as you have, hold such a belief. BTW in regards to your other post of 10:48am…The protestant reformation was more than just Luther and Calvin. Your assumption that all churches that sprang forth from the reformation must hold like views, such as infant baptism, is pure folly. Unless you think the Assemblies of God are not of the protestant reformation as well. Or Church of Christ? Or any of the spawns of the Campbellite movement?

21 Brandon Smith June 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm

James,

1) I’m not sure who I’m “looking down on” but I don’t think that’s the posture of my post. I’m speaking for the young generation as a member of it. I’m not belittling the older generation, they saved our convention. I was simply addressing the specific conversation regarding this generation as the future of the SBC. I feel, if anything, that I spoke for this generation in a positive light, being descriptive and not militant. My apologies if it didn’t come across as such.

2) I also know very well that there are Landmarkists who think we can trace Baptists as far as back at John himself, which I told you in the last week regarding the “Trail of Blood.” In my Baptist history class at DBU, I had a professor who was very different from me in just about every way, yet this HISTORIAN laughed at the idea and said that every other legitimate Baptist historian feels the same way. I’m fine if it’s your opinion, just don’t act like it’s fact.

3) I got saved and first served in a Methodist church and have over time changed and grown in theology and my view of Scripture, all the while always surrounding myself with people with whom I disagree. If you actually knew me personally, you would know that my two best friends in this world disagree with me quite a bit on just about any secondary issue you can think of and that my library reflects such things, as well. So don’t make false accusations questioning my reading of Scripture, my convictions, or my ability to discern fairly and surround myself with shcolarship from other areas of the Christian world. Those are strong claims that are extremely insulting and patently false.

4) We all have biases based on our experiences and how we personally view Scripture, just like you in the things that you claim as fact, but that doesn’t negate the validity of other arguments nor does it make me an elitist because I simply disagree with you.

22 William June 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm

The rise of Calvinism in the Baptist church is new (Nonsense brother. Revisionist history. Read more widely. Baptists believeing salvation by garce alone (Calvinism) go back to BEFORE the reformation – men like Pilgrim MArpeck. Google and do the research. At least half of English baptists were calvinists (check out the TWO wonfessions of faith 1644 & 1689. Note: Arminian baptists in England- out of 200 churches, after 70 years – only 7 or so were still trinitarian….study and come to know your history!

23 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

Look at the churches and denominations that have existed the longest under reformed/Calvin theology do they with their hiarchy, infant baptism, lack of evangelism, denial of anyform of Despensationalism, and contantly chamging views of scripture really look like any typical Baptist church. I am not saying that there are not some valid points made by Calvin and other reformers and thay there have not been influences made by them in the SB churches. But if you actually go and get to know the people in these churches and not juat read what others have wrote about the church, listen to whay these people say they believe and what that belief leads them to them you will inderstand the fear of Calvinism in SBC Churches. And to think people are juat ignorent and dont get it cimes from ignorance of what others believe.

24 Brandon Smith June 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Yeah, again, I don’t think non-Calvinists are ignorant for being upset or whatever, if that’s what you’re insinuating. That’s not at all the point of my post.

Good chat, man. I don’t think we’re going to be able to stay on the point of this post for very much longer, so agree to disagree.

25 William June 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm

When you combine INFANT baptism with calvinist soterioloy – that is terrible. Better stick with free will! I was raised Duth reformed – I know. But seperate the evil of infant baptism from the Biblical salvation by grace alone and you have a NT foundation!

26 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I do not believe that anyone can trace back a baptist history to the churches in Acts as sone claim they can. But to only track church history to the reformation will not give you an accurate view of church history either. Baptist have been influenced by reform theology all along but Baptist have not traditionally held to the 5points of Calvinism which is based around its teaching on limited atonement and undenilable or unrejectable grace. These are not views that have been traditional teachings across the baptist spectrum. Calvin nor any theologian is not the ultimate authority on the bible. But when someone claims “Paul was a Calvinist” and does not inderstand why that bringd division is either ignorant as to what others believe or disillusioned as to where the division is coming from.

27 Alan Davis June 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Paul simply believed in the election of believers by God and in God’s divine plan of total sovereignty. He wrote about it.

28 Smuschany June 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I think you need to do some study on the differences between General and Particular Baptists. You might be enlightened that Particular baptists began to form within a generation of the first General Baptists. Both, again, rising out of English Separatism, which itself was an arm of the Protestant Reformation.

29 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

But to teach it in man’s terminology brings unnecessary division. Because the terminology reform theology uses sounds contrary to the trachins of Jesus Himself. Jesus said in John 3:18 that condemnation does not come from non election but for not believing that God saves (the meaning of the name of Jesus). Then goes ou n to say that it is a love for darkness not non election that keeps them from the light. When you have to take scripture and then use some elses words to explain them then mix them with your words you will create more confusion and dividion despite how well recieved your teachings ate to your church.

30 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I will close my big mouth with this. If our theology that we label ourselves with does not lead is as being defined by loving others as Christ loves us then our theology is wrong. The answer I see to Brandon ‘s question is this: the election of Luter will not matter if we continue to view those with different beliefs on Baptist history as being wrong and ourselves right. The past is the past and man’s records will lways be written in the favor of his beliefs therefore there will always be some evidence for most theories. What will make a differnce now is what we do not what was done. The side thl win in the divisions talked about will be the side that ignores the differnes

31 James ELLIS June 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

The winning side will be the side that brings unity even if it appears as defeat. Is that not the example Christ set on the cross?

32 William June 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Uniting with error is always a fools errand that will destroy the church. Unit is what the liberals always called for and look at their empty churches. We are to contend earnestly for the faith…speaking truth in love but speaking it even when it makes others upset. I pastor a church that has about 5 denominations as backgrounds and we have not argued in 3 years – peace! We agree on the essentials. Of course I preach the doc. of grace and so far even those who were taught arminian free willism love the truth.

33 William June 20, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Baptist have not traditionally held to the 5points of Calvinism which is based around its teaching on limited atonement and undenilable or unrejectable grace. These are not views that have been traditional teachings across the baptist spectrum. (Ellis – you have been lied to. Propogandized. Why would the 1644 AND 1689 Baptist Confessions to 100% totally Calvinst? Because that is what they had believed for 100 years already. http://books.google.com.do/books/about/The_writings_of_Pilgram_Marpeck.html?id=fnUtAAAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y This man and others wrote their dying testimonies in prison and they were “calvinistic” as it were befoe Calvin and they got their doc. from the Bible so what else could it ever be? Arminianism is one of the worst two errors to ever be brought in by Satan to destroy the church from within.

34 Steve Bezner June 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Great post, Brandon. I agree with your point that the reason Reformed theology is attractive is its focus on Scripture and evangelism. And, while I may not self-identify as a Calvinist, it doesn’t take much examination of Reformed Baptist pastors (i.e., Spurgeon) to recognize that there is more than enough common ground for agreement.

I sometimes wonder if neo-Calvinists frighten some Baptists because they tend (in my experience) to exhibit a theological precision and certainty that can be surprising to a denomination that is quite comfortable exercising in ambiguity. Consequently, when issues like gender roles, church polity, sovereignty, and the like arise, I see my Reformed friends with very clear, well-reasoned positions, while those outside of the Reformed circle often have either no position, or they have a position that is often not Scripturally reasoned. Do you think that has any merit?

35 Brandon Smith June 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

Steve,

Glad you jumped in the fray, bro! We can talk more over email (coffee?), but I agree with your premise. I think people are often default Arminian-leaning and would rather take God’s love at “face value” and not go deep into what that love means and the implications of His other attributes. Not to say that you cannot be an Arminian scholar, because I know many, but I think that some of the Calvinistic doctrine that people hear (which isn’t always accurate) scares them a bit. Others like the, “I’m not a Calvinist or Arminian or Baptist or Pentecostal… I’m just a Christian!” without doing the work.

I’d be interested to see how others feel, if people are still following this stream.

36 William June 20, 2012 at 10:03 pm

It does appear to many that a Calvin/reformation theology that has never been used to describe SB that I know of. (That may be the problem right there…you need to research the history of the SBC and these doctrines…

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