If two parties ever hope to address issues productively, they must first stop calling each other names. Generally, this means adopting your opponent’s preferred title. In the Conservative Resurgence, the names “fundamentalist” and “liberal” became pejorative. Those who desired to engender a more cordial conversation opted for “conservative” and “moderate” instead.
In the present debate, I am going to assume that the Calvinists do not mind being called Calvinists. If this is not the case, let me know. In the interest of both unity and cooperation, I am willing to consider any other reasonable proposal you may wish to suggest.
On the other hand, while I cannot speak for anyone else, I’d like to request that others avoid calling me by the three pejorative terms (Calvinist, Non-Calvinist and Anti-Calvinist) and instead utilize my preferred term (Traditionalist) which I will be happy to define in such a manner as to quell your fears of historical inaccuracy and permit you the same freedom to call me a Traditionalist that you presently feel to call me an American.
1. Please do not call me a CALVINIST.
While there is nothing wrong with being a Calvinist, I am simply not one, and I truly resent it when others try to “move the goalposts” of the definition in order to fit me within its parameters. But you might ask, “Who would ever dare to call a Traditionalist a Calvinist?”
At the 2006 SBC Pastor’s Conference, Dr. Al Mohler listed five ways that ALL Southern Baptists were Calvinists, citing such doctrines as inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, omniscience and eternal security, issues which frankly do nothing to distinguish Calvinism from Traditionalism. Dr. Mohler might have also added such widely held notions as the view that Jesus loves you, that God is good, that Job was patient and that the antichrist will have something of a temper.
It would be just as inaccurate of me to suggest Dr. Mohler is a Traditionalist because he often wears a tie and has been known to sing hymns in public worship. I would never say that “All Southern Baptists are Traditionalists” when I am using that term to refer specifically to a soteriological viewpoint.
2. Please do not call me a NON-CALVINIST.
You may be wondering why I would take offense to this term, since I am also offended by its opposite. It is a fair question. The issue can be boiled down to the simple fact that I am much more than a negation of you, and my viewpoint is much more than simply a negation of yours.
Imagine if I were to bump into you in public, perhaps at a restaurant or walking along the street, and turning to my wife, I were to introduce you to her in this manner: “Karen, I would like you to meet Non-Rick. I’ve known Non-Rick for a few years now. I’ve prayed for Non-Rick and kept a correspondence with Non-Rick. I’m glad the two of you can finally meet.”
I can easily understand why you might take exception to this characterization. Although it is accurate in the sense that, of course, you are not me, it is unfair to suggest that all there is to you and your position is the opposition of me and mine. Because that is neither true nor fair, I should not refer to you in such a way. It is indeed pejorative, denying you any real identity of your own apart from simply distinguishing yourself from my own identity. In the same way, I prefer to be called an American, rather than a non-German or non-Russian. We can do better than merely labeling people by that which they are not.
3. Please do not call me an ANTI-CALVINIST.
For one thing, this term suffers from the very same problem as the previous designation, since it only identifies me in reference to you. For another, it takes this liberty one step further away from accuracy by suggesting that I am not merely different from you, but that I am also opposed to you. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Do I wish harm upon the Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention? No. Do I wish them to leave? No. Do I wish them to be excluded from holding any office? No. Frankly, it is simply unfair to call me an ANTI-Calvinist. I am anti-abortion. I am anti-legalization of marijuana. I am anti-Obamacare. But I am NOT anti-Calvinist.
Now, do I wish to promote my own soteriological viewpoint, believing as I do that it is biblical and right? Yes, just as Calvinists do theirs. Do I wish to influence churches to embrace my soteriology? Yes, just as Calvinists do theirs. Do I wish for the agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention to reflect my Traditionalist convictions? Yes, just as the Calvinists wish them to reflect theirs.
As in other theological debates, there is an inverse relationship between the fortunes of Calvinism and Traditionalism, so that as one waxes, the other wanes. The same might be said regarding Premillennialism and Amillennialism, or Egalitarianism and Complementarianism. How absurd would it be to refer to a Premillennialist as an “Anti-Amillennialist?”
Give your opponent the dignity of a unique name that is neither your name, nor a simple negation of your name, nor a militantly opposed attack of your name.
4. Please call me a TRADITIONALIST.
By the use of this term, do I mean to suggest that my soteriological perspective is the ONLY historical tradition in Southern Baptist life? No, not never! May it never be! That is NOT what I am saying, NOT what I am intending, NOT how I am using the term, and NOT the only way the term can, in fact, be used.
By the use of this term, I mean only to refer to the adjective of a document, namely, A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. It is shorthand for a soteriological perspective, not merely a historical reference point. Its primary usefulness is in giving a label by which to identify the statement’s doctrinal position in a single word.
Since some have objected to the very use of the word “traditional” in the title of the statement, a brief word might be in order. Granted, the word is broad in scope, and you can find other soteriological traditions, including Calvinism, going back hundreds of years. But the word “traditional” is even used, with regard to our worship in Southern Baptist life, to refer to that period in the latter half of the twentieth century, in which a mixture of reformation hymns and Gaither-style gospel songs were commonly incorporated in our services. Many of our churches, even today, refer to such services as “traditional.” We need not go back to the 1800’s or the 1500’s simply to use the word.
Some of my traditionalist friends, rejecting both the label Calvinist and the label Arminian, simply prefer the term, “Baptist.” While I am sympathetic to their concern, I resist the Baptist label in this case, simply because it appears to suggest that ours is the only “Baptist” soteriology available, when in fact, I am aware of our Calvinist Southern Baptists who deserve to be described both as “Calvinist” and as “Baptist.” Thus, a separate word is helpful.
Having heard the desperate and painful accusations of historical inaccuracy leveled against the term “traditionalism” causing many to declare that its use is thereby disqualified, let me simply ask, “Do you mind calling me an American?” Clearly, it is better than Non-Chinese or Anti-Afghanistan. I can go anywhere in the world and they will know what I mean by the term “American” even though it is MANIFESTLY INACCURATE as a historical term.
As you know, Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian cartographer concerned primarily with what is today the continent of South America. Frankly, he had little to do with North America, and died in 1512, which was 264 years before we declared our independence as a nation, not even using for our terminology his own name, but rather the feminized version of it.
Frankly, if in the interest of clarity and respect for one’s right to self-define, you can bring yourself to call me an American, despite the historical inaccuracies involved, then you can also call me a Traditionalist, with reference not so much to history or even culture, but rather with reference only to the soteriological document it so usefully describes.
If we are going to have a nice conversation as ladies and gentlemen, we must get past the name calling stage. I am not a Calvinist, a Non-Calvinist or an Anti-Calvinist. There is much more to me and my position than merely a negation of you and yours. Please, in the interest of unity and cooperation, resist the temptation to refer to me using only those terms that make reference to the Geneva Reformer. Instead, when describing my soteriology, please make reference to a document, and respectfully describe me as a Traditionalist.