The next big thing in the Calvinism debate within the SBC has arrived. Ever since it was posted over on SBC Today, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” has been gathering attention in comment streams and many blogs, including this one.
This Statement attempts to define a common doctrinal statement about salvation for non-Calvinists within the SBC. For all of us who’ve debated these issues at length, we should applaud this effort. All of us should be able to agree that “non-Calvinist” is not a very helpful descriptor of this group’s beliefs about salvation. They say,
It is no longer helpful to identify ourselves by how many points of convergence we have with Calvinism…
I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. I’ve learned both through discipling others and discussions about the merits of various theological positions that people can usually say what they don’t believe, but articulating what they do believe takes a lot more thought and study.
Everyone, whether Calvinist or not, should be able to draw up a well-thought-out statement about what they believe. I think this would be a worthwhile exercise in small groups, especially a church youth group or adult class. Anyone who’s engaged in discussion about the doctrine of salvation knows that I disagree with many of this Statement’s Articles of Affirmation and Denial, but I do appreciate the work and thought that went into drawing up this Statement about what these non-Calvinists believe.
Exclusive Claim on the Descriptor “traditional Southern Baptist soteriology?”
I have no intention of engaging any of the affirmations or denials in the Statement in this short post. Also, I have no intention of discussing the primary issue that has many of us Calvinists heated up, namely that the Introduction, Preamble, and Articles of Affirmation and Denial misrepresent Calvinists themselves and Calvinism as a whole. I believe those are two separate issues and should be dealt with separately. I would, however, like to express why I (and many others) take issue with the label this group is using to describe their doctrine, “traditional Southern Baptist soteriology.”
We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology.
In other words, “our view is the traditional Southern Baptist doctrine of salvation, and the Calvinist view is not.” I agree with the framers of this Statement that “non-Calvinist” and “X-point Calvinist” are not that helpful for identifying this group or what they believe. But “Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology,” denies that Calvinism is Southern Baptist and paints it as both “nontraditional” and “foreign” to Southern Baptist belief and practice.
We know from Southern Baptist history that Calvinism had a much stronger representation in the convention at the start, and that both Calvinists and non-Calvinist beliefs have coexisted since the beginning. The writers of this Statement ignore this rich history and start their timeline for what constitutes “traditional Southern Baptist soteriology” in 1925:
Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is articulated in a general way in the Baptist Faith and Message, “Article IV.” While some earlier Baptist confessions were shaped by Calvinism, the clear trajectory of the BF&M since 1925 is away from Calvinism. For almost a century, Southern Baptists have found that a sound, biblical soteriology can be taught, maintained, and defended without subscribing to Calvinism.
As the framers of this document have already distinguished “traditional Southern Baptist soteriology” from “Calvinist soteriology,” to state that their doctrinal belief “is articulated in a general way in the Baptist Faith and Message” suggests that the BF&M excludes a Calvinist soteriology. Since Calvinists helped forge that document, I find this conclusion untenable. That they recognize Calvinism’s long history in the convention and its more exclusive influence on prior editions of the BF&M while still making an exclusive claim on the descriptor “traditional Southern Baptist soteriology” is as unfair and divisive as a political party that makes an exclusive claim on its country’s flag as a symbol of their political party. No one holds an exclusive claim on traditional Southern Baptist soteriology.
If not traditional Southern Baptist, then what?
We do not need to engage in political posturing by making exclusive claims to “traditional Southern Baptist” to describe our views on the doctrine of salvation. History has already given us names. Particular Baptists (not to be confused with Peculiar Baptists, which includes all of us) have held to a more Calvinistic understanding of salvation. General Baptists have been more in alignment with the views expressed in the Statement.
These General Baptists should pick a descriptor that actually describes their views. I suggest they adopt the term “General Baptist,” “General Southern Baptist” or some other variation of the term instead of making an exclusive claim on something we all share.