I am flying out today to Boston for a little vacation/grandkid time, so I can only put this out for your discussion. Frank Page’s study group has issued its report, and it is well worth the read. While the results are hardly surprising, they do form the basis for a way forward for the SBC through the Calvinism quagmire that has bogged us down in recent years.
Here is a link to the full report.
The introductory paragraphs the discussion well.
Southern Baptists are Great Commission people. We are also a doctrinal people, and those doctrinal convictions undergird our Great Commission vision and passion. We are a confessional people, who stand together upon the doctrines most vital to us all, confessed together in The Baptist Faith and Message.
Within this common confession, we sometimes disagree over certain theological issues that should not threaten our Great Commission cooperation. We recognize that significant theological disagreement on such issues has occurred with respect to Calvinism. It is, therefore, our responsibility to come together with open hearts and minds in order to speak truthfully, honestly, and respectfully about these theological and doctrinal issues that concern us, threaten to divide us, and compel us into conversation. Such engagement is appropriate at every level of Southern Baptist life including local congregations, associations, state conventions, and the Southern Baptist Convention.
The doctrinal differences that currently mark our interactions “should not threaten our Great Commission cooperation.” They are “significant” differences, but not such that our denomination should divide over them. We need to engage, not battle.
I am proud that the committee was able to present this report in typical Baptist alliteration! Without that, it would not be official, would it. But they defined the issues well.
Four central issues have become clear to us as we have met together. We affirm together that Southern Baptists must stand without apology upon truth; that we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension; that we must work together with trust; and that we must encourage one another to testimony.
Truth – do all sides give assent to a body of TRUTH that is a basis for cooperative work? Can we work through the TENSION and build TRUST? (Seems to me that this is the big one.) Will that trust develop to the extent that we can give TESTIMONY to our particular beliefs and convictions without splintering?
To me, the key is the “Truth” section, which I copy here in full. It demonstrates, as Bart Barber’s fine article a couple of months did as well, that our shared truth is far greater than our differences, as Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Here it is.
We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are the inerrant, infallible, and totally trustworthy Word of God and our supreme authority on all matters of truth. We affirm that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the great theme of all Scripture and that the Bible is sufficient to reveal all we need to know concerning God’s purpose to save sinners.
We deny that any human system of thought or any theological tradition can assume supreme authority or be allowed to supplant dependence upon the Bible and all that it reveals. Neither Calvinism nor non-Calvinism ought to be equated exclusively with sound Southern Baptist doctrine nor be considered inconsistent with it.
The Lostness of Humanity
We affirm that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that the universal condition of humanity is lostness, as every single human being, Jesus alone excepted, is a sinner whose only hope of salvation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We deny that any human being is without need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and we deny any teaching that minimizes the truth about sin and the need of all persons to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Power of the Gospel
We affirm that our Lord is mighty to save and that He saves to the uttermost. We affirm the power of the Gospel to redeem every single human being through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom the Father has now declared to be both Lord and Christ, the Savior of the world.
We deny that the Gospel is without power to save anyone who repents and believes in Jesus Christ. We also deny that the Gospel as revealed in Scripture lacks anything needful for
The Offer of the Gospel
We affirm that the Gospel is to be made known freely to all in the good faith offer that if anyone confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead, he will be saved.
We deny that the Gospel lacks any power to save anyone who believes in Christ and receives Him as Savior and Lord. Anyone who understands the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit may, in prayer and petition, trust Christ through repentance and faith, and we should plead with all sinners to do so.
The Exclusivity of the Gospel
We affirm that salvation is found in the name of Christ and in no other name. We affirm that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one can come to the Father but by Him. We affirm the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ as the only message of salvation.
We deny that salvation can come to any sinner by any other gospel, any other system of faith and practice, or by any name other than Jesus Christ.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ
We affirm that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was both penal and substitutionary and that the atonement He accomplished was sufficient for the sins of the entire world.
We deny that there is anything lacking in the atonement of Christ to provide for the salvation of anyone.
The Reality of Heaven and Hell
We affirm that all who come to Christ by faith will be with Him forever in heaven, which He has prepared for the saints. We affirm that all who reject Christ and do not come to Him by faith will spend eternity in hell, a place of eternal punishment.
We deny that there is any opportunity for salvation after the point of death, when all humanity will face the judgment of God.
The Necessity of Conversion
We affirm that salvation involves the conversion of the sinner, whereby the sinner consciously clings to Christ by faith, repents of sin, believes the promises of the Gospel, and publicly professes faith in Christ. We affirm the necessity of conversion and the truth that conversion involves the will of the believer as well as the will of God.
We deny that salvation comes to anyone who has not experienced conversion. We also deny that salvation comes to any sinner who does not will to believe and receive Christ.
The Great Commission
We affirm the church’s duty to obey Christ by preaching the Gospel to all the nations and by making disciples who obey all that Christ has commanded. We affirm every believer’s responsibility to tell anyone and everyone about Jesus and the responsibility of every congregation to be a sending, going, and giving assembly of believers.
We deny that missions and evangelism can be neglected without denying the power of the Gospel; that any church can be faithful without a missionary urgency; and that any believer can be obedient without telling others about Jesus. We deny that evangelism can exist apart from the call to make disciples. Every sinner should be implored to trust Christ by calling on Him through repentance and faith, and every convert should be discipled toward maturity, commitment to the church, and passion for the lost.
Yes, we have significant disagreements. But that on which we agree is a firm and sure basis for Great Commission cooperation and partnership.
I won’t copy the entire Tensions section, but the reader can follow the link and read it. It well defines the issues that we face. I also appreciate the concluding paragraph of that section.
These differences should spur us to search the Scriptures more dutifully, to engage in lively interaction for mutual sharpening and collective Gospel effectiveness, and to give thanks that what we hold in common far surpasses that on which we disagree. But these particular differences do not constitute a sufficient basis for division and must not be allowed to hamper the truly crucial cooperative effort of taking the Gospel to a waiting world. Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.
Search the scriptures, engage and sharpen one another in respectful dialog.
Ron Hale, in a comment yesterday, put his finger precisely on the problem in the SBC right now. We do not trust one another. People don’t trust leaders. Calvinists don’t trust Traditionalists and vice versa. A spirit of distrust and hostility exists.
The way to build trust is well defined in this document. The reader should browse that section.
It is important that the committee is not trying to build peace by stifling debate or dissent. They honor the fact that we have different convictions and can hold them passionately. The key is to give a format of trust in which we can have the forceful debates that we need, not to prevent dissent and debate.
The Way Forward
The committee perhaps saved the best for last. The section entitled “The Way Forward” does just that – gives us a pattern for moving forward as a denomination. Here is a quote from this.
Where do we go from here? We must celebrate the unity we share together in our common Great Commission purpose, while acknowledging and celebrating variety among us. We must clarify the parameters of our cooperation where necessary but stand together without dispute.
We should be thankful that these are the issues Southern Baptists are now discussing, even as liberal denominations are debating the full abdication of biblical morality and allowing the denial of central doctrines. We are, seen in this light, blessed by the discussions that come to Southern Baptists who want to affirm the fullness of the faith, not its reduction.
We should call upon all Southern Baptists to promote the unity we share within The Baptist Faith and Message and, while recognizing that most Southern Baptists will believe and teach more than what that confession contains, we must never believe or teach less.
We should expect all leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and all entities serving our denomination to affirm, to respect, and to represent all Southern Baptists of good faith and to serve the great unity of our Convention. No entity should be promoting Calvinism or non-Calvinism to the exclusion of the other. Our entities should be places where any Southern Baptist who stands within the boundaries of The Baptist Faith and Message should be welcomed and affirmed as they have opportunities to benefit from, participate in, and provide leadership for those entities.
In order to prevent the rising incidence of theological conflict in the churches, we should expect all candidates for ministry positions in the local church to be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine, even as we call upon pulpit and staff search committees to be fully candid and forthcoming about their congregation and its expectations.
We must do all within our power to avoid the development of partisan divisions among Southern Baptists.
We must not only acknowledge but celebrate the distinctive contributions made by the multiple streams of our Southern Baptist heritage. These streams include both Charleston and Sandy Creek, the Reformers and many of the advocates of the Radical Reformation, confessional evangelicalism and passionate revivalism. These streams and their tributaries nourish us still.
We must also remember that labels, though often necessary, are often misleading and unfair. They must be used with care and assigned with charity. The use of the words “Calvinist” and “Calvinism” can be both revealing and misleading, since individuals may hold to any number of variants on doctrinal points. Similarly non-Calvinists, who may resist even that designation, will cover an even larger landscape of positions. Labels like these often fail us.
We must stand together in rejecting any form of hyper-Calvinism that denies the mandate to present the offer of the Gospel to all sinners or that denies the necessity of a human response to the Gospel that involves the human will. Similarly, we must reject any form of Arminianism that elevates the human will above the divine will or that denies that those who come to faith in Christ are kept by the power of God. How do we know that these positions are to be excluded from our midst? Each includes beliefs that directly deny what The Baptist Faith and Message expressly affirms.
We must remember that the diversity we celebrate is already honored in the names we revere—theological statesmen such as James P. Boyce and B. H. Carroll, E. Y. Mullins and W. T. Conner; missionary heroes and martyrs such as Lottie Moon and Bill Wallace; scholars such as A. T. Robertson and Robert Baker, educators such as Lee Scarborough and John Sampey; evangelists and preachers like George W. Truett and W. A. Criswell, R. G. Lee and Adrian Rogers; and pastor-theologians like Herschel Hobbs. Where would we be today if we attempted to divide these heroes and heroines of the faith by the issue of Calvinism? We would cut ourselves off from our own heritage.
We must also remember that a rising young generation of Southern Baptists is watching and listening, looking to see if this denomination is going to be a bold movement of churches on mission or merely a debating society.
Beyond them stands a world desperately in need of the Gospel. Will we distract ourselves in an unnecessary debate while the world is perishing in need of the Gospel?
If we stand together in truth, we can trust one another in truth, even as we experience tension. We can talk like brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can work urgently and eagerly together
I don’t have time to do much more than give you this synopsis. I will be out of touch for the next day or two, though I will try to check in. I’m sure more responses will be coming – here and at other sites.
May the vision of this study group become a reality in the Southern Baptist Convention!