I’ve now watched the chapel video from the day when Rick Patrick spoke at SWBTS. The topic for his speech dealt broadly with Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Rick is (famously) not a Calvinist, and his remarks raised the ire of some of my Calvinistic friends in the convention who took umbrage at what Rick had to say.
Rick was certainly provocative. Intentionally so, I think. He laid a number of Southern Baptist ills at the feet of neo-Calvinism, or at least seemed to do so. But I didn’t think that his critique of Calvinism was the most scandalous thing that Rick had to say that day (perhaps because I’m not a Calvinist). Rather, I thought that Rick’s most scandalous quote was this one:
[Connect 316 is] the first—and I believe the only—ministry fellowship in Southern Baptist life committed to [non-Calvinism].
The scandal is not that Rick was wrong, but rather that I suspect that he is right. The Southern Baptist Convention is awash with Calvinistic or nearly-Calvinistic organizations. Rick is 100% correct about that. Why only one organization representing other soteriological perspectives? I think we need others, if you want my opinion.
- We need others because it is healthy for the convention that non-Calvinistic soteriologies should be presented as enthusiastically and as well as Calvinism has been presented. A book like The Extent of the Atonement is good for the convention. Even if you are a Calvinist and are not interested in any data to the contrary, you cannot be the strongest Calvinist that you can be until you have faced and considered the strongest critique of Calvinism that you can find. David Allen’s work in this book is a valiant effort in that direction, but nothing can flourish in Southern Baptist life unless it be preached, and more popular, less academic presentations of non-Calvinism are necessary. Multiple non-Calvinist organizations and groups ought to arise in Southern Baptist life in order to provide these popular presentations of non-Calvinist soteriology.
- We need others because nuance exists within Southern Baptist non-Calvinism that Connect 316 cannot fully comprehend. I am not a member of Connect 316. Perhaps the day will come when I am, but my absence from the rolls at Connect 316 is not at this point an oversight on my part. I do not belong in Together for the Gospel. I do not belong in The Gospel Coalition. I do not belong in IX Marks. I certainly do not belong in the Founders. But neither am I certain that I belong in Connect 316. I see nuance at a number of places that would differentiate me from Connect 316.
- Relationship with Southern Baptist Calvinists: I think it is entirely accurate and not uncharitably spoken to say that I have a different relationship with Southern Baptist Calvinists than Rick has. While disagreeing with points of their soteriological views, I value greatly the contributions that many Southern Baptist Calvinists are making to our cooperative work and count many of them as friends—not in the sense of “Why, some of my best friends are Calvinists,” but really…my dear, treasured, close friends. I would name names if I didn’t think it would embarrass them.
- Assessment of the Effect of Southern Baptist Calvinism: I’ve never quite comprehended the argument that says that the vast preponderance of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists (true, that), but somehow Calvinism is responsible for flagging evangelistic zeal in the Southern Baptist Convention. If the non-Calvinists weren’t part of the problem, we wouldn’t have a problem (at least, the numbers seem to add up that way to me). I’m not a Calvinist; God help me, I need to get out of my office more, share the gospel more, and lead more people to Christ (the irony of my saying that in a blog post composed in my office is not lost on me). I’d rather people were not Calvinists because I think Calvinism is in error at least in part. And yet, most of the Christians who aren’t winning people to Christ don’t know what Calvinism is. Respectfully, I think Rick leads us away from the real problems to chase a red herring. But he is entitled to his view as much as I am entitled to mine. That our views diverge strengthens my point that there ought to be different organizations embodying our differing perspectives.
- Strategic Approach to Dialogue with Southern Baptist Calvinists: Strategically, I think a presentation like Rick’s speech in SWBTS’s chapel is unlikely to persuade very many Calvinists to consider non-Calvinistic alternatives to the soteriology that they have embraced. I’d rather that he had presented a text-driven sermon (not that sharing a testimony is inappropriate in chapel), and plenty of texts offer the opportunity to preach non-Calvinism convincingly and exegetically. Last week I had a brief conversation online with a young scholar at another SBC seminary. He has been a Calvinist, but something happened to him: He read Arminius. He did not journey all the way to Arminianism, but he discovered that Arminius was not the caricature that his instruction in Calvinism had portrayed him to be. This young man discovered that Arminius had some critiques to lodge against Calvinism that weren’t humanism, weren’t liberalism, weren’t Pelagianism, but were just plain Bible. So now he’s something that remarkably resembles a “Traditionalist.”
I’m not interested in waving around raw meat before my non-Calvinistic friends. To tell you the truth, I’m really not even all that interested in “converting” my Christian Calvinist Southern Baptist friends away from their Calvinism. What I do yearn for is deep, penetrating conversation about the scriptures, conducted with an awareness of those like Calvin and Arminius and Hobbs and Rogers and Mohler and Patterson who have given us thoughts to consider. Those willing to go there will, I think, find it difficult to make strawmen of those holding a soteriology similar to mine, and I dare to hope that some will make the same journey that the young scholar made while reading Arminius, but I’m proud to call friend, brother, Southern Baptist, and colleague anyone willing to engage in that process.
It’s admittedly an observation from the outside, but Connect 316 doesn’t seem to be about that. I’d love to be a part of a non-Calvinistic organization that was. I think such an organization would advance non-Calvinist thought far more successfully in the Southern Baptist Convention. Again, Connect 316 is free to go about this in the way that seems right to them. I’m merely making the point that there are nuances within Southern Baptist non-Calvinism that will be difficult for any one organization to comprehend.
- Attention Span Available to Devote to Calvinism: I’m bored, bored, BORED with carping over soteriology. Every once in a while, I’d like to talk about missiology, or Christology, or ecclesiology, or the longer ending of Mark, or the authorship of Hebrews, or the evils of the NIV, or the greatness of the St. Louis Cardinals. I just can’t play the same tune on my fiddle ad infinitum. I’d prefer to be a part of an organization that is prepared, while being non-Calvinistic, to look at a lot of things OTHER than soteriology and explore (charitably) how non-Calvinists approach such things. I’d love to be a part of a non-Calvinistic organization that would devote some energy to exploring the common ground shared between Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists in various areas beyond soteriology without shying away from articulating differences where they exist.
- We need others because non-Calvinism comprises quite a bit of theological diversity, and we do not all fit well in the same organization together. Coming out of the Conservative Resurgence, almost the full complement of the people who opposed inerrancy also oppose Calvinism. Although I am not a Calvinist, I have a lot more in common with Al Mohler than with Dan Vestal. Inerrancy matters more to me than soteriology. Show me someone who affirms the BF&M 1963, deliberately rejecting the BF&M 2000, and I’ll show you a committed non-Calvinist 9 times out of 10. Connect 316 affirms the BF&M 2000, but there are still churches, associations, and conventions within the Southern Baptist Convention who reject the 2000 version, and some of them exist within and play a part in Connect 316.
I never got over the Conservative Resurgence. I don’t let it break up friendships for me or keep me from loving anyone, but my theological and ministry partnerships are with people who affirm biblical inerrancy and who are in line with what the BF&M 2000 articulates. If I were to get yoked up in serious theological work with people who could not agree with me about those basic things, we’d eventually be at an impasse with one another. Having more than one non-Calvinistic fellowship in the Southern Baptist Convention would permit those who are more in line with or open to 1980s SBC theological “moderatism” to have their group, while non-Calvinists who are fully on-board with the Conservative Resurgence could likewise have a fellowship.
Most of the time someone writes a post like this and concludes by saying, “That’s why I’m starting the XYZ organization…” If you were expecting that from me, prepare for disappointment. I see the need, but I don’t have the calling. Neither do I have the time. But I do believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is ripe for more organizations and more opportunities offering the diverse field of Southern Baptist non-Calvinists opportunities for fellowship, mutual support, and theological development. Maybe God is calling you to do it.