There is no question that there are differences between Calvinists and non-Calvinists – it would be foolish to attempt to make the argument that those differences do not exist. But the differences may not be as stark as we sometimes try to make them.
In the last few weeks, there has been a rather forceful debate on the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Lots of heat has been generated by these debates, and often little light.
I think you may see in the Sinner’s Prayer debate an example of why we have such a hard time with the Calvinist/non-Calvinist debate in the SBC. This is something of a tempest in a teapot, an unnecessary division, because our bedrock beliefs are not so far apart as the debate seems to indicate.
Calvinists believe that sinners must call on the name of the Lord, in repentance and faith, for salvation. Their concern is with abuses that have happened in the Christian world. “Simply pray these words after me.” They are concerned with this “easy believism” that in evident in some circles. I have witnessed an evangelist asking everyone in the the auditorium to repeat the words of the prayer after him, outloud. When the recitation was done, the evangelist assured those who had prayed the prayer that if they had meant it, they were saved.
But I think most non-Calvinists agree with that condemnation. Non-Calvinists would be as horrified as any Calvinist at this kind of evangelistic abuse.
And, perhaps, Calvinists have not made their focus clear at all times. Non-Calvinists have become concerned by the words of the Calvinists who confront the abuses of the Sinner’s Prayer. They have been left with the impression that Calvinists oppose calling someone to personally repent and express their faith to God.
Again, this is a more of a misunderstanding than it is a genuine conflict. We have made this Sinner’s Prayer such a harsh debate in some circles, and I don’t think that is necessary. If we tried to understand each other and hear concerns, I think we share more conviction here than many would think.
Calvinists are not committed to the elimination of the concept of sinners calling out to God for salvation, they are concerned with the subtle idea some people have gotten that salvation comes through the recitation of a prayer. Non-Calvinists share the concern of false conversion that presents a gospel without a call to true repentance or faith.
Certainly, there might be some differences in the specific methods used by different people in leading someone to faith. But ultimately, both will do the same thing – they will lead a sinner to express his sincere repentance for sin and to call out to God for the grace purchased at the Cross.
There may be some differences, but perhaps they are not so great as some of the discussions have led us to believe.