The extent to which the Southern Baptist Convention is being Calvinized is a subject of considerable debate. A Baptist Press article in 2007 compared a 2006 Lifeway Study claiming 10% of Southern Baptist Pastors were Five Point Calvinists with a 2007 NAMB New Minister study claiming that nearly 30% of recent seminary graduates were Five Point Calvinists. Although a 2010 Barna study seems to contradict this idea of a growing Calvinism, most observers of SBC life accept the prevailing view that a New Calvinism is being embraced, especially at Southern and Southeastern Seminaries. A problem arises, however, whenever a NAMB sponsored church plant affiliates with the Acts 29 Network, since this creates an unbalanced partnership in favor of the Network.
How does it create a problem if a Southern Baptist Church that fully embraces The Baptist Faith and Message chooses autonomously to partner with the Acts 29 Network? I’m glad you asked. Suppose only two funding sources exist for a new church plant–the New NAMB church planting emphasis and the Acts 29 Network. Since the New NAMB seeks to be just as “soteriologically neutral” as The Baptist Faith and Message, then it will be open to both prevailing salvation doctrines–Calvinism and Non-Calvinism. However, because the Acts 29 Network is not “soteriologically neutral” but only supports a Calvinist church planter, this partnership results in a “Calvinization” of the Southern Baptist Convention subsidized at least partially by the Non-Calvinist financial support of NAMB through the Cooperative Program giving of traditional SBC churches.
The assumption here is that some Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists would like to spread their Non-Calvinist doctrine just as seriously and purposefully as Acts 29 Southern Baptists are currently spreading their Calvinist doctrine. At the present time, a Southern Baptist congregation wishing to support only Calvinist church planters has the option of simply giving a token amount, through Cooperative Program channels, in support of NAMB, while giving a very large amount through the Acts 29 Network. Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists may be powerless to do anything to stop the Calvinization of the convention, but they should certainly not be forced to pay for it with their Cooperative Program giving, thus propagating a salvation doctrine they do not embrace, and altering their denomination in a direction they do not prefer. Non-Calvinists should have the same option as the Calvinists to support church planters whose salvation doctrine they can embrace with a completely clear conscience.
To put it simply, a new giving option is needed to accommodate both Calvinist and Non-Calvinist channels of financial support for church planting. Only by creating two such clear options can we accomplish these worthy aims: (1) working in unity to share the gospel with the nations alongside other Southern Baptists with whom we have significant doctrinal differences, and (2) providing a financial giving channel to plant new Southern Baptist churches without violating the consciences of donors who do not wish to subsidize the promotion of a salvation doctrine they cannot embrace.
For the sake of discussion, we might call the Calvinist church planting channel the “Acts 29 Track” while referring to the Non-Calvinist church planting channel as the “John 3:16 Track.” Churches would be free to designate however they wish the portion of their CP funds to be allocated toward church planting. Some might opt for a 50-50 split. Some might prefer a 90-10 split, reasoning that in this manner they could help preserve an existing soteriological balance they deem entirely appropriate. Others might devote all of their resources either to Calvinist church plants or Non-Calvinist ones. Alternatively, by directly giving $10,000 to the John 3:16 Track, a Non-Calvinist church would enjoy the same giving privileges as a Calvinist church today that gives $10,000 directly to the Acts 29 Network.
When it comes to church planting, no Southern Baptist should be forced to support financially at the denominational level the promotion of a doctrine they would not support at the local level if they were directly funding the new work and selecting the church planting pastor through their own search team process. This proposal is offered as a very simple solution that would permit us to continue to work “together for the gospel” while agreeing to work peacefully “apart for the doctrine” as we reach the nations for Jesus.
My heart’s desire in sharing this proposal is not to stir up needless controversy, but rather to resolve the conflict and seek a reasonable approach for moving forward together. To quote those four famous British philosophers, “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.” We can work it out!