SBC, the Presidency, and Hypercalvinism
Since we have been focusing on the SBC presidency of late, I thought I would write something that I think needs to be addressed. Leaders of the SBC (especially previous presidents and future potential presidents) have made a collective effort to speak out explicitly about the matter of hypercalvinism in the SBC. In the most recent Baptist Press interview with Dr. Ronnie Floyd, there was a small section in which this was brought up. Here is what it said:
Floyd responded to other issues that have infused the conversations of Southern Baptists in recent months — increased sensitivity to the presence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists and the practice of private prayer language, which many equate to speaking in tongues. He offered that whatever the theological issue, “If it does not help ignite a greater passion for the Word and the greater passion to reach the world, then we have to evaluate the positions we hold.”
Floyd said some Southern Baptists may hold Calvinist beliefs, but that the threat was a “hyper” form of Calvinism that has a spirit of condemnation. “My whole thought processes on that will be … we know it’s an issue,” he said. “How big of an issue? I have no way to know. I do think it’s important that somehow, some way, that we recognize the good that exists in whatever people believe and try our very best to come together to discuss what we can do together and believe together. The more we split hairs on various matters, the less effective we’re going to be in carrying forth our mission.”
I find this interesting for several reasons. First, there is the idea of increased sensitivity to the presence of Calvinism in the SBC. I don’t know if you would call it sensitivity or an attack machine. Secondly and along these lines, every and any form of Calvinism is somehow dubbed as hypercalvinism in the SBC. The term is seldomly defined and ambiguously defended. One does not have to look far to see the erroneous usage of this term. For instance, Dr. Steve Lemke and Bobby Welch (current SBC president) warned about the threat of hypercalvinism. Steve Lemke said:
Wise voices such as Adrian Rogers, Danny Akin, and Paige Patterson have warned about the dangers of unchecked hyper-Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Now, where has it been documented and clearly noted where the “unchecked hyper-Calvinism is in the Southern Baptist Convention? Furthermore, Dr. Malcom Yarnell has recently come out and made the following statement:
Hyper-Calvinism is becoming a real problem in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Using his own interpretation of Timothy George’s definition as prescribed in the book Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, Yarnell equates those who do not give an invitation are hypercalvinists. Tom Ascol has addressed this improper usage of this term on his own blog, and I encourage you to read it.
With all the “white papers” being written by professors at seminaries and all the sermons being preached against hyper-calvinism in the SBC, one would think that they could provide the names of leaders or proponents of hypercalvinism in the SBC. But has one name been given? No. Not one. Let’s go back to what Floyd said in the BP article. He said that the “threat” was a “hyper” form of Calvinism which has a “spirit of condemnation.” My question to Dr. Floyd, Dr. Yarnell, Dr. Lemke, and all the SBC elites out there making the explicit statements about hypercalvinism is:
Can you please identify who in the world you are talking about and point out specifically the errors in their theology which lead to a “spirit of condemnation”?
Let me make myself clear. I am against hypercalvinism as one could possibly be, but I am not sure those who are throwing this label around are using it in its historical sense. Some, I believe, think that a hypercalvinist is one who really believes in the five points of Calvinism. Others like to think a Hypercalvinist is one who, according to Norm Geisler’s misnomer, is tantamount to an “extreme Calvinist.” However, if one wants to have an accurate definition of hypercalvinism, they could find ample information here and here.
The reason I feel that this is important is because if Dr. Ronnie Floyd is a nominee for the president of the SBC, it might be a good thing to not follow the direction of his predecessors and cohorts in the conspiratorial work of calling anyone who believes in the doctrines of grace a hypercalvinist. It is not just about “being sensitive” to Calvinists in the SBC; it is being fair, charitable, and considerate of those with whom you disagree.
Back to the BP article and the quote aforementioned, Floyd said that whatever the theological issue, “If it does not help ignite a greater passion for the Word and the greater passion to reach the world, then we have to evaluate the positions we hold.” I would like to add a hearty AMEN to that statement! Let’s evaluate the theological positions. Last year, now president Bobby Welch went on the Million More Campaign with the hopes of a million people being baptized in a year. Now well past the halfway mark and far from 500,000, another BP article says,
“At the midpoint of the Everyone Can challenge, Welch said he is seeing results that cannot be measured in numbers.”
But wait a minute, I thought us SBCers are all about numbers. Didn’t we say a million? What’s with this idea that we are seeing “results that cannot be measured in numbers?” I will tell you what this means. In the same BP article that interviewed Dr. Floyd, it refers to the many controversies the SBC is currently addressing. In this section it says:
Also, the next president will enter office after a two-year national emphasis by the incumbent, Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., on winning and baptizing the lost. The results from his efforts will not be known until April 2007, but data released for Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005, revealed that convention-wide baptisms had dropped 4.15 percent from the previous year’s baptism total.
Aha. So that explains it. The same president who went out of his way to write that Calvinism is harmful to the Great Commission, who traveled across the country seeking to baptize a million more, saw under his stead a drop of 4.15 percent of baptisms from the previous year. So let’s evaluate the theological positions then. Interestingly enough, Mark Dever reveals that in the last ten years, the PCA (a thoroughly Reformed denomination) has experienced 42% growth while the SBC has experienced only 5%. So are we really to blame those Calvinist for drop in numbers? Are we to blame them for baptizing pagans? Are we to blame Calvinists for the apparent piety of numerical goals? I think not.
Let’s remember that the greatest crop of missionaries sent out by the SBC were Calvinists, and a large swath of young SBCers are as well. There is a renewal of biblical doctrine and a corresponding biblical form of evangelism. The numbers may not be as embellished and polished by pragmatism or utilitarian techniques crafted by the marketplace of secular innovations. While the supposed “threat” of hypercalvinism has yet to be substantiated, one major threat has been–the threat of pragmatism. Unfortunately, you don’t hear SBC elite preachers or leaders speaking out much against this reality because many in the megachurch movement have bought the goods and novelties which are being used to bring them results . . . sometimes.
(If anyone has any information as to Dr. Floyd’s position on Calvinism or his definition thereof, I would love to read it.)