Note: I have been planning a series of posts for some time now called Tension in the Convention in which I will mention some of the points of contention in the SBC. Calvinism is obviously one of them, and I will develop this more at a later time. Also, JT points to a good post by Nathan Finn pertaining to hyper-Calvinism in the SBC.
When I shared my reflections on the CT article, I mentioned that Lifeway was conducting some research on Calvinism in the SBC. Yesterday, Baptist Press shared the results of the research as did Tom Ascol. Contrary to popular belief, the research showed that the beliefs were not age-related nor was Calvinism proven to be as widespread as some thought. 413 pastors were surveyed randomly, and were asked the question, “Do you consider yourself a five-point Calvinist?” The result was that 10% responded that they were, with 85% responding no, 4% not sure, and 1% refusing to answer.
Unfortunately for those who wish to analyze the results from the research, we are not given very much specifics about the methodology or extent of the research. There is short, 15 minute podcast available from Lifeway in which Dr. Brad Waggoner shares a little more than what the article reveals. Waggoner mentioned that this “was not a deep study” but rather “a snapshot” of the current theological landscape in the SBC. Therefore, it may very well be that the purpose of this research was not “research” but a rough sketch of the present ethos in the SBC.
Any informed SBCer knows that the issue of Calvinism has been a big deal in recent years. I have actually been working in recent weeks to provide a SBC chronology of the events which have occurred on the Internet (and in particular the blogosphere) that have contributed to the spotlight on Calvinism, starting with the catalyst of Don Elbourne’s post on Johnny Hunt from his message in last year’s annual meeting in Nashville. Other indicators include the packed-out discussion forum with Drs. Mohler and Patterson, the Together for the Gospel Conference, and the most recent CT article.
Regarding the research provided by Lifeway, I would be interested the approach to the research. For instance, how many of the 413 were “young”, or how age-specific was the research? Also, how diverse was the geographic location of those in the SBC (Calvinists seem to be in higher concentration in northern and western states)? Or, are you arguing that only those who are 5-point Calvinists are included in the Reformed camp? What about four pointers (Amyraldians) or modified Calvinists? One could only assume that were Calvinism broadened to include the modified Calvinists, the number would be considerably higher. Finally, what or how much education has the minister received? I believe it can be statistically correllated that where higher education exists, more Calvinists will be found (due to emphasis on doctrine and passion for the truth). That is not to say that Arminians are anti-intellectual, but the current, conservative, evangelical academia is predominantly Reformed in its disposition.
Yet, even more preliminary is to probe into the matter of whether or not the minister being interviewed actually has a historical and biblical understanding of Calvinism. In other words, can you define Calvinism? Or better yet, can you explain the five points adequately? From the experience I have with SBC pastors, a large number of them don’t know what Calvinism is, and those who have been exposed to it, have been informed from someone who has already caricatured it or constructed a straw man. What would make this research incredibly difficult would be to evaluate each person being interviewed and their understanding of Calvinism to peel back all the mischaracterizations that surround evangelical Calvinism. To have an incorrect understanding of what Calvinism or the five points really is would result in an invalid and unreliable research that makes its conclusions null, void, and irrelevant.
Let me give one way of looking at the current landscape of the SBC. Take, for instance, the circuit speakers and conferences which SBC ministers participate. This would be a reasonable indicator because they wouldn’t exist if the demand and desire was not there. Basic supply and demand here. The Arminian circuit includes preachers like Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, Ted Traylor, Bailey Smith, Jamey Ragle, Bob Pitman, Junior Hill, Steve Gaines, and Fred Luter and includes conferences such as FBC Jacksonville Pastor’s Conference, Bailey Smith Real Evangelism Conferences, and many of the annual state pastor’s conferences (all venues I have attended btw). On the Reformed circuit, you have Al Mohler, John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, R.C. Sproul, Josh Harris, James White, Tom Ascol, Ligon Duncan, Phil Ryken, Alister Begg, and Steve Lawson and includes conferences such as Together for the Gospel, Shepherds’ Conference, Desiring God National Conference, Ligonier National Conference, Southern Baptist Founders National Conference, Reform & Resurge, New Attitude Conference, Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Leadership Conference, Resolved Conference, Alpha & Omega Conference, and IX Marks Ministries. Now granted, these are not all SBC-affiliated, but they are greatly SBC supported. Maybe one example of the rise of such Reformed conferences could be seen in the T4G Conference were I was told that thousands of pastors had to be turned down after the conference was reached capacity (a conference that was dominated by young ministers).
I guess I am trying to say that there is more there than meets the eye. Also, if Calvinists are such a minority, then why are they being given so much attention? If the younger generation is not predominantly Calvinistic, why are the seminaries like the one which I attend having record enrollment and sending out thousands of Calvinists every year (not to mention faculty and administration – Drs. Rainer and Waggoner at Lifeway are from Southern)?
Dr. Waggoner expressed that this research, if anything, was a starting point to gage further developments in the SBC regarding the impact of Calvinism as Lifeway is planning on conducting more research in the future. If anything I see among my limited scope and world is that there are pastors and ministers young and old in the SBC who desire reform in the local church, a recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and a resurgence of God-centered doctrines of grace that give glory to God and satisfy the souls of men.