Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Frank Page on Calvinism and Southern Baptists

SBC President, Frank Page, wrote an article for Baptist Press yesterday entitled, "Calvinism and Southern Baptists." He cites the recent Building Bridges conference and the research on the growth of Reformed theology within the SBC that LifeWay released in conjunction with that coference. Of the former he says,
Though I was unable to attend the conference, except for a very brief time of greeting, it is my understanding that the conference was a wonderful event where solid, healthy discussion took place.
Of the latter he comments,
The research portrays what many have imagined to be true. While around 10 percent of rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors would consider themselves to be five-point Calvinists, a sizeable portion (29 percent) of recent seminary graduates would identify themselves in that particular way. In fact, over 60 percent of graduates of one of our seminaries identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.
In light of this theological renewal (at least, that is what I regard it to be), Dr. Page offer the following helpful opinion, "I believe that the issue of Calvinism is one that can be discussed within the family of Southern Baptists. I believe we need to have honest, open dialogue." So do I, and I greatly appreciate Dr. Page openly and honestly addressing it.

Echoing encouragements from Paige Patterson (and Danny Akin), Dr. Page encourages prospective pastors to be forthcoming about their theological commitments with regard to the doctrine of salvation and every other doctrine when dealing with pastor search committees. He also admonishes search committees to be very clear about "what they will allow regarding teaching in this area [of Calvinism]."

I add a hearty "amen" to his statements. But I also think it is necessary to inject a huge does or realism into the discussion at this point. Many of our Southern Baptist churches have not been very well taught on basic doctrinal issues. It would unkind and unproductive, therefore, for a pastoral candidate to employ theological jargon in a thoughtless way when interviewing with a search committee. Such language can be intimidating to some sincere believers and confusing to others. The goal is genuine understanding. Therefore both love and wisdom dictate speaking plainly and simply about one's doctrinal commitments when in the interview process.

In defense of my Calvinistic brothers, I need to point out that, too often, calls for them to "lay their cards on the table" actually thrust them onto the horns of a dilemma. What some mean by this is that you must bring up the term, "Calvinism" in your interview, or else you are being dishonest. I don't believe that is true. Furthermore, if a brother does mention the term then he is liable to be accused of "pushing" Calvinism. But if he doesn't, then he is being dishonest. It is, to say the least, an untenable position.

I encourage men to provide the search committee with a confession of faith that represents what the candidate believes. This can be a recognized confession or one that he himself has written. But it ought to be more thorough than brief. Don't try to hide your convictions. To do so is cowardly and dishonest and has no place in Gospel ministry. Try to explain your views in clear, concise language. If "Calvinism" as a term comes up, fine. Define it accurately and address it. If it doesn't come up, don't feel compelled to mention the word as some kind of test of honesty. Just be very clear about your biblical convictions.

In addition to Dr. Page's calls to both churches and pastoral candidates, I think it would be appropriate to make a similar call to denominational employees. They need to be scrupulously honest when speaking about the issue of Calvinism and Calvinists within the SBC. Enough caricatures and misrepresentations have been hurled about by denominational servants over the last few years to last for a lifetime. It is shameful and should be stopped. Also, those in such positions should be very careful not to impose themselves on local churches as if they were operating as bishops in an episcopacy. Local churches need to remember our Baptist polity and refuse to allow this to happen.

Finally, Dr. Page's concluding statements should be heeded by all:
It is incumbent upon all Southern Baptists that we study the Word of God clearly to see what it says about the salvation given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be peaceful, Christ-like in our discussions, but let us be diligent in our study.
Amen.

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