Arminian Today

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Are Southern Baptist Arminians Or Calvinist?

The old joke among Southerners is, “There are more Southern Baptist then there are people.” The Southern Baptist Convention represents the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with over 15 million members. In my hometown, there are Baptist churches almost on every corner with each ranging in sizes from less than 20 people to one Baptist church having over 3,000 in attendance. Ironically, a Church of God (Cleveland, TN) is the largest church in my community with a large Southern Baptist church coming in close behind them.

The Southern Baptist’s presence has a great effect on our local churches. In some ways, what the Southern Baptist do will often become the norm for most churches in the South. If the Southern Baptist condemns something, so do the rest of the churches. In one case in our city, a large Southern Baptist church was protesting a pornography business opening nearby. The city council and most of the city rallied behind the church and shut down the business. While commendable, this demonstrates the power Southern Baptist churches have in the South. Further, most council members on both local and state levels are often proud to announce what Southern Baptist church they are members of even if they never attend. The Southern religious life is much like Utah with Mormons, it penetrates every part of the culture.

Theologically, the Southern Baptist is hard to pin down. On one hand I know of many charismatics in Southern Baptist churches. One church in Columbia, SC is a Southern Baptist church but is completely charismatic in their theology and practice. The retired pastor held many positions in the Southern Baptist Convention of South Carolina despite his charismatic teaching and practices. On the other hand, another Southern Baptist church I know of is quite liberal in their theology and practices to the point that they left the Convention. Within the Southern Baptist Convention are those who would identify themselves as Calvinist while others would oppose certain elements of Calvinism. There is even a movement within the Southern Baptist Convention to become more reformed in their theology. Sovereign Grace Ministries is an off-shoot out of the Southern Baptist that is both charismatic and reformed.

So are Southern Baptist Calvinist or Arminians? According to one book written by Dr. Frank Page is that Southern Baptist are neither. In his book, The Trouble With Tulip, Page argues that Baptist need to embrace a biblical theology that is not labeled with either Calvinism or Arminianism. In essence though, Page takes what he likes from Calvinism (which would be total depravity and perseverance of the saints, eternal security) and what he likes from Arminianism (which would be free will, unlimited atonement, resistible grace). A hybrid of both is what Page would like but what he ultimately does is he basically becomes a four point Arminian. I am happy with his position obviously as an Arminian but I think most Baptist including Page would not like to know that they are closer to Arminianism than they are to Calvinist. Most Southern Baptist like the thought that they are Calvinist despite otherwise being basically Arminian. Dr. Albert Mohler writes, “Calvinism was the mainstream tradition in the Southern Baptist Convention until the turn of the century. The rise of modern notions of individual liberty and the general spirit of the age have led to an accommodation of historic doctrines in some circles.” At current though, the SBC is not Calvinstic despite other claims.

Conclusion
My point in writing this is not to say that the SBC should align itself with either positions but to point out that there is diversity of theological understanding among the largest denomination in the United States. I myself have never attended a Southern Baptist church on a regular basis but have family members who do and know many SBC pastors. I am well aware of the diversity of theolgy that exist in Baptist churches.
My own personal feelings is that it is my prayer that the SBC will continue to move toward Arminianism. This probably will not happen since much of the SBC leadership would rather avoid both camps. My earnest prayer is that the Lord would pour out his Spirit upon the SBC and that many more people will come into the kingdom of God through true disciples in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/24/2007 at 5:43 PM

Posted in church

2 Responses

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  1. As a student of Baptist History (I did over 6 years of research in Baptist and church history, wrote an MA thesis in American Social & Intellectual History, served as chairman of the historical committee of the Sandy Creek Baptist Assn, 1977-81, -generally considered to be the mother assn of the SBC along with Charleston – and as chairman of the historical committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina ,1985), I can say that the origins of the SBC lie in Sovereign Grace Theology. Calvinism in its paradoxical form especially was the theological dynamic of truth along with the heavenly Presence and a fitting humility which produced the First and Second Great Awakenings and launched the Great Century of Missions. What most people do not realize or have any idea of today, is that Arminianism in the 1700s in NC, for example, was not very evangelistic or missionary minded, whereas calvinism was both. All of the TULIP doctrines along with Predestination and Reprobation are actually the most intense, high pressured invitations in absolutely the msot winsome sense of the term. They are all paradoxical interventions designed to empower helpless individuals with the wherewithal to respond to the claims of Christ. I suspect that one group which thinks it runs the world sent in agents provocateurs to distract and polarize the Sovereign Grace Baptists who bid fair to take the whole earth for Christ from circa 1740-1820. By polarizaton and distortion they managed to subvert a great deal of our early predecessors as well as ancestors, but ittok narly a hundred years to get a really good grip on Southern Baptists in order to start making changes in their theology and practices. Now, many think Arminianism is the answer who have never known the power of the Gospel of Sovereign Grace or beheld the weakness of the message that stresses man's powers. Even John Wesley in his Journal was willing to conceded that Some were chosen, that God's grace was irresistible to some, and that some reached a state from which they would never fall. Mr. Spurgeon said Wesley used language of forceful terms which he would never use. Interestingly enough, the theology of grace is so constructed as to make a believer who rightly grasps it balanced, flexible, creative, and magnetic. he reason there is beginning to be so many adherents to Sovereign Grace is that prayer for a Third Great Awakening has been going for at least 37 years in one instnce and over 50 in another and who knows with reference to many others. In order to have such a visitation as world-wide awakening that wins the whole earth in one generation, there must be the right theology, the heavenly presence, and true humility. The promises being pleaded for such a blessing are the ones recorded by Jonathan Edwards in his Humble Attempt (a plea for united prayer among Christians of all denominations for the propagation of the Gospel through out the world, te very promises pleaded by Cary, Fuller, Rice, Judson and others which led to the Second Great Awakening and the launching of what Kenneth Scott Latourette caed The Great Century of Missions. Can there be a sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, a sound of abundance of rain, a sign of grace on the horizon no bigger than a man's fist? Terrible, wonderful, irresistibly so, like a tsunami wave, a hurricane of utter power. Better tremble, Gentlemen, it might be closer than we imagine.

  2. The challenge, in my estimation, may be expressed by the following questions: "What is Calvinism?" and "Are the Five Points of Calvinism correctly ascribed to Calvin?"The answer to the former is that Calvinism is a Total World and Life System (to use the words of Abraham Kuyper. For a good summary, see "Christianity: A Total World and Life System" by Abraham Kuyper.In other words, Calvinism is far more than a mere Five Points.So where did TULIP or the Five Points of Calvinism come from?Well, not Calvin. They were gleaned from his teaching–but DO NOT reflect the whole of it.These points were developed at the Synod of Dordt which produced what was known as the "Cannons of Dordt" which were designed to refute Arminianism that crept into the Netherlands Church.(For a clear explanation of this, go to: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/canons_of_dordt.htmlSo in reality, a baptist cannot be a Calvinist in any sense of the label because Calvinism is a complete system. At whatever point anything is lost, or taken out, the system is broken and what has been taken does not properly represent the system in its full body. It is therefore, a false representation. The "Sovereign Grace" movement is a good way to set forth one's position that may hold to some parts of Calvinism and the Scriptures that support it but not do injustice to the system of Calvinism.

    R. P.

    09/19/2010 at 1:19 PM


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