Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is There a Calvinist Agenda To Reform SBC Churches?


This post is the content of an op-ed which will be published in a state baptist newspaper soon. In order to make this op-ed the best it can possibly be, I solicit comments from Calvinists and Traditional SBC folks on how I can improve this article. Comments are open for this post.



Is There a Calvinist Agenda To Reform Traditional Southern Baptist Churches?

 Recently, I was speaking with a Pastor Search Committee about a pastor search they were conducting. When I mentioned that Calvinist candidates may not be forthcoming in regard to their true beliefs, they asked, "What is a Calvinist?" I wasn't surprised that a small rural church was not aware of the Calvinist plan to reform SBC churches.

 What is a Calvinist? Calvinists believe in five specific doctrines regarding salvation which are framed in the acronym: TULIP. Here's what TULIP stands for:


T = total depravity. Man is incapable of coming to Christ without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

U = unconditional election. Before time began, God predestined who He would save. Unless one is a part of this special group, known as the "elect," one will not be saved.

L = limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the whole world. He died for the elect.

I = irresistible grace. In the case of the elect, they will ultimately come to Christ because God will cause them to come through an irresistible pull from Him.

P - perseverance of the saints. The elect of God will persevere in their faith in Christ and will not fall away.

Now let me make a couple of points regarding this doctrine of salvation which Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says is our "future." Here are some of the logical conclusions to what Calvinists believe. If God chose who was going to be saved before time began, then nothing can change His sovereign decree. Thus, if you are not one of the elect, you will not come to Christ. You can hear the word of God preached but it will have no saving effect on you because you are totally depraved and cannot come to Christ unless God causes you to come to Christ. And if you are not one of the elect, God will not cause you to come to Christ. The flip side of this theology is that God does nothing to draw the non-elect to Himself, thus they will not come to Him through Christ.

The majority of these Southern Baptist Calvinist pastors are coming from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC). In North Carolina, small rural churches have been particularly vulnerable to Calvinist graduates from these seminaries because of their close proximity to churches in our state.

If Calvinist candidates, who are seeking pastoral positions in traditional Southern Baptist churches, would be honest about their beliefs, then I would see no problem. Our churches are autonomous and can choose to hire whom they please. If a church wants to hire a Calvinist pastor, then God bless them. Unfortunately, many Calvinist pastoral candidates are not revealing their Calvinism during the pastor search process in order to secure a pastoral position. Many times after the Calvinist is called as the pastor of the church, they begin to teach Calvinism in order to "reform" the traditional Baptist church in ecclesiology, polity, and worship. In many of these churches, the result is either a church split or the church is traumatized by the process of firing the pastor.

Is there an issue with pastoral candidates not being truthful to search committees about their beliefs? Apparently it is an issue that Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary, thought was worthy of comment when he wrote:

“Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone. Let me give an example. I am pre-tribulational/premillennial in my eschatology. It would be inappropriate for me to interview with a church and continue the discussion if I discovered that it was committed to an amillennial position... If a person is strongly committed to five-point Calvinism, then he should be honest and transparent about that when talking to a church search committee.”

Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional Southern Baptist churches? Absolutely. Ernest Reisinger, the chief architect of Founders, a Calvinist ministry, describes in great detail how to "reform" a traditional church. He even gives the agenda a name: "The Quiet Revolution." Make no mistake, there is an intentional effort to "reform" traditional SBC churches into "Reformed" (code word for Calvinist) churches.

Traditional SBC church leaders and their churches need to be informed about this Calvinist agenda. They need to be informed on how to ask the right questions to determine the true theological positions of their pastoral candidates. Not only would this process identify Calvinist candidates but other candidates who may not be a good fit for their church such as candidates who speak in tongues, candidates who believe that one can lose their salvation, or candidates who believe that the Ten Commandments are no longer valid.  But the main difference between Calvinists and other non traditional Baptist candidates is that only Calvinists are actively trying to change local SBC churches to their beliefs.

Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional Southern Baptist churches to Calvinism? Undeniably, yes. In response to the Calvinist efforts to reform non-Calvinist churches, a group of traditional Southern Baptist leaders and scholars wrote a “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” There are hundreds of signatures affirming this traditional Southern Baptist view of salvation. The list of signatures include includes over 250 pastors (representing  small, medium, and large churches in 29 states), 6 former SBC Presidents, 7 state Baptist convention executives, 4 members of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee, over 20 associational Directors of Missions, 5 Baptist seminary and college Presidents, and hundreds of other evangelists, church staff members, and lay ministers. If you would like to stand for traditional Southern Baptist views of salvation, then I encourage you to go to the website and add your signature.

After the release of this statement, many Calvinists said they wanted unity in our convention. Traditional Southern Baptists also desire unity and I believe that unity is an attainable goal, but only when Calvinists cease trying to reform traditional SBC churches to their views.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

I now pastor an sbc church that is traditional and doesn't even know what Calvinism is. The former pastor is a Calvinist and he tried to reform the church and he was politely asked to leave after many folks kept leaving the church over a period of about 2 yrs. Needless to say, when he did leave he did all he could to hurt the church and the church was wounded greatly. That was 2 yrs ago and it hasn't recovered yet. Pastors need to be honest before they accept. Some in church overheard him one day and it was his plan to have everyone leave if that's what it took to reform the church. May I say it's not the church that needed reforming, it's men who think like this who need reforming. We do need to work together but please be honest.

Rick said...

If a search committee is as uninformed as the one you mentioned (what is a Calvinist?), how should a Calvinist explain what he believes? If he says he's a Calvinist or that he believes in the Doctrines of Grace, those who are charged with finding a pastor for their church don't have a clue what he's talking about. They may know immediately that "Calvinism = bad" because of all of the misinformation in the SBC, but that's all they know. What is the duty of the interviewers? My hunch (from experience) is that many times a pastor is not asked at all about theology because the interviewers don't know much themselves and just assume that because he graduated from a SBC seminary that he must be ok.

Les Puryear said...

Rick,

I agree with you that Search Committees are woefully uneducated on the differences of theology. Most laypeople haven't been to seminary and would have no idea what you mean by the "doctrines of grace." As a potential pastoral candidate, I believe it should be your duty to educate them on what you believe. I believe that if you tell them you believe only the "elect" will be saved, they will know what you mean or will ask you additional questions.

You ask, "what is the duty of the interviewers?" Personally, I believe it is to find the best fit for the congregation in regard to a new shepherd. They should ask enough questions about what you believe in order to determine if you are a good fit for that church. My hope is that this op-ed will help them move closer to that goal.

May I ask you a question? Why would a Calvinist pastor seek a position in a church in which you know is not Calvinist in their soteriology?

One final point I would like to make. Personally, I have no problem with Calvinists believing what they sincerely hold to be true. The problem I have is when Calvinist pastors seek to actively enter non-Calvinist churches in order to "reform" them to Calvinism.

Thanks.

Les

Anonymous said...

I can envision this exchange...

Search committee: What do you believe about the atonement?
Candidate: I believe that the blood of Jesus covers all the sins of ANYONE who turns from their sin and accepts the free offer of salvation that goes out to all mankind.
Search committee: We agree! Thank God you're not a Calvinist.

My point is that it is entirely possible for a candidate to be forthcoming and then later be charged with somehow hiding his views on issues relating to doctrine.

Les Puryear said...

Anon,

You are correct in that a Calvinist could make a statement like that and the committee would be in agreement. However, I think there is a difference in being forthcoming and being entirely forthcoming. Why not explain what you believe soteriologically through TULIP?

I'll ask you the same question I asked Rick. Why would a Calvinist pastor seek a position in a church in which you know is not Calvinist in their soteriology?

Thanks.

Les

Rick said...

Les,

I agree that a potential pastor should be forthcoming with a search committee, but as Anon just demonstrated, you can be forthcoming and still be charged with not being forthcoming enough.
As for a Calvinist seeking a church that is not Calvinist: if the folks in the church prove they don't know anything about what they believe, does that mean they're not Calvinist? Does it mean they're vehemently opposed to Calvinism? What does it say about their soteriology?
I would think (and hope) there would be a desire on the part of the Calvinist to actually teach these people the truth (which they evidently have not been taught or haven't absorbed up to this point).
Why would a non-Calvinist pastor seek a position at a church like this? I would think for the same reason.
If someone doesn't know what they believe, are you really "changing" them as you teach what you believe to be the truth?
Look, I'm not trying to be argumentative. My experience with little churches causes me to believe that the laypeople's grasp on theology is so weak in many cases that I really am perplexed as to how a pastoral candidate should explain what he believes about anything.
It seems you put more responsibility on the candidate while I put more on the committee.

Thanks,

Rick

Anonymous said...

Les,

Your question illustrates my point. I suspect it is often the case that reformed and non-reformed people actually agree on doctrine when they get past labels and actually spell out what they believe. For this reason, I suggest it is often unhelpful for candidates or committees to let labels dictate hires and actually do the dirty work, so to speak, of talking doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Les,

I have actually described my view on the atonement many times as stated above, only to hear the response "Oh, so your not a five-point calvinist." My point being, there is widespread discussion about Calvinism and, I suspect, widespread ignorance of what calvinist actually believe. Sadly, many professing calvinists have a loose handle on reformed doctrine and are doing a poor job articulating their soteriology. Less labels and more substantive discussion is my plea.

Les Puryear said...

Anon 4:20

Gotta disagree with you on your point that reformed and non-reformed will agree on doctrine when discussed. I was a Calvinist for six years and believe me, I do not agree with hardly anything that Calvinists believe regarding soteriology or ecclesiology. I don;t think traditional SBC churches will either.

For discussion sake, let's take a couple of items:

1. Election - Calvinists believes that God chooses who will be saved. I submit that trad churches will disagree with that idea.

2. No altar calls - Most Calvinist whom I know do not give altar calls at the end of a service. I submit that trad churches will disagree with that practice.

3. Elder-led polity. Most Calvinists whom I know believe in an Elder-led polity. I submit that trad churches will disagree with that practice as most of them are ardently congregational in polity.

4. Limited Atonement. Most Calviunists I know believe that Jesus died for the elect only. I submit that trad churches will disagree mightily with that idea.

Those are just a few of the items where I think Calvinists and non-Calvinists disagree.

If you as a Calvinist takes the time to reveal your perspectives on ideas like these, then the trad church will be informed in regard to your views and can make a more informed decision.

We can make this issue about the ignorance of search committees a lot simpler by preparing a list of theological questions and giving them to every Association to disseminate to the churches. But somehow I doubt Calvinists would want that to happen. :)

By all means, go and pastor a Calvinist church. God bless you if you do that. All I'm saying is don't try to infiltrate traditional SBC churches to reform them to be Calvinist churches.

Les

Anonymous said...

Les,

Where to begin, bro. (1) With all due respect, being a calvinist for 6 years...or 60 years...does not mean you understand calvinist doctrine. As I said, calvinists can wear a label and not understand doctrine. Just as people can go to church and be professing christians (or insert another religion) and not take the time to grasp what is actually taught by that group. You may or you may not get calvinism after your sojourn as a calvinist, again, this is why we need substantive discussion and not, in it's place, labels. (2) Your statmenet on election illustrates why we need substantive discussion, since it implies people who believe in election do not believe there is a choice to be made in salvation (from a reformed understanding) and that is simply not the case, (3) again, discussion needed! calvinism does not require a rejection of altar calls, sinners prayers, vbs, or stryper (4) one can be congregational and elder-led. (5) Saying "Jesus died only for the elect" and "Jessus died for all who will believe" are synonymous since "those who will believe" are synonymous with "the elect". again, how you phrase it may raise undo alarm or bridge understanding, but the goal is charitable understanding not fear mongering. We only know who is elect by virtue of their faith, so do churches a favor by explaining this stuff. my take here is standard reformed stuff, bro (see Berkhof on true conversion in his systematic and his repeated talk of desires, volition, etc.) So there you have it, since we're using labels and all, Five reasons I think you've proven my point that labels (and just as bad, truncated statements) about "what calvinists believe" will not serve churches. I suspect that what we need is not checklists (seriously?) or chestbeating about labels but good-old-fashioned teaching, thinking, and discussion. More than what we need, I would suggest you cannot speak the truth in love without making sure you are actually communicating clearly and accurately what someone else believes. Label's just won't get-er-done.

Les Puryear said...

Anon 5:15,

We'll have to agree to disagree on a lot of what you said. :)

I will say there is nothing wrong with having a discussion with non-theological folks, such as the people in the pews, as long as we stop using theological terms which they don't understand. My point is that the discussion with laypeople should be simplified enough for them to understand it.

Finally, it is your intent to reform non-Calvinist churches, correct? You may call it bringing them to a proper understanding of God's Word, and of course, I would disagree, but the bottom line is changing whatever beliefs they currently hold to Reformed theology. Is that correct or am I off base there?

Thanks.

Les

Anonymous said...

Les,

What did I say that reasonably gives you the impression I wish to reform non-calvinist churches? i am arguing for discussion...that is hardly a take-over method. you are off base, but more troubling, you hear calvinism and think founders; despite my criticism of pop-calvinism and it's own lack of self-understanding. you are a smart guy, Les. don't you see? i'm suggesting that in the conversation you just might realize that traditional baptists and reformed baptists are, at most every point, as the Usual Suspect's Virbal Kint and Keyser Söze. That is to say, one in the same. But I could be wrong! How will we know unless we, you know, talk it out!

Les Puryear said...

Anon,

I hear you. Just trying to get your take on the topic of the post.

Les

Chris Roberts said...

"May I ask you a question? Why would a Calvinist pastor seek a position in a church in which you know is not Calvinist in their soteriology?"

Why not? It's worked out well for me so far. Though I must report there have been no attempts for Calvinists to take over the church.

Les Puryear said...

Anon,

You are correct in pointing out there is a difference in the Founders Calvinists and other Calvinists. As the references in my post point, I am mainly addressing Founders Calvinists.

Les

Les Puryear said...

Chris,

You say thst Calvinists are not trying to takeover your non-Calvinist church, but what about you? Are you not preaching Calvinist doctrine to a non-Calvinist church? Is it not your hope that your church will become a church that embraces Calvinism?

I don't assume to know your motives. Just askin...

Les

Trey said...

Les,
The implication here is that Calvinists are an outsider to SBC life and history. "infiltrate"???? We've always been here... Anyway, why is it only Calvinists that must define in every detail their stance on every issue and why is it assumed that all Calvinists are taking over the church they go to? I thought as Southern Baptists we found unity under the BFM 2000?

Trey

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a non-Calvinistic Southern Baptist Church, not because Calvinism was weighed in the balance and found wanting, but because the people were ignorant of what Calvinism taught. Due to many personal struggles, particularly feeling the weight of my sin hanging on me like an albatross around my neck, I became totally dissatisfied with most Southern Baptist preaching because it never really dealt with what I was going through. I ended up attending Mid-America Baptist Seminary in the early 90s where an undercurrent of professors and students were talking a lot about Calvinism. Not knowing what Calvinism was, I began to study its essential doctrines (TULIP) and they seemed to explain to me from a biblical perspective what was happening to me. Shortly thereafter, I was called as pastor by a Southern Baptist Church whose confession was the Abstract of Principles. Did I tell the pastor search committee I was a Calvinist? No, but not because I was trying to hide it. I was young, and I was a Southern Baptist. I could trace my family's heritage through Southern Baptist churches all the way back to pre-SBC days. I believed the Bible and the Abstract, so that was enough. Eventually, the Calvinist/non-Calvinist divide in this church moved me to resign. No one ever accused me of arrogance, mean-spiritedness, or the like. But the opposition handed out tracts that said something like, "Calvinism: Doctrine of Demons." It seems to me the reason for this uproar was because I really believed the Abstract of Principles and the opposition did not, even though that statement of faith had been adopted years before I ever served the church. Now, I may have been over zealous at times, but who was really deceptive in this scenario?

Jeff said...

There is no more a Calvinist agenda to reform SBC churches than there is a 'Traditionalist' agenda to oust Calvinists from SBC churches. Which is to say that both agendas probably exist.

D.R. Randle said...

Les,

As a Calvinist, I would say there are more problems with this article than could be dealt with in a single comment. You start with an assumption based on your own experiences and bias (as well as a 20 year old book that only a handful of SBC Calvinists have ever read - or even know about).

You proceed to define the TULIP in a way that very few Calvinists would define it, with absolutely no nuance and no disclaimers. For instance, as a 5-point Calvinist, I would never define Limited Atonement as "Jesus did not die for the whole world. He died for the elect." Instead, I would say that the work of Christ definitely atoned for the sin of the elect, while at the same time provided common grace to all sinners. In regard to Unconditional Election, I would never begin with predestination, but rather the reality that ALL are destined to Hell unless God steps in and elects some to salvation. Now, my explanations aren't meant to made Calvinism more palatable, but to show it to be more Biblical and logical, which I think your definitions have ruled out.

Finally, you seem to suggest that if Calvinists were honest, then all would be fine, but yet Calvinists must contend with others who have been dishonest about what Calvinists believe - starting with a general accusation that Calvinists have an agenda to reform SBC Churches. The poisoning of the well requires that candidates be careful in explaining their positions. It's simply unfair to poison the term Calvinism and then require that Calvinists define themselves as such.

In the end, those who have agendas to do anything other than lead Church members to be fully-devoted followers of Christ will have serious problems regardless of soteriology. And those who truly are being led by the Spirit to accept Churches that don't know the difference (as most of my Church members don't - as well as most of the SBC) and who long to lead members in following Christ, will serve the flock well and though they may have opposition, we can be confident that God will be glorified in and through them.

Les Puryear said...

Trey,

When both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can say they are in agreement with BFM2K, then it is too broad of a document. The differences between soteriology and ecclesiology are huge.

Les

Les Puryear said...

Jeff,

I do not disagree with you.

Les

Chris Roberts said...

Les,

An agenda is a specific intention to accomplish a particular action. It is not my intention at this church to accomplish the "conversion" of the people to Calvinism. Sure, I'd like them to agree with me, and whenever I come to a passage that touches on issues related to Calvinism I preach what I believe. But I'm content if they disagree, this is not a major issue. I've also never addressed Calvinism for its one sake. When it's come up, it's because the passage deals with it.

Saying I have an agenda implies that it is my intention and purpose to turn this into a church of Calvinists and that simply is not at all accurate.

Les Puryear said...

D. R.,

I would say that your classification of the foundational principles of the Founders movement (Reisinger 's manifesto)to be either inaccurate or unaware of what is going on.

There can be no doubt that there is an intentional movement to reform traditional SBC churches to Calvinism. The Founders website is very open about this goal. Anyone who denies this is, at best, uninformed.

I know you can do better than the cliche, "you don't understand Calvinism." We traditional baptists understand it and reject it. I will admit that it is difficult to reduce TULIP to such simplified language, however, this simplification is necessary so that laypeople can get a sense of what Calvinist believe. If you would like to take a shot at reducing each element of TULIP to one sentence, I would love to hear it.

You can try to divert the topic if you wish, however, it won't work. The topic is "Is There a Calvinist Agenda to Reform SBC Churches?". I have answered that "yes, there is such an agenda," and I believe the local church needs to be aware of it. I read nothing in your comment to refute that position.

Please stay on topic in future comments.

Regards,

Les

Dr. James Willingham said...

Why should a Sovereign Grace believer even have to mention his theology? After all, it is written in our founding documents. Just consider a church of which I was recently a member. The articles of faith listed Christ as dying for the church; they said nothing about Him dying for any one else. Our in front of the church meeting house was a monument to the first missionary of the Southern Baptist Convention to China, Matthew T. Yates. In the church records he was listed as moderating the business meetings of the church in 1820. The church was formed and adopted its articles of faith in 1814, then it joined Sandy Creek Assn. in 1816 and was present, when the Father of missions among Southern Baptists, Rev. Luther Rice, enlisted in the GreatCentury of Missions and adopted the 1816 Confession of Faith drawn up by the committee chaired by Rev. Luther Rice, a confession which specifically affirms that man is utterly impotent of his own free will or ability to save himselv, and affirms election and efficacious grace. I dare say, that any one demanding such a statement is forgetting the past of Southern Baptists and that our predecessors are, in some cases, also our ancestors. And One of mine, if the records are to be believed, was an executor of Daniel Marshall's will in Georgia. Brother, you are out of order on such matter. My pastor who ordained me was the only man named in R.G. Lee's will to preach his funeral and was a soul winner, par excellence, and he had plenty of preacher boys in Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and elsewhere. And he was a supralapsarianm, a hyper calvinist. My pastor in my childhood was a calvinist. When I was ordained I was not a believer in Sovereign Grace, but after pastoring for a year I became convinced from a study of Scripture, specifically beginning with Jn.6:44,65, and the word CAN...as in no man CAN, NO MAN HAS THE ABILITY TO COME TO CHRIST. That'S WHAT JESUS SAID. SO it takes supernatural power to save a lost person...as it did me. jesus knocked at my heart door, and I ran. So he followed and opened my heart for me.(Rev. 3:20; Acts 16:14.

Les Puryear said...

Chris,

Thanks for the clarification. If you don't mind, allow me to ask you a couple of questions:

1. When you interviewed with the search committee, did you make sure they understood your views on soteriology and ecclesiology?

2. Is your church presently aware that you hold to Calvinist beliefs?

The last thing I would want to happen is to get you in trouble with your church. If you can't answer these questions publicly, I will understand.

Let me also say something else. I know there are Calvinists who are not seeking to "reform" all SBC churches. With those Calvinists, I can cooperate with them on all levels.

The Calvinists with whom I am concerned are those who support and are actively working toward the Founders goal of reforming SBC churches.

Regards,

Les

Les Puryear said...

Dr. Willingham,

Thanks for your contribution.

You asked, "Why should a Sovereign Grace believer even have to mention his theology?". Simple. The majority of SBC churches do not believe what you believe in regard to soteriology. Would you not want every search committee to be informed as to the theology of a pastor they are about to call?

Regards,

Les

Darryl Hill said...

Les, I realize you feel threatened over reformed theology, but I think you've gone a little too far here. I currently serve a church full of typical Southern Baptists. When I say typical, I mean what I would call "atheological." That is, they don't know what they believe and they begin to glaze over when you start to talk about it. Do you know why that is the case? It is because our pastors haven't taught these things for several consecutive decades. We have become as much children of our culture as we are children of the Book. This is the reason why we've become such great targets for cults and other fringe groups.

Our churches don't even know what the Baptist Faith and Message is even about, much less the theological and doctrinal implications of that document.

Now, most of these "Calvinists" are not quite as bad as you make them out to be. I agree that they should be honest, but I think you want more than that because you believe so strongly (even though you have incorrectly described it) that Calvinism is an inherent evil.

Here is what I would suggest the VAST majority of ALL pastors want when they go to a church. They want to preach the Word. Yes, they want to reform the church- according to the Gospel. They want to see Jesus Christ change lives. They want to see the Holy Spirit at work. They want to see a congregation full of people who learn to love the Word, love to go to God in prayer, love to worship in Spirit and truth, and love to make disciples of all nations. And I do not know a pastor who does not want his church to hear his heart and come to agree with him if it is God's will.

Why are we not calling pastors who are just like the typical Southern Baptist I described above, who cares little about doctrine or theology, and seems only interested in creating a mega church that is basically like a "Six Flags Over Jesus?" Why not call them out? Why not call them out for turning out empty headed carnal baby Christians? The reason you give is that the "majority" believes that kind of teaching is just fine.

Since when has the "majority" belief proven to always be true? Were the majority of Southern Baptists correct back in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s when they believed that guys like Luther, Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon had it right? Consider this for a moment Brother Les- are we to side with the majority of Baptists today who are largely ignorant of Scripture and theology and who are children of one of the most sinful and twisted cultures in history OR should we more strongly listen to the Baptists of centuries past who were students of the Word and understood doctrine and theology well because they heard it preached with great fervor on a weekly basis? I think the answer is clear.

Les, I understand your point of view well because I grew up in as typical a Southern Baptist Church as you will find. Actually, my church was probably better than most, I must say. I didn't even care about doctrine very much until just a few years ago. I was a child of the religious surroundings in which I grew up, which was a-theological and more interested in feelings and emotions than truth. God changed my mind about these things back in 2005 and everything has changed since then.

Bottom line: Yes, all pastors should be honest. Yes, all pastors should preach the Word. And yes, our entire denomination needs to figure out what we believe and teach it to our people. But I think you've gone overboard in some of your allegations and I further think your description of reformed teachings are caricatured and doesn't convey the heart of sovereign grace theology at all, which is all about the glory of God and trusting entirely in the grace of God in everything we do.

Chris Roberts said...

Les,

1. Yes, the church was aware that I am a Calvinist. I appreciated that they actually took the time to find out what that really means. If all people do is read posts like yours, they come away thinking Calvinism is a great evil to be avoided. Prior to this church, I interviewed with another church. Had a really great time with them until Calvinism came up then the attitude of the search committee did a 180. No questions, no clarifications, not even follow up communication after our in-person visit; Calvinism was taboo and Calvinists were, evidently, to be shunned. The only divisiveness I have ever seen is of this sort: non-Calvinists who don't care what Calvinists actually believe, they just know they don't want Calvinists in their churches.

As for ecclesiology, what is my ecclesiology? You seem to make a pretty broad assumption about that.

2. Yes, the church knows I am a Calvinist, I've been quite open about it. As I say, I would like to see them all become Calvinists, but also as I say, it is not my agenda to turn them into Calvinists. This is not a critical issue for churches. We disagree, we are content to be united and working together despite the disagreement, so it works. I am grieved when I hear so often of SBC churches, pastors, and leaders that warn against those nefarious Calvinists who want to destroy your church. I've never met one of those. I'm sure they are out there, but they are the minority. I wish the slander and misinformation would stop.

Justin G said...

Hi Les,

Here is part of the problem: theological sloppiness. Many Calvinists cannot distinguish between the hyper-Calvinism of John Piper and the Calvinism of John Calvin. Furthermore, the SBC Traditionalists cannot distinguish between Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Anon @ 5:15 is correct simply using the TULIP to define Calvinism is incredibly unhelpful if not downright intellectually dishonest. There is a legitimate question whether John Calvin and John Piper would agree upon limited atonement. There is some evidence that Calvin claims (in one of his commentaries on 1 John) that Christ died for all, i.e. Christ's death is sufficient for all, but effectual for only those who believe. I think some so-called Calvinists are simply ignorant of these nuances and they are largely to blame for some of the sloppiness involved in these discussions. Instead of reading John Calvin and Herman Bavinck they are reading the GCN guys books on theologians who talk about Calvin and Bavinck.

However in response to your question in the blog post: why were you giving guidance to a pastoral search committee? Does that violate the church's autonomy? If every church is autonomous then the individual churches should not receive any outside help or guidance. If I wanted to have a bishop tell me who the pastor of my church should be I would join an Anglican church (note I would not join an ECUSA church). If these traditional baptist churches do not know how to ask the right questions then whose fault is that? Should be blame the traditional baptist pastors who are not preaching doctrine from the pulpit?

As a not I truly do not mean this to sound mean spirited or snarky. There is enough blame to go around. As I stated above I think that some Calvinists are not orthodox; i.e. hypercalvinists but John Calvin is not one of them. Also, I think some SBC Traditionalists are semi-pelagian so I think there is a lot of work to be done in the SBC.

Les Puryear said...

Darryl,

Thanks for your comment. Let me address a few remarks you made.

1. I do not feel threatened about Calvinism. You are making an assumption about my motives. I do feel threatened about Calvinists who want to reform traditional SBC churches. I have seen church splits and pastor firings from these folks. I'm trying to alert churches to this issue to help them to call a pastor who is a good fit for their church. I would hope you would join me in that effort. I also don't think that churches should call a pastor who speaks in tongues or any other theological view that may clash with the local church.

2. You also used some very strong words when you say that I believe that Calvinism in an inherent evil. Once again you are assuming motives. I have no problem with Calvinists in Calvinist churches. As I have said elsewhere in this thread, I will gladly cooperate with these Calvinists. It is the Calvinists who have the goal of reforming traditional SBC churches to Calvinism that I have difficulty with.

3. Your broad brush that traditional baptist pastors are "a-theological" is untrue. Was Adrian Rogers a-theological? How about Jerry Vines? Steve Gaines? Johnny Hunt? I could list many more but won't bore you with additional illustrations.

Once again I thank you for your comment and the spirited discussion.

Regards,

Les

Les Puryear said...

Chris,

Bravo for your openness about your theology with the church. If someone is open about their Calvinism and the church decides to call them, then God bless them.

In regard to ecclesiology, in my reading of calvinist authors such as Piper, Horton, Sproul, Keller, etc., as well as my experience with being a Calvinist and meeting with other Calvinist pastors on a monthly basis, it seems that Calvinism does affect ecclesiology. Many Calvinist also self-identify as "Reformed" and they are in favor of Elder-led polity, no altar calls, etc. Have you changed the church's polity where you pastor? Just askin..

Regards,

Les

Chris Roberts said...

Justin,

That may be the first time I have heard John Piper called a hyper-Calvinist! How do you define this label? I generally understand it to historically mean a person who believes election implies no need for evangelism. The hyper-Calvinist is the person who thinks Christians ought not evangelize. John Piper is certainly not in that camp.

As for Calvin on limited atonement, the sufficient/efficient formula is very common, particularly among those who affirm limited atonement.

Les Puryear said...

Justin G,

You asked and said, " why were you giving guidance to a pastoral search committee? Does that violate the church's autonomy? If every church is autonomous then the individual churches should not receive any outside help or guidance."

Brother, in all my years of blogging, this is most strange comment I have ever received.

I believe you misunderstand the application of "autonomy." When a church is autonomous, that church decides what they want to believe, how they wish to worship, and anything else they choose to do. Also, in their autonomy, they can seek outside help as they please. Being autonomous does not mean they can never ask for guidance from people outside of their church body. My goodness, there is a huge industry in church consulting which indicates that a lot of churches seek outside help.

As to why I was advising a pastor search committee, the committee contacted me for counsel. They have read my blog and many other blogs and for whatever reason asked me to assist them with their process. I was happy to do so. I will also be glad to help any search committee who doesn't know what questions to ask regarding theology or any other aspect of the search process.

Thanks for the chuckle. :)

Regards,

Les

Chris Roberts said...

Les,

None of the men you mentioned are Southern Baptists. One is another sort of Baptist, one is Lutheran, two are Presbyterian. Where are the Southern Baptists trying to impose an elder polity? I'm familiar with SBC churches that have moved to an elder polity but, oddly enough, most of them are decidedly not Calvinist. What would you say of those?

But no, I have made no changes, nor sought changes, at Immanuel. I have defended churches that move to having elders and deacons, but have no intention of trying to do such at Immanuel. As for altar calls, it is fair to say that I do not emphasize them as past pastors have, but we do have the public invitation at the end of our main worship service each week.

It is worth noting that while a biblical case can be made for how one "does church" (polity), no biblical case can be made mandating an altar call. This is a human innovation and as such we are free to do with it what we will. I do them, but fully defend churches that decide not to do them, provided they remain evangelistic churches. It is peculiar how this human practice has almost become a litmus test for some. Are we Catholics now, elevating our traditions to the level of divine revelation?

Les Puryear said...

Chris,

I believe I said "in regard to calvinist authors," not necessarily Baptist authors. However, these authors are some of the most popular with Calvinists so I believe it is accurate to say they have a great influence upon Calvinist in the SBC.

Once again, I say, "Bravo," for not trying to change the local church into a "Reformed" church. My church will gladly work with you and your church to reach the lost for Christ.

Finally, I find your statement that "no biblical case can be made mandating an altar call," to be accurate on eone level and inaccurate on another.

You are correct in that in our belief in the autonomy of the church, no entity or church can "mandate" anything to another church, much less an altar call. However, I do believe that you will find the altar call in practice in most traditional SBC churches. As for a biblical case for the altar call, there is no problem to make the case. But I'll save that one for another post.

Regards,

Les

Justin G said...

Hi Chris,

John Piper is a hyper-Calvinist because God causes every action. An example of this is in Desiring God under his discussion of Joseph. There are some other places in more recent work where he makes this claim more explicit but it escapes me right now. So for Piper someone who worships God is caused to do so by God. Someone who performs an abortion is caused to do so by God. Piper obliterates the nuances of compatibilism and defines free will as fatalism. Michael Horton has a good discussion about this in his book "On Calvinism" though he does not name Piper by name, but he does describe Piper's position so that if you are familiar with Piper you cannot not know who he is talking about.

Justin G said...

Les I am glad that I could make you laugh. However, you did not respond to my argument. Rather you responded with a logical fallacy. Appeal to popular support. You argued with the following: since there are many books, blogs, conferences on giving churches guidance it is acceptable for you (Les) to do so also. The problem with appeal to popular support is that it can be used to endorse any position, i.e. slavery in the south before the Civil War.

If you want to be a bishop and tell churches who should pastor them you should become an Anglican.

D.R. Randle said...

Les,

I am a bit confused as to how I am diverting from the topic by not spending more time addressing whether or not there is a Calvinist agenda. After all, you say in the opening: "I solicit comments from Calvinists and Traditional SBC folks on how I can improve this article. Comments are open for this post."

I am not sure how I am going off topic by making suggestion on how you can improve this article.

Secondly, I did not say, "You do not understand Calvinism" - I didn't even imply it. I simply made that point that the way you defined TULIP was biased and needs work. You could have defined it better and yes, I do believe I could have done it better with one sentence. In fact, perhaps that would be a good way to improve this article - allow a Calvinist friend to write out their definition of TULIP.

Now, as to the specific charge "Is there a Calvinist Agenda to Reform SBC Churches?" - I say no. Here's why. You have two commentators here who are pastors in Churches that aren't specifically Calvinistic. Neither of us is trying to reform our Church. Just based on that alone, you cannot made the general charge that "There is a Calvinist agenda" since it is not an agenda of all Calvinists.

Now, do some Calvinists have an agenda? Yes. Do some non-Calvinists have an agenda? Yes. Do some purpose-driven devotees have an agenda? Yes. Do some contemporary worship advocates have an agenda? Yes.

But you cannot define a whole group of people in a general way as having an agenda. It is uncharitable and I would claim hurtful to your faithful brothers in Christ. As someone who actually knows people involved in the Founders ministry, I can tell you that the movement is not monolithic, regardless of what Ernie Reisinger said 20 years ago.

In the end Les, I think if you truly want to better this article and be fair to the majority of your Reformed brothers in Christ, then you need to revamp it and speak only in terms of how some Calvinists do have agendas, but that any search committee simply needs to be informed by doing their own research and own questioning of candidates. By wording it the way you have, you have opened yourself up to potentially allowing Satan to use your words in sinful men's hearts to fire good men trying to serve the Lord faithfully.

Why do I think that? Because it happened in TN to friends of mine several years ago when Lonnie Wilkey's article in that paper came out. And it happened again in West TN when other articles were published. We need to be careful that our writings don't bring unintended results. By being as fair as possible and by not sensationalizing an issue that is not as widespread as this article seems to paint it (though is nonetheless an issue that needs to be addressed), then perhaps we can insure that the article is helpful and not hurtful.

I do hope you will seriously consider this critique and not allow your own personal experiences and view to cloud your responsibility before God to be fair to your brothers in Christ.

D.R. Randle said...

Justin,

I don't think you have read or listened to enough of Piper. Horton would absolutely not call Piper a Calvinist and he does indeed believe in compatibilism. But even if he defined it in a way that sounded more like fatalism, that's still not hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism had a widely understood definition. Here'a link:

Here's the definition from that link: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
1) Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2) Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3) Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4) Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR
5) Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

Piper denies none of the above - thus he is not a hyper-Calvinist. But beyond that, he also does not deny compatibilistic free will, though he may lean closer to determinism than other compatibilists.

Les Puryear said...

Justin G,

You asked why would I give advice to a search committee and I answered it. I'm not sure what else you're looking for.

Regards,

Les

Les Puryear said...

D. R.,

Thanks for the comment. I do want to make the article better. If you, as a Clavinist, can provide a better one sentence description of TULIP, email it to me at lespuryear@hotmail.com.

As far as the devil using my words, I suppose he could use any of our words for his purposes, but I do not appreciate the implication that I am doing the devil's work. That part of your comment sounds like Tom Ascol talking.

Regards,

Les

Les Puryear said...

To all,

And speaking of Tom Ascol, here's an excerpt from his blog today:

"It is indisputable that we are in the midst of a reformation and recovery of the doctrines of grace, or what has historically been called, "Calvinism." Both statistical and anecdotal evidence of this fact continues to mount. I believe that this is a movement of God and that it is even more widespread than recent studies indicate. As is true with any of work of God, the devil always keeps pace and seeks to steal, kill and destroy. If he cannot keep us from truth then he will do what he can to cause us to hold the truth in imbalanced and ungodly ways."

Ascol has just validated my premise of a Calvinist plan to reform traditional SBC churches.

Also, Ascol says that the Calvinist movement is the work of God and "as with any work of God, (Calvinism), the devil always keeps pace and seeks to steal, kill and destroy." The implication is clear. If one is not Calvinist then one is doing the devil's work.

This sort of attitude is what we are working against and will continue to do so.

Regards,

Les

Chris Roberts said...

Les,

"I do believe that you will find the altar call in practice in most traditional SBC churches. As for a biblical case for the altar call, there is no problem to make the case. But I'll save that one for another post."

I agree that this is the tradition in many of our churches and would not want to imply otherwise. It has been a common fixture for a number of years now (though, it's worth noting, it hasn't been around forever).

I would be interested in seeing you making the case that such a practice is mandated in Scripture. I am sure you could defend it biblically, but Scripture in no way says that we ought to do what we think of as an altar call. We can defend various evangelistic practices from Scripture, but I don't think any of our specific methods can be mandated from Scripture, certainly not the altar call.

Chris Roberts said...

"My church will gladly work with you and your church to reach the lost for Christ."

Would you and your church gladly work with a Southern Baptist church that was intentionally Reformed?

Les Puryear said...

Chris,

As I said, "mandated," no. However, can you provide a biblical case where an altar is not biblical?

As to your second question, it depends. If a church called a Calvinist pastor knowingly and became a Calvinist church willingly without causing division within the church, then yes. Otherwise, no.

Regards,

Les

D.R. Randle said...

Les,

I would be glad to write a one sentence description on the points of Calvinism, but I would rather just post it here so that it could be commented upon by another Calvinist or two. Let me know if that would be OK.

As for the idea that I was implying that you are doing the devil's work - that is absolutely not what I meant and I am sorry that I wasn't more clear. The statement I made was "By wording [this article] the way you have, you have opened yourself up to potentially allowing Satan to use your words in sinful men's hearts to fire good men trying to serve the Lord faithfully."

I thought that I was clearly not implying that you are doing the devil's work. So let me say clearly here that what I was doing was simply issuing a call to be careful in your writing lest you allow it to be used by Satan. I didn't in any way mean to imply you were doing Satan's work, but that carelessness could lead to it being used in that way. I am sorry that it was interpreted in that way, but that is not what I meant at all. Hope that clarifies that for you.

As for Ascol's words that you quote, I think examining this quote in context will show that how you interpreted it is not how he intended it. The post, from which the quote comes, is his review of the book Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. He clearly indicates in the very next sentence (after your quote) how "the devil always keeps pace and seeks to steal, kill and destroy." Ascol says:

Dutcher rightly understands this and writes with the conviction that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) threats to Calvinism is ungodly Calvinists. "That is," as he puts it, "if we don't live our Calvinism we might just kill it" (10).

Clearly, Ascol is speaking of those who are Calvinists being used of the devil to destroy a movement of God, not non-Calvinists, as you have seemed to interpret it.

Now, as for Ascol seeing the Lord moving in the resurgence of Calvinism. I do as well. I could give you a laundry list of positive impacts that Calvinism has made on Evangelicalism in the last few years, starting with providing a directly opposing viewpoint to Emergent Theology and Open Theism, as well as leading the charge against New Perspective on Paul (which I have yet to see any SBC non-Calvinist significantly write about, despite the serious implications such a teaching in our Churches could have).

In closing, I do hope that again you will receive these criticism and accept them at face-value, rather than seeing them as an attempt to malign you. I do think your article has some flaws and I do think it could be used in an inappropriate and unhelpful way. And I do think you bear some responsibility for doing all you can to insure that doesn't happen. I realize that at the end of the day someone could still hurt others with it, but I think if you make some of the changes that have been suggested here, then that will be much less likely.

Again, thanks for listening. Hope you will prayerfully consider these things.

Chris Roberts said...

"However, can you provide a biblical case where an altar is not biblical? "

Not exactly, no. I believe they are a legitimate practice, when done right and well.

My concern with them is twofold:

First, when they are used in the same casual way as the sinner's prayer, so recently and thoroughly discussed. How many people have walked the aisle, been assured of their salvation, and gone home convinced they are safe as they continue their life of sin? Why is it that churches which report high numbers of people walking the aisle cannot find those people a year later? The practice is very often open for abuse. This is not itself a reason to abandon the practice, but it should cause us to examine if the way we do an altar call is helping or hurting the kingdom.

Second, I think one of the great errors of the modern church is the way we have shifted the focus of the gathering of believers. In Scripture, when believers gather it is not so much for evangelism as for discipleship. Evangelism can and should have its place, but the primary purpose is to build the body. The preacher is not so much called to reach the lost (though, like Timothy, preachers are to do the work of an evangelist), but the specific feature of the pastoral calling is to build the saints in the knowledge of God. Somewhere in our history the worship service became the place for lost people. Evangelism stopped being "go tell lost people about God" and became "go invite lost people to church." Saints were not being fed the meat of the word because the messages and services were trying to reach the lost. This led naturally to the seeker sensitive movement. What we see from seeker sensitive abuses on into the emerging church and its various spinoffs is a direct consequence of the watering down that takes place when a church turns the gathering of believers into an evangelistic focus.

Again - yes, include evangelism in preaching, but remember that the central purpose of preaching, and the gathering of the saints, is to equip the saints to be better witnesses as we go from this place. It was ancient Judaism that called people to "come and see"; Christians are called to "go and tell". Too often people think evangelism means little more than inviting someone to church, an idea we reinforce when the focus of the service is on the altar call.

Les Puryear said...

D. R.,

Ok, posting your sentence descriptions of TULIP here is fine.

Regards,

Les

Les Puryear said...

Chris,

Bless you, my friend. I agree that the GC is very important. Disciples must be made for the propogation of the Kingdom. However, one must have converts in order to have disciples. Let us not neglect either one.

Regards,

Les

Lee said...

There are, as there always have been, Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention. But I think we've been driven over the edge when it comes to identifying "agendas". Denominational politics helps contribute to such suspicions, secular politics helps with the rest. An agenda has a core purpose to accomplish some kind of end. In a denomination made up of independent, autonomous churches, I can't imagine what that end would be.

More people are leaving Southern Baptist churches because they are no longer spiritual and relevant than leaving over Calvinism, or over any other systematic theological system. If there is an agenda, they've at least partially succeeded in establishing it if they've managed to distract pastors and churches into efforts to stamp it out rather than in preaching the gospel and functioning as a church.