SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page has convened a group of Calvinist and non-Calvinist Southern Baptists to seek ways for the two factions to cooperate.
By Bob Allen
A 16-member advisory team is meeting Aug. 29-30 in Nashville, Tenn., to help the president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee draft a strategic plan to bridge a growing divide over Calvinism in the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
Executive Committee President Frank Page announced at the SBC annual meeting in June plans to pull together “a group of advisers and friends to help us chart a way that we might work together.” Page announced membership of the team, selected with help from Union University President David Dockery, Aug. 15 in Baptist Press.
Team members include leading Calvinists Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, alongside non-Calvinist Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The advisory team also includes Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins, who drafted a statement in May countering Calvinism with a “traditional Southern Baptist” understanding of the doctrine of salvation.
Calvinism, named after 16th century theologian and reformer John Calvin, emphasizes God’s sovereignty in predetermining who will accept Christ and minimizes the importance of human agency. Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists, sometimes called Arminians after Dutch reformer Jacob Arminius, share some tenets of Calvinism but reject ideas like Christ died only for the elect and that sinners lack the ability to respond in faith of their own free will unless first prompted by God.
“Whether you want to hear it or not, Calvinism is an issue among us,” Page told SBC messengers in June. “You may or may not like that, but it is a real issue.”
Page, a non-Calvinist, said he is concerned “because there seem to be some non-Calvinists who are more concerned about rooting out Calvinists than they are winning the lost to Christ.” At the same time, he said, “There are Calvinists who seem to think if we do not believe the same thing about soteriology that they believe that somehow we are less intelligent or ignorant at best.”
Page said the purpose of the advisory team is not to rewrite the Baptist Faith and Message, the convention’s official confession of faith, but “to find some ways to work together better,” as the two sides have done in the past.
“You’re not going to convince me to be a Calvinist,” Page said. “And I doubt, as hard-headed as I know most of you are, that I’m going to convince you into believing what I believe. That’s all right. Hard-headed people can work together when there is a common cause.”
Page said, according to Baptist Press, that he anticipates a statement will be crafted over the coming weeks and months.