former SBC president says “a new kind of Calvinism” is causing division in the Southern Baptist Convention, and the time has come to talk about it.

By Bob Allen

A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention called the rising influence of Calvinism “the elephant in the room” that must be addressed in order to preserve unity in the nation’s second-largest religious body.

Jerry Vines, the retired long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and SBC president in 1989-1990, wrote in a blog June 6 that he has long enjoyed fellowship with Calvinists including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, regarded a leader in the rising theological movement described with terms like the “New Calvinism” and “Young, Restless and Reformed.”

But Vines said he is now concerned about “a new kind of Calvinism among us.”

“[T]here are some, not all, new Calvinists who are hostile, militant and aggressive,” Vines said. “This kind of Calvinism is troubling our churches, hindering evangelism and missions and disrupting the fellowship of our convention. I would hope that men of good will, whether Calvinist or not Calvinist, would repudiate that kind of Calvinism.”

Vines is one of six former SBC presidents who signed a statement posted May 31 on the SBC Today group blog affirming a “traditional Southern Baptist understanding of God’s plan of salvation.”

Signed by prominent leaders, including two seminary presidents and executive directors of six Baptist state conventions, the document upholds tenets of Calvinism including the penal-substitutionary view of atonement and once-saved-always-saved, but denies aspects like God has predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation and that Jesus died only for the elect.

Its publication set off a wave of blogs and counter-blogs about the subject. Mohler weighed in June 6, saying he agreed with much of the document but that it appeared “to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature and the human will.” Pelagianism is the name given to a fifth-century heresy that denied original sin and taught that humans possess the free will to obey God without divine aid.

Vines said he does not desire for any Calvinist to feel unwelcome in the SBC, but that Southern Baptists should be able to affirm their theological positions without trying to force them on others who hold different views “within the framework” of the Baptist Faith and Message.

“It is now clear that this is not an issue that is going to go away,” Vines said. “I have no stomach for a battle. I have been in enough battles for two lifetimes. I have no desire for a battle with friends I love. But, the time has come to admit we have a problem, seek God-honoring solutions and move forward to do our part as Southern Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission.

“It is no longer possible to deny the elephant is in the room. Let’s talk about it.”

Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, said he believes Southern Baptists need “a consensus accord” about the doctrine of salvation and that he intends to announce plans for putting one together at the upcoming SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.