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.

51 comments:

Fred said...

Would Page's stance also mean that an Arminian would likewise be responsible for looking at the founding doctrines of a church and then expressing whether or not he could teach within the parameters of the confessional statement?

G. Alford said...

Tom,

The unexpected consequence of all this hostility toward Calvinism by some in the SBC is that the next generation of Young Calvinistic Pastors, for the most part, have no desire to go to a church that does not want them… Instead what I see in these Pastors is a singular commitment, which is unmatched in church history, to planting new Churches that are both “Calvinistic” and “Baptist”. I will not repeat my full post on this topic here but just wanted to add this though to the conversation.

Double O Balloon said...

Tom,

As always your words speak to the heart of the matter. Recently, a friend of mine interviewed at a church and was asked if he was a Calvinist and although he is he replied that he was not. His explanation was that he indeed was not what they thought a Calvinist was (someone that doesn't believe in missions or evangelism). I still feel this was deceptive though. I believe the appropriate response is to ask them what they mean by that term and either answer based on that or explain what he understands the term to mean.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Tom,

Perhaps the most responsible act of integrity, following your advice, Tom, is this:

If you don't bring up "Calvinism" in the interview process, then don't bring it up afterwards, either.

In Christ,
Malcolm

Ghailey said...

"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." As a layman Calvinists I disagree.
1. To enter into a dialogue one is conceding that there may be error in his position or at least that one is willing to compromise one or more principles.
2. The issue should not be Calvinism – doctrines of grace, but whether doctrine is grounded in accurate exegesis of Scripture –the doctrines of grace, or on “feel good”, man-centered psychology –Arminianism (semi-Pelganism, Pelaganism).

“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.”

What a great commendation of the very concept of search committees. People who don’t know why they believe what they believe, but only parrot what they’ve heard from the pulpit. (If it is said from the pulpit it must be true. The Church of Rome has one infallible Pope; Southern Baptists have thousands of infallible preachers. Arrrrrgh!) Now they’re a committee on a secret search and disrupt mission to steal another flock’s pastor, but only if he says the same things as their previous pastor so they won’t have to learn any new words to parrot.

Tom said...

Fred:

Your question is valid. Many of our churches were founded on clear confessional commitments that have been lost over time. If a candidate finds that his convictions are in line with those commitments, he should make that known and indicate that he wants to lead the church to recover its heritage.

Greg:

The rising commitment to church planting is certainly an encouragement and bodes well for the future. This is matched by a growing commitment to cross-cultural missions, which is also very encouraging.

Tom said...

Double O:

I agree with you. "What do you mean by that?" is always a good question to ask when someone raises the issue. That opens the door for dialogue and, hopefully, coming to an understanding of terms. Dr. Akin referred to being a "Carey Calvinist" or a "Spurgeon Calvinist." Those biographical qualifications can be useful in explaining one's position.

Malcolm:

I find that your proposed course of action is what many of my Calvinistic brothers desire and plan to pursue. What very often happens, however, is that in the course of preaching expositionally, without the slightest mention of Calvinism, John Calvin or even designer jeans, someone will level the charge of, "You are a Calvinist," as if that makes the preacher an agent of the devil. In more cases than I can count, that charge has been interjected by a denominational employee from outside the congregation.

I have seen honest, humble, evangelistic pastors attacked with a vengeance as a result of such denominational malfeasance. Often, charges of being dishonest are added against the pastor because he refused to call his teaching "Calvinism." Thus, my point of being hooked on the horns of a dilemma. Does he not bring it up, as you suggest to be the way of integrity, and leave himself open to such a charge? Or does he bring it up and open himself to being accused of "pushing Calvinism?"

It is a tough spot for many young pastors.

Blessings,
ta

jfile said...

I don't know, it may be a good idea to follow an example I saw somewhere.

You know, there are so many areas of theology that are much more important for people to understand first, it might be better to just avoid the question.
(tongue in cheek)

Wyman Richardson said...

Tom,

A few thoughts/questions:

1. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, no pastoral candidate should be deceitful. That being said, the dilemma you mention is real enough and puts lots of good men in a difficult situation.

2. I would love to see those who are so concerned about this publicize an equally strident call for churches to be honest with pastoral candidates about who they really are. Now THERE is a real issue we should try to tackle.

3. The whole discussion seems to ignore the reality of growth and development in the life of both the pastor and the church. The truth is, many a pastor doesn't understand the doctrines of grace when he comes to a church but grows in his understanding after he is there. There's nothing underhanded or deceitful about it. I suspect that this happens a lot.

Anyway, point 2 is a big one for me. I suspect that churches not being forthright with candidates is, in reality, a much, much, much bigger problem than pastoral candidates not being forthright with churches.

I know a number of pastors that could sue their churches for false advertising. (note: sarcasm)

Tom said...

Wyman:

Amen! I could not agree with you more. This all comes back to a point that you have made in your Walking Together books--that our churches need to recover biblical church discipline. Many--probably most--of our churches are very, very spiritually sick. Yet, this fact tends to be ignored or, when acknowledged not regarded as too significant, by most pastors and denominational leaders.

I don't know how to say it any planer: If the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists are unregenerate (a view shared by many), if, as John Dagg suggests, "When discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it," and if much, probably most, of Southern Baptist evangelism results in converts who do not persevere after one year, then we are in a crisis of monumental proportions!

The problem is that this crisis is downplayed or papered over so often that our churches, by and large, do not have an accurate self-assessment.

Lest anyone think I am overreacting here or speaking in hyperbolic language, let me recommend a rereading of Revelation 3:1-6 and 14-22. It is utter folly to think that we are immune to the maladies our Lord diagnoses in these two churches.

-ta

Eric said...

Tom,

I am a seminary graduate who is open to pastoring. If God opens this door, I will be thrilled to walk through it.

I just had a very nice conversation with a woman who is a member of a church search committee. She very much wants to follow God's will and live by the bible. However, when the term "Calvinism" came up, she had a negative idea about it even though she didn't really understand it. She was shocked that I hold to the Doctrines of Grace.

After a fairly long conversation, I think she began to understand that Calvinists can still love people, believe in missions, etc. The account of Lydia in Acts 16 challenged this lady because the text clearly says that "the Lord opened her heart."

Quite frankly, the conversation was depressing because it showed me first-hand how some people who want to live by the bible have been poisoned against Calvinism. They believe Calvinism is something it is not, and often will not listen to any argument otherwise.

I'm not looking forward to meeting with search committees. If they ask me if I am a Calvinist, I'm going to respond by asking, "What do you mean by that?" We'll see how it goes after that.

Eric

Tom said...

Eric:

Thanks for sharing your experience. What you witnessed is repeated frequently. Because so many high profile spokesmen have poisoned the well by their diatribes against and misrepresentations of Calvinism, many sincere, trusting church members have only a caricature of it in their minds.

That is why efforts like the Building Bridges conference are so important and needed. You could take the audio of Danny Akin or David Nelson Nathan Finn and pass them along to help dispel some of the bad information that has been promulgated about this issue over the last 15 years.

That dear lady that you describe is exemplifies one of the great challenges and needs in every church--not to make it Calvinistic, but to lead it in biblical understanding and doctrinal maturity.

Blessings,
tom

kingofbleh said...

Tom -

The personal confession of faith is an excellent idea. One of my personal mentors did this for himself years ago and I now have him to look to as an example as I put mine together. This is useful not only for search committees but for ministerial partnerships, associations and organizations with which one may be asked to become involved. People ought to know where you stand and we ought to want them to know. The blessed truths of the sovereignty of God, election, justification, sin, redemption, grace and perseverance are BLESSED truths, and not doctrinal hammers but which to beat someone over the head. When they see what we believe on paper and then they see these truths validated in our daily lives and take on real, tangible form before their eyes, it will demand a more Christlike reaction from those around us.

I thank God for Drs. Page, Patterson, Akin, Mohler and others for their gentle, shepherding leadership in this matter.

kingofbleh said...

Oops forgot to sign my post.

Blessings,
Lucas Defalco
Greensboro, NC

DoGLover said...

Tom, when I interviewed the search team of the church I now pastor, I plainly stated that I embrace the doctrines of grace. No one asked me what that meant. So I assumed it wasn't an issue & didn't press it. I asked them for a copy of their statement of faith, they said they didn't have one. Later, I found the original record of the church's organizational meeting. It clearly stated their belief in "election by grace" and the "man's impotency to earn salvation by any work or merit."

If the Arminian pastors who came along since then had followed their own advice, this church - & many others - would still be Reformed today.

JBuchanan said...

Tom,

I think that entire issue of Pastoral integrity when it comes to dealing with search teams is one of the most important issues that we face in the SBC. I went through this process last spring and summer and made it my policy that if the search team did not bring up the issue of the doctrines of grace that I did. While I agree with you that many lay people are not accustomed to speaking in theological jargon, I do not see that as a hinderance to being open about our doctrinal positions. Frankly, if I cannot articulate their doctrinal position in terms that the average layperson can understand then chances are that I do not really understand them myself. When I sat down with the committee at the church that I currently serve we engaged in a frank and open discussion about Calvinism and how I would approach this subject in my ministry.

To not bring up such an important and potentially divisive issue would be, in my opinion, unethical. If we, as Calvinists, want to gain credibility then we need to operate on the highest plain of integrity that we can find.

It seems to me that the accusation that Calvinists are sneaking into churches and splitting them is mostly hype and rhetoric. My observation is that more churches have split over purpose driven ministry and contemporary music than Calvinism. We must be very careful when responding to this accusation. Misrepresentation and mischaraterization have always been the lot of those standing for the truth. That said, however, we conduct ourselves with the highest levels of integrity.

Finally, let me say that if we believe what we preach then there is no reason to fear being forthright about out doctrinal positions. God has ordained whatever comes to pass. Why fret it?

Tom said...

Lucas:

Writing personal confessions was very common for Baptist pastors in former generations. Thanks for your comment.

DOGlover:

Good point. The situation we are in today did not happen overnight. Thousands of churches have been led away from their founding doctrinal commitments over the years.

Jbuchanan:

I don't think I disagree with you at all. You wrote: "While I agree with you that many lay people are not accustomed to speaking in theological jargon, I do not see that as a hinderance to being open about our doctrinal positions."

If I communicated anything less than this, then I miscommunicated. By jargon I mean those terms that will be at best meaningless and at worst misunderstood by the folks to whom you are talking (ie: supralapsarianism, ordo salutis, molinism, hypostatic union in addition to Calvinism).

This is why I wrote that one ought to "[speak] plainly and simply about one's doctrinal commitments when in the interview process;" and "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;" and "be very clear about your biblical convictions."

Blessings,
tom

Sean Cole said...

hen I candidated at my current church, I put all my cards on the table and asked them if they had problems with Calvinism. I then had to define what I meant by Calvinism because of all the caricatures that are out there. The elders and the search committee said they had no problem with a pastor who is Calvinistic. One of the committee members had some concern and so I was asked to come back for a second interview before they invited me to come in view of a call to explain how I would preach and lead our church in the area of Calvinism. I told them that my agenda was not to lead us to embrace Calvinism, but that I would preach the Scriptures as faithfully as possible. I told them that the issues of man's total depravity and the issue of sovereign regeneration and election would come out in my preaching and teaching but that I would not systematically teach TULIP from the pulpit but the Scriptures. I also assured them that I believe strongly in evangelism, church planting and missions with a proven track record at my former church. To this day, there has been no issue. I preach the Scriptures faithfully and it is amazing how many people in our congregation over the 3 years I have been here (as my first senior pastorate by the way) have embraced the doctrines of grace without even knowing TULIP or anything about John Calvin. Even among our six elders we are not all in agreement upon the doctrines of grace. We have more that lean this way, but we have a few that are more modified in their view. My associate pastors now embrace the doctrines of grace, but not because I made it mandatory or pushed it. They have come to these conclusions on their own through their own journey and personal study. My point is that integrity and honesty upfront is the best way to approach this issue. God is a sovereign God and we must trust that He will lead us to the church where we can be faithful to our own personal theology as well as a ministry where we can thrive. God has been gracious to me. I tell people in our new members class that although Emmanuel Baptist Church is not "Calvinistic" in nature, we do adhere to the BFM 2000. I then follow it up by telling them that I am a 5 point Calvinist, but that it is not an issue for church membership and we are free to disagree in our fellowship. My prayers go out to other younger pastors who struggle with laying their "Calvinism" cards out there for search committees or who have trouble with denominational DOM's or others who come in as bishops and try to oust good pastors for being faithful to Scripture. If we're not careful many young, bright energetic pastors will leave the SBC fold and join the ranks of ACTS 29, Sovereign Grace, Desiring God, or any other affinity group that could be the future of what we would as SBC'ers call an association.

Jason said...

The sad thing about this issue is the repeated insistence that Calvinists are the ones in the wrong on this issue.

I would encourage every pastor to give full discolsure about their theology....dispensational, anabaptist, anti-calvinist, calvinist, etc.

But I also know through experience that many pastoral committees have no idea what to ask a pastor. They also have no idea about theological concepts and don't know the definitions of words. Heck, most pastor search teams are not even concerned with biblical qualifications...they want "experience" and "personality".

Sadly, many people have harmed search committees and the clarity of the discussions due to muddying the waters by their comments.

Honestly, if men in academia like Bro. Yarnell misrepresent Calvinism, why would we expect people who are much less schooled to not misrepresent it?

J.Gray

Rhett said...

How about:

I'm committed to historic Southern Baptist doctrine.

??

Nathan Finn said...

Tom,

Something you brought up in the Building Bridges panel discussion could help when young men of any theological persuasion are interviewing for church staff positions. You mentioned that pastors should write their own statement of faith, or at least be able to point to an existing confession as accurately representing their views on these (and many other) matters. I agree 100%.

In days gone by, many pastoral candidates would write personal confessions of faith so that a church knew exactly what they believed. That confession was presented to the church (in the days before search committees) and members were allowed to "grill" the candidate about his theology. I think it would be very useful for men to come to an interview with a confession in hand, whether or not they choose to use a particular label to denote their convictions. When I took a Doctrine of Salvation elective with Russ Moore at SBTS, he had each of us draft a short position paper delineating our personal convictions about salvation. Something like that could also be of use.

Giving a church a confession of faith, whether historic or personal, may result in a potential pastor not being called by that congregation because of fundamental differences of opinion on any number of issues. But better that happen on this "end" of the interview process than run into trouble 6 months into a new pastorate.

NAF

jfile said...

It's just so ironic that a non-Calvinist would be permitted just to say, "I'm a Baptist." Yet a person who affirms the 2nd London Confession, the Abstract of Principles, the New Hampshire Confession, and the BFM, and is like-minded with Baptists such as William Carey, Andrew Fuller, J.L. Dagg, John A. Broadus, and Jesse Mercer would be considered lacking in integrity to give the same answer--"I'm a Baptist."

I agree that we should be up front about our convictions. I agree that it would be good to draft a confession and "really" lay all your cards on the table. When I have interviewed with churches for the pastorate in the past I made my position on Calvinism no secret. But I don't think it is dishonest in any sense just to say "I believe what Baptists have historically believed since the 1600's."

ndefalco said...

I hope people are still reading this thread, because I am in need of some advice. I, too, am seeking a pastorate at an established baptist church. (I tried church planting, but had a very similiar thing happen to me that happened to the fellow in Missouri, so we're trying the traditional route of getting a ministry job.)

I sent my resume to a DOM in Florida. He called me when he recieved it and asked me some standard questions about my resume. He then asked: "It says here you graduated from Southern- are you a five point Calvinist?" My response to him was that I didn't feel comfortable answering those kinds of questions to a DOM. He apologized and said he was concerned because a church in his association apparently split over the issue of Calvinism and didn't want that to happen again.

Here's the question: IS it appropriate for a DOM to ask theological questions? A pastor friend of mine said yes. He should even go so far as to not pass along a resume if he thinks it would lead to more conflict. After all, in many cases he may be the only one with enough training to even know those issues exist. What would take many hours of phone calls and research for a committee to discover (from just looking at a resume) it would only take a DOM a few minutes (i.e. He'd see that I graduated from Southern and alread know that may be an issue.)

My knee-jerk response is that a DOM can do everything he can to train those committees, even bring those issues to light to the committee. But, to do the job of interviewing for them? Or worst, hold back a resume? I think not. Am I wrong?

Tom said...

Nathan:

Good word. Thanks.

Jfile:

You've got a point!

ta

G. Alford said...

I call for all Landmark Baptist Pastors to be honest and lay their cards on the table when interviewing with a search committee. If the SBC Leadership is going to call on Calvinist to do this, then I feel that they should have the integrity to call on all factions withing the SBC to do likewise.

I am not saying this in jest... we have at least one Seminary that is turning out Landmark Baptist Pastors left and right (I don't know the percent but it is high time someone started asking). Landmark influence is defiantly on the rise in the SBC (see the whole IMB scandal). And with their “distinct” slant on Baptist Doctrine and “unique” view of Baptist History I can only imagine how many unsuspecting Baptist Churches in my region of the South (that is historically not very receptive to Landmark doctrine) that would be very upset upon finding out that their new young pastor was actually a Landmark Baptist.... and not a Southern Baptist (wink).

I know this sounds like hyperbole... but trust me... it is not! My home church just went through a very devastating experience of having a Pastor come under false pretenses of being a Baptist of one stripe only to find out that he was something altogether different. As it appears the word Baptist is no longer sufficient to communicate what we believe, and if our SBC Leadership is going to start calling for all Calvinistic Baptist Pastors to be required to wear a scarlet “C” on their shirts, then our Landmark Baptist Pastors and all others should be required to clearly identify themselves also.

The Baptist church that I now pastor is solidly Calvinistic, and has been that way for many years, and I happen to know for a fact that a Landmark Baptist pastor would not last one week in that pulpit... So I call upon our SBC President “Frank Page” to be fair and call on our Landmark Baptist pastors to identify themselves before accepting a Non-Landmark Baptist Church.

And I would like to ask for a Lifeway survey of the Landmark influence in the SBC (smile)

Grace Always,

EKBenson said...

ndefalco,

The DOM is out place. I just wonder if he had any involvement in the church split he spoke of. I can make a good guess who the DOM "Bishop wanna be" is of which you refer.

Be aware that DOM conferences in Florida have in times recent have been used to bash Calvinism. The denominational structure here has become increasingly hierarchial with the associations expected to do the State Convention's bidding in enforcing doctrinal conformity. I know of one association not having a Confession of faith to apply to its own employees but a church's Confession must agree with a pre-approved list that the association has for screening new churches.

I have worn openly the Calvinist label since 1978. I graduated from SBTS as such in 1979. There were possibly five Calvinist in the entire seminary that year. I was ordained by a loving but hybrid church in 1982 and they knew full well knew my position and questioned me about it.

I lean on Baptist history, sources personalities, and quotes for support and large plain texts of Scripture to push back opposition.

I do not believe labeling and defining yourself upfront as a Calvinistic Baptist will hurt you in the long run. Not doing so may later be used against you. I prefer to self label. I dislike the label Baptist Calvinist. That sounds like the loyalities may be not so Baptist. Be patient and faithful, God is at work.

The "non-Calvinist" whatever that is needs to do the explaining and be truthful about what he believes rather than bashing others with his "non-Calvinist" label. Which comes across to the misinformed as the "I'm not one of them, green eyed, forked tongue, cloven hoof monster," label.

25 years pastoring the same church tells me something about being honest up front and that how you live and minister matters. If you write a personal Confession provide plenty of plain Scripture to support what you say.

Kyle and Missy said...

Ndefalco,
Man it was pretty weird reading your comment, because I could have written the same thing exactly. I have grown up my whole life in the SBC and feel that it is my home. Recently when searching for a church to serve in, I submitted resumes to all of the local associations. I met with one of the DOM's. It was a good time of fellowship. He said, "oh yes we have a number of churches that are in desperate need of a pastor and would love to have a young couple like you." Then the conversation took a weird turn. He said, "I see here on your resume that you attended Sounthern Seminary. I take it you are a Calvinist." I told him that I agreed with a lot of what Calvin said but not everything. I said I try to back up my beliefs from Scripture and not only because a certain man said it, Calvin or anyone else for that matter. He said, " Well I am sorry to have to tell you this but you are not going to get hired at any church around here. You see people around here believe in Missions and sharing the gospel. They are gonna see Southern Seminary on your resume and just keep going." I said, "My resume also says I was employed by the IMB! How can someone not believe me when I say that I love missions and evangelism!?" He said sorry and wished me luck. I walked away furious! Here was a DOM that was allowing churches to go without pastors, some of them hanging on by a thread and dying, rather than give them a young man that is itching to preach the Word.
I wish I could say that yours and my experience are isolated cases, but more and more of my friends that graduate from Southern are facing these situations. We are preparing to serve in a denomination that doesn't want us. But a little encouragement. I am now on staff at a church! I finally found a church that allowed me to defend what I believe and show what I believe from scripture. I am happy to be here. THe church is not Reformed, but they are okay with the fact that I am. They just want someone to teach the Word.
Since I have been at this church, I have been to a few local association meetings. I have run into a few of the men that I crossed paths with during my searching phase. I have to hold my tongue when a room full of 65-85 year old men are lamenting the fact that there are no younger men in the meetings. THey are concerned about the future of the association. I want to tell them the future is there. You just don't want it.

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
This is a good discussion and it makes the point that churches must ask pointed and specific questions about theology and not be content merely with inerrancy.

As a non-Calvinist, I appreciate you keeping up the fight for clarity in this issue.

Tom said...

Ndefalco and Kyle:

I am sorry to hear about your experiences--especially yours, Kyle. On the one hand I understand a DOM wanting to know more about a candidate before he passes along a resume to a church in his association. On the other, I think it is inappropriate for him to serve as a gatekeeper to exclude men whose doctrinal commitments are clearly Baptist and even fall within the parameters of the BF&M.

It would be great to have some DOMs weigh in on this question.

One point that I failed to make earlier that is pertinent to this conversation--the whole interview process (as awkward and even convoluted as it can become at times) is designed to determine God's will for church and candidate. Often, the Lord may use the issue of Calvinism to save either the man or the church or both much unnecessary grief. And, though some search teams may pass on a candidate because of his Calvinism, there are many, many other reasons that they may do so. A man should be careful to avoid immediately assuming that the reason is his doctrinal commitments. That kind of knee-jerk response can potentially inhibit growth in learning about oneself and also foster an unhealthy martyr's complex.

Tom said...

Tom:

Thanks. If your spirit could permeate both sides of this issue we could extend this kind of conversation very productively throughout the whole convention.

ndefalco said...

Kyle-

I feel the same way. On my resume it says I'm a church planter and between my wife and I, we have been on 13 international mission trips (she worked as a missionary for the Georgia Baptist Convention). So, I really hope that doesn't get overlooked like yours did.

I wonder though- how much of this "recapturing the heritage" is of real importance? I'm sick of talking about John Calvin (I bet John Calvin is sick of us talking about him). I've never even read any of his books. And I'm not a five-pointer. Yet, because I graduated from Southern, I get caught in the crossfire. If we are sola scriptura, maybe we should stop labeling ourselves Calvinists and just tell people what we think the Bible says.

g. alford-

I think you are on to something. Those of the "Calvinist" stripe (there goes that word again) are tired of traditional churches and are going to prove (just by following the Lord) every naysayer out there wrong with their commitment to church planting (evangelism) and church membership (not stealing other members to add to your church plant).

Tom-

Good advice. It's good to keep in mind that many committees have multiple reasons for not accepting a canidate. For me, I think I'll be more quickly rejected because of my lack of full-time paid experience than I will be because I graduated from Southern (which is also wrong, but I can handle that a lot better).

Yogi Taylor said...

Tom, Does Danny Akin consider himself a Calvinist? In other words, if I said that we (Baptist) have two Seminary Pres. that are calvinist, who that be accurate?

Thank you!

Yogi

Yogi Taylor said...

Tom... I meant to say, "Would that be accurate?"

Sorry!

Yogi

Tom said...

Yogi:

Dr. Akin is not a 5 point Calvinist. It would be accurate to call him Calvinistic. Though he and I have not discussed this in detail, my understanding is that his view of the atonement is what primarily distinguishes him from historic, 5 point Calvinism.

Blessings,
tom

johnMark said...

Great comments. I just don't think that too many lay people on search committees really understand theology very well much less Calvinism.

I knew a family who left a church simply because the pastor would not put down Calvinism although he definitely was not one by any means. I think they were reading one of Dave Hunt's books.

And I do know of a solid, self-professing 5 pt Arminian who is an SBC pastor.

I have an interview coming up with a couple of guys I met through friends at the BB Conference. Calvinists who pastor in a downtown area. Interesting ministry.

Dr. Yarnell, it was nice to meet you at the conference. I'm the non-angry, Calvinist blogger who didn't appreciate all of your message. :)

Blessings,
Mark

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Tom,

Thanks for the thoughtful response. It is a tough issue.

Whatever one thinks of Calvinism, the point is that anytime a pastor preaches the truth, he is going to run into problems. As one wise deacon once told me, "If you never run into the devil, it just means you are both headed in the same direction." Or as our Lord said, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." Ultimately, our responsibility is to preach Christ's Word. If it is received or rejected, it is only a reflection of their reception or rejection of Christ. Count it all joy....

By the way, Wyman's point number 3 was spot on.

In Christ,
Malcolm

Terry Buster said...

kbqfThis discussion has been interesting. I've been at my present pastorate for 13 years, so its been quite a while since I last talked to a pulipt committee.

I wonder if a candidate would get a fair idea of where the doctrinal
conversation should travel after he first asked each person on the committee to share how he/she came to faith in the Lord Jesus and then followed up by asking each to give brief explanation of the gospel?

Yogi Taylor said...

Tom, thank you very much for your answer, it was very helpful.

Yogi

Stephen Watson said...

Over the last year I talked with 5-6 pastor search committees. I was warned before those conversations, that committees are not always theologically well educated, and would likely ask only pragmatic questions. This I found to be true. I evaluated each discussion carefully trying to discern if the committee would be able to understand my convictions. In each case I also sought to be honest in my explanation of my convictions as Dr. Akin (and others) have suggested.

A few things come to my mind in this discussion. One, the majority of committees are not well educated in their theological convictions. This is a fact. They are programmed and see the church as a center for Christian programs and the pastor as the front man. So how do pastor candidates respond in honesty and intergity in the face of the theologically uneducated. Mark's words (4:33) concerning Jesus maybe be helpful - "With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it." It seems to me through my experience it is not so black and white. One must discern what the committee can understand and then a larger responsibility lies with the well educated young pastor in discerning if the church is teachable and open to discussions concerning doctrine. He must realize in these situations that if he does indeed become the pastor of such a church not everyone is guarateed to fall in line with his beliefs once they understand them.

In one case when I asked if there were controversies within area churches or the association, Calvinism was brought up and I explained best I could my position to the committee. Later I discovered they went online to find out more. This could be good or terrible depending on what link they click. I typically point committees with questions to Dr. Akins Spring 2006 article in SBC Life. Though I know from this blog it is lacking in some areas for the true 5 pointers, it does provide a excellent summary and overview with terms explained at the end, and Dr. Akin is well respected as one of our seminary presidents. Which leads to my next observation.

Two, it is confusing for committees and others without a sound theological background or teaching to understand someone like Dr. Akin being a 4 point Calvinist. Or Dr. Yarnell being a "modified Calvinist." To the non-seminarian a 3, 4, or modified Calvinist may still be a hyper-Calvinist when one is lacking in theological teaching. Would it not be healthier to call only 5 point Calvinists - Calvinists. It maybe more beneficial to Southern Baptists if we used the BFM 2000 instead of the TULIP as the standard for our beliefs when dealing with SBC churches and not a spot on the 5 point scale. Then simply elaborate our convictions more specifically where the BFM 2000 leaves freedom. I like the idea of a confession by the pastor, maybe this could be presented to the search committee along with a copy of the BFM 2000. By the way, I had a search committee ask me where they could get a copy of the BFM 2000. They had not read it or seen it. It might be helpful for our seminaries' Minister Relations/Church Services/Resume Services offices to have students write a brief confession this could be a final piece of one of the required theology classes. Also have them provide for the churches when they seek resumes a copy of the BFM 2000 for each member of the committee.

Thirdly, I am not surprised that many young pastors are headed to church planting - I have considered it often myself. The challenge of getting through the search committee process and not being misunderstood is brutal.

Lastly - in SBC life, the resurgence has produced more theologically educated pastors because of the changes that happened in our seminaries. So our new seminary educated pastors are more savy in discussing theological positions and terms. Our established churches have not caught up. This is a major part of the puzzle that our seminary faculty could certainly help with by providing a short brief booklet of some sort on dealing with theological issues when looking for a pastor. This could be a real time of growth for the church that is incredibly helpful to the next pastor. Since our seminaries are doing such a great job in educating and preparing pastors (which I understand is their primary responsibility), maybe they should look for ways to expand those resources to established churches.

TS Martin said...

I think this entire discussion affirms the need for a plurality of elders in more SBC churches. When a teaching-pastor leaves, the remaining elders become the pastor search team if no one among the elders is gifted to replace the teaching-pastor.

If the process of selecting and training elders is done well, these laymen will be well taught and themselves, able to teach. They will have had pastoral experience, therefore, they know what to look for in a teaching-pastor.

This is how our by-laws are set up in the church where I currently pastor. If the teaching-pastor leaves,the remaining elders comprise the pastor search team. As a group of elders, we meet twice a month to pray for the covenant members of the church, discuss a book we all have been reading [currently: The Cross and Christian Ministry by D.A. Carson] and handle the pastoral business of the church. This is the kind of training that would prove helpful in bringing a prospective teaching-pastor before the church.

I feel extremely confident that these laymen could discern what is needed in a teaching-pastor if that need arose.

ndefalco said...

Stephen Watson:

Using the BFM as your confession is a really good idea. It's very disarming seeing how the wording when it comes to election and predestination can be very agreeable with my beliefs without having to throw in the "C" word.

And you are dead on when it comes to those who are not 5 point Calvinists, like Dr. Akin. I am not a 5 pointer and I have wracked my brain trying to come up with an accurate AND understandable explanation of my view of election and I can't seem to do it. So I think it would be sufficient to just quote the BFM since I do agree with it.

Please know I appreciate your words of wisdom.

ndefalco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timmy Brister said...

I think Stephen has brought up an important point. I do not think that Calvinism is the root problem as much as it is anti-intellectualism.

For some churches, it can be argued that anyone with a theological education can and should be held in contempt or suspicion. Perhaps this goes back to the days of liberalism in the SBC. I don't know. But there is more of a concern for a hot heart (which certainly should be there) than an informed mind. Ignorance on fire (as one popular SBC pastor puts it) is the bragging point for many a pastor.

Also, more fundamental to Calvinism is that the younger generation of pastors of being more theologically trained at a higher rate than years before. There are more and more ministers today who have M.Div's or Ph.D's than years before. While this is something we should be encouraged about, it also is a cause for concern, especially when they are seeking to go into communities and congregations with virtually no theological education. In other words, the disparity between the minister and the layman in the pew is great and perhaps the greatest obstacle to overcome, not Calvinism. The more theologically informed the search committees are, the less likely they will subscribe to some of the mischaracterizations of Calvinism or any other beliefs a pastor may have.

Which brings me to my last point. We need theological education in our local churches. Bad. This is where true SBC reform will take place. It is not enough to reform the bureaucracy and institutions. The context of true SBC reform is in her local churches, and we have yet to see that in large part.

There are matters that Calvinists and non-Calvinists can agree upon, and a biblically grounded and theologically informed church should be one of them. There is currently so much ground to try to cover when there is no theological foundation for biblical terminology or biblical framework for theological discussion. And until our churches find this issue something worth addressing, I fear that the issue with pastor search committees with be perpetuated not with an angst towards Calvinism, but an antipathy towards adamant students of God's Word.

Timmy Brister said...

Gee, lots of typos in that last comment. My apologeez. Late night with a little one . . . :)

johnMark said...

Dr. Yarnell,

I guess you didn't appreciate my comments here. :)

Blessings,

Mark

Malcolm Yarnell said...

John Mark,

I appreciate all of you, my brother in Christ.

Malcolm

kingofbleh said...

ndefalco & Stephen -

Someone asked me in a small group meeting recently how I would breifly describe Reformed doctrine. I simply went through the 5 solas. There was no need to mention election, Calvinism, TULIP, etc. The 5 solas provide a good high-level parameter in which reformed orthodoxy rests. Of course my understanding of reformed doctrine is more granular than the 5 solas (at this point my personal SOF is the 1689 LBCF), but this provides a good primer for the uninitiated and unaware.

As for denominational confessions, they are ok. I certainly do not find anything in the BF&M 2K which I understand as contradicting scripture. The only two concerns I have with it are it's ambiguity and it's theological history. We must keep in mind that much of historic "baptist" theology was formed as a reaction to heresy and serious doctrinal error. This makes the BF&M 2K a "derived" theological statement of faith which can be a weakening factor in it's bibliocity.

As I grow older my thinking is becoming less and less denominational. I find myself gravitating towards the overused and abused "no book but the Bible, no creed but Christ" moniker. While I would never adopt this position absolutely (lest I substitute teachability with popish arrogance) I am seeing much wisdom in placing denominational confessions on a much lower bookshelf than the scriptures in my mental and spiritual library.

In Christ,
Lucas Defalco

pregador27 said...

How often does this really come up in the average SBC church pastoral selection process? I have been involved as a pastoral candidate and a few friends have as well, and the subject never came up. Leadership approaches, preaching styles, commitment, etc, but never Calvinism.

At my church, where I assist the Pastor by preaching and teaching, my Calvinist/Reformed faith have never been an issue. He knows where I stand and we work together well despite our differences in the area.

My question, I guess, would be- is this really a common question in SBC churches today? Or is it more tied to the denominational (or should I say "Conventional") bigwigs?

ndefalco said...

pregador- It doesn't with churches, but it DOES with DOMs. I just now landed a youth pastor job, but I was looking for a pastor/youth pastor job now for about 5 months. Not once did a pastor search committee (and I've talked with at least a dozen) did they bring the calvinism thing up. But, I sure had my hands full with DOMs. At least four of them that I sent a resume to seem to think it's an issue.

I know of one DOM here in Florida that will throw your resume right in the trash if he finds out your a Calvinist.(Well, maybe not throw it in the trash, but he will lead the association to disassociate the church that hires you.)

I know of another Florida DOM that asked me if I was a Calvinist. I avoided the question, but he still insisted that I send him another reference and a letter of recommendation from the DOM I was working with at the time. (Ironically, my extra reference was Jerry Vines.) Even though I did all that, he still avoided my phone calls and dodged the question as to whether or not he passed on my resume.

cslewis3147 said...

Excellent post, I recently had to leave a church because I'm a Calvinist, even though I told the pastor in the interview process that I was a Calvinist...after assuring him that I was not out to start some sort of revolution of recruiting everyone to Calvinism, I got the job...a year and a half later, after ordering some Desiring God material (that most loved) and teaching on "What is the Gospel", and addressing total depravity...there was all kinds of talk. I ended up resigning and all sorts of things were flying around....I hope to plant a church because one other interview I had, the search committee found out I was a Calvinist, and had no problem with it. But the church did and they got so many nasty phone calls they ended up rescinding the call....pray for me brothers.

EKBenson said...

In FL some DOMs are asking about Calvinism. I heard of such an incident March 23rd. It was put forth by the DOM as clearing up a misunderstanding. Nothing had been said about Calvinism so where was the "misunderstanding"?

I would either keep totally silent or more likely I'll tell him "It is not your business to intervene in church matters but I'll make it my business, when an autonomous church in the Association you pretend to rule over calls me to minister, to inform the Association at the earliest possible time that you are acting as an Archbishop and not as a Baptist DOM."

Everyone here now knows in part why the church I presently pastor is an AT LARGE church in the State Convention.