Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Elmer Towns on the Conservative Resurgence

Elmer Towns serves as the Co-founder and Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University. In the recent issue of Theology for Ministry (Vol. 3 No. 1), the theological journal of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, he has an article entitled, "What Should Southern Baptists Do with Calvinists?" (EDIT: thanks to Kenneth Fryer for the link) It appears just before my article entitled, "The Way We Were and Are Becoming Again: The Revival of the Doctrines of Grace in Southern Baptist Life." This issue of the journal is dedicated to "Contemporary Movements in American Christianity" and Dr. Daryl Cornett, the editor, wanted to include contrasting views of Calvinism in the SBC. It is safe to say that he accomplished his goal.

I plan engage some of Dr. Towns' thoughts in future posts as I have time. But as I read his article last week, I was struck by the following paragraph that gives his view from Liberty Mountain on what happened in the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention that publicly began in 1979. He quite obviously views it as a fundamentalist victory.
In the last twenty-five years Southern Baptists have fought the battle of perceived liberalism within its ranks and bureaucracy, and most would agree that the fundamentalists have won that battle. Beginning with the election of Adrian Rogers in 1979, one self-identified fundamentalist after another has become president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and in turn they have controlled the nomination and election process of the various boards and seminaries. In due time, boards mandated that liberal-leaning individuals were not nominated to positions, and fundamentalists turned the various boards and committees toward fundamentalism.


Brent Hobbs said...

Tom, in what sense do you think he's using the term 'fundamentalist'? If he's using it as synonymous with 'conservative', then it seems like a pretty straightforward historical assessment.

But (and this seems more likely) if he's using it as a distinction within SBC conservatism (ie. fundies vs. Calvinists vs. revivalists... etc..) then we're all in trouble if his assessment is correct.

Tom said...


He doesn't define his term but I find it intriguing that someone in his position at such an institution that, until a few years ago was outside of the SBC would use that term 4 times in 3 sentences to explain the CR.

fishformen said...


Is it fair to say that some, perhaps many, of his age and scholarly background, use the word as a reference to the "Fundamentals" edited by R.A. Torrey? I have heard this by many who in essence were contrasting their view against Barth or Bultmann.

Wasn’t Towns denominationally a Presbyterian for years?

Tom said...


That may be what is going on. Towns was converted through the ministry of a Presbyterian church and served for a while as a Presbyterian pastor before becoming Baptist.

Matt Privett said...


He's not going where I hope he's not going, is he? Tell me he doesn't equate modern SBC Calvinists with the pre-1979 SBC.

David Milton said...

If he does equate modern SBC Calvinists with the pre-1979 SBC, that explains the Texas Baptist Standard's interest in the whole matter. In essence, an interest in things that upset the SBC status quo. The Calvinist Resurgence seems to be doing that, according to their viewpoint. Thus their intentions are not scholarly or noble, but an intention to undermine the Pattersons, Grahams, Welches, etc.

Tom, is Liberty really considered inside the SBC now?

Tom said...

Matt and David:

Towns makes this reference to set the stage for what some consider to be the "next battle" in the SBC, namely, "the intrusive influence of five point Calvinism as an unacceptable expression of normal Southern Baptist life and ministry" (pp. 106-7).

Greg Welty said...


If we construe "normal" in a statistical sense, perhaps the ideal alternative is to understand five-point Calvinism "as an acceptable expression of abnormal Southern Baptist life and ministry."


Tom said...


Good point. "Normal Southern Baptist life" is the problem!


Jeff said...

I wanted to leave a comment that might help a little bit. I finished my bachelor's degree at Liberty DLP this spring and I took a theology class taught by Dr. Towns. He also wrote the textbook and when he speaks about fundamentalism, he is usually talking about the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. And to answer the other question, Liberty is getting more involved with the SBC all the time it would seem. They have several points of contact with SBC life these days, including the Liberty Baptist Fellowship that is allowing me to pursue my master's at very low cost.

Kris said...

I'll add a quick comment as well. I graduated from Liberty DLP last year and made the trip to VA for the graduation. I had two classes from Dr. Towns, one from Dr. Harold Wilmington, and one from Dr. Gary Habermas. These men are all well known for there bible knowledge. That being said, they are not reformed. Dr. Wilmingon taught a Romans class and very strongly argued for the Romans 9 argument of National election. I'm sure almost everyone knows the President of the Seminary's (Dr. Caner) position against Calvinism. The late Dr. Falwell even spoke of limited atonement as a heresy. It's amazing how they just joined the SBC a few years ago and seem to want to take control of the ship. I enjoyed Liberty and learned a lot, even though it was an a pre-trib, pre-mil, dispensational, non-calvinist school. I guess I learned the other side :). What should I expect from a school that has an Ice Hockey building named after Tim Lahaye. I still respect them, but hope that in the future their teaching would be more balanced, especially in theology.

Tom, I applaud you for your effort in the past to debate the Caner brothers at Liberty. Too bad it didn't happen.

Kenneth M. Fryer said...

I am weary of the same old
arguments that Calvinists aren't evangelistic, fly the "five-point Calvinist flag over their churches, draw lines in the sand, baptize babies, babies who die are going to hell, blah, blah...

Basically, Towns probably favors purging Calvinists from SBC life, but He says we can stay if we subscribe to his brand of "evangelism" and act like a pretty little TULIP and we don't spread seeds of Calvinism like a dandelion. Please. Your readers can link to Towns' stereotypical rant at: http://www.elmertowns.com/files/WHAT%20SHOULD%20SOUTHERN%20BAPTIST%20DO%20WITH%20CALVINIST.pdf.

Warning: It's worse than just the "Fundamentalist" issue.

Darby Livingston said...

I wonder if Towns has let the cat out of the bag - "conservative" has less to do with the traditional battle against theological liberalism than it does with propagating good old-fashioned fundamentalism.

Wyman Richardson said...

"If anything, Calvin was intolerant to the point he allowed the burning of Servetus at the stake because he disagreed with the reformed doctrine of Geneva. Be careful of some five pointers, with an intolerant DNA just like their forefathers."

Oh my! This does sound dangerous indeed! Will the Calvinists begin burning heretics at the stake in the SBC if they gain power?


I'm pretty sure that Servetus was not burned because of his disagreement with "reformed doctrine" per se unless you consider Trinitarianism itself and a whole host of orthodox positions to be the property of Geneva. Servetus was condemned by Protestants and Catholics alike.

I'm not defending the handling of the Servetus situation, I'm just saying that Towns has made a tenuous historical assertion and then has tacked on guilt-by-association to boot. I think this kind of thing is irresponsible.

Tom said...


Thanks for linking to the article.


Tom said...


Fortunately (for Towns) that sentence was severely rehabilitated before being published in the journal. However, he must be pleased enough with it to leave it in on his own website. It's a commentary.

NativeVermonter said...

Well excuse me if I praise the Lord for saving me and I don’t pat myself on the back just a wee bit for having the “wisdom” to see that I needed a Savior. I like what Burk Parsons says in June’s Tabletalk Magazine about how there are too many “Evanjellyfish.” Granted, Mr. Parsons isn’t talking about the Doctrines of His Marvelous Grace in this article but it fits nonetheless. I’ll pitch the flag of Grace, and I’ll wave the flag of Grace, I’ll even tell you that you’re waving the wrong flag. I’m not fighting for a specific theology per se; I’m simply trying to tell folks that God Saves Sinners. From first-to-last, start-to-finish…it’s His accomplishment. To suggest that a dead person has the ability to do anything but stay dead is really quite foolish.

Michael said...

Tom, I currently attending Liberty through their DLP class and just as Jeff and Kris noted above Towns is the Theology Professor. What I found most interesting was the degree to which I was accepted as a "Calvinist" by the professor of the class.

In fact for my Church History II class I chose to write my research paper on The Extent of the Atonement in the Theology and Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. (http://apilgrimslibrary.wordpress.com/2006/12/27/spurgeon-on-the-atonement/)
The professor gave me an A for the paper and commended me for accurately portraying Spurgeon's view of Limited Atonement.

Not only was I accepted in the DLP program, I also met several other "reformed" individuals who are taking classes there.

Kris said...

I didn't take a Church History class at Liberty, what degree are you seeking? Also, what is the name of your professor? How long have you been a student there? Also, have you had any problems with the pre-trib, pre-mil theology of many of the instructors? I ask this because I don't mind being taught about this position, but it's different than being "indoctrinated" with the position. Same can be said for the "non-calvinist" position.

Just wondering your experiences.


ajlin said...

Re: "What Should Southern Baptists Do With Calvinists?"

-So, what are we going to do with ourselves?

blosser41 said...

"A flag is a good thing to post on your front door on the Fourth of July so everyone knows where you stand. But be careful of the five pointer who waves his flag in attack of other churches or other believers, or anyone who holds a different persuasion than theirs. Ask yourself the question, “What flag do you salute?”"

This is the quote that got me. Be careful of the Armenian (Elmer Towns, Ergun Caner) who waves his flag in attack of other churches or other believers, or anyone who holds a different persuasion than theirs. I am a resident student at LU and know first hand the hostile attitude that some people in leadership have towards Calvinism. However, the School of Religion is very solid for the most part.