Thursday, February 09, 2012

Georgia Index's Gerald Harris on "The Calvinists are here"

Editor Gerald Harris has written an editorial entitled, "The Calvinists are here" and published in the Georgia Baptist's Christian Index. It's truly sad. I don't think it is available online, yet, but if it becomes available, I will link to it. For now, you can read a retyped copy of the article below. As I read it I felt like I was caught in a time-warp and taken back a decade or so. Anyone who has been around the SBC for very long knows that Calvinism has been a whipping boy for certain SBC leaders and agitators for much longer than that. But, fortunately (and, I would add, by God's grace) the broadsides began to be toned down over the last few years. That's not to say that the criticism has stopped and the straw men arguments have disappeared, but the attacks have been more like sniper fire than the previous scud missile-like salvos against Calvinists in the SBC.

I and others have long contended that there are anti-Calvinists in the SBC who would love to demonize their fellow Southern Baptists who hold to the doctrines of grace. Though their rhetoric has been more restrained the last few years due in part to gracious and bold leadership on the part of some "non-Calvinists" (not to be confused with the anti-Calvinists) in the SBC, they obviously have not changed their agenda, despite their refined tactics.

It is sad. And frustrating. It's also a reminder that if calmer, more biblically informed heads do not prevail in leading the debates over doctrinal differences within the SBC, then that on which we do not agree will be leveraged to divide us despite all that we have in common (authority of Scripture, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, Baptist distinctives, etc.). I would hate to see that happen. If the kind of article that Harris has written becomes the norm again in the SBC, then such a division will become increasingly likely.

Here is where I think we--Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike--must fight hard to walk a straight course. We must determine to speak the truth in love. That does not mean covering up or even ignoring erroneous and fallacious arguments that are made by doctrinal proponents. But neither does it mean returning caricature for caricature. Ed Stetzer's blog post today, "The Baptist Boogeyman," points the way forward in a Christ-honoring manner.

Here is Harris' article:

The Calvinists are here
By J. Gerald Harris, Editor
Published February 9, 2012

John Calvin (1509-1564) was an influential French pastor and theologian during the Protestant Reformation. He is best known for his “doctrine of predestination,” which became the foundation of his theology – suggesting that God predestined certain individuals to be saved.

Calvinism is known for its five basic tenets summarized by the acronym TULIP. Those five points ofCalvinism are (1) Total depravity of man, (2) Unconditional election, (3) Limited atonement, (4)Irresistible grace and (5) Perseverance of the saints.

There are some Calvinists who suggest that unconditional election means that God chooses, or “elects,” His children from before the foundations of the earth – that God does not just “know” what decision people will make, but that God causes them to make the decision to seek Him.

There are also those who hold to Reformed theology who believe limited atonement means that the death and resurrection of Christ is the substitutionary payment for the sins of only those who are God’s elect children, but not the entire world.

Many who embrace Reformed theology are motivated to allow it to influence their church polity by substituting congregational church government with an elder system of church government. While that works well for some churches, James MacDonald, a self-proclaimed Calvinist and member of the advisory board for LifeWay’s new Sunday School curriculum, writes, “Congregational government is an invention and tool of the enemy of our souls to destroy the church of Jesus Christ.”

Calvinism also influences other areas of theology and ecclesiology, but newspaper real estate prohibits a further exploration of all the facets of Reformed theology.

In 2007 Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., who has served as chairman of the Trustees at Southern Seminary and is one of the most notable Calvinists in SBC life, wrote a series of blog posts titled, “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” In his blogs Dever listed ten reasons for the blossoming of Reformed theology’s TULIP within evangelicalism.

Frank Page, chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, was quoted in SBC Today, saying, “I think the challenges confronting the SBC today are different than they have been in decades past. I think one of the issues, which is a tremendous challenge for us, is the theological divide of Calvinism and non-Calvinism.

“I think the challenges confronting the SBC today are different than they have been in decades past. I think one of the issues, which is a tremendous challenge for us, is the theological divide of Calvinism and non-Calvinism.”

“Everyone is aware of this but few want to talk about this in public. The reason is obvious. It is deeply divisive in many situations and is disconcerting in others. At some point we are going to see the challenges ensuing from this divide become even more problematic for us. I regularly receive communications from churches who are struggling over this issue.”

Former SBC President Jerry Vines was also quoted in SBC Life, proclaiming, “Theologically, will the issue of Calvinism create further division in the SBC? I have been an SBC preacher over 50 years. I have worked quite well with my Calvinist friends, many of whom I invited to preach for me. “I have no desire to run all Calvinists out of the SBC; I think it would be divisive and wrong. But, current attempts to move the SBC to aCalvinistic soteriology (doctrine of salvation) are divisive and wrong. As long as groups and individuals seek to force Calvinism upon others in the Convention, there will be problems. There is a form of Calvinism that is militant, hostile and aggressive that I strongly oppose.

“I have stated before, so it’s not new news, that should the SBC move towards five-point Calvinism it will be a move away from, not toward, the Gospel.”

So, apparently the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence has been joined by a Reformed Resurgence. The Calvinists are here. Their presence is evident in many phases and places in Southern Baptist life.

Many great preachers and theologians have embraced Calvinism through the years, but today some greet the rising tide ofCalvinism with delight, others with disdain.

The Economist reports, “Since 1990 the [SBC] has been losing ground, relative to America’s population, to other evangelical churches. So cadres of Young Turks are looking back to the 16th century for fresh inspiration.

According to LifeWay Research, the SBC’s, statistical arm, 10 percent of all SBC pastors now identify themselves as Calvinistsand a third of recent graduates from SBC seminaries espouse Reformed doctrines, with Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, a particular source.

It would be surprising if The Gospel Project, a Sunday School curriculum for all ages that LifeWay will soon be rolling out, were not marked by an unmistakable Reformed theology.

Trevin Wax, who works at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, admits that he has been influenced by Reformed pastors and authors like John Piper, Mark Dever, J. I. Packer, C. J. Mahaney, Jerry Bridges, Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and others.

The advisory council and writers for The Gospel Project (including D.A. Carson, Matt Chandler, James MacDonald, Eric Mason, Joe Thorn, Juan Sanchez, Collin Hansen, former North American Mission Board missionary to the Internet Afshin Ziafat and Geoff Ashley – for the most part looks like a Who’s Who of Reformed theologians.

The average Baptist who sits in a Sunday School class or a small Bible study group has depended on LifeWay to provide Bible study materials that are true to the Word of God and representative of historic Baptist theology. However, for bane or blessing LifeWay President Thom Rainer seems to have led the SBC literature-producing agency to become more and more Reformed in its theological content.

North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell has a goal to plant thousands of churches over the next ten years, but there seems to be a shortage of church planters. According to a LifeWay study in 2006 nearly 30 percent of SBC seminary graduates between 1998 and 2004 now serving as pastors describe themselves as Calvinists. Since the LifeWay study is now over five years old the number of Reformed pastors has doubtlessly increased by now. The most recent NAMB On Mission magazine highlights several church planters, two of whom could be seen as Reformed in their theology.

Won Kwak has planted Maranatha Grace Church in Fort Lee, NJ. North Shores Baptist Church in Bayside, NY, Kwak’s mother church, has developed a ministry called Doctrines of Grace Church Planters. On their website they proclaim, “Sovereign Grace Church Planters exists solely for the purpose of planting sovereign grace churches in and around the New York City area.”Reformed leaders James White and D.A. Carson endorse this church-planting ministry.

The second church mentioned in On Mission magazine is City on a Hill in Brookline, MA, in metro Boston where Bland Mason is pastor. I had the privilege of meeting Bland in December and really like him. He is also the chaplain of the Boston Red Sox, which makes him particularly special to me.

Some have been critical of City on a Hill being featured in On Mission because it is also included on the Acts 29 Network website as one of its churches.

NAMB President Kevin Ezell recently explained that Mason’s church was recommended for inclusion in the magazine by the leadership of the Baptist Convention of New England, that Mason is a soul winner, and that the church is an ardent supporter of the Cooperative Program.

Some contend that churches associated with the Acts 29 Network are anathema because of their identification with the Network’s founder and lead visionary, controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. The Network is also admittedly evangelical, missional and Reformed in its approach to church planting.

Others will find it interesting that St Louis is targeted as one of the focus cities in Send North America. In St. Louis NAMB will encounter a Baptist association that has already launched 15 church plants, seven of which are listed as Acts 29 Network churches.

In an exclusive interview with Ezell in our June 2, 2011 issue titled “Filling the Blanks,” The Index reported, “Missionary participation (with the Acts 29 Network) does not concern Ezell one way or the other; he neither endorses nor criticizes such involvement. And since NAMB trustees have not set policy on the issue, he does not involve himself with the discussion.

Ezell emphasized, “We plant Southern Baptist churches that adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message and support the Cooperative Program.”

Although Acts 29 only has 288 churches in its network in the U.S., Driscoll seems to have a significant influence in the lives of some Southern Baptists. It should be noted that Mark and Grace Driscoll have written a book entitled “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together.” The book has shocked conservatives with its graphic sexual descriptions and alarmed liberals because of its degradation of women.

Writer and blogger Rachel Held Evans stated in the Nashville Tennessean that the Driscolls give too many intimate and specific details about sex. She added, “I don’t need my pastor to tell me whether or not I should use sex toys. I don’t feel like I needed all of those details.”

The Tennessean also reported, “In short, the Driscolls say sex is only for married couples, and that those couples should be best friends, have lots of sex and skip the birth control pill, using alternate sex acts that don’t cause pregnancy when necessary.”

Denny Burk, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Seminary, has reviewed the Driscolls’ book. Burk indicates that the book is sexually explicit in some ways, but the Driscolls’ offer a disclaimer by stating that anyone uncomfortable with the book’s content must be either a rube or uninterested in reaching the culture for Christ.

Call me a rube or a hick.

Burk adds, “To those with legitimate concerns, these remarks come across as dismissive at best and patronizing at worst.”

The book would hardly be worth mentioning except for the fact that Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin and his wife Charlotte endorsed it. In recent years Driscoll has been a chapel speaker at SEBTS and his influence at the seminary cannot be ignored.

There is a growing perception that Southern Seminary has become a seedbed for a brand of Calvinism that is quite different from theReformed theology of its founder, James Petigru Boyce, and also a training ground for Reformed church planters. Therefore, it appears that some of our institutions and agencies are giving, at the least, tacit approval to Reformed theology or are, at the most, actively on a path to honor, if not implement Reformed theology and methodology in their institutions.

While most of the Reformed pastors and churchmen I know are gracious and godly people with a profound devotion to the Word of God, Southern Baptists must decide if they are satisfied with what I would call the presumable encroachment of Calvinism in SBC life.

By the way, Southern Baptists must also soon decide if they want to fulfill their ministry under another name. There are at least four possibilities: Evangelical Baptist Convention, Continental Baptist Convention, International Baptist Convention and Great Commission Baptist Convention. At least, those four domains were purchased through in September 2011.

I personally think the Great Commission Baptist Convention is more likely to be the recommendation of the SBC name change committee. Leaders may reason that Southern Baptists could no more reject the recommendation of the Great Commission Baptist Convention than they could reject the Great Commission Resurgence recommendations. The subliminal implication is “to reject the new name is to reject The Great Commission and Southern Baptists would never do that.”

If that is the suggested name and if we dare vote for it to be our new appellation we dare not defame it with half-hearted evangelism and church plants that wither away in five years.

The Christian Index


asher said...

So sad. Especially discouraging is Harris' ridiculous implication in his last sentence.

Robert Barnes said...

Machine gun journalism. Firing at any moving target, firing at twigs snapping, spraying bullets everywhere, hitting nothing.

Prophet Among Them said...

Tom - We have exchanged messages on this for a decade. My prayer is that this article is a 'last gasp' of a ill or uninformed antagonist. In my Consulting Ministry I am thrown under the bus so often that I have been blessed by the LORD to ignore such outright ignorance and outright crude journalism(??). Stay the course. Pray much. Truth always triumphs.

William Birch said...

Look, I consider myself to be Arminian-ish and I'm an SBCer. But this article is slightly short of ridiculous.

I'm sorry for you all, my Calvinist brothers, when this sort of thing happens. I know it all too well, since I've been on that receiving end before from some Calvinists. I have this deep sinking feeling like this is never going to stop.

God bless.

aaronarledge said...

A few months ago there was a young leader’s gathering and discussion that was hosted at the GBC. The issue of Calvinism was brought up and over half of the young ministers identified themselves as reformed. Around a 110-120 twenty were in attendance. The Christian Index wrote an article on this event. Yes, the Calvinist are here. Yes, they are large in number among young ministers. Not just ones that attended SBTS but they represent all of our seminaries.
The GBC just laid off 16 people and decided not to hire a couple of positions left vacant from last year. The cp giving is down and the GBC is way behind in budget from last years receipts. If the GBC wants to alienate a huge segment of young leaders they are accomplishing this with articles like this from Harris. How small is the tent going to be? Does the GBC not want young mission minded, God Glorifying, on fire leaders having their churches support the greatest program we have with the cp. My understanding is the Christian Index has a shared responsibility when it comes to funding because it is supposed to be a promoter of the CP. This article does not do this. Hopefully reformed pastor will just ignore articles like this and keep giving to the cp for the glory of God instead of finding other groups to support that will not alienate them.

OGC5 said...

Call me a rube..G. Harris
Why would I, a Reformed Christian want to call another Christian brother names?

Pastor Jerry Slate said...

I want to respond to two specific comments made in this article soon to be published in the Christian Index. The first is the quotation made by the author, apparently with his tacit approval, that any move towards Calvinism by the SBC is a move away from the gospel. So, to believe and teach that mankind is completely and totally ruined by sin, and that God in His infinite mercy has voluntarily chosen to intervene on behalf of the human condition to forgive sinners and number them among the righteous while not sacrificing His justice, that God the Holy Spirit enables sinners to do something that is totally contrary to their nature (i.e. repent and believe) is a move away from the gospel? Beloved, this IS the gospel. The second statement I must mention is the cheap parting shot fired off in the last sentence, that if the SBC embraces Calvinism the result will be half-hearted evangelism and the establishment of sickly churches that will wither and die after five years. Was Spurgeon guilty of half-hearted evangelism? Was the Metropolitan Tabernacle a shallow local church? Or what about William Carey and the Serampore mission? Was Carey, a conviced Calvinist, guilty of "half-hearted evangelism"? Indeed, the author seems to be ignorant of the history of the publication he is writing for. In the 19th century Jesse Mercer serialized the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (A Calvinistic, covenantal, credo-baptistic statement of doctrine) and published it in the Christian Index so that this confession would be available in Christian homes throughout our land. Certainly it is not a given that embracing the theology of our Baptist forefathers means that we share their same heart for souls. Sometimes it is sadly true that we Reformed brethren are guilty of being more interested in getting the gospel right than in getting it out. We do have to guard against the tendency to build "come and see" churches rather than "go and tell" churches. But we are also deeply concerned that too much modern evangelistic and missionary endeavor makes the narrow gate of conversion broader than Christ Himself has made it, filling our local churches with more tares than wheat. Calvinism should not destroy evangelistic and missionary fervor, it should fuel it and purify it. So may the Lord grant us the mercy of embodying both graces: getting the gospel right AND getting the gospel out to lost and needy sinners.

Bill said...

Here's my take on the article. As a Calvinist I suppose I ought to be upset at yet another anti-Calvinist article popping up. But the bits of anti-Calvinism in the article don't really bother me. The vitriol against Calvinism is much worse in other corners and this is pretty tame.

The problem is that the article is simply awful. It is rambling and incoherent. It is as if the author simply cut and paste interesting bits from around the SBC blogosphere and glommed them all together in an article, which I am quite certain is what he did. Frankly this is what my students do and it doesn't go well for them. That this is going out in an official document ought to be a little embarrassing.

C. M. Sheffield said...

Not only that, but he shamelessly plays the guilt-by-association card. He highlights some ugly details and quotes from guys like James McDonald and Mark Driscoll (neither of whom are Southern Baptist OR 5 point Calvinists) and says "See! see! This is what Calvinism is and what it will do!"

Needless to say, the're on to our efforts to "force Calvinism on others in the SBC!" We'd better retreat to our layer to fine tune our covert operations. ;)

Aaron said...

C.M. Sheffield, I think you are right. At our next Calvinist Conspirators meeting, we will have to find out who talked and blew our cover.

And when we find out, be assured that heads will roll, my friend. Heads will roll. We're gonna have to go old school Geneva on somebody!

Jared Moore said...

William Birch, "The Arminian," has written an excellent response to Harris' Anti-Calvinist article:

Jerry said...

One good thing about this article. Before I read it I didn't know about "The Gospel Project".

Ken Rucker said...

William Birch's article is fair and sober-minded, while Harris' is...well..NOT.

And this comes just a few months after the GBC annual meeting where "uniting Baptists of all shapes and sizes" was a key theme.

Apparently that was just lip service.

Is John Waters (newly elected GBC President who campaigned under a promise to unite all Baptists) not paying attention?

Jared Moore said...

Al Mohler, Danny Akin, NAMB, and Lifeway respond to Gerald Harris's article:

Scott Gordon said...


I'm definitely with you on this. How anyone can herald that article as insightful and helpful is beyond me. For one Calvinist who was once part of the BI movement, I had to give up on it when a few rather brash 'crusader types' started turning on all Calvinists. I appreciated some concerns raised by the remainder of my brothers, but I feel those concerns have been adequately addressed. I also have appreciated what I describe as the gracious turns you and those key non-Calvinist SBCers have made in bridging those gaps of understanding and cooperation.

By Grace Alone,

Tom said...

It is encouraging to see how saner voices in the SBC have responded to Harris' editorial. From William Birch to SBC entity heads (thanks for the links, Jared), their has been widespread agreement that the article is poorly written and agenda-driven. It seems that only the usual anti-Calvinist torch-bearers disagree with that consensus. These are hopeful, yet challenging days for Southern Baptists--Calvinists and non-Calvinsts--who genuinely want to rally around the gospel of our Lord. We mustn't let those who do not share that desire distract us with their chicken-little fantasies and personal attacks.

Tom said...

Thanks for your comment and observation. There really are genuine efforts to build bridges within the SBC. It is sad to see those efforts castigated as conspiratorial and nefarious. God knows, and that is all that really matters. The efforts are genuine and are producing good fruit for the kingdom.

Tom said...


I tried to leave a comment on your blog, thanking you for your post. It disappeared on me. So I will repeat it here: Thanks for your good words. If the spirit and clarity that characterizes your post predominate the discussions over Calvinism in the SBC, then we will have productive dialogues and can anticipate iron-sharpening-iron types of relationships as we move forward.

Kelly Randolph said...

Your fair-minded and even-handed approach to these issues has always impressed me. The Harris piece only fosters suspicion and division. I honestly do not understand what Harris and his camp are so afraid of. It isn't like "the Calvinists" just showed up in the SBC. Weren't they here first?

Andy Cherry said...

Insightful Article concerning the stat that Harris gave and encouraging to see so many reformed churches being formed. However, there is still a problem in the SBC that needs to be addressed and that is the hiring of Calvinists to positions within SBC churches. The one-third of graduates from our seminaries that are reformed are having to start their own churches because an established SB church will not hire them once they confess their calvinism. Is there a big tent in the SBC for Calvinists to dwell? Yes, if you start your own church. Just keep away from the established churches. That seems to be the prevailing attitude

will said...

Damnant quod non intellegunt.

Will Shores
Cedar Hill Tx

Gordon said...

I still don't get how so many Christians do not believe the doctrines of grace. I know of nothing more liberating and praise inspiring than Sovereign Grace Soteriology. The very prospect of human involvement in salvation makes me cringe. Why do we so want to elevate intrinsic worth? By the way...I am a big supporter of Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. People need to understand what they are opposing before making such volatile statements.

JamesJ1010 said...

For what it's worth, if we do indeed become the Great Commission Baptist Convention, then we can add another item to the LONG list of why we hope and pray ABC's new show "GCB" will not become a hit. If you are not familiar with the show's premise, it is about a group of churchgoing ladies in Texas who stab each other in the back, sleep with each other's husbands, and so forth. ABC is positioning it to be the successor to "Desperate Housewives." The title of the show is an abbreviation of "Good Christian B***es." PLEASE, Lord, don't let our beloved Convention become known as the GCB.