Friday, June 29, 2012

From the Archives: Frank Page on Calvinism and the SBC

I posted the following article December 18, 2007. In light of recent discussions in the SBC I thought it might be helpful to publish again. Then Frank Page was the president of the SBC. Now he is the president of the Executive Committee. His views then are consistent with his more recent statements about the issue of Calvinism and the SBC and demonstrate that his exhortations and encouragements are made out of principle rather than mere pragmatism or political expediency.

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 doses of 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 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.


Billy said...

Amen. Thank you especially for the paragraph in defense of your "Calvinist brothers." I have seen this all too often. In my school, to talk about or defend Calvinism is seen as an act of aggression, even when the Calvinist is not the one who raised the issue. I can totally see how raising it in a pastor search type situation might been seen as some as overly-aggressive, even if the intent is to be honest. This is sad.

DoGLover said...

I wonder why Dr. Page didn't tell the SBC when he was a candidate for president that he had opposed the conservative resurgence; or why Dr. Patterson signed the Abstract of Principles as president of SEBTS when he later admitted that he disagreed with most of it.

Sauce for the goose?

Hughuenot said...

Dr Page also wrote in 2006*:

Calvinism ~ Many people ask me about this issue. I readily affirm my belief in the doctrines of grace, but as I have stated over and over, I believe the doctrines of grace include the issue of free will. I have written a book about this issue. I do not hold to the traditional five points of Calvinist theology. I believe that while salvation will not be universally accepted, it is universally offered and atoned for by our Lord Jesus Christ! I believe that human beings can accept or reject the Holy Spirit's call for salvation.

I have made it abundantly clear that I believe that this argument is a family argument. In fact, almost every Calvinist with whom I have spoken has a high belief in the integrity of Scripture. Therefore, I have stated clearly that I will open the table of participation to anyone who (1) has a sweet spirit and (2) who has an evangelistic heart, (3) has a belief in the inerrant word of God, and (4) has strong belief and support in the Cooperative Program.

* Other concerns included those of selfishness, isolationism, charismaticism, & women in ministry.


Hughuenot said...

Frank Page today (Aug. 4, 2012) ~

"God's intent is that we be one. And that's not a one that is one in [the] sense that we just agree on a few things; that's one in essence. I pray that they would be one as you and I are one. God the Father and God the Son, one in essence, one in purpose, one in plan. And that's what God wants us as Baptists to be: one together. One unity, one purpose. Really, in essence, together, as brothers and sisters in Christ."