At least once a month I read something from an angry baptist pastor or blogger. The anger is usually always based on the fear that Calvinism is taking over the Southern Baptist Convention. The pastor or blogger will support their fears by taking shots at personalities that land on the reformed side of the spectrum. As different as they are, Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler are usually the primary targets. Driscoll, because of the success of the Acts 29 church planting network that he helped to start and Mohler because of his position as the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the convention’s flagship seminary.
This month’s selection comes from a lengthy blog post by Bill Harrell entitled, Things That Bear Watching. Harrell takes the usual shots at Driscoll and Mohler. If you’re in the SBC and you hate Calvinism, this is what you do. It’s sort of like a democrat going after talk radio or a republican going after Pelosi. Everybody needs their boogeymen.
Harrell’s complaints against Mohler, Driscoll and even Lifeway are well documented. Unfortunately, we read that there’s not enough time or space to discuss the theology behind Harrell’s complaints. After all, baptist folk aren’t very theological people, or so Mr. Harrell writes. But when attacking personalities takes precedent over addressing the actual theological concerns we may have, the church suffers.
Harrell doesn’t like the way the convention is headed. He seems to want it to go back to the good old days when those who he described as “wet behind the ears” and who “don’t have the experience or background to say very much at all” knew their place and kept quiet.
While Harrell makes his complaints against the five points of Calvinism very clear, he never takes the time to address them biblically. Again, when personality attacks take center stage, the Bible exits stage left. Never once does Harrell try to dispute or even explain the Calvinist teaching of total depravity. A teaching that is very clear in passages like Romans 1 and 2 as well as the evening news. And the Kardashians.
Harrell never explains why he disagrees with the Calvinist doctrine of election. We never get a chance to read his thoughts on a doctrine that Paul clearly teaches in Ephesians 1 and 2. We never get a chance to hear Harrell’s rationale on how the atonement of Jesus Christ could be unlimited in relation to the angel’s words regarding the Christ child that he would, “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis mine). Does he think that everyone is “his people”? Who knows? And the same goes for the reformed doctrines of irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.
I’m a five point Calvinist. I have several friends and mentors who would disagree with anywhere from four to one of the five points that I land on. I love those friends and even though I’ve never met him, I love Mr. Harrell. I look forward to the time when we all get to heaven and all of this is no longer an issue. But until that time, I have a resposnibility to faithfully preach the gospel and care for the body of Christ. The five points of Calvinism didn’t die on the cross for me. Calvinism is a system that I feel matches the gospel but it’s easy for the best of systems to become idols. It’s also easy for denominations and the good old days to become idols.
I would rather the anger of baptist bloggers and pastors be directed towards those churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that still, in their own covert ways, support segregation of the races. I would rather the angry baptist bloggers figure out why many local associations seem to exist for no other reason than to justify their own existence than anything having to do with the spread of the gospel. I haven’t read a whole lot of angry blog posts about those two subjects.
I’m a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and I feel that the church I pastor is better for what I learned under the leadership of Al Mohler and Russell Moore. I’m grateful for curriculum like The Gospel Project and I applaud Lifeway for their time, effort and vision. My church will benefit from this curriculum.
Mr. Harrell wrote that over 90 percent of people in the SBC are opposed to Calvinism. He also informed us that the baptist people aren’t very theological. I can’t help but wonder if there may be a link here. Regardless of where they may land, I pray that the increased talk of Calvinism and reformed theology will get people to study the Bible for themselves and look past the personalities (Acts 17:11).
I don’t know what the future holds for the SBC and I can’t say that I spend a lot of time thinking about it. But I do know that the SBC can do better than simply going back to the good old days before all the talk of Calvinism started. Wouldn’t our churches and communities be much better places if we went back even further to the days when, “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32)?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)