Every so often, a theological debate rears its head that threatens to divide the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and distract us from our mission to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).
Within recent years, a potential fault-line has appeared on the horizon with regard to a theological issue that Christians have hotly debated for the last 400 years. Namely, the issue of Calvinism*.
That is partly why SBC Executive Frank Page commissioned a prestigious 19-member committee to study the issue of how “Calvinism” affects the SBC, many feared he stepped on a raw nerve. After all, there are few theological issues that bring as much disagreement among Southern Baptists as this.
After the panel published its report, however, the positive responses from all sides of the debate make Page’s move seem to be just what the SBC needed to create even more room to cooperate. The 3,200-word report titled “Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension” (published in full in this week’s Baptist Messenger) hit on some key common ground areas.
These common areas are the inspiration of The Bible, the Lostness of Humanity, the need for conversion, the Atonement and the existence of Heaven and Hell. No small realities.
The report also served as a great reminder to discuss sensitive subjects sensitively. “We affirm the responsibility of all Southern Baptists to guard our conversation so that we do not speak untruthfully, irresponsibly, harshly, or unkindly to or about any other Southern Baptist. This negativity is especially prevalent in the use of social media, and we encourage the exercise of much greater care in that context,” the report said.
This report also reminded us that Southern Baptists are not a monolith of one perspective. Citing Southern Baptist greats such as James P. Boyce (remembered as more “Calvinist”) and Oklahoma’s own Herschel Hobbs (remembered as more “Non-Calvinist”), the report showed that, historically, there are room for people of all views on the spectrum. “Where would we be today,“ the report said, “if we attempted to divide these heroes and heroines of the faith by the issue of Calvinism? We would cut ourselves off from our own heritage.”
Well said. I would encourage you to read the report in its entirety. As you do, please take note that the report starts and ends on a note of unity, asking Southern Baptists to stay focused on the main and plain substance of our calling; namely, sharing the Good News.
In his much-beloved daily comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” which featured a thoughtful six-year-old boy (“Calvin”) and his intelligent toy tiger (“Hobbes”), Bill Watterson dealt with some of the weightier issue of life in a humorous way. One time, “Calvin” said to “Hobbes,” “God put me on this Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die.”
Southern Baptists, we are far behind in the race to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. We must not let a secondary theological issue divide and distract us from the mission at hand. When the issue of Calvinism arises, let’s all remember this report and the old Christian adage: “In essential matters, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” In our unity and mission-minded actions, Christ will get the most glory.
*Note: “Calvinism” here refers to the “teachings of Reformer John Calvin, emphasizing predestination, the sovereignty of God and the irresistibility of grace.”