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Southern Baptists and God’s Plan of Salvation

Just this past week, Eric Hankins published a statement called, A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” As Eric himself explains, the statement is compiled by a number of pastors, professors, and leaders in response to Calvinism in Southern Baptist life. Some of those who have signed the statement include: Jerry Vines, Paige Patterson, Morris Chapman, among others. As the introduction to the statement argues, those who have drafted and signed the statement believe the doctrine affirmed therein represents the majority of Southern Baptists yesterday and today.

However, many have observed that there are serious problems with the statement. For example, Classical Arminian theologian, Roger Olson, states that the statement goes beyond Classical Arminianism to Semi-Pelagianism. In his article he argues,

The problem with this Southern Baptist statement is its neglect of emphasis on the necessity of the prevenience of supernatural grace for the exercise of a good will toward God (including acceptance of the gospel by faith). If the authors believe in that cardinal biblical truth, they need to spell it out more clearly. And they need to delete the sentence that denies the incapacitation of free will due to Adam’s sin.

You can read Olson’s entire response here. But others who are Calvinists have responded as well, not only making the same point Olson does concerning the statement’s Semi-Pelagian theology, but also evaluating the statement on terms of biblical grounds and within the context of the Southern Baptist Convention.

One article I would like to recommend is Albert Mohler’s response entitled, “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk.” Mohler writes that when it comes to Southern Baptist Calvinism-Arminianism debates over salvation, the conversation should be welcomed, for what could be more important than God’s plan of salvation.

The document, identified as “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” was written and released by a group of Southern Baptists who clearly intend to make a theological argument. Their public action and serious intention should be welcomed. We should be glad that Southern Baptists are fully capable of engaging in a theological and biblical discussion over doctrine. Furthermore, we should be thankful that we are discussing God’s plan of salvation and the right way of understanding how God saved sinners. What could be more important?

Mohler also insightfully explains why he is thankful that we are having this conversion rather than another one:

First, we should pause to reflect that, thanks to the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, we are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible. That matter is settled among us. We are privileged to be having a debate among those who affirm the total truthfulness and authority of the Bible. Otherwise, we would surely be debating the issues that have consumed the more liberal denominations, such as same-sex marriage, the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry, and feminine God-language.

That said, Mohler does explain his problems with the statement:

I could not sign the document. Indeed, I have very serious reservations and concerns about some of its assertions and denials. I fully understand the intention of the drafters to oppose several Calvinist renderings of doctrine, but some of the language employed in the statement goes far beyond this intention. Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied. Clearly, some Southern Baptists do not want to identify as either Calvinists, non-Calvinists, or Arminians. That is fine by me, but these theological issues have been debated by evangelicals for centuries now, and those labels stick for a reason.

Besides Mohler, Tom Ascol, Executive Editor of the Founders Ministry, is in the middle of a series of posts responding to the statement as well. Here are the first five articles in his series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

Part 4

Part 5

Ascol’s response is worth reading to see how one Calvinist responds to both the method and theology of such a statement. For example, Ascol writes in his second article:

This document helps position its framers and signatories on this spectrum for all to see. That will ultimately prove to be helpful as Southern Baptists come to terms with the increasingly inescapable decision of how we will live together in the SBC. Will we demand complete uniformity on each of the doctrines clustered around salvation? Will we only tolerate those who disagree with us at any point? Or will we choose to walk together as those who agree with the Baptist Faith and Message without crossing our fingers?

Ascol will continue his series this week and next, and you can follow along here.

Matthew Barrett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. He is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett has contributed book reviews and articles to various academic journals, and he is the author of several forthcoming books. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two daughters, Cassandra and Georgia.

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