Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election (6)

Current Trends

Some general statistics regarding theological trends show that Calvinism is growing among younger Baptists who are coming out of seminary. [1] [2] The number of Calvinist faculty dramatically increased [starting in the 1980s and] over the next 20 years.[3] Many current professors/faculty earned spots in the more conservative Universities during the Southern Baptists’ “inerrancy battles.” The theologically conservative Calvinists were well-suited for the jobs and their influence has made the “newest generation of Southern Baptist ministers… the most Calvinist we have had in several generations.”[4]While only 10 percent of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors identify themselves as Calvinists, nearly 30 percent of recent seminary graduates do. [5] Universities and churches are realizing that these Calvinist followers are the most theologically accurate compared to their Arminius colleges.[6] There is a trend for studying the great and former Puritan thinkers and pastors. Part of the reason why college-age Calvinists are excited about dead Puritans is because it is mostly Puritans who have fueled this latest resurgence of Calvinism. Among the Puritans, Edwards is most popular.[7]

With all that said, there is also another trend among some of the SBC leaders. These leaders do not consider themselves Calvinist and are wary of Calvinism. Frank Page worries that extremists could undermine the SBC’s emphasis on outreach. [8] William Estep considers Calvinism “logically anti-missionary.” Estep went on to say that it robs Christians of responsibility for conduct and is marked by intolerance, divisiveness and naughtiness. [9] Elmer Towns, who is cautious like Estep and Page to see Calvinism at work in SBC, gives conflicting data in his article. On one hand, “churches pastored by Calvinists tend to have smaller attendance and typically baptize fewer persons each year.[10]” Then on the other hand, Elmer points out that Calvinists have the same statistics as non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists. There is no significant difference between the two groups. Other research shows that it is not just Calvinist Baptists churches that are “losing zeal for evangelism.” In fact, Evangelical Churches in America failed to gain an additional 2% of population in the past 50 years. No county in America has a greater percentage of churched people for a decade. While the population in America has increased 11%, church attendance has decreased 9% in that ten year time span.[11] The point is that American evangelical churches, as a whole, are struggling with evangelism. It is incorrect for these SBC leaders to put a larger amount of blame on Calvinism, while their own churches are ironically and hypocritically struggling similarly with evangelism in this post-modern age.

There is no significant difference between the evangelism occurring in Calvinist versus non-Calvinist churches. In fact, the research by Ed Stetzer at LifeWay seems to indicate that Calvinistic churches say they are conducting personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.[12] It is admirable that Towns, Estep and Page are concerned about evangelism. For the most part they desire to fight against extreme views of Calvinism. Elmer Towns is anti-extreme “anything.”


[1]Douglas Weaver and Nathan Finn. “Youth for Calvin: Reformed Theology and Baptist Collegians.” Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2004.Accessed on July 10, 2009, pg. 40.

[2] Ken Walker, “TULIP Blooming,” pg. 19.

[3] Collin Hansen. “Young, restless, reformed,” pg. 37.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keith Hinson. “Calvinism resurging among SBC’s young elites,” pg. 86.

[7] Collin Hansen. “Young, restless, reformed : Calvinism is making a comeback–and shaking up the church.” Christianity Today Sep 2006. (September 01, 2006). Christian Periodical Index, EBSCOhost (accessed August 1, 2009), pg. 38.

[8] Ken Walker, “TULIP Blooming.” Christianity Today 52, no. 2. (February 2008): 19-19. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost(accessed August 2, 2009), pg. 19.

[9] Keith Hinson. “Calvinism resurging among SBC’s young elites,” pg. 87.

[10] Elmer Towns, “WHAT SHOULD SOUTHERN BAPTIST DO WITH CALVINIST?,” pg. 3.

[11] Statistic provided by Prof. David Wheeler, presented in His Evangelism 565 class.

[12] Elmer Towns, “WHAT SHOULD SOUTHERN BAPTIST DO WITH CALVINIST?,” pg.12.

Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election (5)

History between Calvinists and Baptists

Interestingly enough, the first split among the Baptist denomination was over the issue of unconditional election and limited atonement. In 1620, Particular Baptists split off from the General Baptists.[1] Another interesting “first” is that the first group of Baptists in America in the year of 1639, was Particular, immersion Baptists.[2] Particular Baptists, later to be thought of as “reformed” Baptists, have been around for quite some time. Many of great Baptist pastors in the past considered themselves to be Calvinist. Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller and William Carey, to name a few of the more popular/famous names.[3]

An interesting note is that Particular Baptists described election primarily as a corporate reality. The Baptist Catechism (1683/84) was patterned closely after The Westminster Shorter Catechism. Notice the wording of the Westminster on election, “God having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life.” Now read the wording in The Baptist Catechism, “God having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected a people to everlasting life.[4]” God is free. God’s people are free under God, but not free from the means God has chosen to save them.

In 1742, the Philadelphia Association formally adopted the revised Second London Confession of Particular Baptists of 1689.[5] This confession zealously promoted the five-points of Calvinism among Baptist churches in America while advocating baptism by immersion only.

In May 1845, 327 delegates met in Augusta, Georgia, and formed the Southern Baptist Convention on the basis of congregational representation.[6] Many of the first Southern Baptists held to the five-points of Calvinism.[7] Others did not find Calvinism acceptable, and in the late eighteenth century, Benjamin Randall led in gathering Free or Freewill Baptist congregations.[8]

J. L. Dagg’s “Manual of Theology” published in 1857 clearly aligns with the order and content of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. Dagg employs all of his mental, spiritual, and theological powers in an impassioned defense of every aspect of the doctrines of grace. The doctrine of election in light of God’s grace “tends to produce precisely that trust in God, that complete surrender of ourselves to him, to which alone the promise of eternal life is made. Should we persist in our resistance to the doctrine?[9]” J.L. Dagg kept the Southern Baptist movement on track to following a Calvinist understanding of the doctrine of election.

Preaching, according to McKibbens, is what brought both Calvinist and Arminius Baptists together in the 18th Century America. General Baptist teaching was becoming dry, intellectual without any warmth. While particular Baptists teaching was verging on scary, unbiblical hyper-Calvinism. The new preaching style, “New Evangelical Calvinism,” began with Andrew Fuller who once said, “Trusting in Christ is the duty of every sinner to whom the revelation is made.” In New England alone, Baptists grew from perhaps fifteen hundred baptized members in 1740 to 21,000 in one generation.[10] This style promoted evangelism. The old problem of the sovereignty of God versus the freedom of will, which had drawn a sharp line between Particular and General Baptists, was largely solved when the New Evangelical Calvinism joined hands with the American frontier.[11]


[1] Robert Handy, “The Baptist family”, pg. 590.

[2] Ibid, 591.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Philip Thompson, “Baptists and “Calvinism” : discerning the shape of the question.” Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2004. (April 01, 2004). accessed July 11, 2009, pg. 73.

[5] Ibid, 595.

[6] Ibid, 596.

[7] Keith Hinson. “Calvinism resurging among SBC’s young elites.” Pg. 87.

[8] Robert Handy. “the Baptist family,”pg.595.

[9] Thomas Nettles, “SOUTHERN BAPTIST IDENTITY: INFLUENCED BY CALVINISM.” Baptist History and Heritage, Oct. 1996.Accessed Aug. 1, 2009, pg 40.

[10] Thomas McKibbens, “Disseminating Biblical Doctrine Through Preaching.” Baptist History and Heritage Spring 1984. (April 1984).Accessed on July 11, 2009, pg. 3-8.

[11] Ibid.

Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election (4)

The Doctrine of Election

The doctrine of election is one of the most complicated and challenging issues of Calvinism. Not only is it hard to explain, but there is a lots of theological implications to holding opinion to one side (or the other) of this doctrine. Scripturally, the doctrine is complex because Scriptures seem to speak for both sides of the argument. The problem is the man-made argument, not the Scriptures. The doctrine is very Biblical, although the argument divides people by misunderstanding. Unfortunately, Baptists, like Calvinists, Arminians and everyone else have fallen into the trap of debate.

What is the argument? Calvinists hold that God chooses certain people to have his special favor upon.[1] God’s selection of those for salvation is absolute and unconditional. God chooses people because He loves them, it pleases Him to do so. While Arminians hold that Christ died for all men. All men have the ability and choice to choose faith in Jesus Christ. Man takes part in salvation with God. Followers of both Calvin and Arminius have taken extreme views of both positions and twisted each other’s words to make the argument more complex.

Wayne Grudem, a reformed theologian defines election as “an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.[2]” The reformed position makes it clear that God is in full control and does as He pleases. Man has little say in the matter. Man cannot earn salvation in the first place. Arminians agree that individuals are foreordained to salvation, that God chooses one over the other. Where Arminians disagree is on the point of “unconditional” or “absolute” predestination or election. Arminians have gone so far to say that Calinism is fatalistic and kills evangelism.[3] Arminians ask Calvinists “why then should we live holy if we are just God’s puppets/robots?” And “ Does not this doctrine contradict free will?”

The Calvinist response to these objections is not “double predestination.” Rather, a deeper study of the Word. The Word of God presents the out-working of our salvation in a personal relationship with God. God’s act of election was neither impersonal nor mechanical.[4] The New Testament shows us that our choices in life do matter. We are not robots. It is also clear in the Bible, that we as Christians must preach the Gospel. Election should comfort the saint, give them reason to praise God, and encourage evangelism.

Is it possible that man works with God on salvation? That God bases his foreknowledge of predestination on man’s faith? No. Scripture never speaks of our faith as the reason God chose us. Election based on something good in us would be the beginning of salvation by merit. Think about the idea of unconditional grace. It is not earned. It is a gift. Predestination based on foreknowledge does not give people free choice. In fact, that is the definition and Calvin’s point exactly! Election must be unconditional![5] Man having a choice over God would contradict both Calvin and Arminius, in their views of God’s predestining.


[1] Millard Erickson. Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), pg. 929.

[2] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.( Grand Rapids, Mi: Zonderzan, 1994), pg. 670.

[3] Milard Erickson. Christian Theology. Pg. 934.

[4] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Pg. 674.

[5] Ibid, pg. 676-679.

Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election (3)

T.U.L.I.P.

Top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have legitimate concerns for disregarding the Calvinistic doctrine of election. Some of these concerns have merit, but many of them are inappropriate due to a lack of understanding or abuse of theology. Therefore it is important to get a full-picture understanding and background on Calvinism before diving into the doctrine of election solely.

The acronym of T.U.L.I.P. has been devised to summarize the five points of Calvinism.[1] The five points are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Preservation of the saints. Total depravity means that all men are sinners by nature. Baptists have agreed that men are naturally born sinners but have disagreed with some Calvinists on degree. More extreme Calvinists would say that all aspects of man are sinful therefore man, on his own power, he is incapable of making any moral choice without God regenerating them first. Baptist Faith and Message say “By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race …. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”[2] Baptists agree that men are sinful and fallen but they leave the matter of moral action up for interpretation, leaning in opposition to Calvinism.

Concerning “Unconditional election,” the Baptist Faith and Message, in simple accord with Scripture, states: “Election is the gracious purpose of God” which “is consistent with the free agency of man.[3]” General Calvinists argued that God decreed from eternity to elect some to salvation. The more extreme Calvinists taught “double predestination” which means God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate.[4] God preordained those who would be damned to sin and Hell just as God preordained those who would be elect. It is a long stretch even for a hyper-Calvinist to explain this Biblically. The Faith and Message leaves this point open for discussion and debate, more on this issue will be discussed in much more detail below.

In regards to “Limited atonement,” the Baptist Faith and Message, simply states: “in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.[5]” This is an issue where Christians of many sects and denominations struggle to see where John Calvin is coming from theologically, because the silence of any Scriptures advocating a Calvinistic view on this topic. Calvinists believe that atonement is limited to the elect only. Christ’s blood pays the price for those who were elected to Heaven. Arminius, Baptists among so many others believe that atonement is not limited an “elect” but that His blood covers everyone’s sins. John 3:16 states “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Emphasis mine).[6] It does not say “For God so loved the elect…” implying that Jesus died for all, not just the elect. Although, the issue gets more complex in light of what one believes about the doctrine of election. This kind of thinking is also dangerous because if Christ died for all, why aren’t all going to be saved? Leading to universalism… Or is it merely a desire of God to see all people saved and Christ’s blood is sufficient to save all people? If the Calvinist view of the doctrine of election is true and there is an “elect” then logically it is more possible that Christ’s blood only covers that “elect.”

On the doctrine of “Preservation of the saints,” the Baptist Faith and Message says “all true believers endure to the end” and “will never fall away.[7] Baptists confidently agree with the Calvinists on this point. Eph. 1:13, 14 says, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.[8]” When salvation is real, the Holy Spirit seals us as Disciples of Christ and guarantees us our eternal inheritance.

In General, the Southern Baptists Convention is not too concerned or legalistic about which (or any of the 5 points of Calvinism) a believer chooses to accept. There is room for diversity of beliefs.[9] Southern Baptist do not want to divide amongst themselves but instead desire to keep the main focus on following the Great Commission whether anyone chooses to be a one-point Calvinist, complete Arminan or 5-point Calvinism.[10]


[1] See appendix A

[2] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism.” SBC LIFE. (2009). Baptist Press. Retrieved from http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=22971 accessed on Aug. 1st, 2009, pg. 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] R.C. Sproul, “Double Predestination.” Ligonier Ministries: renewing Your Mind. Retrieved from http://www.the highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html , Accessed on Aug. 10, 2009, pg. 1.

[5] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism,” pg.1.

[6] Unless otherwise noted all scripture is from the NASB (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995), John 3:16.

[7] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism.” Pg.1.

[8] NASB, Eph. 1:13,14.

[9] Malcolm Yarnell III, “Assessing the ‘TULIP’ of Calvinism,” pg. 1.

[10] Elmer Towns, “WHAT SHOULD SOUTHERN BAPTIST DO WITH CALVINIST?,” pg. 12.

Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election (2)

Reformed Theology and Baptist Theology

There are several conflicts between Baptists and Calvinists in general theology and teachings. First, there is disagreeance about the issue of infant baptism. Reformed Calvinists advocate infant sprinkling (or infant baptism).[1] Baptists oppose any form of infant baptism because they believe that infants cannot understand faith or have faith and that baptism is for those who have accepted faith.[2] Baptists and Calvinists have been at odds against each other in regards to baptism since the 1630s.[3]

Also Baptists and Calvinists are at odds about the mode of baptism.[4] Baptists believe that baptism should be only by immersion to represent Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Baptists have a different take on the “separation between church and state” than do Calvinists.[5] In the past, many Baptists churches have opposed the idea of “elder rule,” although recently, many Baptists churches have taken up the concept.[6]

Many of these issues have been debated between reformers and Baptists since the 16th Century.[7] Despite these differences in opinion on these “non-essentials,[8]” Baptists and Calvinists have got along fine over the centuries[9], in fact many great Baptists pastors and theologians have been reformed. [10] The theological issues that really cause more debate and conflict between these two groups are issues of eschatology [11]and the doctrine of election. Many Baptists have a lot of trouble agreeing and getting past these two reformed doctrines in particular. Prominent Baptist leaders have labeled Calvinists as legalistic and intolerant, especially in view of their [Calvinistic] position of the doctrine of election.[12]


[1] Paige Patterson, “Happy Southern Baptists and the Tricky Track.”SBC Today. (2005.) Retrieved from sbctoday.com/files/trickytrack.pdf accessed on July 20th, 2009. pg. 1

[2] Robert Handy, “The Baptist family : a heritage of faith.” Review & Expositor 84, no. 4. (Fall 1987): 589-598. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 11, 2009), pg. 589.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paige Patterson. “Happy Southern Baptists and the Tricky Track,” pg. 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Robert Handy, “The Baptist family : a heritage of faith.” pg. 589.

[8] Meaning those beliefs which are necessary to hold (or are essential) for salvation. “In Christianity beliefs matter, but not all beliefs matter equally.” Patton, Michael. “Introduction to Theology – Workbook.” (presented as part of class material at The Theology Program, Frisco, TX, November 2006), Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/content/files/TTP/IT/IntroductiontoTheologyWorkbook-Jul-2006.pdf.

[9] Robert Handy, “The Baptist family : a heritage of faith.” pg. 589.

[10] Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, Piper, more will be mentioned below.

[11] As mentioned above, this paper will not discuss the eschatological debate between these two groups. Baptists tend to be pre-trib, pre-mils or post-mils, while Calvinists tend to be amils, of course this is not always the case.

[12] Elmer Towns, “WHAT SHOULD SOUTHERN BAPTIST DO WITH CALVINIST?” The Baptist Banner, March 2009, Vol. XXII, No.3, pg. 12.

Baptists, Calvinists, Doctrine of Election

Introduction

Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists alike are wrestling among themselves about the issues of Calvinism.[1] These relevant topics have been and continue to be hotly debated among both Southern and Independent Baptists in the Twenty-First Century.[2] Is it theologically justifiable for a Baptist to be reformed in theology? Many Baptists who question reformed theology do so with honest, fair reasons. Some of the aspects of Calvinism collide with Baptist doctrines. The main point of Calvinism that holds the other points together is the doctrine of election. This paper will evaluate the theology of both sides of the debate regarding the doctrine of election between Calvinists and Baptists. It will briefly discuss but not dive deeply in the other debated doctrines between these two groups. Baptists can hold to reformed position regarding the doctrine of election; it is the most Biblical answer.


[1] Jim Jones, “Tiptoeing through TULIP.” Christianity Today 53, no. 4. (April 2009): 13-13. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 11, 2009), pg.13.

[2] Keith Hinson. “Calvinism resurging among SBC’s young elites.” Christianity Today 41, no. 11. (October 06, 1997): 86. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed August 1, 2009), pg. 87.