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.

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