The question of Calvinism is one of the major challenges facing American Christianity today, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said last month.
In an 18 October 2011 interview posted on the website of SBC Today, the Rev Frank Page, the chief executive of the SBC executive committee said “one of the issues which is a tremendous challenge for us is the theological divide of Calvinism and non-Calvinism.
“Everyone is aware of this, but few want to talk about this in public,” said Dr Page, who served from 2006-2008 as president of the SBC – America’s largest Protestant denomination and second largest religious group after the Roman Catholic Church.
Looking at this theologically, the issue isn’t whether Southern Baptists want to be Calvinists at all but whether they want to be Calvinists in full.
From a practical side, there are two parts of Calvinism: election and perseverance. True Calvinists have always taught that both are irrevocable and immutable acts of God in the life of every believer. Southern Baptists, however, have traditionally rejected Calvinistic election but have embraced Calvinistic perseverance, as any Methodist or Pentecostal will attest. Where the debate is centred these days is on whether to adopt Calvinistic election, which would radically alter the dynamic of Baptist evangelism and outreach. Thus, the “one way Calvinists” are now being challenged within their own ranks to go all the way with the system.
As Conger’s article points out, new seminarians are more likely to embrace complete Calvinism (“TULIP”). This is because Calvinism is generally the most intellectually respectable position in Protestant seminaries, and is getting into churches far more Arminian than Baptist ones. This respectability is only a sign of the weakness of the current state of Protestant theology.
Baptists are right to want to eliminate their current theological incongruity of election and perseverance, but Calvinism is the wrong way to do it.