Recently, a controversy erupted when Dr. Eric Hankins of First Baptist Church in Oxford Mississippi introduced a doctrinal statement that he claims is the “traditional” position of Southern Baptists on soteriology (doctrine of salvation). From blogs to Twitter, the social media world has been consumed by debate (both good and bad examples can be provided) over this issue.
If you are a regular reader to this blog, you have perhaps already read the two previous blog entries related to the document titled, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” which was officially published on SBCToday.com on May 30th 2012. I responded to the article in general here: (A Response to “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” – The Religious Version of the Hatfields & McCoys) and then I posted an open letter to Dr. Jerry Vines here: (A Response to Dr. Jerry Vines). Below you will see why I can’t, as an SBC member and pastor, sign the document drafted by Dr. Eric Hankins. Although the reasons below are not intended to be exhaustive, they are intended to provide substantial reasons that should be considered by anyone who is planning to sign the document.
Reason #1 – It Contradicts “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology
While the title uses the phrase “traditional” someone should ask what is intended by the word tradition. How far should we go back regarding our traditional understanding of SBC soteriology? As Tom Nettles explains in his book, By His Grace and For His Glory, the SBC has a rich history of Calvinism (Doctrines of Grace, Reformed doctrine, or sovereign grace – whatever title you would prefer). Many people such as Lottie Moon, W.A. Criswell, John Broadus, James P. Boyce, A.T. Robertson, and a long list of SBC leaders embraced the Doctrines of Grace. Therefore, any doctrinal statement on soteriology that would exclude members such as W.A. Criswell and Lottie Moon is one that should cause us to pause and think seriously before signing our name to it.
The Preamble to the statement states:
We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology.
In other words, the statement insists that “traditional” soteriology and “Calvinistic” soteriology are not the same. While we can point out the obvious generalizations of the BF&M, can we claim that Calvinism violates the official statement of the SBC? If so, certain members of the BF&M 2000 committee such as Dr. Albert Mohler could not have participated in the work and signed the document. The fact is, that’s not an accurate assessment of historic SBC soteriology. In all reality, the traditional statement of the SBC (including the BF&M) leans more to the Calvinistic view and the “new” doctrinal influences have been proposed by those who are less Calvinistic. Perhaps the statement should have been titled “A Statement of the New Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”
Reason #2 – It Contradicts Key Doctrines of the Faith and the BF&M 2000
The Doctrine of Man – BF&M 2000 (Article III)
In the statement by the BF&M 2000, the language of freedom and inheritance of sin from Adam is abundantly clear. Notice the following statement contained within Article III:
In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.
- Man was originally created by God with absolute freedom to make choices between right and wrong.
- Man inherited a nature from Adam (after the fall) that clearly violates the original freedom that Adam and Eve once enjoyed. Hence the langage of “bondage of the will” throughout church and Baptist history.
Article II: The Sinfulness of Man (taken from ”A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation“)
In the statement drafted by Dr. Eric Hankins, the following language is used to deny the inherited sin nature of Adam:
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
- While we agree that no person can be saved apart from the drawing of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, this statement is clearly in conflict with the BF&M on the issue of the inherited sin nature of Adam.
- Furthermore, this statement is in clear violation of a more important doctrinal statement found in John 1:12-13 and Romans 5:12. John 1:12-13 makes it abundantly clear that we are not saved based on our free choice. We must be rescued from our sin and that is the goal of John’s Gospel – to point to Jesus as the Son of the Living God – the Savior of the world – the only One who can set us free (John 8:32, 36; 14:6). In Romans 5:12, Paul points out that Adam caused sin to enter the entire human race resulting in our guilt and judgment by God.
Article VIII: The Free Will of Man (taken from ”A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation“)
In the statement drafted by Dr. Eric Hankins, the following affirmation is made:
We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
- The way this statement is crafted is the cause of so many accusations of semi-Pelagianism. Is man born with absolute freedom to choose to obey God? Is that possible? The answer for the Arminian is – absolutely not! The answer for the Calvinist is – absolutely not! The Arminian teaches that man is made free by prevenient grace and then man is able to make a choice to obey God. The Calvinist argues that man is never free and always in bondage to sin until God “quickens” him (makes him alive – language from Ephesians 2) and at that very moment – the sinner will respond by repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation. The semi-Pelagian teaches that man is capable of this from birth and God isn’t involved in the process of man’s ultimate free choice.
- This statement is in clear violation of Ephesians 2, John 1:12-13, John 6:44, and many other passages of Scripture that demonstrate the reality that God must intervene in the sinner’s life in order to set him free from the condemnation and bondage of sin.
Reason #3 – It Creates Controversy
Timing of the Document
It should be noted that this entire statement of “traditional” salvation has been in the works behind the scene for many weeks and months leading up to the SBC 2012. Rather than discussing this in August or September, this has been released just in time for the SBC annual meeting with a very calculated agenda. Rather than looking forward to this historic SBC gathering and preparing to work together with other SBC pastors for the purpose of missions, many people are packing their luggage for the trip with hurting hearts based on caricatures that are not accurate! This statement has created unmerited and aggressive harm on many brothers and sisters in Christ.
Purpose of the Document?
Although it has been asked many times during the open discussion of the blogs, to my knowledge, not many SBC leaders are willing to address the overarching purpose of this statement? It that because they don’t want to go on record in describing the agenda of this statement? The purpose of this statement may seem “pure” to some, but to many others it has the aroma of division, aggression, and loose theological definitions. Better scholarship is needed along with a pursuit of unity and love. This statement doesn’t possess those characteristics and that is one more reason that I cannot sign it in good faith. While many anti-Calvinists claim that there is a spirit of aggression among the “new Calvinists” in the SBC, I honestly don’t see it. What I see is a far greater anti-Calvinism aggression within the SBC. Is that the purpose of this doctrinal statement? Is the purpose to cleanse the SBC of those who embrace a sovereign grace position?
Reason #4 – History Speaks
While the biblical record stands head and shoulders above all other reasons that prevent my signature on this document, history speaks with power. All through history, we see people who were used in a powerful way by God – and they had heavy Calvinistic doctrine. John Newton (the author of “Amazing Grace,” Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, and many more. Many of our great heroes of the faith were open Calvinists and were used in a mighty way within the SBC. Consider W.A. Criswell who was instrumental in the Conservative Resurgence, but said that he was not ashamed to be called a Calvinist. The following statement was taken from a sermon W.A. Criswell preached titled, “The Doctrine of Predestination.” It can be found here (http://www.wacriswell.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/Search.Transcripts/sermon/1821.cfm).
For I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure: Calling unto the ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth My counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
That’s our God! Now that’s what you call foreordination. That’s what you call predestination! That’s Calvinism! And I am a Calvinist. That’s good old Bible doctrine, and I believe the Bible! These things are in God’s hands, and ultimately and finally, He purposed it and executeth all of it!
What the SBC 2012 needs is unity that will allow us to partner together so that we can impact our neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel that saves. If the leadership of the SBC fosters a fight among brothers over non-essentials such as Calvinism – it will hurt the SBC greatly. Many people will leave the SBC and it will cause us to become smaller and weaker in our mission efforts. This ax grinding agenda will not be contained at a national level of the SBC. Instead, it will flow out into the churches and it will cause churches to split and pastors to be marginalized and even fired as a result. The end result will not only be deep wounds suffered by families and churches over this issue. The end result will not be a smaller and weaker SBC where SBC employees have lost their jobs. The end result will be Satan’s laughter ringing like a hound dog from hell as millions of SBC brothers and sisters wage war on one another rather than flooding the streets and the nations with the message of Christ.
We must learn to love one another, work with one another, and glorify Christ – even when we don’t always agree on every “jot and tittle” of non-essentials. A divided SBC will not glorify God. People who embrace Calvinism and view God’s saving purposes from that lens are not the enemy. Furthermore, true hyper-Calvinists have no desire to partner with the SBC for missions – they see it as a waste of time, energy, and money. Let’s get real on this issue before too many others walk away from us with their time, energy, and money!
May God heal hearts and create a spirit of unity – for His glory alone!
Pastor Josh Buice