Yesterday I was sent the following 3 documents that have been circulating in Western Tennessee among some Southern Baptist Churches. It seems that they were distributed at seminars being held for churches to teach “how to find out if any of your staff are Calvinists and how to get rid of them.” Since receiving them I have communicated with others who have verified that they are being made available to Southern Baptist churches in Tennessee, not by any official denominational worker, but by zealous people who view the doctrines of grace as heresy. I am trying to contact one or more of those persons in hopes of better understanding what has provoked this mission.
The first document is in the form of a memo and is entitled, “Reformed Red Flags.” It contains a list of 16 “behaviors” to look for when seeking to smoke out Calvinistic pastors. Number 3 on the list is “use of the ESV Study Bible.” Someone should alert Crossway immediately. Founders made the list, as did John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, RC Sproul, James White and the first Southern Baptist confession of faith (which is still used at Southern and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminaries, and which even the famous non-Calvinist Paige Patterson has signed), the Abstract of Principles.
To read the documents in a larger size, click on them.
The second document is entitled, “Theological differences between Traditional Southern Baptist and Extreme Calvinists.” It seems to be a warmed over version (and perversion) of some of the things that Fisher Humphreys put in his book, God So Loved the Word: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism. Most of the depictions of Calvinism in this document are built on the caricatures found in the previous one and many of the views described as “Traditional Baptist” are held by all evangelical Calvinists. Granted, I know the document purports to deal with “Extreme Calvinists,” but I defy anyone to capture and put on display such a creature as described below. Are some Calvinists unbalanced? Yes. Are some jerks? Yes. Is there a danger that the profile given below of extreme Calvinism is sweeping into Southern Baptist churches? No. The kind of inaccurate and distorted representations are easy to make (anyone who reads blogs knows this) but they violate the 9th Commandment and should be renounced by anyone–Calvinist or not–who genuinely takes the Bible to be the Word of God written.
The last of the documents is recommended to churches to use with new pastors and staff members. The desire expressed in this document that a pastor be forthcoming in doctrinal convictions is commendable. It assumes, however, that the church to which it is recommended does not have a historic Southern Baptist confession of faith (most notably, the Charleston Confession, Abstract of Principles or New Hampshire Statement). A case can even be made that the Baptist Faith and Message is largely a Calvinistic statement, though not as explicit as earlier Southern Baptist confessions. The problem with many of our churches is not that pastors are coming in and trying to teach some “new” doctrine. Rather, it is that they often have drifted from their own stated doctrinal foundations through neglect or liberalism or pragmatism. When a pastor begins to restore those foundations, what he teaches can sound new when in reality it is fully in accord with the church’s own doctrinal statements.
Much could be said about the wickedness and ignorance behind a campaign to “smoke out” Calvinistic pastors using these dubious tools. However, I want to conclude by issuing a plea to my fellow pastors who may be more reformed in our understanding than others in the SBC. Though these documents promote caricatures and distortions, they are a sad reminder that this is the way that at least some people perceive us. As I have indicated, I don’t know anyone who fits the profile that these documents present. I doubt such a person exists within the SBC. Nevertheless, this is how some people perceive us.
What shall we do? Protest and return fire with fire? Point out the practical (and sometimes, doctrinal) Pelagianism of our less Calvinistic brothers? Become defensive and try to answer each accusation point-by-point? I don’t think that response is called for. Saying nothing of Proverbs 26:4 for the present, I instead recommend that we take the opportunity to examine ourselves and our ministries and see if there are any kernels of truth whatsoever in the accusations on which the caricatures are built. Enemies can help us even when they are trying to destroy us. Learning from them does not mean that we agree with the charges or judge them fair.
Caricatures die in the presence of long, consistent evidence to the contrary. Our agenda is not to be set by accusations (or even affirmations). We have the Word of God for that. Let’s examine ourselves in the light of that Word and determine to live wholeheartedly for our crucified and risen Savior. Critics will come and critics will go. What ultimately matters faithfulness to our Lord expressed through obedience to His Word.