This is something you would never have dreamed about 20 years ago. Recently it was announced that Drs. Al Mohler and Paige Patterson will take a session at the 2006 Pastors’ Conference prior to the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC to debate Calvinism. While some will no doubt be very nervous to hear about these plans, such a debate holds promise of accomplishing much good in SBC life.
Why do I say that? It is not because I am persuaded that “our side” will “win” such a debate. Nor is it because I think this event will expose errors in the anti-Calvinism schemes. Rather, I think this holds great hope for being beneficial for two reasons. First, it will be helpful simply because it will be a theological debate. Southern Baptists will actually be sponsoring an event that intentionally and formally is examining theological issues. Many Southern Baptists–especially younger Southern Baptists–are weary of the constant pep rallies for denominational programs that take up so much of the agenda at the annual SBC meeting. There is a great desire for something more substantive, something that examines foundational issues which have long been neglected by denominational leadership. A debate about Calvinism could well provide an opportunity for that to happen.
Secondly, I am hopeful about this announced event because Drs. Mohler and Patterson are friends. I fully expect that their exchange–regardless of how formal or informal the format–will provide a model for theological dialogue. Our day has all but lost the art (and Christian responsibility) of disagreeing strongly about important matters without writing your opponent out of the kingdom. This is especially true when the subject is Calvinism and it is equally true of those on both sides of the issue. An example of Christian leaders talking pointedly, pressing biblical arguments determinedly and disagreeing strongly (assuming that this will be the case) can only be a helpful thing for modern Southern Baptists. It will be great to see 2 Southern Baptist seminary presidents leading the way in this kind of effort.
I will make a couple of predictions: 1. This debate will draw larger crowds than any other session at the Pastors’ Conference or the SBC meeting. 2. Some denominational leader will lament that fact. In addition, I would suspect that the average age of those attending the debate will be much younger than the average age that attends the 2 days of SBC meetings.
I have no details about this event. Watch for the announcements of pre-convention meetings.