Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Tradition of Being Non-Traditional Continues...

Approximately equal numbers of SBC pastors either consider their congregations as having a predominately Calvinistic/Reformed theology or define their churches as holding to a Wesleyan/Arminian position. This is what a new survey from LifeWay Research indicates. Survey results show about 30% for each category.

This data from the recent poll is interesting in light of the claims made in what has become known as the "Traditional Statement", or "TS", but is more formally known as  "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation". The Introduction to the non-Calvinist/non-Arminian statement  promotes it as a  "suggested statement of what Southern Baptists believe..." and again repeats, "We believe that it does reflect what most Southern Baptists believe..."

Furthermore, the Preamble of the TS asserts, "We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called 'Traditional' Southern Baptist soteriology." After describing this so-called "Traditional" Southern Baptist soteriology the Preamble then concludes, "Below is what we believe to be the essence of  'A Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation.' "

So the self-described "Traditional" view, advanced as neither Calvinistic nor Arminian (indeed, proponents insist they are "off that grid") is apparently, contrary to its speculative propositions in the Introduction and Preamble, not the majority view either. This conclusion seems logical since 60 percent in the survey classify as either Calvinistic or Arminian.

And the "Traditionalists" insist they are neither. Note the words of one of the TS signers, Dr. Adam Harwood, in a blogpost at SBC Today titled "Roger Olson is Correct; 'Traditional' Southern Baptists are NOT Arminians"-- Harwood writes:
The reason, once again, is that we are not Arminians. We refuse to accept the premise that we must evaluate doctrinal statements through the lens of a borrowed and unnecessary Calvinistic-Arminian philosophical-theological framework.
The point is that the survey results from LifeWay indicate Calvinism, while not a majority view, has substantial  representation among a variety of viewpoints with no particular view being predominant. This would appear to disclose the true Southern Baptist tradition--anything but a monolithic landscape, but rather a combination of Calvinists, Arminians, Calminians, those who come from the perspective of the signers of the TS, those who are undecided, those who don't know, and those who don't want to be labeled. In fact, on one point of doctrine emphatically rejected in the TS, the LifeWay poll shows that roughly 50 percent of SBC pastors hold to some version of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, the I in the TULIP acronym of Calvinist soteriology.

So it looks like Calvinists are well-represented in the SBC and like no group has the majority. Since no one is in the majority, maybe it is time to get back to a tradition that has been part of SBC history:

Let's cooperate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What About Handel's Messiah?

And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

--Revelation 19: 16 (NASB)

Kurt Willems is concerned. He's concerned about the words to a popular worship song written by Chris Tomlin. The troubling (to Willems) portion of the song, "Our God is Greater", sung in many churches of various denominations, goes like this:

"Our God is greater, our God is stronger,
 God you are higher, than any other,
Our God is Healer, Awesome and power,
Our God, our God,

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?"
Willems says he has no problem with the theology of this. Apparently he just doesn't think the theology should be applied to...worship. Because that's what these words are; they are words of worship. And people who sing them (often with their eyes closed and hands raised) are worshipping. They are worshipping our God Who is greater, stronger, and higher than any other, and Who deserves our worhip and praise. It is unclear what Willems sees as the purpose of theology, if not to impact worship as one of its primary designs.

In his post Willems gives a number of lame excuses reasons why he finds the words unsettling. As is often the case when someone doesn't have a real good argument, especially someone trying to combine a postmodern construct with evangelical Christianity, it is difficult to understand his rationale. But apparently he thinks some will equate religion with nationalism or something like that even though there is no hint of that in the song. And like any good postmodernist, he frets that Christians singing their God is greater than any other just doesn't demonstrate enough humility in one's epistemology. But equivocating on one's faith is not humility, it's being double-minded (James1: 6-8).

So I have to disagree with his concerns. Because our God rules the universe. He rules all of creation. He rules all the nations. There is none like Him. Because He is greater, stronger, and higher than any other.

And that is worth singing about.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


SBC Convention time is near, and there is high drama afoot. Last year must have been too quiet because this year the excitement is already building as a group of non-Calvinists have decided to draft a Statement called "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation." According to those who crafted the piece, "The Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding" is, you guessed it, non-Calvinistic. And they want you to know it. So they wrote a Statement. And many people signed that Statement, and lots of people blogged about that Statement. And lots more people commented on those blogs about that Statement. And so I feel it is fitting about the Statement.

In the Preamble, those who put forth the Statement tell us why it is so important they put forth this Statement right NOW and also get people to sign it. It is because, they say:

The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.
Cue Aunt Pittypat (I'm not sure if she has signed the Statement yet):

I don't know who these New Calvinists are who want to take over the convention, but if I ever meet one of these legendary (I would say "mythical" but I suppose it is within the realm of possibility that there are a couple or so of them out there) folk I think I'd say something like this: "Dude. You're like, way outnumbered in the SBC, so if you feel the need for Calvinism to be the central position, why not just join the Reformed Baptist denomination where Calvinism is the  central position, and leave the SBC to remain a fascinating mix of Calvinists, Arminians, non-Calvinists (I think they are calling themselves 'Traditionalists' now), and people (probably the majority) who don't know what they are, or don't want to be labeled.?" Then maybe the need for this Statement wouldn't be so urgent. Right now. Right before the Convention.

The Preamble also charges Calvinism with "certain unacceptable conclusions" (Surprise! Non-Calvinists think Calvinism has unacceptable conclusions! Who'da thunk?) and also somewhat patronizingly admonishes Calvinists to be humble and circumspect about the "weaknesses" in their system. The Preamble also appears to indicate these non-Calvinists are designating themselves with the moniker of "Traditionalists". I don't necessarily agree the description is accurate, but previously the designation of "Biblicists" was floated, implying Calvinists weren't Biblicists. So at least they seem to have dropped that idea, and "Traditionalists" may just have to do.

The Statement consists of a series of ten articles, in the format of affirmations and denials. Some of the material Calvinists would agree with, some of it is standard Arminian or non-Calvinistic fare, but there are some parts of the Statement which are problematic.

And those parts are cause for concern.