Although Calvinism and non-Calvinism have shared a home together in the SBC since her founding, in recent years this specific theological issue has been a particularly contentious one that has threatened to fracture our cooperative Great Commission relationships. In response to that, Dr. Frank Page, President & CEO of the Executive Committee of the SBC, called for the creation of an Advisory Committee to examine the issue and chart a way forward for Southern Baptists. After much study and many meetings, their report was released in the early morning hours. You can access the report, entitled “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension” here.
While the report has much to say, and I do not have time to comment on all of it, one particular element of the statement is extremely well stated. Under “Trust” they have this to say about cooperation.
We affirm that Southern Baptists stand together in a commitment to cooperate in Great Commission ministries. We affirm that, from the very beginning of our denominational life, Calvinists and nonCalvinists have cooperated together. We affirm that these differences should not threaten our eager cooperation in Great Commission ministries.
We deny that the issues now discussed among us should in any way undermine or hamper our work together if we grant one another liberty and extend to one another charity in these differences. Neither those insisting that Calvinism should dominate Southern Baptist identity nor those who call for its elimination should set the course for our life together.
I cannot affirm this strongly enough. Although there are extremists on either side of the soteriological divide who would have us exclude those who find themselves across the aisle on this specific issue, our history and, more importantly, God’s word indicates to us the importance, nay the biblical necessity of partnering together to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. My friend Dr. Nathan Finn recently communicated this point much more eloquently than I could here.
May we be a people who rally around the gospel, and who measure our denominational relationships based on our commonly agreed upon confession, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. I pray that this statement find us in agreement, and the result is Great Commission advance.
Should you be inclined to read it, here are the statements of the Advisory Committee in respect to the statement itself.
For several years, Southern Baptists have been asking important questions about our identity and our future. At times we have struggled with trying to grasp the breadth of our doctrinal and historical differences, particularly related to matters such as Calvinism. What has been needed is a new consensus that will help point us toward a new sense of cooperation and renewal for the sake of the Gospel. It is our hope thatTruth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension, while not a perfect statement, will, nevertheless, provide a significant and positive step in that direction. The statement reflects the efforts of many diverse voices who have attempted to speak as one with a sense of convictional civility and Spirit-enabled charity toward and with one another. We pray that these efforts will enable us to serve collaboratively and work faithfully, while offering a joyful and Gospel-focused witness to a lost and needy world.
David S. Dockery, chairman; president, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee
Truth, Trust, and Testimony provides a unified witness across the spectrum of Southern Baptist life that we hold much in common concerning what we believe and how we should live. We do have differences that are significant but they are not so great as to keep us from working side by side and hand in hand to fulfill the Great Commission and reach the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe this statement provides a way forward. It is time to unite behind King Jesus and take up the sword of an inerrant Bible and engage our real enemies of Satan, sin, death, and hell.
Danny Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina
I affirm the Calvinism Advisory Committee Statement for four reasons: 1) it strikes a good balance as a consensus statement; 2) it stakes out the ground where we can stand together on the issues; 3) it stipulates some of our key theological differences without being polemical; and 4) it steers a good course for continued future discussion.
David Allen, dean, School of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
Southern Baptists are a doctrinally diverse group who, by God’s grace, agree on the essentials of the faith. As this consensus document affirms, we can no longer afford to allow our doctrinal differences to obscure our substantive and vital areas of agreement. It is my prayer that as we move forward we will do so joyfully acknowledging our unity in Christ and humbly engaging areas of doctrinal disagreements while focusing our energies and passion on spreading the glorious Gospel of our crucified and risen Lord to a lost and dying world.
Tom Ascol, pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida
I am happy to support Christians laboring together for the Gospel. I’ve appreciated the leadership that Frank Page, David Dockery, Eric Hankins, Al Mohler, and others have given on encouraging cooperation for the Gospel in our discussions.
Mark Dever, senior pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
I affirm this statement, the conversation, and the men and women who participated in this process. May The Lord guide Southern Baptists to pursue biblical truth and the oneness that Jesus prayed for so the world may know Him (John 17:23).
Leo Endel, executive director, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, Rochester, Minnesota
It is an honor to be a member of the Calvinism Advisory Committee and I stand ready and willing to work for the advancement of the Gospel-centered principles outlined in our statement. I fully affirm every aspect of Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension. The statement reflects the kind of biblically informed wisdom needed for such a time as this. May our Lord Jesus Christ be pleased and glorified above all.
Ken Fentress, senior pastor, Montrose Baptist Church, Rockville, Maryland
I am pleased to endorse Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension. It is a very good effort and I trust will contribute to a way forward that honors Jesus Christ. This document is a model of charitable truth-telling among convictional Baptists over issues that have long roiled Bible-believing Christians. May God use this document to move us closer to Christ and closer to one another—to the end that God will be glorified in ever-increasing measure.
Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama
I am excited and honored to present Southern Baptists with a consensus statement driven by the things we hold so dear: the Word, the Spirit, mission, cooperation, and freedom. I believe it effectively articulates and models the way forward, taking seriously both our theological unity and diversity as a truly positive component of our “one sacred effort.”
Eric Hankins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Oxford, Mississippi
I am totally satisfied with the fairness of this document, which does a magnificent job of articulating our shared belief. I wholeheartedly add my full support to this document. I am grateful to each person that has worked so hard to help us speak with Christ-honoring clarity.
Johnny Hunt, pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia
I am totally supportive of the statement. I believe history teaches us there is room for various shades of thought on this topic. I’m praying we will joyfully coexist and the Gospel will go forth in greater power because of our unity!
David Landrith, senior pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tennessee
Prior to our first meeting, I sought input from a variety of lay people as to what they felt our focus should be on an obviously hot topic. Top on the list was an appeal for civility—pleading that we simply learn how to engage the issue of Calvinism respectfully and stop the name calling and rude behavior. I was thrilled that so much of our discussion addressed this problem and bore fruit as our respect grew for one another. Secondly, our appeal for honesty regarding doctrinal convictions on the part of candidates interviewing with churches is, in my mind, the key to solving deep divisions that have arisen in churches that feel betrayed. Churches and ministerial candidates must show integrity in the search process as to who they are and what they believe. I pray Southern Baptists will do three things: stop talking so much about that which they have overheard but not personally studied or verified; actually read our report before judging it; and show up in Houston to witness during Crossover block parties where we demonstrate what we claim to be our priority of pleading with sinners to believe in Christ, confessing to others that “our Lord is mighty to save and that He saves to the uttermost.”
Tammi Ledbetter, homemaker and journalist; member Inglewood Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas
For Christians to work together cooperatively requires broad doctrinal agreement, although not agreement in every point of detail. This statement underlines the broad areas of doctrine upon which the overwhelming majority of us as Southern Baptists agree. It outlines the basis on which we can continue working together cooperatively and constructively for the cause of Christ.
Steve Lemke, provost and director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana
As SBC President I want to thank our chief encouraging officer Dr. Frank Page for his efforts in calling together and meeting with the Calvinism Advisory Group. This group had the difficult task of dealing with a subject that many Southern Baptists have very strong opinions about. My personal prayer is that this report will be an example of how believers can come together to impact the Kingdom of God and not personal agendas.
Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; senior pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, Louisiana
There is little that I will sign in the way of corporate statements. My love for the unity in essentials among Southern Baptists for the purpose of getting the Gospel to every human on earth has wrung my signature on this document from my heart. The most important aspect to me is the provision for honesty and integrity for all. God grant that it be so.
Paige Patterson, president, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
This statement speaks volumes about the ability of all Southern Baptists of good faith and good will to work together eagerly and enthusiastically. As the statement affirms, these tensions have been present within the Southern Baptist Convention from the very beginning of our life and work together. We are people who take theology seriously. But we are also people who take seriously our joy and privilege in working together in service to the Great Commission. We also made a bold statement of support for and agreement in The Baptist Faith and Message. We are a confessional people, gladly affirming together the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I am thankful for every member of this task force and for the privilege of working together in this process and on this historic and timely statement.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
I enthusiastically affirm the statement of our committee. While it candidly acknowledges differences Southern Baptists have, it’s a powerful reminder that we stand together on essential doctrines such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the free offer of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, and the universal sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross. I’m thankful that the statement encourages all Southern Baptists—wherever we may stand with respect to Calvinism—to be gracious and constructive as we serve the Lord together.
Stephen Rummage, senior pastor, Bell Shoals Baptist Church, Brandon, Florida
I am in full agreement with the Truth, Trust, and Testimony document. It is the product of a very candid yet respectful dialogue regarding theological issues, attitudes, and practices. While it is understandable that each side would prefer stronger support for its views, the fact is that this document establishes fair parameters for understanding and collaboration and is unequivocal regarding its affirmation ofThe Baptist Faith and Message and its commitment to the Great Commission. My prayer is that this document will pave the way for all Southern Baptists to make an even stronger commitment to win North America and the rest of the world for Christ.
Daniel Sanchez, associate dean, professor of missions, and director of the Scarborough Institute of Church Planting & Growth, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
I gratefully and gladly affirm this fine statement because it focuses our unity in the Gospel, in our Baptist heritage, in The Baptist Faith and Message, and in the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, Florida