Southern Baptists and God’s Plan of Salvation

Just this past week, Eric Hankins published a statement called, A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” As Eric himself explains, the statement is compiled by a number of pastors, professors, and leaders in response to Calvinism in Southern Baptist life. Some of those who have signed the statement include: Jerry Vines, Paige Patterson, Morris Chapman, among others. As the introduction to the statement argues, those who have drafted and signed the statement believe the doctrine affirmed therein represents the majority of Southern Baptists yesterday and today.

However, many have observed that there are serious problems with the statement. For example, Classical Arminian theologian, Roger Olson, states that the statement goes beyond Classical Arminianism to Semi-Pelagianism. In his article he argues,

The problem with this Southern Baptist statement is its neglect of emphasis on the necessity of the prevenience of supernatural grace for the exercise of a good will toward God (including acceptance of the gospel by faith). If the authors believe in that cardinal biblical truth, they need to spell it out more clearly. And they need to delete the sentence that denies the incapacitation of free will due to Adam’s sin.

You can read Olson’s entire response here. But others who are Calvinists have responded as well, not only making the same point Olson does concerning the statement’s Semi-Pelagian theology, but also evaluating the statement on terms of biblical grounds and within the context of the Southern Baptist Convention.

One article I would like to recommend is Albert Mohler’s response entitled, “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk.” Mohler writes that when it comes to Southern Baptist Calvinism-Arminianism debates over salvation, the conversation should be welcomed, for what could be more important than God’s plan of salvation.

The document, identified as “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” was written and released by a group of Southern Baptists who clearly intend to make a theological argument. Their public action and serious intention should be welcomed. We should be glad that Southern Baptists are fully capable of engaging in a theological and biblical discussion over doctrine. Furthermore, we should be thankful that we are discussing God’s plan of salvation and the right way of understanding how God saved sinners. What could be more important?

Mohler also insightfully explains why he is thankful that we are having this conversion rather than another one:

First, we should pause to reflect that, thanks to the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, we are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible. That matter is settled among us. We are privileged to be having a debate among those who affirm the total truthfulness and authority of the Bible. Otherwise, we would surely be debating the issues that have consumed the more liberal denominations, such as same-sex marriage, the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry, and feminine God-language.

That said, Mohler does explain his problems with the statement:

I could not sign the document. Indeed, I have very serious reservations and concerns about some of its assertions and denials. I fully understand the intention of the drafters to oppose several Calvinist renderings of doctrine, but some of the language employed in the statement goes far beyond this intention. Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied. Clearly, some Southern Baptists do not want to identify as either Calvinists, non-Calvinists, or Arminians. That is fine by me, but these theological issues have been debated by evangelicals for centuries now, and those labels stick for a reason.

Besides Mohler, Tom Ascol, Executive Editor of the Founders Ministry, is in the middle of a series of posts responding to the statement as well. Here are the first five articles in his series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

Part 4

Part 5

Ascol’s response is worth reading to see how one Calvinist responds to both the method and theology of such a statement. For example, Ascol writes in his second article:

This document helps position its framers and signatories on this spectrum for all to see. That will ultimately prove to be helpful as Southern Baptists come to terms with the increasingly inescapable decision of how we will live together in the SBC. Will we demand complete uniformity on each of the doctrines clustered around salvation? Will we only tolerate those who disagree with us at any point? Or will we choose to walk together as those who agree with the Baptist Faith and Message without crossing our fingers?

Ascol will continue his series this week and next, and you can follow along here.

Matthew Barrett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. He is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett has contributed book reviews and articles to various academic journals, and he is the author of several forthcoming books. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two daughters, Cassandra and Georgia.

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3 Comments

  1. Craig Hatcher
    June 7, 2012

    Your Comments Instead of the Calvinist/non-Calvinist name calling and dividing to sides, the issue is quite simple:
    One is either a monergist or a synergist in their view of salvation.
    One either believes that man has a “free will” or that man’s will is equally in bondage to sin like the rest of his being.

    Reply
  2. A Pink Flamingo Correction | The Pink Flamingo
    August 5, 2012

    [...] What is going on with the extreme reaches of Calvinism is not Gnosticism. It is considered “Semi-Pelagian“.  There are very real problems within Baptist theology, now that Calvinism has been let [...]

    Reply
  3. gary
    June 7, 2013

    Your CoDear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?
    Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable…but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God bless you!

    Gary
    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/06/the-early-church-fathers-believed-in.html

    Reply

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