On Recent Theological Developments in the Southern Baptist Convention
This week, the annual Southern Baptist Convention is being held in New Orleans. A great many good things will come out of this meeting as leaders in our denomination meet to pray, to offer reports and reflections, to approve budgets for our entities, and ultimately, to further the cause of the Gospel through church planters, pastors, and missionaries.
In has been an eventful couple of weeks leading up to the convention, however. A few weeks ago, a group identifying themselves as “Traditional” Southern Baptists released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” You can find the statement at the web site www.sbctoday.com along with numerous related articles and defense statements written by those who authored and signed the document.
Basically, this statement was set forth to respond to and to refute what the signers say is a swelling tide of unbiblical “Calvinistic” theology into the Southern Baptist Convention. Thus, their statement consists of a list of 10 articles that, from their perspective, reflect the biblical position on God’s plan of salvation and that contradict what they label the “Calvinist” perspective.
Now hopefully, you all know my personal perspective in such discussions. I am first and foremost concerned with being biblical (with being a “biblicist”) more than bearing any other label. As a biblicist, I believe that Scripture gives us a very clear understanding of God’s good sovereignty, and particularly, of the fact that regeneration precedes faith. What this means is that God, through the Holy Spirit, initiates salvation by changing our hearts, thereby enabling us to repent of our sin and believe in Jesus Christ. If you had to narrow “Calvinism” down to a single tenet, that is what it would be: regeneration precedes faith.
It is not incidental that this is also the position of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, our denomination’s statement of faith. Article 4, section A of the BF&M says, “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.” As this article states, Regeneration (also known as the “new birth”) is an act of God’s grace whereby the Holy Spirit changes the sinner’s heart. The sinner then responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Article 5 of the recently released “Traditional” statement says, “We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life. We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.” I hope every Christian would affirm, with Scripture, that no one is saved unless they repent and believe. But you see what these persons have espoused in their denial — they place regeneration AFTER the sinners response. This is a clear rejection of our denomination’s statement of faith as well as numerous biblical texts:
John 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 6:44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
Eph 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Good theological discussion is always welcome, and it should be undertaken with great humility and love. I hope and pray that many good discussions will come as a result of this statement. However, I am fearful that many well-meaning people in our denomination are firmly set on a path that denies or misinterprets important biblical doctrines. By God’s grace, we won the battle for biblical inerrancy. I likewise pray that God will save us from losing the battle for the biblical gospel. If you would like more perspective on this statement, I strongly encourage you to check out Tom Ascol’s response to the statement at blog.founders.org and also take a look at the blog written by our own Tom Hicks at lifeinchrist-tom.blogspot.com. I love you all dearly!