Southern Baptists and Reformed Theology
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There is an ongoing discussion in the S.B.C. as to where its theological foundations truly lie. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary there are prominent and powerful southern baptists that say their heritage is not reformed. How do you all view the S.B.C. theologically and what bearing does that have on the future of the convention?
I think much depends on the definition of what reformed theology is. Besides, 'evidence', and certainly 'historical evidence' is very hard to get in baptist circles. Baptists have never been (at least in Europe) great keepers of their tradition. How do we exactly know what average Baptists thought, prayed and preached two centuries ago?
I don't know the situation in the SBC, but I can follow the point these powerful and prominent southern baptists seem to be making. Of course baptists have always had sympathy for certain aspects reformation theology in moderate form, but they were very hesitant with the full-blown Calvin-Beza TULIP scheme (have you ever read Beza?). And: how could believer's baptism ever do justice to the theocentric intention of the reformation? It seems to me evident that baptist roots cannot lie in classical reformed theology. But there is surely much that baptists and calvinists have in common, both historically as presently.
I think there used to be an old saying "Baptists were Methodists that could read and Presbyterians were Baptist that had shoes. I believe I found that in Seeking a Better Country.
English Puritan Baptists were staunch 5-point Calvinists (e.g. John Gill, Benjamin Keach, Hanserd Knollys, Hercules Collins, John Bunyan, et al). While they were congregational in polity (like Owen) and credobaptistic, they were in full agreement with the Cannons of Dort as well as reformed in their understanding of the Lord's Supper (Calvin's view). The London Baptist Confession of Faith was framed in 1677 to affirm these truths. In fact the primary source for the Baptist Confession was the Westminster and the Savoy Declaration. Charles Spurgeon was thoroughly Calvinistic as evidenced by his article "A Defense of Calvinism" and his hearty agreement with the Baptist Confession of Faith. Of the Baptist Confession he wrote: "This ancient document is the most excellent epitome of the things most surely believed among us. It is not issued as an authoritative rule or code of faith, whereby you may be fettered, but as a means of edification in righteousness. It is an excellent, though not inspired, expression of the teaching of those Holy Scriptures by which all confessions are to be measured. We hold to the humbling truths of God's sovereign grace in the salvation of lost sinners. Salvation is through Christ alone and by faith alone."
Up until the later part of the 19th century, Arminianists were the exception among Baptists and not the rule. Further evidence for this lies in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's current statment of faith that was drafted at its founding (1858) by Basil Manley Jr. at the behest of James P. Boyce (founder) titled "the Abstract of Principles." Manley sought to make the Abstract of Principles as concise as possible while remaining faithful to the London Baptist Confession of 1689. On the doctrine of Election the Abstract states, "Election is God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life -- not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ -- in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified." To this present day professors desiring to teach at SBTS must subscribe to this statement! While presently, the main power brokers in the SBC are fundamentalists, and arminianists; the Calvinists within the Convention are a minority that is strong and growing fast! As more and more Southern Baptist begin to study their Baptist heritage, they are inevitably confronted with its decidedly Calvinistic past, begging the question "Can we call the faith of our fathers heresy?" And if not, then aren't we obliged to give Calvinism another look? As the claims of Calvinism are measured against the Book (as Baptists like to call it) the conclusion will be reformation and revival in the SBC.
My college buddy A.J. Smith, finally got his Ph.D. from Southern and recently had his book published by Wipf & Stock. It is titled "The Making of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message." In it he deals with the doctrinal decline from a Reformed understanding of sin and salvation to the tacit embracing of the New Divinity concept which he covers in chapter 7. Tom Nettles highly recommends it.
The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message was to date, the lowest point for orthodox, confessional Southern Baptists. To the untrained eye the "63 may not seem problematic but with the Convention and its seminaries in the clutches of protestant liberalism there are real problems with this version of the confession. Most notable is the insertion of this phrase at the end of the first article on the Scriptures, "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ." In other words, if Paul's male chauvinistic and homophobic language doesn't square with 'gentle Jesus meek and mild' then you're free to ignore it. Some have dubbed this the "Red Letter Hermeneutic." In the 2000 BF&M that phrase was removed from the confession and several additions were made. Namely this phrase placed at the end of the article on the church reading: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” There were many other changes that are worth noting. If you're interested, check out this link: http://www.bgct.org/TexasBaptists/Document.Doc?&id=610
Note: the guy that wrote this comparison is a liberal but he illustrates the differences between the 63 & 2000, much to his dismay.
It is an interesting discussion. Still I would like to mention a few important considerations:
- In Seminary I heard that the difference between particular ('reformed') and general ('arminian') baptists is very old. If we like it or not, these two are just the major trends in baptist thinking since the very beginning.
- Not all Baptists are Anglo-Saxon. Maybe half of the Baptist christians live outside the English speaking world. And I bet the majority of them haven'd heard about what happened in Dordrecht, when the cannons were made. At least the European Baptists are 80% Arminian. But they don't fight the minority of Reformed Baptists. We are just one happy Baptist family with differences of opinion. This year we celebrate 400 years since John Smyth's Baptism in Amsterdam.
- Whatever may be written down in official Baptist creeds and confessions, they are not necessarily the voice of the average Baptist believer. Baptists have a strong sentiment against ecclesiastical documents, since they want to be Bible believers! Much Baptist arguing over these creeds is therefore effortless: these documents will soon disappear in an old desk on the attic of the church, covered with a lot of dusk, while the singing, praying and preaching goes on downstairs.
You sound very much like a Landmark, "Trail of Blood" Baptist. Your contempt for creeds and confessions is of special note. This is characteristic of Landmarkist thinking. From the time of the Apostles to today, Christians have laid out their doctrine in brief, definitive statements. As the people of God, and the Body of Christ, it is necessary for us to set forth in a concise fashion the cornerstone truths of our faith as guided by Scripture. These creeds and confessions perform three important functions: (1) they summarize essential Christian beliefs; (2) they show unity in Christ, (3) they guard the church from error. As B. H. Carroll once said "There never was a man in the world without a creed. What is a creed? A creed is what you believe. What is a confession? It is a declaration of what you believe. That declaration may be oral or it may be committed to writing, but the creed is there either expressed or implied." As well as Machen who put it this way "Assent to certain propositions about God is not all of faith in God, but it is necessary to faith in God; and Christian faith, in particular, though it is more than assent to a creed, is impossible without assent to a creed." So as it relates to creeds and confessions I'll have to respectfully disagree and say that those churches who allow their confessions of faith to "disappear in an old desk on the attic of the church, covered with a lot of dust" won’t long remember what their supposed to be singing about, praying to, or preaching for.
Listen carefully, it's not me who devaluates formal creeds and confessions, but it's the majority of Baptists who does. Perhaps those belonging to the SBC are the exception to the rule, but they do not own the Baptist identity all by themselves. From my first contribution to this discussion this was my underlying assumption: Baptists and ecclesiastical creeds is a difficult combination. I am writing a PhD on original sin at a Dutch Reformed University, and I surely do not have contempt for creeds nor confessions. I recognize the first rationale you present for confessional statements, but with the other two I have my doubts. Surely, the intention is that they show unity in Christ, but looking for instance at the reformed christian body, there is perhaps no church body more split and desintegrated than that. In the Netherlands, a small country, we have more than 20 types of reformed churches, the majority with the same set of creeds. 'Guarding from error'? I wish it were true. In some of those churches there are accepted strands of liberalism. One would have to be realistic an conclude, unfortunately, against the pervasive influence of human sin few creeds are an effective guard. Still, do not take me wrong, they have proven their value on many occasions in the history of the church. Interestingly, and that will be my last point, many European Baptist churches have written documents including some kind of credo. Those are 'made' on the local church level, not prescribed by the national unions. Some of them are not more than 'rules of conduct', but usually starting with some kind of theological introduction, including a self-made creed.
I never said that Southern Baptists 'own Baptist identity all by themselves.' However, this discussion was started as one about "Southern Baptists and Reformed Theology." So, I'm not talking about all Baptists, just Southern Baptists (of which I am). The Position Statement of the SBC on "Creeds and Confessions" reads as follows: "In some groups, statements of belief have the same authority as Scripture. We call this creedalism. Baptists also make statements of belief, but all of them are revisable in light of Scripture. The Bible is the final word. Because of this distinction, we are generally more comfortable with the word "confession." Still, we are "creedal" in the sense that we believe certain things, express those beliefs and order our institutions accordingly. There have always been Baptist limits. And within these limits, there have always been Baptist preferences. "
As for the three purposes of a creed or confession, I was not saying that if a church had one that it was somehow free from the threat of liberalism and heresy. My point was that so long as the church required subscription to said statement by members and especially leaders and teachers it would serve as an instrument to guard the church from error. This of course requires a church to discipline members who begin to believe and especially teach contrary to the adopted confession of the church. So, no, a church is not guarded from error by simply having a confession of faith. Their confession must be a living breathing document that plays a key part of congregational life. Now, these principles are more conducive to a Baptisitc/congregational polity. However, the truth remains; any baptized body of believers who unite around a summery of the Gospel (their confession of faith), and are willing to maintain that standard in thought, word, and deed, show unity in Christ (by their agreement to the Confession which is a summery of the truths taught in Scripture) and guard their church from error (so long as they uphold the confession as the standard of biblical truth). Of course if they wax cold in their willingness to uphold the confession, then it becomes nothing more than a meaningless document with no consequence to the church.
Nice discussion here. I must say i enjoyed reaading the post and replys. I am with the SBC and I adhere to reformed theology even though there are some who don't. But there are many baptist who do. For instance Albert Mohler the president of the Southern Baptist Flagship of theological schools "Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky".
I think LifeWay did a study that concluded about 10% of SBC pastors would currently affirm the doctrines of grace. However something like a staggering 60% percent of SBC seminary graduates would affirm them. This would seem pretty clear to me that Calvinism is in the ascendancy in the SBC.
If you're not familiar with them, I'd encourage you to check out Founders Ministries. They serve as the voice for Calvinism in the SBC.
According to R.S. Clark at Westminster West in California there is no such thing as a Reformed Baptist. It takes more than an adherence to the so-called 5 points to be called Reformed which includes infant baptism and the various issues under church polity.
Reply to #14
From a strictly technical standpoint you are correct, Ricardus. Acceptance of infant baptism in some form or fashion is a rather defining aspect of the majority of groups who follow the Reformed tradition.
But there are baptists (I am NOT one of them) who would hold to most every point of theology with the WCF outside of baptism and church government. They would claim the same theological heritage as a Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed adherent. Though it be an oxymoron, the term does aptly describe their beliefs in the main.
Reply to #14
Dr. Clark has done more than assert that Reformed Baptist is a misnomer. He has gone a step further by asserting that Baptist churches are not true churches at all! Since they do not, as Dr. Clark sees it, rightly administer the sacrament of Baptism to the children of believers they fall outside of the reformation criterion for what a true church is.
This is more than a little concerning. So you'll forgive me if I don't put a lot of stock in what R. S. Clark says about Reformed Baptists and Baptists in general.
A reply to Dr. Clark can be found here:
A view from the Founders here:
Both sum up the reasons why I gladly view myself as a Baptist AND Reformed. Whether anyone else thinks me this, it is between them and God. ;-)
The SBC truly has a reformed heritage. For a great book on this read "By His Grace adn for His Glory" by Tom Nettles (one of my seminary professors).
There are some other good books that speak on the Southern Baptists' Calvinistic heritage:
A Southern Baptist Looks at Predestination by P. H. Mell
Southern Baptists and the Doctrine of Election by Robert Selph
Abstract of Systematic Theology by James P. Boyce
Manual of Theology by J. L. Dagg
Baptist Confessions of Faith by William Lumpkin
The issue with Scott Clark is covenant theology. According to Clark, if you reject it, then you are not really Reformed, even if you hold to the 5 points. My good friend, Bob Wright (author of No Place for Sovereignty, IVP) tackles this in a series of articles here: http://www.christmycovenant.com/content/rkw1/rkw_idx1.htm
It is well worth the time invested in reading, to see where the divide over Baptism lies and what is really at stake.
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