Calvinism in the SBC

Calvinism is a hot topic in evangelicalism right now.  When I invited Roger Olson and Michael Horton to debate the topic on The Exchange, my webshow, thousands watched.  And, it is worth noting (as I mentioned in the show), the two books represented were titled For Calvinism and Against Calvinism (not For Arminianism, because, well, not as many people are waving that banner).

I’ve written before on the issue from several perspectives, partly becuase it has been an issue of debate in the Southern Baptist Convention.  To be honest, this is not really my issue– I am about mission, evangelism, revitalization, planting, etc.– but it seems that this is an issue you cannot avoid now a days.

For example, I participated in the Building Bridges conference a few years ago, presenting research and encouraging mutual understanding.  However, at that conference, I had felt I needed to admonish one of the Calvinist speakers for taking a swing at Rick Warren in a conference named, Building Bridges.  At that meeting, I presented data that Southern Baptist seminary students were becoming increasingly Calvinist.  (The sample would have been much more Calvinist if Southern Seminary had not declined to participate– read the methodology for details.)

In that research, we did see an increase in Calvinism.  My friend, Collin Hansen, wrote a book on what he called a “resurgence” and popularized the term “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” However, other studies pointed to a different reality.  When we surveyed Protestants, we found no such resurgence.  Other studies found the same.

Yet, facts are our friends.  We have differing datasets so what is the answer– well, for some, they say “it can’t be true.”  Some of my Reformed friends were a bit hard on Barna’s numbers– unnecessarily so, I think. There are always methodological issues, but that study was a good one. Ours was larger (and dare I say better, grin). It found the same thing.

So, where is this resurgence? We found it– it is in the SBC.

A few moments ago we released this story.  It is fully published below along with two graphics– my apolgogies for the long blog post.

In my closing comments I point out there is a large difference by age (younger SBC pastors are much more reformed) but there is also a large degree of concern.

Here is the article in full:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly equal numbers of pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention consider their churches as Calvinist/Reformed as do Arminian/Wesleyan, although more than 60 percent are concerned about the affect of Calvinism on the denomination, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research.

LifeWay Research presented a slate of statements about Calvinism to a randomly selected sample of senior pastors in the SBC to gauge their theological inclination and whether they are concerned about the impact of Calvinism in the convention.

Sixty-six percent of pastors do not consider their church a Reformed theology congregation, while 30 percent agree (somewhat or strongly) with the statement “My church is theologically Reformed or Calvinist.” Four percent did not know. This compares to 29 percent who agreed to this statement in an earlier survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors in 2011.

By the same token, 64 percent of SBC pastors also disagree (15 percent somewhat; 49 percent strongly) that “My church is theologically Arminian or Wesleyan.” Thirty percent of respondents classify their church as Arminian or Wesleyan, with 6 percent selecting “Don’t know.” This compares to 37 percent of Protestant pastors who agreed on the 2011 survey.

“It is fascinating how much debate is occurring right now on this topic when most pastors indicate that neither end of the spectrum correctly identifies their church,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “However, historically, many Baptists have considered themselves neither Calvinist nor Arminian, but holding a unique theological approach not framed well by either category.”

Stetzer also explained, “We used the terms ‘Reformed or Calvinist,’ as that is generally self-explanatory. However, the terms ‘Arminian or Wesleyan’ are less common as Wesleyans are often seen as another denomination and many are uncomfortable with the term ‘Arminian.’

“However, to compare it to Protestant pastors, we wanted to use consistent terms – and, I imagine, many will be surprised that language did not keep respondents away – with an equal number claiming Reformed or Calvinist as claimed Arminian or Wesleyan,” he said.

Convention related

The survey revealed more than 60 percent of SBC pastors agree (35 percent strongly; 26 percent somewhat) they are “concerned about the impact of Calvinism in our convention.” Thirty percent disagree (16 percent strongly, 14 percent somewhat) with the statement. Nine percent chose “Don’t know.”

The survey showed pastors of Midwestern churches are more likely than pastors in the South (20 percent vs. 13 percent) to somewhat disagree and less likely to strongly agree (27 percent vs. 37 percent) they are concerned about the impact of Calvinism in the SBC.

Pastors age 18-44 are most likely to strongly disagree (26 percent) that they are concerned (4 percent selected “Don’t know”) and are more likely (20 percent) to somewhat disagree than pastors age 55-64 (10 percent) and 65 and older (9 percent).

Personally

Seventy-eight percent of pastors responded they personally are not five-point Calvinists, while 16 percent agreed (8 percent somewhat and 8 percent strongly) with the statement “I am a five-point Calvinist.” This compares to 32 percent of pastors who agreed with the statement in last year’s survey of Protestant pastors.

The majority is reflected in every age bracket, although SBC pastors age 55-64 (77 percent) and 65 and older (77 percent) are more likely to “strongly disagree” with the statement than pastors age 18-44 (60 percent) and 45-54 (66 percent). Pastors age 18-44 (18 percent) and 45-54 (10 percent) are more likely to strongly agree with the statement than pastors age 55-64 (3 percent) and 65 and over (1 percent).

The survey also showed SBC pastors of churches with less than 50 in attendance are most likely to select “Don’t know” (14 percent) and the least likely to strongly disagree (62 percent) with the statement “I am a five-point Calvinist.”

LifeWay Research asked a similar question in a 2006 SBC survey, which revealed 85 percent did not consider themselves five-point Calvinists and 10 percent affirmed that they were five-point Calvinists.

Theologically

“Rather than ask a single question of yes or no, the new survey was intended to capture some of the complexity of the debate by covering several specific theological points and bringing clarity to how strongly pastors hold each position,” Stetzer explained.

Ten percent of respondents strongly agree with the statement “Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone in the world” and another 6 percent somewhat agree. More than 80 percent somewhat disagree (6 percent) and strongly disagree (77 percent) with the statement. This compares to 91 percent of Protestant pastors who disagreed in the earlier survey.

Half of SBC pastors agree with a statement related to irresistible grace – 31 percent strongly agree and 19 percent somewhat agree with the statement “God is the true evangelist and when He calls someone to Himself, His grace is irresistible.” Forty-eight percent (29 percent strongly, 19 percent somewhat) disagree with the statement. This matches the agreement Protestant pastors showed (50 percent) in the 2011 survey.

Two-thirds of SBC pastors strongly disagree with a statement on double predestination: “Before the foundation of the world, God predestined some people to salvation and some to damnation.” Eleven percent strongly agree with the statement, while 10 percent somewhat agree and 9 percent somewhat disagree. A similar question was asked of Protestant pastors and 13 percent agreed.

More than 90 percent strongly disagree that “it diminishes God’s sovereignty to invite all persons to repent and believe.” An additional 5 percent somewhat disagree, leaving 4 percent who strongly or somewhat agree. This compares to 87 percent of Protestant pastors who disagreed.

Ninety-four percent of respondents believe in the security of the believer, that “a person cannot, after becoming a Christian, reject Christ and lose their salvation.” Five percent agree a person can lose their salvation.

“There appears to be a lot of concern among Southern Baptist pastors on the impact of Calvinism, but the beliefs in these doctrines, at least measured by these questions, show quite a mix of beliefs,” Stetzer said.

Stetzer summarized that, “Most Baptists are not Calvinists, though many are, and most Baptists are not Arminians, though many are comfortable with that distinction. However, there is a sizeable minority that see themselves as Calvinist and holds to such doctrines, and a sizeable majority that is concerned about their presence. That points to challenging days to come.”

  22Comments

  1. Fiona   •  

    My concern is neither with Calvinism nor Arminianism, but rather that we are forgetting we are all of Christ. Neither John Calvin nor John Wesley saves…only Jesus does that. I do not live my life to justify their theology, but rather to shine the light , truth, & love of Christ to a lost and dying world in need of a savior, not more arguments from believers.

  2. Fletcher Law   •  

    This is something unsaid that I think needs to be said.
    Could it be we have a majority of pastors who do not understand theological terms and their standard use?
    It does seem in blogs that often “the other side” is blatantly criticized by misrepresenting “the other side” in theological understanding of what Reformed or Armenian theology has historically meant.

  3. Marilyn Geeo   •  

    Of course SBC pastors are going to strongly disagree that they or their churches are Arminian. I strongly associate the word, “Arminian” or “Wesleyan,” with the idea of the ability to lose one’s salvation. Had the survey been done using non-theological terms, the responses would have been drastically different, in my personal opinion. We Southern Baptists have been two- or three-point Calvinists at least since the 1950s (at least that’s what our Sunday School literature led one to believe, and that’s what one often heard from the pulpit in the South.) The question really is, “Our we Southern Baptists still two-point or three-point Calvinists or have we accepted more of the TULIP?”

  4. Michael Indorf   •  

    I wonder if the question about concern is worded in the most helpful way. An ardent Calvinist could be just as concerned as an ardent anti Calvinist, only in the opposite direction. I am not a pollster but it seems that a word that was less neutral, and expressed emotion (happy or unhappy?) might have yielded a more clear result.

  5. Bill Donahue   •  

    Once again we find a debate about “Calvinism” divisive. Not Wesleyans, or AOG friends, nor Orthodox or Anglican or non Calvinist reformed, etc. — why is it always the hyper-Reformed Calvinists who throw gas on a smoldering ember, trying to light the fire of C-sim beyond a way even Calvin would deplore? Why do we need this research? Because of the impending division it is causing.

    This is so sad. With all the theological breakthroughs, learning, study and movements since the 1500’s we remain shackled to a false dichotomy — Calvinism/Reformed vs. “Others” usually lumped into “Arminian”. Calvin would shrink at the thought, (though he too was bit extreme at time and did try to create a new Theocracy in Geneva and promote the burning and drowning of a few “heretics” – we all have weaknesses).

    How many Calvinists today know the 5 points are a 1950’s creation, a modification from an earlier version where the “U” in TULIP was originally about Unwavering Sovereignty, not Election, (see The Joy of Calvinism by Greg Forster, a Calvinist whom I recently spent time with.)

    It is time to learn from all the streams and tribes. Interestingly, there is research and it is also quite clear about how little evangelistic fruit actually takes place in strong Calvinist circles. Probably why GLOBALLY, there are less than 4%-6% of Christians (excluding Catholic) whom could be classified as Calvinist. There is no “movement” here — only a debate in some very small circles in the US that gets a lot of press.

    Growing churches and movements worldwide are anything but strongly focused on this man-made divide and that should speak volumes to us — maybe they do not have time to debate – gutting food, fighting disease, planting churches, and living sacrificial lives for Christ may just take up too much of their time. We have much to learn — and it is not about Calvinism.

  6. Tom   •  

    My experience is that most Baptists agree with 3 of 5 of the Calvinist points. Limited atonement and irresistible grace are the two that run counter to standard SBC theology. My Bible says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and salvation is open to all.
    Jesus witnessed to the rich young ruler and he walked away from Christ Himself. If that was not resisting grace then please explain what is? If man does not have a free will to accept or reject the tug of the Spirit then Jesus was wasting His time.
    My problem with resurgent hyper Calvinism is that of deception by clergy who hold these views and try to pass themselves off to non reformed churches. This is dishonesty. My other concern are the zealots that say they wish to “reform” non Calvinist churches and purge the rolls of those who disagree. Think this is far fetched? Just how many non Calvinists are left at Al Mohler’s seminary. Maybe the answer is zero staff and students.

  7. William Bard   •  

    I see a drift toward this in my church among mainly young folks who can be best described as preppy, and somewhat intellectual. It is almost like a trendy fad. I think their mistake is that they, for the most part, can’t simply take the scriptures for the way that they were intended and in the proper light of contextualization and they somehow feel the need to “formulize” the scriptures into a package…end result the TULIP acronym looks very attractive to them. I would admonish all to look at the scriptures on the elect, as they are either referring to the nation of Israel or the believers that will (future tense when the scriptures were written) believe in Christ. The whole Calvinism argument just has so many holes it is hard to decide in a format like this what to expose about it. There are so many scriptures that talk about choice, consequenses and reward for right choices. The whole Bible is filled with action words like believe, confess, chose, etc. Yes, God foreknew but He did not forechoose in terms of individual salvation. The very thought of that is a slap in the face to a holy God Who created us in His image and loves us so much He gives us free will to decide to believe in Him (or not). To those that espouse such Calvinist beliefs, my admonishment to you is to NEVER sing the song “Jesus loves you” to children because based on your theology they really don’t know if they are one of the elect or not and subsequently you can’t say for sure whether Jesus loves them. Ridiculous! Universal attonement my friends…too many scriptures to even quote here. Take care.

  8. Pingback: Calvinists a growing minority among Southern Baptist clergy | Faith & Works

  9. Joe   •  

    I am amazed at the response some people have on this issue. It is an important issue and people should care on the type of church you attend and what is taught there. It is vital because your understanding this issue is how you interpret the Bible and more importantly how you characterize God. This is not an issue about us. Many people say it doesn’t matter how we get saved as long as we do. Since when is the Bible about us? The Bible is about God, His Character, His ways, His Glory, His Holiness. Don’t we wanna get this right? Don’t we wanna know who exactly we are worshiping and who exactly is the one we Glorify and why? I am not part of the SBC but the whole world is watching how the Arminium emphasizes is on the believer and how the Calvinistic view is on the Lord, wondering why the members don’t see this as well.

  10. Nick Atkins   •  

    Tom, I pray to God that you read this because you are seriously uninformed or misinformed.

    Concerning IG, please just do a bit of research on that doctrine. The “rich young ruler” does not fit into that at all. IG does not mean that you are unable to resist, it means that you wont. It means that once God has saved you and has raised you up from the dead, we then have eyes to see and we’re not going to climb back into a grave and kill ourselves again.

    Whatever you see cannot be defined as Hyper Calvinism, then again, please do some research on that. Hyper Calvinism is a complete heresy and the SBC would not stand for it. I’m not sure what you have seen and what “hyper calvinists” are zealots, but you are throwing some pretty heavy insults around, please make sure you know what you are saying.

    As for ripping on SBTS, or as you refer to it as, “AM’s Seminary,” before you do, I would highly encourage you to go and sit in a few classes, attend a chapel, maybe really get to know the hearts of the teachers and students at SBTS before you start labeling them as zealots and hyper-calvinists.

    My email is natkins3@gmail.com, please don’t hesitate to email me if you wish to discuss this further.

  11. Rhology   •  

    I am concerned about the impact of people whining about Calvinism in the SBC. Let’s put it that way and see what people say.

  12. Jim   •  

    The questions are flawed. The person that designed the survey does not have a thorough understanding of Calvinism.

    For instance the statement “Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone in the world”

    Should say “Christ died for everyone in the world, but only the elect will be saved.”

    That is stated much more biblical.

  13. Russell Traweek   •  

    I believe there is a misunderstanding when it comes to these theological discussions and one of those points has to do with even comments on the original article posts and comments. This issue has to do with double predestination. In the Reformed circles, it seems we have to do much explaining so that people understand the fallacy within the statement. Double predestination says God predestined some to hell and some to heaven. This is just not an accurate statement. Scripture tells us in Romans 3:10-18 that we all in our fallenness will never “choose” God. We will always choose our sinful nature. We find in Romans 3:23 that we all fall short of God’s standard and then in Romans 6:23 we are told about the results of those who do not receive the gift of God.

    You see we all are born fallen deserving hell. We all have a propensity to sin and evil and unrighteousness that justly determines that we live eternally in hell. However, God chooses (predestined) some to eternal life. It is not double predestination, but rather single. Therefore, in that predestination we do not find boasting, but total humility. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We must understand that the average Calvinist does not believe in double predestination as many accuse Calvinism as being. Rather only single predestination.

  14. Pingback: Is the SBC at war with Calvinism?

  15. Jim   •  

    @William Bard

    “Yes, God foreknew but He did not forechoose in terms of individual salvation.”

    What do you do with Ephesians 1:4 then?
    “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love”

    If you had a part in your salvation then you can take credit for it but you didn’t, it was all God.
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”- Ephesians 2:8

  16. Bill Nettles   •  

    Ed,
    I agree with Michael Indorf about the wording of the “concern” question. It leads to ambiguity. For example, I am concerned about the impact of the Gospel in American, meaning I wish it had a more immediate and obvious acceptance and impact. On the other hand, I am concerned about the impact of abortion in America, meaning I think abortion is a bad thing. Concern means different things depending on one’s presuppositions. If you haven’t correlated the “concern” responses with other responses, the results of that question are absolutely meaningless.

    It’s interesting to me that “Calvinism” is treated by vocal non-Calvinists as something to be rooted out because they didn’t grow up with it. I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s when the SBC theology was basically application without underlying truth reasoning: “don’t cuss, don’t drink, don’t dance, walk the aisle during revival, witness, read your Bible daily, come to church.” It wasn’t until I started reading non-Baptist theologians (e.g., Packer, Chafer, Pink, Shaeffer) that I knew there was more to life than Sunday School, youth choir, and BTU.

    Bill Donahoe says why is it always the hyper-Reformed Calvinists who throw gas on a smoldering ember. That’s the wrong question because it IS NOT “Calvinists” that throw the gasoline. It’s the anti-Calvinists roughly 90% of the time. Reformed-minded pastors and faculty are run off from institutions SIMPLY because of their theological beliefs and not because of impropriety, heresy, or belligerence. How many non-Calvinists get run off because of their theological bent?

  17. Ed Stetzer   •     Author

    Great comments… well, most of them. ;-)

    It is an important subject with lots of passion behind it.

    On to a couple of questions.

    In regard to the Calvinism wording, we expect lots of complaints about that. No one is happy unless it puts their view in the best light. I get that.

    That’s why we worked with two consultants: one from one of the most prominent Calvinist advocacy orgs (you’d know the name) and one a very well-known critic of Calvinism (if you are SBC, you would know the name). After several rounds of negotiating, they agreed this was the best we could do that did not lean one way or another. Of course, Calvinists wanted it one way and traditional Baptists wanted it another– but in research, you agree to get to the best you can. We are comfortable with it. Of course, nothing is perfect, so it is not intended to be a treatise on Calvinism, just a survey of how people responded to certain questions.

    We think that the plain wording is clear for the “concerned.” When people say, “I am concerned,” we know what they mean almost all the time– and that is the best you can do in research. Also, there is a generally a difference between being “concerned about” something (which is seen as negative) and being “concerned with” something (which is having a stake in it). Of course, like all survey questions, it is not perfect, but it works.

    God bless,

    Ed

  18. vimbai   •  

    M nt theologocally sound so forgive me if i say wrobg things but to be honest just reading the above article breaks my heart,after reading this my heart is in a way broken just to know that there is all this i wld call them differences.it reminds me of 1corith1and also in 1cor4 paul adrress them about the devisions they had and he says because of this i feed you with milk and not solid food.he says there were flesh and not spiritual.i dont knw if this fts the discussion above.but why all this shlnt we as christian look in the word of God and not be devided.i think we as christians from my point of view we have a lot of devisions and according to apostole paul in the bk of 1corith we are pple of flesh.christ is not devided.if i hav said something wrobg plz do correct me……

  19. Bill Nettles   •  

    When people say, “I am concerned,” we know what they mean almost all the time– and that is the best you can do in research.

    Sorry, Ed, but that’s not the best you can do. For good meaningful surveys, you MUST clear out ambiguity in the questions if possible; here, it was possible. If you want to be able to hedge the results, you include the ambiguity. Were you looking for wiggle room?

    “I am concerned about the impact of the Gospel in America” means the Gospel is seen as negative? If you put this question before SBC people, I predict you would get >90% agreement. You say that means the Gospel is a negative influence. Get real; you’re playing word games.

  20. Ed Stetzer   •     Author

    Bill,

    I don’t know you, so I am not sure how to take your ” Get real; you’re playing word games.”

    Since you teach at Union and are a professional colleague, I will assume it is a good natured tone and not read too much into it.

    Either way, we are comfortable with the question– you are free to have a different view, of course.

    No question is perfect, but we think it communicated what it needed to, particularly since Calvinists generally did not agree with the statement in the survey.

    I’ll leave it there.

    Thanks,

    Ed

  21. Bill Nettles   •  

    Ed,
    I apologize. I certainly wasn’t meaning to be belligerent, but I do know (from experience) that survey questions can be tailored to generate certain responses.

    It seems you are comfortable that the concern expressed is uniformly viewing Calvinism as a negative influence, and your statement seems to indicate you have some correlation between the questions. If you have correlations, those would be interesting to many of us.

    I would be more interested to know why responders view Calvinism with a concern. Any ideas on what responders might say?

    Thanks for your work.

    All the Best,
    Bill

  22. Just Me =)   •  

    I think a better way to word it might have been.. Do you think that the Lord Jesus had to bear the wrath of God as punishment on behalf of all those who will never believe in Him..or will they bear their own punishment in hell?
    Why would the Father pour out wrath twice for the same sins?

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