Is Southeastern Part of a Calvinist Plot? My Response to Les Puryear

In the July 30, 2012 issue of the Biblical Recorder, Les Puryear wrote an op-ed piece in which he indicated that Southeastern was part of a Calvinist effort to takeover the Southern Baptist Convention.  Allan Blume, the Recorder’s editor, allowed me to give a response in the same edition.  I argued that SEBTS has only one agenda: the Great Commission.  The following is that response: 

Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional Southern Baptist churches?

Les [Puryear] and I agree in three important areas. First, neither of us embraces the Calvinist understanding of salvation. I’ve written extensively about the subject where I’ve argued against the typical Calvinist doctrines of limited atonement and irresistible grace. My view of salvation is closer to what he calls “the traditional Baptist view” (with a few notable exceptions) than to the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) that he enunciated.

Second, both of us agree that pastor search committees need to be better informed about the theological issues of the day. Some have claimed they were misled by pastoral candidates when actually they didn’t understand fully the answers they were given.

And third, we both believe that pastoral candidates must present their views with candor and integrity. They need to tell prospective congregations where they stand on issues such as the inerrancy of scripture, gender roles in the home and in the church, church governance matters (i.e. plurality of elders versus the single elder model), and of course, where they stand with respect to the five points of Calvinism.

Les and I strongly disagree on one point: he intimates that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) is complicit in a Calvinist attempt to takeover [Southern Baptist Convention] SBC churches. Absolutely not. Perhaps others have such a scheme; SEBTS does not.

Even though he doesn’t say so explicitly, Les seems to imply that Southeastern is a major player in a Calvinist coup when he warns that a “majority of these Southern Baptist Calvinist pastors are coming from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.).” Does Southeastern have Calvinists on its faculty? Yes, as do all six SBC seminaries.

Calvinism is a part of our Baptist heritage, so Calvinists deserve a place at the SBC table. But the majority of faculty at SEBTS do not subscribe to TULIP. And we have no faculty members who evangelize more for John Calvin than they do for Jesus Christ. Puryear also seems to assume that the typical rural church in North Carolina is a “traditional” Baptist church (“traditional” as defined recently in a statement published by Eric Hankins). Maybe; maybe not. During the 10 years I have lived in the Carolinas I have had the opportunity to preach in many rural churches. Instead of finding many “traditional” Baptist churches, to my dismay I have encountered numerous churches with practically no theological moorings at all. Many historic churches have had pastors who held to a low view of biblical authority with few doctrinal commitments, and the results have been very damaging. Without apology I contend that I would rather see the pastorate of those churches filled with mission-minded, Spurgeon-type Calvinists than to have those congregations remain in the theological murkiness in which many are wandering.

Southeastern Seminary does have an agenda – the Great Commission. When we say that SEBTS is a Great Commission school we are not pitting obedience to the Great Commission against commitment to doctrine. Quite the opposite: few things are more doctrinal than the Great Commission. The Great Commission entails certain powerful theological truths: all humanity is lost and is in need of salvation, Jesus Christ is the only Savior, people can get saved only if they hear the gospel, and our Lord has commanded us to preach the gospel to everyone in the world. These are the truths that motivate us.

Every professor at Southeastern, without exception, affirms these Great Commission truths (and those faculty members who have theological affinity with the teachings of John Calvin would not subscribe to the five points the way Puryear presents them). Every professor affirms that God loves the world and every human being in it. Every faculty member believes that God genuinely desires the salvation of all.

Everyone teaching at Southeastern affirms that the blood of Christ is sufficient to save every man, woman and child who’ve ever lived. We all believe that every person who hears the gospel has a genuine opportunity to be saved and has only himself to blame if he rejects it. Every one of us is broken hearted by the lostness of humanity and by the reality that lost people go to hell. We believe in and practice soul winning.

Any faculty who taught otherwise would find himself or herself giving an account to Dr. [Danny] Akin and me. The [SBC] exists for the purpose of enabling churches to collectively obey the Great Commission. We at Southeastern take seriously our role in fulfilling that mission. SEBTS has one mission and one mission only: to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the local church and fulfill the Great Commission. That is our agenda.online game mobile

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  30Comments

  1. Dave Miller   •  

    I appreciate this wonderful rebuttal. My only question is why you dignify Les’ consistently hate-filled missives with a response.

  2. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    Hi Dave. Since Les’ article was running in the BR, we believed that a response was necessary. kk

  3. Jay Adkins   •  

    Very, VERY good.

  4. Justin Barnett   •  

    As a student at SEBTS, I find it humorous that the school has been accused of being part of a Calvinist plot. Some of the students at SEBTS are Calvinists. Some of the students are Arminian. Some of the students are Molinists. Students at SEBTS are taught to be exegetes that think for themselves. We are taught the problems and strengths of all three systems. Each student makes up his or her own mind about the position they hold.

    Thank you Dr. Keathley for your article.

  5. Pastor Bill   •  

    Ken, Thank you for this excellent article. I appreciate most the spirit of the article but the last few paragraphs are especially valuable. We should all focus on those core truths on which the two “sides” agree.

  6. Jeff Box   •  

    Good word Dr. Keathley.

  7. Leslie Puryear   •  

    Ken, since you had the opportunity to respond to my column, please allow me a small response to yours.

    Nowhere did I specifically say that SEBTS was part of a Calvinist plot. The intentional reform of SBC traditional churches is based at Founders as I pointed out.
    My reference to SEBTS was to point out that the promotion of Calvinist theology. Although not in the article, SEBTS has held boot camps for Acts 29, and is currently advertising a 9 Marks event on campus. No problem is SEBTS doing this, but there should also be no problem in pointing this out to educate local churches.

    Thanks for your response. As you said, there is much upon which we agree.

    Regards,

    Les

  8. Leslie Puryear   •  

    Dave Miller,

    As 2nd VP of the SBC, your charge that my column as well as other posts are “hate-filled,” is a serious statement. I have no hate for anyone and have never said I hate anyone.

    Since you do not know me or my heart, I request an apology from you for such a comment. Such a comment is beneath the dignity of an officer of the SBC.

    Les

  9. Tim   •  

    I find it hard to believe that anyone who is the slightest bit familiar with the faculty at SEBTS could make such a charge.

  10. Rick Patrick   •  

    Friends,

    I do think this may simply be a perception problem, but when you host a Nine Marks conference with Mark Dever, David Platt and Matt Chandler, you will appear to be promoting Reformed Theology. One is left to wonder if Piper, Driscoll and MacArthur were already booked and unavailable for the conference.

    Thank you, Ken, for clarifying that Southeastern is not simply “Southern Lite” when it comes to Calvinism. I admit that I tend to consider Southeastern much closer to Southern doctrinally than, say, NOBTS or SWBTS.

    By the way, Dave, I read the article by Les all the way through for the second time now. While he does not write from a Calvinist perspective, I really did not pick up on anything that could fairly be called a “hate-filled” missive.

    Rick

  11. Lance Stuckey   •  

    While none can (or should) deny Dr. Keathley’s statements about SEBTS’s mission and goal, Southeastern does have the reputation as a more Calvinistic Southern Baptist Seminary. I am an ’09 MDIV graduate of SEBTS and I am very proud of the seminary I graduated from. But in the last few years I have had to answer more interview questions about SEBTS’s position on Calvinism than I have about my own personal theological convictions.

    This is due in large part to lack to uninformed interviewers but, consciously or not, SEBTS has allowed this perception to develop. I believe this perception is inaccurate, but it is without question a reality. Not just for those currently at SEBTS but for those who lovingly hold a close association with the school.

  12. Tom Parker   •  

    Rick Patrick:

    I must disagree with you– Les used the NC Biblical Recorder which has a wide readership to make these charges. Les says nowhere did he say SEBTS was part of a Calvinist plot, but–Les says :”The majority of these Southern Baptist Calvinist pastors are coming from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.). In North Carolina, small rural churches have been particularly vulnerable to Calvinist graduates from these seminaries because of their close proximity to churches in our state”

    IMO Les is being extremely divisive and he has enough years under his belt to no better.

    I would easily ask what is the purpose of Les’s letter–and only he knows.

    It is truly sad that SB can not live in harmony with each other.

  13. Zach Cochran   •  

    I would never advocate that SEBTS was a Calvinist school! However, for the sake of argument lets say that they are. Then, less us take a look at the pastor and missionaries they are producing. It seems to me that SEBTS is producing several missionaries going into unreached peoples and pastors that are sending missionaries into unreached peoples. I say lets not define a school by what “theological system” they are producing and defines them by the fruit of laborers. Strong Theology with weak Missiology is horrible Christianity.

  14. Zach Cochran   •  

    I would never advocate that SEBTS was a Calvinist school! However, for the sake of argument lets say that they are. Then, let us take a look at the pastors and missionaries they are producing. It seems to me that SEBTS is producing several missionaries going into unreached peoples and pastors that are sending missionaries into unreached peoples. I say let us not define a school by what “theological system” they are producing and define them by the fruit of laborers. Strong Theology with weak Missiology is horrible Christianity.

  15. Jared Moore   •  

    I think Les constantly misrepresents Southern Baptist Calvinists and Southern Baptist Calvinism. He’s careless at best, and hate-filled at worst.

    For example, in his article that appeared in the Biblical Recorder, he misquoted Al Mohler. Where has Al Mohler ever said that 5-point Calvinism is the SBC’s future? This is what Les implied. When Mohler spoke to the editors of the various Baptist State papers, he included all those who agree with the BF&M 2K within Calvinism [Paige Patterson has publicly said the same thing], including all of the editors present, then he said that Calvinism is the future. Puryear took this comment out of context. Not to mention, as Dr. Keathley points out, that Puryear’s T.U.L.I.P. doesn’t accurately reflect what Southern Baptist Calvinists believe.

    Furthermore, where’s the proof that “the majority of SBC Calvinists” are coming from Southern and Southeastern? NAMB statistics from the “2007 New Millennium Ministers Study” argue that Southern had the most Calvinist graduates, but Southeastern had the least out of all SBC seminaries. The list went, from greatest to least: Southern, Midwestern, Golden Gate, Southwestern, New Orleans, Southeastern (pg.9)- http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_LifeWay_Research_Calvinism_and_SBC_Recent_Seminary_Graduates_Ppt.ppt

    Moreover, Puryear has recently publicly attacked The Gospel Project as a “Calvinist indoctrination” tool while linking to an article that provides no evidence of his accusation. Les, how is this possibly loving your brothers and sisters in Christ who edited and wrote The Gospel Project?

    Les, if you don’t hate SBC Calvinists, then why do you constantly misrepresent what they believe, and accuse them without evidence to back up your accusations?

  16. Tom Parker   •  

    Jared:

    One of my major gripes with what Les is doing is that it is a tried and true tactic by some from the CR–to try and cast someones as something they are not with no proof. Sadly it worked in the past, will it work this time?

    Les and others need to re-read the Bible about sowing and reaping.

  17. Jared Moore   •  

    Tom, if we’re willing to lie and misrepresent our neighbors in order to protect our inerrant Bible, then we don’t consistently believe we possess an inerrant Bible.

  18. Mark   •  

    Dr. Keathly,

    Thank you for this reply. I do wish your experience as not been that many SBC pastors you’ve encountered seemed to have “no theological moorings at all.”

    Earlier this year I made the point Jared made above. In referencing the LifeWay and NAMB surveys I pointed out the following.

    …on page 14 of the surveys, the SBC seminaries are listed in descending order in proportion to their graduates who are Calvinists. While Southern tops the list in the 2007 NAMB study followed by Midwestern, Golden Gate, Southwestern, New Orleans and Southeastern; the 2006 LifeWay study has Golden Gate leading the way followed by Southeastern, New Orleans, Southwestern, Midwestern, and, finally, Southern. – [The Calvinists: a Reply to Gerald Harris Part I]

  19. Tom Parker   •  

    Jared:

    I believe there was a whole lot of lying and misrepresentation of others about innerancy and other items to make the TAKEOVER of the SBC convention possible. Now that the “liberals” have been removed, I am just guessing the Calvinists are next.

    It is a mighty tangled web!

  20. Jared Moore   •  

    Tom, I believe the CR should have happened, and needed to happen, but Christians should never sin to protect the Word of God. That’s a denial of inerrancy, a denial that God has spoken clearly concerning telling the truth, loving Him with all our hearts, souls and minds, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

  21. Bob Cleveland   •  

    Les, Dave Miller doesn’t need me to defend him, but you’re the only one mentioning his SBC office, here. Why do you bring that up .. can’t you defend yourself without attacking him?

    Shame on you. Don’t try to make someone less able to state his opinion as a person simply because he’s been elected to an office by an organization, when he makes no reference to it whatsoever.

  22. Mike Davis   •  

    While pastoral candidates should obviously be open and honest with pastor search committees, I don’t get why this seems to be the focus of the “takeover” allegations or what the controversy is exactly in this regard. Pastor search committees are going to ask and probe in the areas that are important to them and if a committee has some concerned non-Calvinists who are worried about screening out “Calvinists”–by whatever definition they have designated–, I have no doubt they would be able to ask the questions and follow-ups that get them the information they want. I think most pastoral candidates probably focus the discussion on what the interviewers want to talk about. If we want to help pastor search committees become more theologically-minded in the interview process, perhaps a focus on Biblical inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, and imputed righteousness would be a better way to start than the Calvinist/Arminian/Traditionalist issue. I wonder how many search committees get clarification on these first-order doctrines when they talk with candidates. The good news is I think all the SBC seminaries are solid on these issues, but the search committees should still be confirming where the candidate stands on the essentials.

  23. Tom Parker   •  

    Jared:

    You said:”but Christians should never sin to protect the Word of God.”

    Jared, I will make this my last comment here about the CR as I believe my views are known by anyone who has ever read my posts.

    The mechanics of the CR IMO were wrong on so many levels.
    Tactics were used to gain control which ruined others ministries. That is just plain wrong!

    My fear is that you and other Calvinists are next and then there will be another next.

    I hope I am wrong.

    God can not be pleased especially over the last 33 years and the battle continues.

  24. Jason Wilkerson   •  

    I truly hope that no unchurched/lost people read some of the responses to this article. While doctrine is always important (and no thinking Christian on either side would disagree), it sure seems that the endless debate over this issue, often done with more love for doctrine than people, has a way of taking the wind out of the sails of the gospel.

  25. Pingback: Round and Round it Goes | The View From My Study

  26. Tom Parker   •  

    Jason:

    You said:”I truly hope that no unchurched/lost people read some of the responses to this article. While doctrine is always important (and no thinking Christian on either side would disagree), it sure seems that the endless debate over this issue, often done with more love for doctrine than people, has a way of taking the wind out of the sails of the gospel.”

    I’m not following you about some of the responses to “this article.” Which article are you referencing?

  27. dr. james willingham   •  

    Interesting thought about SEBTS being part of a calvinistic plot, but not true. I am a five point calvinist, and I think there are only two calvinists that I know of on the faculty. There might be more, but I doubt seriously that they have any sort of agenda. As to the Founders, they have to answer for themselves. I am not a part of their group. While I hold to the TULIP as the most evangelistic and missionary theology that the world has ever seen (it is the very theology of Jesus), it is designed to win the whole earth and every soul on it for a 1000 generations (that’s anywhere from 20,000 to 500,000 years, depending on how many years one allows for a generation, one that is likely to lengthen) and thousands of other worlds. The folks like Mr. Puryear and Dr. Keathley need to go back and consider how the TULIP theology was the theology of the First and Second Great Awakenings and the the launching of the Great Century of Missions. In a brief period that soteriology transformed Protestantism from a Gospel Recovery effort full of sound and fury and blood into an outgoing, we will persuade you with truth…not manipulation and force. That theology also produced the greatest and freest nation on earth, a calvinistic republic as one of the leading historians of the 19th century called it. There is on the internet a work by Lorraine Boettner that provides some worthwhile information on the truth about Amereica’s founding. Besides that there is the work of the two professors from Huston that established the fact that the sources for the documents of our nation are the Bible (34%), John Locke (8-9%) and Montesquieu (6-8%). Plus there is the complaint of King George that his colonists ran off with a Presbyterian Parson. Actually, I think they go caught up in an affair with the Baptist Pastor cause they did not adopt a state church as the Presbyterians were willing to settle for in Va., and they could not due to the fact that the Baptists said no. And the Baptists in 10 years had the votes to say what went down. Most people think that TULIP plus Predestination and Reprobation cannot possibly be evangelistic, but every one of the five points plus the last two mentioned are invitations and are so used in the Bible by our Lord. They are what in counseling is called therapeutic paradoxes. Dr. John Thomas, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice, and others, including Basil Manley, Sr., were calvinists under the influence of Jonathan Edwards. His views are well known, and it is his calvinism plus that of George Whitefield is the most intensely inviting theology the world has ever seen. It is coming back, but it must be by persuasion from the facts of Scripture. My ordaining Pastor, Dr. Ernest R. Campbell, was a supralapsarian, a hyper-calvinist, and yet he ordained me, when I did not even hold to a sound doctrine of the Fall of man (I said to him, “Which theory do you want? There are six of them.”) But within a year in my first pastorate and seeing the depravity of man up close and personal in church members and having studied a Puritan, David Clarkson, closely, I came to the conclusion that the only theory that made sense in careful exegesis of scripture was the Federalist view and to some degree the Augustinian view. Man’s depravity and inability demand irresistible grace and that in turn demands unconditional election. It took me 8-10 years more to work out the fact that Limited Atonement was really the doctrine of all. Everyone preaches a doctrine of limited atonement, but the only one that preaches that the power is in the blood is the Particular Redemptionists. All the others put the power in man;s ability to respond, detracting from the glory of Jesus our Lord. The power in the blood gives all glory to Him. I have been praying for a Third Great Awakening for 39 years (it will be this Fall). I never gave much thought to the theology though I knew what place it occupied in the first Two Awakenings and in the origin of the Missionary Movement. Funny thing, but even the Primitive Baptists have missionaries in India now or they have people from that nation making an effort to contact them and present themselves on profession of faith. I did know of one Primitive Baptist outfit that had a Dental Missionary in China some 30-40 years ago. The Founders, if they are going to try and force their views on others, which I do not think is likely, would ensure their own failure. I want people to believe what I believe, because they have been persuaded by the facts. Just like I persuaded a man named Spurgeon that Grace was Irresistible. Well, to be truthful, I told him, it was and God showed him that it was. However, it took him nearly 40 years to make up his mind that it was irresistible as one of his converts told him back 45 years ago, “O it was so wonderful that I could not resist it.” Funny yet, Spurgeon found out from a genealogist that he was a distant kin to C.H. Gentlemen, you all need to hang on to your hats. God might well be getting ready to send us that Third Great Awakening, not because I prayed for it, but others with better connections have..such as D.M. Lloyd Jones.

  28. J. Michael Palmer   •  

    As a SEBTS trustee I have found the faculty there to be completely transparent and trustworthy with respect to their beliefs and manner of teaching. I find it reprehensible to suggest that anyone on the faculty of SEBTS is a part of “a plot”. To suggest such is to undermine their motive and therefore taint all that they do. I have found people at SEBTS to be like Dr. Keathley said in his response to Mr. Puryear; representative of a full theological spectrum but FULLY supportive of the BF&M, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, and the Danvers statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I have found all faculty at SEBTS to be Champions of the Gospel, evangelistic, compassionate, and desiring to advance the Kingdom of our Lord around the globe. I HAVE TRUSTED MY SON TO THIS WONDERFUL FACULTY AND WOULD DO IT AGAIN IN A HEARTBEAT. His life has been forever changed as a result of their investment. I would stand with ANY of the faculty at SEBTS and gladly assault the gates of Hell alongside them! May our Lord bind us all together to reach this lost world. I STAND WITH SEBTS as one of the finest SBC instutions we have; as I would all of the SBC seminaries. No, the seminaries are not all alike, but their differences are not part of a “plot” as some might want to suggest. May God give us grace as we all step back and look at what is happening from a different perspective.
    Dr. J. Michael Palmer

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  30. Ken   •  

    I’m just a regular old church member. This statement by Rick Patrick is concerning to me:

    “I do think this may simply be a perception problem, but when you host a Nine Marks conference with Mark Dever, David Platt and Matt Chandler, you will appear to be promoting Reformed Theology. One is left to wonder if Piper, Driscoll and MacArthur were already booked and unavailable for the conference.”

    SEBTS has Mark Dever, a Southen Baptist pastor who is attempting to move our churches away from the silliness of the last 30 years; David Platt, a Southern Baptist pastor who is re-awakening missionary zeal in the laity; and Matt Chandler, a Southern Baptist pastor who speaks to a younger generation better than most of these showman pastors who water down the Gospel for numbers; and Mr. Patrick compares them to non-SBC pastors who truly are outside of the SBC’s big tent.

    How can we really talk about unity?

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