Does Al Mohler Need to Repent of Promoting Calvinism?

By "repent," I mean to turn around. I am not asserting that he has committed a sin against God. I simply mean to stop progressing in one direction, turn around, and head in another direction. As the Calvinist/Traditionalist war continues to heat up in the SBC, the focus of the issue should not go to Lifeway's "The Gospel Project" or Founders or many of the other targets, in my opinion. The focus should go to the one SBC entity that has as its president a man who has clearly articulated a view that Calvinism is the only logical option for thinking evangelicals who are serious about gospel fidelity. I think that is a bridge too far. 

Dr. Al Mohler is a 5 point Calvinist and he has led Southern in that direction quite obviously. That is not a big problem on the surface. Calvinism is a legitimate theological perspective in Southern Baptist life and it has much merit to it. Anyone trying to remove Calvinist influence from Baptist life should be reprimanded and ignored, in my opinion. However, has Mohler gone beyond just being a Calvinist and speaking and working from that perspective? Has he actually moved into the realm of promoting Calvinism over other theological perspectives in SBC life? If he has, then he has gone beyond the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 on an essential issue. He has moved Calvinism to a second tier issue (one of the ones that you divide over denominationally), instead of a third tier issue (one upon which you can continue in fellowship but disagree). I submit to you the following evidence:

From a Christianity Today article on Mohler from 2010:

"Mohler believes that the only intellectually robust defense of biblical inerrancy lies in the Reformed scholasticism that emerged from the Synod of Dort (1618) and enjoyed its apogee at late-19th-century Princeton Theological Seminary, where James Boyce trained. Non-Calvinist conservatives, Mohler says, "are not aware of the basic structures of thought, rightly described as Reformed, that are necessary to protect the very gospel they insist is to be eagerly shared." He thinks that Reformed theology's appeal to young people proves its unique imperviousness to the corrosive forces of 21st-century life. "If you're a young Southern Baptist and you've been swimming against the tide of secularism … you're going to have to have a structure of thought that's more comprehensive than merely a deck of cards with all the right doctrines." In this regard, Mohler is just as elitist as the moderates of old Southern: he is certain he has the truth, and those Baptists who protest simply are not initiated intothe systematic splendor of Reformed thought."

Mohler, in an interview with Kevin de Young and Ligon Duncan of The Gospel Coalition has also gone on record as saying,

"If you are a theologically minded, deeply convictional, young evangelical, if you are committed to the gospel and you want to see the nations rejoice in the name of Christ – if you want to see gospel built and structured and committed churches, your theology is just going to end up basically being reformed, basically being something like this New Calvinism or you're going to have invent some kind of label for what is just going to end up being the same thing. There just are not options out there, and that is something that I think frustrates some people, but when I'm asked about the New Calvinism, I'm going to say basically, Where else are they going to go? Who else is going to answer the questions, who else is going to offer the resources they need, where else are they going to connect? This is a generation that understands that they want to say the same thing that Paul said. They want to stand with the Apostles. They want to stand with old dead people. And, they know they are going to have to if they are going to preach and teach the truth." From video.

In a subsequent speech given to the state editors of Baptist papers in 2011, Mohler qualified his statements by saying: 

"…Calvinism is the shape of the future, because the options otherwise don’t very much exist. Now if you just quote me on that and put that in the paper it’s going to make people mad. And it’s not tribal language. It is because when I say Calvinism here, I’m going back to 1845, I’m going back to 1925, I’m going back to 1963, and I’m including all of you in that. Now if you’re offended by that just realize that any outside observer looking at the SBC, looking at our confessions of faith, would put us on the Calvinist side of the ledger.

"Now I want to tell you I am a five-point Calvinist, all right? I never write about that, I don’t speak about that. If you want to know that there you have it. But I am at home in the Southern Baptist Convention of the Baptist Faith & Message. I was not raised in a church that talks about Calvinism. I am not now a member of a church that talks about Calvinism. The whole SBC, the Baptist Faith & Message and the New Hampshire Confession is clearly out of the basically Calvinist direction. Now that’s tribal. And one of the problems with this is people hear that as tribal. And one of the problems is that people hear that as tribal. And to hear that as five-point Calvinism, look, that is, that’s not what I’m talking about here. There are amongst us those who are more Calvinist and those who are less. But the Baptist Faith & Message excludes Arminianism. The SBCs founders identified Arminianism as a heresy they sought to confront." Taken from transcript of speech.

          
So, here is where we stand with Mohler and Southern Seminary: Calvinism is the only possible place for thinking, theological minded young evangelicals to land. Calvinists say the same thing that Paul said and that the other Apostles said and there is not really any other way to explain the Gospel. And, by the way, all Southern Baptists are Calvinists of some sort or another because we are not Arminians and we don't believe that you can lose your salvation. So, you can have varying degrees of Calvinists short of the 5 point variety like Mohler, but all Southern Baptists are actually Calvinists of some sort and that is just how it is. Mohler asserts Calvinism, but it is not 5 point Calvinism – it is any aspect of the 5 points of TULIP and he says that ALL Southern Baptists fall in that distinction.

Of course, that is my take on it. So, when Traditionalists and Non-Calvinists are upset about what they think is a Calvinist take over in SBC life and Southern Seminary has a president who is a very strident cultural critic with a sharp tone, and there are some professors at Southern who are very much focused on Calvinism, and there are graduates of Southern who are quite militantly Calvinistic, even explaining it as the gospel itself, then this starts to make some sense. It makes sense just based on the words of Al Mohler alone.

Here is the issue in Southern Baptist life: From my understanding, you are not a Calvinist unless you affirm all 5 points of TULIP. There cannot be a 4 point or 3 point Calvinist. That is a false distinction. Calvinism according to the Synod of Dort (and it is debatable if even Calvin would have agreed with Dort) is a theological system that falls apart if you remove one of the points. I do not submit to Mohler's classification of me as a Calvinist, even though I would agree with most of TULIP. I am not a Calvinist. And, the SBC is not Calvinistic just because it believes in the perseverance of the saints or eternal security or however individual Baptists describe it. That is a false designation and it is causing great controversy.

We need to decide if Calvinism is of the 5 point variety in affirming all of TULIP or if it should be applied to those who affirm 2, 3, or 4 points as well. If we cannot even agree on what Calvinism is, then we should quit using the term for any but those who claim all 5 points or are truly Reformed and baptize infants, or we should use it for all Southern Baptists, even those who just agree with one point, ala Molher. Using it interchangeably across the spectrum is a semantic disaster for everyone – and both true Calvinists trying enhance their ranks and Traditionalists looking for targets to fire upon are both guilty. Traditionalists add to this problem when they call Danny Akin and Trevin Wax and many others who do not affirm all of TULIP as Calvinists.

Some Calvinists have called me a Calvinist because of things I believe, but I reject the label because I understand a Calvinist to be someone who affirms all of TULIP, which I do not. I refuse to qualify myself under a false theological distinction just so I can be labeled by others in their attempt to create a category for everyone. I think there are a whole lot of Southern Baptists who would agree with that perspective.

Here is where Mohler is wrong in how he has gone about this: As an SBC entity head who sits under the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, he has every right to be a Calvinist. Calvinism is included in that confession's soteriology. But, he does not have permission to uphold Calvinism above other perspectives that are also within the bounds of the BFM2000 or to apply the designation to everyone. This has been my contention in these debates for the past 7 years now. There must be room for Baptists who agree with the BFM2000 to coexist together, discuss, debate, disagree, and then work together under the umbrella of orthodox Christianity. When one view or another begins to prevail and attempts to supersede or degrade another, not in conversation but or personal belief, but in delegitimizing it, then we end up in a place of massive theological and denominational conflict – basically where we are right now. We also should allow people to self-designate without be labeled by others for political purposes, whether you are a Traditionalists who wants to be defined apart from Calvinism, or whether you adhere to 3 or the 4 points of Calvinism. The labeling by the other side so they can win arguments needs to stop. It seems that Mohler is guilty of this as well.

Al Mohler is on Frank Page's Calvinism Task Force. Will one of the first acts of the Task Force be to ask Mohler to repent (i.e., turn around and back off) of his statements asserting Calvinism as the only possible theological system for thinking evangelicals? Or, should he clarify again in a way that does not enforce a controversial designation upon people who do not want it? Because as long as his stated view is being promoted, I do not see where we can have peaceful coexistence for the sake of mission. And, I fear that honest attempts at cooperation between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists on things like The Gospel Project will constantly be seen in a sinister light by those who fear a Calvinist Takeover of the SBC. We need to step away from semantic confusion and co-opting and deal clearly with these issues. It would be great if Al Mohler would lead us in this.

30 Responses to Does Al Mohler Need to Repent of Promoting Calvinism?

  1. “some professors at Southern who are very much focused on Calvinism”
    As a 3rd year student at Southern I’ve yet to encounter this. Granted I haven’t had every professor but what uve witnessed are tempered and gracious men focused on the gospel and largely making sure the student body maintains that perspective. Oddly enough even in the class I took on Calvin and the Reformed tradition it wasn’t an obsession over Calvin but asking how he squares up biblically.

  2. I am glad, Mike. That is why I said, “some.” It is most definitely not all. But, I have heard from others that there are some who are. Even if it is a small minority, it adds to the perception.
    For the record, and I have said this many times, I have no problem with Calvinism. I constantly defend Calvinists and their involvement in the SBC. If there was a move to fire a professor or get rid of Mohler or not listen to him just because he was a Calvinist, I would oppose it vehemently. I also support his right to think and work from a Calvinist perspective. But, when you promote that view over others in Baptist life, we enter the realm of division. I am simply asking, using Mohler’s own words, if he is part of the problem.
    I have disagreed with the Traditionalists from the beginning. But, it takes two to tango, so to speak. They are reacting poorly and are shooting at everything that they think even looks somewhat Calvinistic, whether it is or not (The Gospel Project, for example), but perhaps there is fault on both sides. True peace won’t happen until some of this is acknowledged, I think.

  3. In researching this, found the material on Peter Lumpkins blog, an ardent critic of Calvinism and Mohler and one who has made this a crusade to identify Calvinistic influence in the SBC. Simply put, no one cares about this enough to type up the entire transcript of Mohler’s speech to the editors of the Baptist state papers, numbering some 81 pages. I do not agree with Lumpkin’s perspective or how far he takes all of this or his approach to this conflict, nor do I recommend his blog. But, from Mohler’s own words that Peter has linked to, I can see where some of what he is saying contributes to the problem that we now face.
    Basically, both sides need to recognize that we have to get along and recognize the other as legitimate. Mohler goes on in his speech to proclaim that very thing and that we are to work together. He has said that many times as well. But, when you extend your particular theological system over that of others, even if you are able to trace it historically, it is not helpful at this point, even if you are calling for unity all along.

  4. Put this under the wrong post a second ago.
    Alan, I so appreciate you, brother, along with your theologically minded mission focused ministry. Thanks for your example and thanks for this post. I would humbly suggest a couple of items.
    1. The Baptist Faith and Message does not deny Southern Baptists the right to hold firmly to, advance, and articulate extra-confessional matters as intellectually and biblically necessary. One example, aside from Calvinism, is apologetic methodology. Though foundationalism (or evidentialism or classicalism) is not mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message, are we not allowed to advance that methodology over the other as the most intellectually viable form of the defense of Christianity? Would you say that we may or may not do that? What about educational methodologies, such as subject/memory oriented contemporary education vs. classical logic/rhetorically oriented education? May we not advance one method over the other as most intellectually valid and necessary to faithfulness and cultural impact? I would suggest that to say we are not allowed to do this is to exceed the bounds of the BF&M and thus suggest that the BF&M is an exhaustive and sufficient document for all Southern Baptist convictions about what is most intellectually necessary and biblically defensible. To bring the matter closer to your own home, I suspect that you, Alan, believe that cultural engagement through practical ministries, such as serving children in public schools, feeding the hungry of society, helping the poor and needy by practical means, etc., is one necessary aspect of the most biblically and intellectually viable form of missions. But the BF&M only says we are to “provide” for the poor and needy. It never specifies how, and one might argue that we “provide” merely by preaching the gospel and calling them to Christ and that the biblical texts which teach we are to take care of the physical needs of the poor and needy refer primarily to God’s own people, the church, not to the lost world. This is not my view, but if it were, I would defend your right to advance your view as the most intellectually defensible and effective form of missions (as I’m sure you would), even though it is not required by the BF&M.
    2. Paige Patterson, Malcolm Yarnell, Jerry Vines, and the Caner brothers, to name just a few, are advancing their version of “Traditional” Baptist Theology as the most defensible and biblical form of soteriology. They also regularly denounce and castigate Calvinism and Calvinists. I know you would apply your arguments apply to them as well. But do we really want to live in a convention where no one advances any view or feels strongly about anything but what is already stated in the BF&M? Why may our leaders not argue for their convictions (as the only biblical and intellectually viable conviction), while agreeing with the right of others to argue for their convictions as long as they are *not in conflict* with the BF&M? Charismatic gifts are another example. I am a cessationist, but the BF&M does not exclude continuationists. I would expect a continuationist leader to argue that his view is the most intellectually honest and defensible Christian view (otherwise, why would he hold it?). I would expect the same of dispensationalist leaders. If we say Calvinist leaders may not defend their view as the most intellectually honest and biblical view, then are we saying that no leader may advance anything but what is in the BF&M already? If so, then why would we ever have any resolutions at the SBC? Church discipline, a classically Southern Baptist doctrine, isn’t mentioned in the BF&M. Does this mean that Southern Baptist leaders may not insist that practicing church discipline is the only intellectually honest and biblically defensible position in faithful church life? Don’t we really just need to acknowledge that it’s okay for people to hold convictions, to think they are right, and to advance their positions as the most intellectually honest and necessary view as long as their views are not in conflict with the BF&M? And isn’t to suggest or require otherwise itself an extra-confessional demand? And isn’t to require this to demand we be unthinking past the confession? And wouldn’t that make it impossible for we Baptists to have the kind of robust intellectual ballast necessary to confront the intellectual challenges of our age?
    Love you brother and so appreciate you, your ministry, and your writing. May we press on in the kingdom work.

  5. My experience at Boyce/Southern has been the same as Mike Leake’s… I keep hearing from non-calvinists who havent gone to Southern about how Southern is very pushy with calvinism and yet us, who actually went there, say it is a very different experience.
    I have had a very wide range of professors and I never once felt a professor was “very much focused on calvinism.” They treat calvinism just like all the others. Cover it when it comes up in Systematic Theology and move on.

  6. Also, I attended SBTS for 7 years through the PhD program, and I echo what Mike Leake says. I can count on one hand the number of times the issues of election, predestination, irresistible grace, and limited atonement came up at all. And when limited atonement came up, I heard more arguments against it than for it.

  7. And I was Dr. Tom Nettles’ PhD student (who is regularly pointed to as being a strong advocate of Calvinism). In the MDiv program I had Dr. Nettles for Baptist history and a class on Jonathan Edwards. And still, rarely was Calvinism discussed directly. I learned my Reformed theology from my personal reading, not at all from direct influence at SBTS.

  8. Tom, I responded to your first comment over on the other post, so you can see my response there.
    Matt and Tom,
    I am also glad that was your exprience. I take you at your word. I have heard from others who have had a different experience, but your testimony should stand alongside there’s for sure. Thanks for providing it.
    Honestly, if it were not for Mohler’s comments listed here, I would not have written a post about professors at Southern. I have Calvinist professors at Golden Gate. I appreciated their perspective greatly. There are Calvinist professors at NOBTS as well. The diversity of opinion is good. I have no problem with Calvinist or Anabaptist professors promoting their view.
    I added that in because when you combine it with Mohler’s statements, his 5 point Calvinism, and the comments I have quoted here, it creates an impression for those who are not at Southern. If there is no Calvinist influence at Southern, that is great. I stand corrected and admit that you would surely know more about it than I would. But, perception is leading the way here and I think that there are things that can be done to correct it – on both sides.

  9. I haven’t read the other comments intentionally, so as not to be influenced in my reaction. Here’s my thought:
    1. I agree that the Southern Baptist convention’s tent is big enough that it should include all who can wholeheartedly agree to the BF&M, and that is not a question for me to answer for them but for them to answer for themselves.
    2. I agree that it is inflammatory to say things like “calvinism is the Gospel” or “all Baptists are Calvinists” or “Calvinism is the only place to go for real answers.” I agree that it is unwise to make such statements for the sake of our brothers and for the sake of unity.
    3. I disagree that repentance is necessary for Dr. Mohler. He is one man making statements about what he believes. He is entitled to his beliefs. He is entitled to make statements. Now, if the SBC wants to reprimand him in some way for making such statements, that is their prerogative as his boss. But I do not think we should demand repentance from him over heartfelt beliefs that come out of his faith.
    The problem many have with Dr Mohler is that he is so articulate and, as such, he’s intimidating. When he speaks, he speaks with great authority. I think his authority comes from knowledge and understanding which comes from Scripture, but he is also well-versed in logic and argument, so to even “score a point” so to speak is hard. He is also very well respected, possibly too much, by those in the reformed community. Some would even accuse people of hero worship when it comes to Mohler. I concur with that observation. He is just a man.
    I think Mohler does make some very solid points, both philosophically, biblically, and historically, and it’s tough to argue. So, people resort to ad hominem attacks with him. I’d say that since the Trad Statement came out, he has been the target of more ad hominem attacks than John Calvin, and that’s saying something.
    In short, I agree the language he uses should be changed for the sake of unity and the Kingdom. I disagree he should repent of heart-felt convictions which are orthodox, Baptist, and can be backed up with Scripture.

  10. As a student at Southern, I HAVE had this experience. Calvinism and its tenents have come up in my Greek classes, Theology classes and Hermeneutics class. If you look at the Abstract and Principles, it has 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism. Thus, professors need to adhear to all but Limited Atonement. And depending on the professor, they will say that those that disagree are “wrong” as opposed to “have a different view”.

  11. Darryl, my very first two sentences explained what I meant by “repent.” I thought about using “recant,” but that seemed too severe. I thought that if I explained how I was using the word in this context, that it would make sense.
    Let me reiterate here: I do not believe that Dr. Mohler has sinned or that he has committed some grievous error. I just think that he needs to turn around from promoting Calvinism at the expense of the other views that are also accepted within the BFM2000. You seem to agree with that point in the rest of your comment. I think he has gone too far with this – not from a personal perspective or conviction – he is free there, but rather, as an entity head in SBC life.
    I hope that clarifies what I meant. If there is a better word to use, I am open to suggestions. Admittedly, that is a loaded term, but it seemed to capture what I was getting at better than anything else I could think of for a blog title.

  12. By the way, this is my reply to Tom from the comment that he accidentally left in the other post:
    Tom, you make great points and I cannot say that I disagree. If I did, then I would have to shut down my blog and not say much of anything. Your persepctive here is a good balance to any attempt to promote uniformity or a lukewarm theological perspective where no one can have an opinion.
    On this issue, however, I think that we need to oppose both extremes. The one extreme that we must oppose is any move to silence, remove, or eliminate Calvinists from leadership in Southern Baptist life. That would be a mistake. Calvinists have been around from the beginning. We should not be afraid of them or seek to demonize them. We are in the same family and should converse and consistently hammer out an agreement. Much of the advocacy of a theological perspective of this nature should happen in the local church. I have no problem with Morningview, for example, leaning in more of a Calvinist direction.
    But, for the SBC entities, those should be platforms where we can work together under the umbrella of the BFM2000. Entity heads should not be promoting one view over the other, in my opinion – and if they do, they have to work very hard to nuance and explain and make room for the other perspective in Baptist life. Both Calvinists and Traditionalists have been wrong here.
    For example, I have no problem whatsoever with Tom Ascol and Founders promoting their perspective. I love Tom. But, if Tom were the president of Southern Seminary, I would think him to be out of bounds. Does that make sense? The entities are the places where we should all be able to cooperate.
    Now, having said that, I have no problem with SWBTS and Southern each having differing views and articulating them. We have 6 seminaries and they can have different flavors. But, they need to recognize the environment of a diverse SBC and tread lightly and with great respect for the other side. That does not always happen.
    To sum up, yes, I agree with you. But, I think that when it gets to the entity level, especially on this issue which has been a bone of contention since Charleston and Sandy Creek, we have to go the extra mile and do some serious relational and theolgical work to continue to hammer out our place of consensus. Otherwise, the whole SBC will fragment along these lines. There are some who want that, to be sure. But, for guys like you and me, I would hope that we would strive for the unity of the saints in Christ and not to allow for division unless it is required biblically.
    Thanks for your insight. As always, it is greatly welcomed.

  13. Alan, in your reply on the other post, I hear you to be saying (1) that churches have the right to promote their convictions outside the BF&M, (2) non-convention entities, like Founders, have the right to promote their convictions, but that (3) convention entities, like Southern Seminary, do not have the right to promote any view over another which is not explicitly taught in the BF&M, especially if it might be a matter of contention.
    But what about the fact that The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s “Plan of Organization,” article 9 declared, “Every Professor of the Institution . . . shall teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles , on his part, shall be considered ground for his resignation or removal by the Trustees.”
    Article 5 of SBTS’s Abstract of Principles on Election 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.”
    A clear statement on the doctrine of unconditional election was required of the framing committee of the Abstract of Principles in the following words of the Plan of Organization: “A complete exhibition of the fundamental doctrines of grace, so that in no essential particular should they speak dubiously.” At that time “doctrines of grace” meant what it means today: the fundamental elements of classic Calvinist soteriology.
    Should the president of SBTS and the faculty of SBTS go back on their own committments and scratch out their signatures from the confessional document and so fail to “teach in accordance with” and not advance the school’s own confession of faith, The Abstract of Principles? It’s because of the Abstract of Principles that the conservatives were able to reclaim SBTS from theological liberalism. Would we now revise its confession because the denomination has drifted from it’s own theological heritage?
    Also, you mention two “streams” of historic Southern Baptist theology in Sandy Creek and Charleston. Paige Patterson has promoted the idea that Sandy Creek did not hold a Calvinistic soteriology. But, the Sandy Creek association’s confession of faith plainly shows that they were all Calvinists (believing in unconditional election: that God choose some, not all, for salvation).
    Articles 3 and 4 of the “Principles of Faith” adopted by Sandy Creek in 1816 declare:
    “III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed.
    IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.”
    The old Baptist historian, William Whitsitt, declared the following about the Sandy Creek Association:
    “These Separate Baptists were all of them Calvinists by persuasion. They were not Calvinists of the stern old type that formerly had prevailed but rather Calvinists of the school of Jonathan Edwards and adherents of the New Divinity. On that account they were often described as New Lights. For the main part their sympathies and cooperation were given to the Calvinistic brethren in New England and against the Arminian Baptists. Thus by the agency of Mr. Whitefield a change was produced almost in the twinkling of an eye by means of which the Calvinistic Baptists gained ascendancy in the New England colonies. Nothing could have been more extraordinary or unexpected than such a transformation. Arminianism had been steadily growing in New England for several decades; making progress not only in the Baptist community as has been shown but likewise in the established order. Jonathan Edwards rose up to stem the tide and to stay the progress of defection, and by the aid of Whitefield accomplished a revolution. This revolution, however, was more apparent among the Baptists than in the ranks of the Established Church. It altered the whole aspect of affairs.” William Heth Whitsitt, “Baptists in America,” handwritten ms, Special Collections, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.
    Calvinism is the theological heritage of Southern Baptists, and it is the stated view and authorial intent of the Abstract of Principles at Southern Seminary.
    I would not be in favor of requiring the president or professors of that institution to refrain from teaching the school’s confession, nor would I be in favor of changing the confession of faith. I do not think this is required to maintain unity in the SBC, since if we all agree that we may advance our views without violating the BF&M, then there is no need for division.
    Let’s get on with the work of missions without silencing those who teach in accordance with and not contrary to the BF&M.

  14. Tom, my point is that an entity head should not denigrate another theological movement in SBC life that has been clearly deemed acceptable. Mohler gets around that charge by co-opting the entire SBC under the umbrella of Calvinism, but then we see Calvinism meaning different things. Even the Abstract only requires 4 points – which is not really classical Calvinism. The problem is when Mohler, a 5 pointer, applies Calvinism to everyone and uses the Abstract as his platform.
    We let the Abstract be grandfathered in for Southern and SEBTS because of history. I am not opposed to it, but I also don’t think that convention employees at Southern or SEBTS should then use the Abstract as carte blanche to then address the rest of the SBC in a derogatory tone.
    If we wanted to eliminate or supersede a non-Calvinist perspective or Calvinism for that matter (and this is where the argument applies to both sides), we could do that through the BFM. But, we have wisely chosen not to. The Abstract aside, I do not think that an entity head then has the right to assert his perspective over the other in a way that would cause one to believe that he is saying that if you do not hold to Calvinism that you are illogical or standing on shaky ground theologically. Sure, he can think that, but I think that he has a responsibility to the rest of the SBC that has clearly NOT stated that and has worked hard to make room for both views.

  15. Fair enough.
    Though Mohler did say that Calvinism is the most stable and logical theological system in the one quotation you mention, I can attest to the fact that he has bent over backwards at SBTS not to make this an issue in SBC life. Teachers and students have been reprimanded and effectively black-balled at SBTS because of their desire to speak and communicate openly about their Calvinistic convictions in accordance with the school’s Abstract of Principles.
    Mohler may be indeed be guilty, but I do not believe he is guilty of what you suggest.

  16. Tom,
    If what you are saying is true (and of course, I believe you), then that is commendable and is a story that should be told. That speaks well of Mohler having a personal conviction but then working hard to provide room for the other perspectives that are deemed acceptable in SBC life. One good thing about blogging is that you can assert a premise and then, though the comments, be open to learn more from others on the issue and even be corrected. We should do that and be open to that kind of dialogue. So, I appreciate you telling me things about what is happening at Southern that I would not be aware of otherwise.
    That said, I think that Mohler must stay disciplined in the current environment to keep that tension. He can obviously hold to Calvinism personally and even lead Southern in that regard, but his posture toward the rest of the SBC must be one of the affirmation of the other views that fit within the BFM2000. I do not expect perfection here. We should give grace. But, when things have been said that serve to instigate more fear or frustration, it would be a good thing to walk them back and put the whole dispute into the proper context.
    I think that both sides must admit that we either go to war to eliminate the other completely (or control the other under our side’s thumb), or we learn how to coexist together. Everyone says they want the latter, but elements of both sides keep adhering to approaches that would promote the former. We need to think about this more deeply, I think and then also give credit to both sides when they behave in ways that does uphold theological truth as well as as humbly promotes unity.

  17. You all wear me out. I don’t know how you all have enough time to blog and respond to each others posts. :O)

  18. Al Mohler – and Calvinists generally – should repent of promoting Calvinism when their counterparts repent of proclaiming “Jesus Christ died for everybody’s sins” and telling people to “let Jesus Christ come into their hearts.” That is most certainly promoting non-Calvinism over other theological perspectives in SBC life!
    My position is that Baptists should cease feigning offense at doctrines that were preached in the very first Baptist churches in the first decade of the 17th century. In Baptist life, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have the right and responsibility to be chauvinistic concerning their doctrinal systems, and moreover each side should have the expectation that the other side will be just as unapologetically chauvinistic as they are. Anything less is not true coexistence, but a false peace.

  19. It seems to me that there was a nice discussion going on. Then Job put one up that fits all the stereotypes that non-Calvinists resent.
    I find that discouraging. Even more discouraging is that he likely will not understand why I found his comment discouraging and the ones that had come before rather positive and part of a good discussion.

  20. Job, I think – I hope that you missed my point. As long as one side is promoting their view over and above the other, then there is no hope for working together. The SBC will eventually splinter and fall apart. Either we find a way forward together or we break into multiple groups. Or, we have a faux peace, like you are saying and just keep talking past one another.

  21. I appreciate the exchange here. I can understand where Job is coming from here and I agree with the part about folks teaching others to “let Jesus come into their hearts.” That is likely one of the worst distortions of the Gospel that has come from the decline in our denomination that led to the conservative resurgence. It is one that may take a while to break.
    Having said that, I don’t think making demands like “We’ll stop promoting calvinism as the only acceptable view as soon as you… do so and so.” I don’t think that will get us anywhere.
    I should also hasten to add that I agree that compromise for the sake of peace alone is not the answer. I don’t think we need to ask anyone to sacrifice their principles here. I really do believe that the BF&M is a big enough umbrella for everyone to co-exist without sacrificing a single doctrine. We simply need to consider the needs of others above our own, which includes my need to tell them I’m right and they’re wrong. I can tell them what I believe without calling them heretics for disagreeing.
    I think this is only going to be possible by the grace of God.

  22. I think Job and Tom make the best arguments here! I think, too, that Alan had some good overall points in this blog, however, (you knew there had to be a however) trying to redefine “repent” doesn’t work. Repent is entrenched in Baptist life as a word meaning turn from sin. Alan, every time you use it, even though you try to redefine it, it suggests that Mohler has erred in his language. You seem to think he has! You even gave evidence of his errors!
    But, as Tom points out, maybe they aren’t errors! Maybe he is making points that go past you. Just because Lumpkins is upset about something doesn’t mean there is any “there” there.
    It doesn’t bother me that Dr. Patterson can eloquently expound his beliefs over-against the doctrine of election (which I have heard him do at SWBTS chapel), That’s Dr. Pat! I disagree but I still respect his exegesis.
    So Mohler is going to eloquently defend what he sees the scriptures teaching. IF they begin to go outside the BF&M then we might have a problem. But I don’t believe either will.
    And I’ve met Patterson, Mohler, Nettles, Ascol, Dever, and Jeffress. But I don’t think a single one of them would remember me. Just sayin’

  23. Maybe so, Clark. I am open to suggestion and critique. That is why the comment section is open. I did try to be clear, however, that I have no problem with anyone from either side articulating their belief or even by explaining it in contrast to the other side. You kind of have to do that. But, when you say that your side is the only place that a thinking, conscientious person can safely land, that your view is the view of Paul and the Apostles, and that everyone really needs to end up there, I dont see how you provide much room for the other side to coexist alongside of you or to partner with you. It is one thing to say that you think you are right and the other side is wrong. It is another thing to say some of the things that he said in the TGC video. I think that comments like that just inflame the rhetoric and are not helpful. They arent helpful when Patterson says them either. But, that is my view. Obviously, others have differing views. Of course, we are in the midst of a big mess as those with the different views keep expressing them, so I dont know if their way forward is best either.
    As I have said elsewhere, either we are going to get along and make room for each other in the SBC, or we are going to keep dividing and eventually go our own way. At some point we might need to figure out which direction we want to go.

  24. Re: Tom Hicks | August 23, 2012 at 01:07 PM
    I agree. You said essentially what I was thinking as I read this article. Only, you said it a lot better than I would have.

  25. downshoredrift:
    Calvinists and non-Calvinists have coexisted in Baptist life for over 400 years and in the SBC for over 150 (and if you count the organization that the SBC split away from for reasons that had nothing to do with Calvinism, even longer). So now, after all these centuries, Calvinism is “a problem.” Why? Because certain people decided that it was. So, if someone has the right to arbitrarily decide based on their own authority that Calvinism is a problem, what is the matter with someone else deciding – and not arbitrarily mind you, but based on Baptist history – that they’re wrong?
    As for the allegedly problematic statements by Mohler and similar, Calvinists and non-Calvinists have been making those for who knows how long. I have some books by Spurgeon and Bunyan (representing the Calvinist position) and the things that they used to say about the non-Calvinist position back in the day makes Mohler’s comments look tame by comparison. I have also read and heard some more modern pronouncements by people like Towns, Geisler, Falwell, Caner etc. and their statements on Calvinism are every bit as strong as Mohler’s.
    So none of this is new. If anything, the rhetoric on both sides is tamer and more restrained than it used to be. The only new element is the position that Calvinists are a problem. Or to put it another way, the decision that after 400 years in Baptist life and 150 years in the SBC, Calvinists have to change. That it was OK for SBC Calvinist to be like this all this time before, but it isn’t now, and that the reason why it isn’t now is merely because some people say so.
    So honestly, what will cause the SBC to splinter is not “one side is promoting their view over and above the other” because that has always happened in Baptist life and the SBC. Calvinists have always promoted their view over and above the other, and so have non-Calvinists. Instead, what will cause the splintering is one group of people deciding that what has always gone on for some reason cannot go on any longer. Or should I say that the splintering will only happen if enough people take this one group seriously.
    Instead of challenging Calvinists and non-Calvinists for boldly proclaiming their respective views as truth and demanding that they justify said proclamations, why not challenge the people who go about stating that their doing so constitutes some sort of problem? Where is the evidence that the SBC has been damaged by this sort of thing in the past? What is the evidence that the SBC is being damaged by this NOW?
    Ultimately, adhering to a doctrinal position requires saying “I am right and you are wrong.” Anything less than that is postmodernism, saying “what is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me.” (I am truly sorry if my reference to postmodernism is offensive, but it is honestly what I truly believe.) Now for all this time, again 400 years as Baptists and 150 years as Southern Baptists, both sides on this divide have been able to say to each other “you’re wrong on the extent of the atonement predestination/election/ depravity/eccesiology/eschatology etc. and there are very real consequences to your being wrong but that is OK because we’re both Baptist and we’re both Southern Baptist.” And during this time, we have attended the same churches, attended and taught at the same seminaries, labored in the same mission fields, worked on the same boards, used the same hymnals, etc. despite (or more accurately because of!) that position of understanding. Now we have a group of people saying that this position of understanding is wrong. Why not have that group of people justify themselves rather than putting the onus on the ones who are merely believing, speaking and serving has Baptists have for all these decades and centuries before now justify themselves?

  26. Alan – Thank you for your perspective on this issue. There is no doubt that the words of Dr. Mohler and certain followers of the more militant strain of New Calvinism have fueled the SBC theological debate.
    Your following comment particularly got my attention as I reflected on the early days of Dr. Mohler’s influence in SBC life: “… I also don’t think that convention employees at Southern or SEBTS should then use the Abstract as carte blanche to then address the rest of the SBC in a derogatory tone.”
    I find it incredible that Dr. Mohler was not sufficiently challenged at the beginning of his tenure at Southern for condescending and inflammatory rhetoric in opposition to SBC majority belief and practice. His 1993 convocation address at Southern entitled “Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!” was filled with warnings which SBC leadership should have dealt with more effectively while the window was open. http://www.albertmohler.com/documents/twoinauguraladdresses.pdf
    In his 1993 charge to rally the folks at Southern around the Abstract of Principles, he made the following statements:
    “The Abstract remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.”
    “We bear the collective responsibility to call this denomination back to itself and its doctrinal inheritance. This is a true reformation and revival … ”
    It’s clear that Dr. Mohler is on a mission, passionate about his cause, truly believes his theological confession, and is intent on altering the SBC landscape to nothing less than a reformed entity. His strong words contrary to other theological positions within the SBC have influenced great numbers of young folks who are helping him carry this torch … without due consideration that most Southern Baptists simply don’t want to go there.