“There is no attempt to Calvinize the SBC.” If I had a dollar for every time I had heard that statement made in the last year, I could retire. Why on earth would anyone make such a claim? Let me answer that question. Things are FAR worse than I realized until this morning. I have been seeing numerous “red flags” waving opposing this statement. Understand that when I use the term “red flag,” I am not including the fact that many seminary professors, many college professors and administrators like Al Mohler are already in the lime light because of their open proliferation of the Reformed Theological Platform. While it was a “red flag” in my mind, it has not appeared to be a “red flag” to many others. And in addition to this, I am not including stories of churches that have split over the issue of Calvinism because Calvinist individuals were called to pastor non-Calvinist churches without truthfully revealing their theological differences in an attempt to correct the theological position of the non-Calvinist church they were called to pastor as they sought to lead them to be more “Biblically or Gospel centered.” I knew Calvinism was a major issue; I did not realize how MUCH of an issue it has already become.
I am writing this at 2:30 in the morning. I woke up with this article on my mind.
The First Red Flag for me: seminary graduates. A recent Lifeway report that said 1 in 3 seminary graduates are self-professing 5-point Calvinists was a “wake-up call” for me. I contrasted that alarming statistic with the same report that said that only 1 in 10 current pastors were professing Calvinists. I maintain that less than 85% of the people in the pew are Calvinist, and I really believe I am being liberal with that number. Keep this in mind, this is in addition to the fact already mentioned that a vast majority of Reformed professors are the ones teaching these future denominational leaders.
The Second Red Flag for me: (Actually there are Multiple flags: I will call them Orange Flags that lead up to the Red Flag) NAMB Actions. The First “Orange Flag.” Personally, I was disappointed at the appointment of Kevin Ezell as President of NAMB. Let me say for the record, I have never met Dr. Ezell. I am sure he is a quality individual and has been an exemplary leader and pastor or else he would not hold the position he holds. Why the disappointment with his appointment? Dr. Ezell was Al Mohler’s pastor. Whoa Nellie! What? “That is the reason you were disappointed with his appointment to lead NAMB? You are kidding right?” No. The one thing I have seen demonstrated consistently with respect to LEADING Calvinist advocates is their proclivity for association. I cannot for one moment imagine that Dr. Mohler, of all people, would attend a church that has a pastor who differs from him on matters dealing with the essentials of salvation. Dr. Mohler is a man who sincerely believes that Calvinism is Christianity and the most consistent form of Christianity is Calvinism. He is not going to attend a church, unlike a prominent national leader, and pay no particular attention to what the pastor preaches.
Now, just as I could not in good conscious attend a Reformed preaching church and did in fact leave one that I started attending when I first moved to Florida for that reason, neither would I expect Dr. Mohler to do any different. Does this mean that Dr. Ezell is a Calvinist? I suppose the answer could still be “no.” Hint number two: As I was watching all of this unfold, I have noticed conference after conference of various Reformed Church planting groups with speakers who are unquestionably Reformed in their theology (and well they should be) but guess who consistently shows up on the speaker list? Dr. Ezell. As I said earlier, one of the distinguishing characteristics of these Reformed leaders is their unmistaken, intentional tendency to associate exclusively together. So my reservation is nothing more than “guilt by association,” correct? Correct. I said it was a concern. It still is.
The Second Orange Flag for me was NAMB’s cutting of funding to COSBE, the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. $90,000 is a LOT of money for a lot of folks. This is one of the first issues I took up as a blogger. I remember reading NAMB’s stated objectives concerning the importance of sharing the gospel and their efforts to support organizations that were “taking the gospel to the streets so to speak.” As I saw it, NAMB’s move was a move away from itinerate evangelism. I had been reading Calvinist’s criticism of invitational evangelism and how it was unbiblical and responsible for unregenerate church membership and this “easy believism” that is plaguing the SBC. Granted to NAMB’s defense, they made cuts in various areas and as much as half of the budget was spent on COSBE attending the Southern Baptist Convention annually and it was stated that NAMB could no longer justify that expenditure. I certainly understood NAMB’s personal response to my concern.
Understand the rest of the money went to assist full time vocational evangelists who would sacrifice personally to go to help lead churches that could not afford to have a vocational evangelist come and had no or very few baptisms recorded in recent years. Since COSBE has no budget and is made up of vocational evangelists who struggle on a weekly basis to continue what they believe God has called them to do, it seemed unfair to me to cut $90K out of a $130 Million budget, when dollar for dollar even considering the travel expenses to get to the SBC’s annual meeting was still the best bang for the buck NAMB was spending. In my opinion, it was nothing less than a slap in the face of an organization that has and still does work tirelessly to tell others about Jesus. Oh by the way, this was one of the FIRST things Dr. Ezell did as the new leader of NAMB. Add it up. Strike two against Ezell in my disappointment of his appointment. Was this move a Calvinist motivated move? Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. It was an orange flag for me. I now wonder if this move had anything to do with Ezell’s comments regarding the “de-nerding of NAMB”? That statement was made alongside his statement that major changes were coming to NAMB so that they would be able to free up as much money as possible so that NAMB could place more focus on church planting.
Ah, church planting at NAMB, Orange Flag number three. This has certainly been a popular topic of discussion on SBC blogs. At first I thought, OK this sounds reasonable. However, the argument that NAMB ought to be focused on strengthening the core that is providing its support and spending money to start churches in areas that have been traditionally difficult places to get church plants started may do more long term damage than good. Common business principles argue against focusing too much attention on new development and ignoring the core base that is financially responsible for the long term success of the organization. NAMB charged on.
I remember Dr. Ezell commenting that Associational DOM titles would be changed to Church Planting Catalysts. OK. Then I began noticing Reformed Groups popping up with one church planting initiative after another. There was the Acts 29 Group, then I was looking around the Founders Web Site and I noticed PLNTD, their church planting initiative. I started noticing more reformed church planting groups that were planting confessionally reformed churches. I am not going to go back and revisit all this: Google offers plenty of information for anyone concerned that I am overstating the obvious here. In reading some of the talk about this move and the implications of NAMB funds being funneled into these groups to help support the aggressive church start initiatives of these theologically connected plants, I heard the following statement made in NAMB’s defense: “You non-Calvinists do not want Calvinist preachers in your churches so what is the big deal in funding churches for them to preach in?” OK. I will let you connect those dots. Let’s go back to the initial statement of this article: “There is no attempt to Calvinize the SBC.”
Add to this Orange Flag number four, the most recent issue of ON MISSION magazine that features two church plants that are, you guessed it, confessionally Reformed and I can only assume, funded by NAMB. There are two church plants highlighted in NAMB’s magazine and both are Reformed. The two church plants are not 2 out of 10 featured; they are 2 out of 2 featured. Now, in defense of NAMB, there is no mention of their Reformed association so what is the big deal? Of course there is no mention to it; one has to do some looking to discover that seemingly insignificant fact.
The Third Red Flag for me: IMB moves. When Dr. Rankin retired as President of IMB, one of the names that quickly surfaced as a possible replacement was Dr. David Platt who spoke at the SBC’s Annual Meeting in Orlando where Dr. Rankin shared his final farewell comments .Dr. Platt is one of the leading Reformed pastors in the SBC. Dr. Tom Eliff was selected to head the IMB.
Fast forward to 2011’s Lottie Moon Promotional Video. What? Pop in the Promotional Video and here are two leading SBC pastors speaking about the importance of SBC churches giving sacrificially to the Lottie Moon Mission Offering to help the IMB send missionaries around the world. Now, how on earth could that be a Red Flag? Drs. David Platt and JD Greear are encouraging SBC churches to give sacrificially to LMCO to help send missionaries around the world. BOTH of these guys are card carrying Calvinists; they are not just casual Calvinists, they are at the top of the list. One is a former IMB missionary; both have come under fire because they pastor churches that have apparently failed to file ACP reports, which contain statistical information that help the various SBC entities gauge how they are doing as far as effectiveness is concerned.
Both are arguably missions giving individuals and pastor missions giving churches. The question is, how much do they actually give to the cooperative program to support CP work? It is one thing to be the pastor of a great missions giving church that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on new church plants and overseas missions projects which without a doubt makes one a great kingdom work leader but that does not make him a model spokesperson for churches that cannot afford to spend that kind of money and do that kind of kingdom work themselves. This is why the CP exists. This is why the LMCO exists. The IMB most certainly has figures on the top giving churches that support Lottie Moon with their offerings and those are the guys that ought to lead the charge to encourage us to “do as they do not as they say we ought to do.” Are the churches these two men lead, leading givers? No one knows. Are they leading figures? Without a doubt. Both continue to be quality featured speakers for IMB events, along with a host of other well qualified individuals.
Ignore the statement about the ACP charges that have been discussed and debated since this material was released; the facts are, the two guys the IMB tagged to do the promotional piece, are not just leading, influential pastors, they are leading, influential Reformed pastors. That is a Red Flag for me.
Fourth Red Flag for me: Lifeway. Count the red flags: Seminaries, NAMB, IMB and now Lifeway. What is the problem here? Well there is the Vice President of Research and Ministry Development for LifeWay Christian Resources, Dr. Ed Stetzer. He is a featured speaker for Acts 29 conferences and is listed on Monergism’s site as a featured speaker and author and he is a frequent speaker at Founders Conferences.
Dr. Stetzer is the project manager for Lifeway’s newest project, “The Gospel Project.” The facts are crystal clear that everyone associated with the production and the writing of this project are not just casual Calvinists, they are confessionally and unashamedly Reformed. The project clearly states that its purpose is to provide “a theologically driven study (according to the writers) that points people to Jesus.” The “correct theology” of these individuals will no doubt be reflected in the theological position of this project. There is no reason to expect anything less here. Make no mistake about it: “The Gospel Project” will deliver everything promised and a LOT MORE.
This is alarming to me and certainly ought to send a wake-up call to the people in the pew in Southern Baptist Churches that something needs to be done about the influx of this Calvinist influence and deliberate effort to turn the SBC into a Calvinist led theological entity. Remember, Calvinists believe that Calvinism IS real Christianity. In their minds, there can be no compromise. Personally, that is the only statement in this article that I wholeheartedly agree with (the no compromise part). This is where the SBC is heading; no, sadly that is where it is TODAY! If something is not done now, not soon, but now, the SBC will see significant changes in the not so distant future, changes that are already being signaled by the entities of the SBC.
One final comment. Given the current state of affairs, I am today more sympathetic to a discussion of a name change for the SBC. It seems that this is coming, like it or not. Since Southern seems so offensive to so many, I am sure CBC may soon resonate well: The Calvinist Baptist Convention.
Maybe I will go back to bed and wake up and all this will have been a bad dream. I could only wish that was true.