A 2013 statement on the tensions that exist between Calvinism and Arminianism from an Advisory Committee within the Southern Baptist Convention was written to create discussion within the local church. In summary, what the statement concedes is that real differences do exist. What the statement hopes to achieve is a spirit of tolerance whereby the doctrinal and theological issues can be openly discussed and spoken about without the stigma of one side considering the other heretical.

Historically, the doctrines of grace have been so controversial and objectionable to Arminians that new denominations had to be formed in order to keep peace and civility within Christendom. Today, most denominations are either Calvinistic in their doctrinal stance, or Arminian. The dilemma within the Southern Baptist Convention is that its identity, which is acknowledged in this official statement as having often been connected to Calvinism, has been, and is being, significantly modified by Arminians, or those sympathetic to Arminian theology, especially in the area of salvation. One prominent example is Dr. Hershel Hobbs.

According to biographer David S. Dockery, Hobbs’s most outstanding denominational service occurred when he served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1961-63). During this time he chaired the committee that revised “The Baptist Faith and Message,” which was adopted by the Convention in 1963. Reflecting on the importance of this unique role, Hobbs stated,

“What do I consider my most abiding service for the Kingdom of God? I would like to think that all I have said and done was to this end. But if I should have to choose, I would say: as a pastor-preacher, writer, radio preacher, and Chairman of the Committee which drew up the 1963 revised statement of “the Baptist Faith and Message,” perhaps Convention wide, the last will have the most lasting effect” (Herschel H. Hobbs, “Reflections on My Ministry,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 15 (Spring 1973). Time has proven his assessment to be correct.

Historical tensions between Calvinist and Arminians continue. What can be done?

One option would be for the Southern Baptist Convention to make a bold, clear, and concise statement as to where it wants to plant its doctrinal flag. In 1858, this was done when the original charter of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was adopted. The Abstract Principles were stated without qualifications.

A second option would be for the Southern Baptist Convention to form two Conventions, one marked Southern Baptist Arminian Convention and the other marked Southern Baptist Calvinistic Convention.

A third option is suggested in the statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee titled Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension. The clarion call from the Advisory Committee is to allow both Calvinism and Arminianism to be openly and fairly discussed in a mature manner within the local churches, and elsewhere, with respect and consideration being allowed for both positions. Christians should be able to talk to each other, and then go forth together to win people to Christ.

This is a noble goal and is in harmony with the known will of the Lord that Christians dwell together in love and unity. There is a blessing for peacemakers, and those on the Advisory Committee are worthy of receiving a blessing for their godly efforts.

I would encourage you to take the time to find and read the statement from the SBC Calvinism Advisory Committee. The document bears the title, “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension”.

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