“Shall the Southern Baptist Convention which was born in the fires of evangelism dissipate in the smoke of Reformed Theology?” Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Brumbelow asks.1 This question was stated in an letter sent to discourage Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) trustees from approving presidential candidate Dr. Jason Allen. However, Brumbelow’s assuming question is historically inaccurate.
Union University president David Dockery notes the strong presence of Calvinistic (Reformed) theology at the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention.
At the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in May 1845, it would have been difficult to find leaders who were not Calvinistic in their theology, Dockery said. He distinguished between a Calvinistic denominational leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention and its less Calvinist laity.2
It seems that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was lead and established by Calvinistic leaders. The SBC did not dissipate in the smoke of those Calvinistic leaders, but instead spread like wildfire. Implied in Brumbelow’s rhetorical question is that Reformed theology kills evangelism. Why can’t we stop the rhetoric in the SBC and move forward together?
Southern Baptists might take heed to what Victor Irvine Masters wrote in 1915 about knowing their history.
It is often asserted that Southern Baptists will not read their own history, that they have been too busy making history to read it. It would be truer to say that they have been most influentially busy making history, but have shown so small a response to those who have written of their past, that the men among us of the requisite gifts have been discouraged from writing. May not the author with discretion enter here the plea that Southern Baptists should give more attention to writing and reading their history.3
While I want to be kind to brother Brumbelow, I also want to point out why sadly, the rest of Brumbelow’s letter uses some spiritual strong arm tactics that, in my opinion, are unbecoming a pastor. Quotes and comments on Brumbelow’s letter follow.
He begins the letter encouraging MBTS trustees to reject Dr. Allen’s application to become their next president.
I, along with hundreds of others in the SBC, am very concerned about the Calvinist credentials of more and more denominational leaders when those beliefs represent a rather small percentage of the overall number of pastors and members in our Convention.
The implication is that Allen is a Calvinist. Yet, all of the information about Allen’s theology has not been released. Not that whether or not he is a Calvinist is not part of the MBTS ‘Presidential Profile’.4 Sure, Brumbelow has a right to be concerned. Yet, his concerns do not validate his argument that Allen should not be selected.
As a former member of the SBC Executive Committee during the years of the Conservative Resurgence, I am well aware of the seriousness of such a vote you will cast on October 15, 2012. For such a time as this you were entrusted with an awesome responsibility and you must not fail the SBC.
Calvinist Al Mohler was also a big part of the Conservative Resurgence. Mohler helped bring conservative theology back to Southern Seminary. Was it a failure that Mohler, a Calvinist, was appointed to lead Southern? Why would it be a failure, not just to Brubelow, but to the whole SBC if Allen is selected? The Conservative Resurgence card may be played by both “sides” if you will.
It gets worse.
It matters not what winds of popular opinion may be blowing and how far reaching the tentacles of Al Mohler and Danny Akin may be, you must do what is right and will one day give account to God.
Brumbelow impugns Mohler and Akin referring to their alleged influence as “tentacles”. In the first quote above, Brumbelow begins his case against Allen by appealing to the theological majority, but here he warns the trustees against following “popular opinion”. Which is it? What if the theological majority holds the popular opinion?
The worst part of this quote is the appeal to giving “account to God”. The implication is that the trustees will have to answer directly to God if they do not properly exercise their “awesome responsibility” and reject Allen. This is an unfortunate spiritual strong arm tactic.
Shall the Southern Baptist Convention which was born in the fires of evangelism dissipate in the smoke of Reformed Theology? Shall a man with common and grossly lacking credentials really be chosen to lead in the training of future SBC ministers? Why not consider one who has a heart for evangelism and a track record to confirm it?
The first question was addressed above. Concerning credentials, does Allen lack the credentials to lead MBTS? Questioning his credentials is a valid point. No one fully knows his credentials yet (including the trustees as far as I’m told). The trustees are still discerning Allen’s credentials and he may very well not make the cut. I’m sure Allen and the trustees know this.
As far as Allen’s heart for evangelism, does Brumbelow know Allen’s heart and motives? Allen’s “track record” may or may not show his heart for evangelism. Those who discern his track record as less than desirable may do well to know his side of the story if it becomes available.
Many of us are watching what you do at Midwestern and if the course of action continues as planned, we will have no choice but to defund Midwestern through the Executive Committee process.
Brumbelow gives no possibility that the trustees might find Allen’s credentials acceptable by following their vetting process. Instead, he offers a threat of defunding. There is no question his church may defund whatever ministry they want. Is a threat to defund MBTS on theological grounds the best course of action if they hire a man who falls within the seminary’s required Southern Baptist theology?
What is Allen is fully vetted and gets unanimous trustee approval? Brumbelow would then reward the trustees for doing their job by defunding the seminary. Brumbelow’s defunding threat puts the trustees in a no win situation.
Please, for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the Southern Baptist Convention, courageously vote against Dr. Jason Allen as president of Midwestern.
Is a vote against Jason Allen really for “Christ’s sake” and that of the SBC? Is Allen one of Satan’s minions? This reads like another spiritual strong arm tactic.
I truly hope this is not the best some in the SBC can do to disagree “In Christ”. There has got to be a better way. In my opinion, spiritual strong arm tactics as displayed above offer more of a threat to the future of the SBC than does the Calvinism in which the SBC is rooted.
If Southern Baptists seek to be “In Christ” together I do not see the Convention dissipating, Lord willing.
- Peter Lumpkins. Texas pastor Steve Brumbelow sends an Open Letter to Midwestern trustees. peterlumpkins.typepad.com ↩
- Andrew Walker. Dockery: Calvinism has roots in SBC history. bpnews.net ↩
- Masters, Victor Irvine, 1915. Baptist missions in the South: a century of the saving impact of a great spiritual body on society in the Southern States. A manual for mission study classes and an instructive story for the reader 2nd ed., (Kindle Locations 80-84). ↩
- Does Dr. Jason Allen Meet Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Presidential Profile? hereiblog.com ↩