Will the Southern Baptist Convention Dissipate in the Smoke of Reformed Theology?

“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.

In Christ,

Steve Brumbelow

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.

  1. Peter Lumpkins. Texas pastor Steve Brumbelow sends an Open Letter to Midwestern trustees. peterlumpkins.typepad.com
  2. Andrew Walker. Dockery: Calvinism has roots in SBC history. bpnews.net
  3. 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).
  4. Does Dr. Jason Allen Meet Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Presidential Profile? hereiblog.com
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The above article was posted on September 28, 2012 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicholas Kennicott September 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm

My suggestion to SBC Calvinists: give them what they want and get out of the SBC. Since I was in the “fight” for a little while, now on the outside looking in I can’t figure out what the appeal is. Honestly, I’m not being arrogant or trying to say I figured it out and others are ignorant, etc. But I really can’t figure it out – what is so attractive about the SBC that Calvinists think it’s so important to fight for? I get the historical foundations of the convention, but denominations come and go… why not get out, join something else that is more aligned with the church’s convictions, or start a new association altogether? Given the amount of evangelism, church planting, and missions that the Calvinists actually do, I have a hunch that the SBC without them would go the way of the dodo bird.

2 JD Hall September 28, 2012 at 2:32 pm

This is hardly the “discussion” that Mohler and Vines/Patterson agreed we needed following the circulation of the Traditional Statement (aka Anti-Calvinist Manifesto) passed around prior to New Orleans. We were told that the “SBC Tent” was big enough for both of us. I guess that’s if Calvinists sit in the back, use a different water fountain and side entrance (and don’t serve in any official capacity).

3 MarieP September 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I thought MWBTS was Calvinistic because they’ve produced the second greatest number of Calvinistic pastors.. Of course, that was before Don Whitney and others left for Southern. I wonder if that wasn’t planned!

4 Brandon Smith September 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Wow, Brumbelow… just… wow.

5 Les September 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Mark, I saw that sad excuse for a letter early this morning and thought the very same things you have expressed here. Some are saying this isn’t about Calvinism or Mohler. Really? This letter really should be a source of embarrassment.

6 Mark September 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Nick, some people see the larger support system for missions as one reason. I’m sure there are others which are tied to cooperating in some way or another. Maybe you’re right though, but if all of the Calvinists left who would be blamed then? 🙂

JD Hall, good point about the Moher – Vines/Patterson discussion. Apparently the tent has shrunk – maybe it was rained on?

Marie, maybe we should get some stats on that.

Brandon, yuuuup.

Les, I agree. It was a very sad letter. Is this the example the SBC wants for their younger generation of pastors and laity?

7 Tom Jefferson September 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm

For me the Calvinism or not of the prospective president is not the big issue. The big issue for me is the undeniable influence of Dr Mohler and the increasing influence of Dr Akin on the SBC and its agencies. If you’re not “in” with these two heavyweights, do you have a chance?

8 Thomas Twitchell September 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Mark,

You’re not saying that money is keeping the Calvinists from leaving, are you?

9 Mark September 28, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Thomas, not money but resources and support for missions, etc. Of course, I don’t have all of the answers for why different people stay in the SBC.

10 Nicholas Kennicott October 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I’m surprised more Calvinist pastors/churches don’t have issues with the IMB, especially if that is the only reason a lot of them stay in the SBC, which seems to be the case (as you have identified). The IMB is becoming more and more open (and even regularly, favorably reporting) to mysticism and charismaticism on the mission field. I’ve read several IMB reports that say nothing about the preaching of the gospel and the planting of churches, but spend the entire time talking about Muslims having dreams about Jesus, supposedly leading to conversion. I certainly understand that some who claim Calvinism are also continuationists (which is one reason why many in Reformed Baptist circles would say that is in no way Reformed, simply soteriologically Calvinistic), but the broader scope is made up of cessationists who believe in sola scriptura.

There are many great missions organizations outside of the IMB – and local churches actually know who the missionaries are and are able to keep up with their progress (Like the Reformed Baptist Missionary Society through ARBCA!).

11 Debbie Kaufman October 3, 2012 at 10:51 am

Nicholas: The importance of “not giving them what they want” is that they will not stop at pushing out Calvinists and we belong here. My beliefs adhere much more to the BFM 2000 than to Presbyterians. Calvinists were here from the beginning and since the Conservative Resurgence and the power they have received in the past, they have pushed out all those who disagree with them. In the end they will push out those who are in agreement with them now, but in disagreement with other points of their theology, then the fight begins again and more casualties. To them it seems more of a game than actual concern over theology. Look at just the past 6 years to see this.

12 Nicholas Kennicott October 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Debbie, I think you’ve made my point for me. Why bother? What’s so spectacular about the SBC that anyone would see it necessary to maintain the relationship if all it’s going to be is an uphill battle to reclaim ground that has been lost for quite some time? I hope you do realize there are alternatives to the SBC for Calvinistic baptists that don’t include becoming a Presbyterian. There are large numbers of us who are Reformed Baptists and hold to a much more robust theological confession than that of the BFM2000, but are very much baptistic (believers baptism, elder led congregationalism, etc.). Denominations, conventions, associations, and whatever else will come and go – so why the fight? I think if the Calvinists left the SBC, church planting and the IMB would cease. So why not do church planting and foreign missions with an association of churches that are in agreement across the board AND have a more robust theological confession that keeps such disagreements from happening in the first place? The fatal error of the BFM2000 is its broadness, and the battle against Calvinism is proving that to be the case.

As I said, I have no dog in the fight – I just don’t like watching my brothers and sisters in Christ get falsely accused and misrepresented for the sake of a denomination when there are other, more theologically robust and sound options available (and the monies given don’t go to support over-inflated salaries of denominational employees that do what exactly?).

13 Darrin October 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I don’t know about the “smoke of Reformed theology”, but I sure don’t want whatever Brumbelow is smoking. As far as the health of the SBC, I’d be much more concerned about having so many fools as pastors.

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