Some Southern Baptists are heavy weight champs at theological infighting. Maybe it’s time for Baptists to step outside the ring and consider another way to disagree. A quote from Francis Schaeffer below offers wisdom on how Baptists might better engage each other.
In 1845, at the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, most leaders were Calvinistic while the laity were less so.[1. Andrew Walker. Dockery: Calvinism has roots in SBC history. bpnews.net] Today, most Southern Baptists are not Calvinists though there is a rise in Calvinistic theology in leadership and laity. Southern Baptists have worked together with Calvinist leaders and with non-Calvinist leaders.
If Calvinistic Baptists were instrumental in forming the SBC, current opposition to the growth of Calvinism among current leadership makes no sense. Calvinism did not stop Baptist churches from organizing and cooperating to spread the gospel in 1845; and it should not stop cooperation today.
Contrary to popular belief, Baptists can disagree theologically and still work together. Yet, working together becomes more difficult when some Southern Baptists make unsubstantiated charges against others.1 Cooperating is also difficult when a Calvinist Baptist professor cannot strongly express his theological position without another Baptist taking offense, establishing a false dilemma and broad brushing all SBC Calvinists.2
Healthy dialogue is possible, but only if truly desirable. Scripture commands Christians to treat each other well. I.e. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10 ESV). Baptists would do well to filter their thinking about each other through the lens that they are first brothers and sisters in Christ; myself included.
Thankfully, intra-theological cooperation does exist within the SBC family. Pastor Joe Thorn recently sent out a word of encouragement to Baptists. He shared that at a recent Baptist get together, “Calvinists and non-Calvinists, from traditional and contemporary worship styles, elder led and congregational models of church polity, were all together celebrating what God is doing in and through us all.”3 Good word, Joe!
How should Baptists think of each other? Francis Schaeffer may have an answer. He was a Christian apologist who focused on cultural engagement. He went home to the Lord in 1984. In the quote below, Schaeffer explained he challenged an unbeliever’s worldviews when sharing the gospel. Whether or not Baptists agree with Schaeffer’s approach, it is definitely something to think about.
“As I seek to [move a man toward the natural direction his presuppositions take him], I need to remind myself constantly that this is not a game I am playing. If I begin to enjoy it as a kind of intellectual exercise, then I am cruel and can expect no real spiritual results. As I push the man off his false balance, he must be able to feel that I care for him. Otherwise I will only end up destroying him, and the cruelty and ugliness of it all will destroy me as well. Merely to be abstract and cold is to show that I do not really believe this person to be created in God’s image and therefore one of my kind. Pushing him towards the logic of his presuppositions is going to cause him pain; therefore, I must not push any further than I need to.”4
If Baptists were to accept Schaeffer’s principles when engaging unbelievers, how much more might they apply those principles to each other?
- Observations on Ralph Green’s Criticisms of Lifeway’s Gospel Project ↩
- Rick Patrick. Nettles recommends ‘universal’ Calvinism in the SBC. sbctoday.com ↩
- Joe Thorn. Be Encouraged My Baptist Brothers. joethorn.net ↩
- The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: the Three Essential Books in One Volume. (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 138. ↩