Baptist Press recently reported on a conference of evangelists in the SBC who are lamenting the growth of Calvinism with the Southern Baptist Convention. Considering that Baptist Press found this worth covering, I figured that this was a significant conference with considerable attendance addressing serious and substantial issues. However, the first line of the article says thus:
A group of 15 evangelists meeting in Jackson, Tenn., Jan. 7-8 said they have concerns about the growth of Calvinism and the rise of a Willow Creek-style of non-confrontational evangelism within Southern Baptist churches.
Did you catch that? A group of 15 evangelists constituting a conference garnered enough political muscle to make this front-page Southern Baptist news. Anyone else find this peculiar?
Secondly, for these 15 evangelists from eight states to come together, there must be some serious matters which are causing such lamenting and concern. According to the BP article, here are the reasons for lamenting:
1. The LifeWay study which reported about 10 percent of Southern Baptist pastors identified themselves as Calvinists, while 29 percent of recent SBC seminary graduates espoused Calvinist doctrine.
2. A few summit participants said the movement toward Calvinism has come on secular university campuses through organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity.
So the growth of Calvinism among seminary graduates and the spread of Calvinism on secular campuses causing SBC evangelists to lament. Hmmm . . . But here’s where it gets interesting.
Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University, said that the kind of Calvinism Piper espouses is not the historic Calvinism of Calvin or Spurgeon. Poe argues:
“He holds huge, stadium-type events that are rip-roaring. There’s nobody else doing anything like that so he becomes [Calvinism's] expositor. But John Piper’s version of Calvinism is not something John Calvin would espouse, or even that Charles Spurgeon [British reformed Baptist preacher] would espouse.
Poe does not explain what he means by his assertion, but one is led to believe that Piper is advocating a version of Calvinism “more extreme” and less evangelical than that of Spurgeon. But then again, you have to explain that to all the missionaries whose lives have been changed and charged for the glory of God by Piper’s fiery heart for missions and reaching the lost for Christ.
Jerry Drace, who initiated the “conference,” argues that Calvinism is giving young pastors a reason to “laugh at evangelism” and offer “an excuse not to do evangelism.” Nothing new here. Same ole’ rhetoric from the likes of Nelson Price, Lonnie Wilkey, and Bobby Welch.
Now, let me offer a few thoughts regarding this article by Baptist Press and the conference of evangelists:
1. The SBC media machine, Baptist Press, has a way of making matters “newsworthy” that do not have the merits thereof. There are thousands of church staff who have “conference meetings” with higher attendance than this conference. Baptist Press is simply trying to shine the spotlight on something they think it is important to them.
2. Jerry Drace talks about the young people “laughing” and “finding excuse for not doing” evangelism but fails to factor in the LifeWay study which revealed that “Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.” So if the Calvinists, who are laughing and finding excuses, are more personally evangelistic than the non-Calvinists, then what are we to make of the non-Calvinists?
3. Hal Poe’s assertion that Piper espoused a morphed (and distorted?) version of Calvinism is unqualified and unsupported. It would be nice that if a professor is going to make such claims that he would back them with substance.
4. The caricature that Calvinists are not evangelistic is an old and well-worn hat in the SBC. Consider these facts. According the 2006 Annual Church Profile (ACP), there are 44,223 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
10,449 churches baptized NO ONE
3,312 churches baptized ONE PERSON
13,760 churches baptized 1-5 PEOPLE
A total of 27,521 churches in the SBC baptized less than FIVE people for an entire year, which comes to 62% of all SBC churches.
Furthermore, at least three out of four churches are plateaued or declining.
So can it really be said that one of ten Southern Baptist ministers (who are Calvinists) be the real reason for lamenting in the SBC?
Should we not be lamenting over the nearly 10,500 churches who are practically dead?
Should we not be lamenting over the fact that over 75% of our churches are experiencing no conversion growth?
Should we not be lamenting over the evangelism (and its practices) of the past 50 years which has turned in the SBC into an unregenerate denomination with over half of our “church members” as unrecognizable?
And yet, in spite of all this, a conference of 15 evangelists come together and talk about how they do not like John Piper–a man who has done more to fuel missions and evangelism than any Southern Baptist alive today.
And this is Southern Baptist news.