The President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Frank Page, is a nice and gracious man. From the little personal exposure I have had with Dr. Page, he is warm, cordial, and courteous. And while I had concerns about his nomination for presidency two years ago, I have appreciated the tone of his presidency and desire to work together for the gospel with a desire to bring our Convention to a greater Great Commission focus.
Although his legacy will undoubtedly be the first non-Kingmaker appointed nomination to win the Presidency since the Conservative Resurgence in 1979 (with the except of Jim Henry ’94), one has to wonder if his personal commentary will someday eclipse his role as a denominational statesman. In a recent Christianity Today article, entitled “TULIP Blooming,” Dr. Frank Page seems to think that the Reformed Resurgence in the SBC, much like the 15-evangelist conference, to be something we should lament over. Dr. Page asserts,
“The totality of history shows the vast majority of Baptists have not been [Calvinists], so why go back to the founders?” Page said. “I think we need to go back to the Bible.”
Of course, with Page’s argument, we are led to believe that what the Founders of the SBC believed and taught was something contrary to the Bible. As a president of the SBC, I find it remarkable that our top figure would state that our convention adhered to doctrines not founded in Scripture. Now it is apparent to all that Dr. Page has had trouble with TULIP, and that is fine if he disagrees or has differences (though I think his arguments are presumptuous and problematic). However, having trouble with TULIP should not thereby constitute trouble with Baptist history.
It is evident that many if not most Baptists were indeed from the Reformed tradition, as indicated by the Founders of the SBC, not the least of which included William B. Johnson, Patrick Hues Mell, John L. Dagg, James P. Boyce, and Basil Manly Jr. Furthermore, our first confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles (1858), was distinctively Reformed. Dr. Tom Nettles, in his book By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, lays out the history that Dr. Page apparently has not, or will not, consider. It should not be to our surprise that Dr. Nettles’ masterful treatise has yet to be refuted since its first publication over twenty years ago.
Nevertheless, putting history aside, we need to answer the question why we should go back to the Founders? The Reformed Resurgence in my generation goes back to the Founders precisely because of, not in spite of, the pursuit to go back to the Bible. What the Conservative Resurgence did in the recovery of inerrancy of Scripture paved the way to recover the sufficiency of Scripture. Time and again, when you ask young men in the SBC who are “young, restless, and Reformed,” we will tell you that it is out of the study of Scripture, sometimes specifically the Scripture often ignored or glossed over, that has birthed a passion for the gospel, the doctrine of sovereign grace. What makes matters worse, and even more detrimental to the cause of the anti-Calvinists in the SBC, is the continued barrage of rhetoric and ultimatums handed down by the elder generation of Southern Baptists. It is as though, if you can’t influence them with exposition or exegesis of Scripture, then scandalize them with rhetoric and police them with ultimatums. Certainly we cannot expect for a brighter tomorrow when the flickering lights of old want to unplug fresh bulbs in the SBC lighthouse.
Apparently, what Dr. Page does not understand, what the Arbuckle Baptist Association does not understand, what the itinerant evangelists do not understand, is that the movement taking place today is nothing less than a sweeping work of God’s Spirit to revive a passion for the gospel that compels us to believe it passionately, preach it fully, share it faithfully, and defend it lovingly. Young Calvinists in the SBC are not expecting you to agree with Calvinism or be a “five-point Calvinist.” We are not even asking you to go back and appreciate your Baptist history and what God did through the Founders of the SBC. But what we (if I can speak for the younger generation) are asking is to cease misrepresenting the truth and attempting to rewrite history.
Honestly, there are some Calvinists I know that can learn a lot from Dr. Page (myself included). His attitude and demeanor characterizes him as a man with a genuine pastoral heart for people. However, I think there is something that Dr. Page, and others who express an anti-Calvinist sentiment in the SBC, can learn from the younger generation of Southern Baptists–that is, we want to be treated fairly and accurately, doing justice to truth in the same way you do charity. The trouble that young Southern Baptists have is not that you have a trouble with TULIP but that you have trouble with those who believe the TULIP–and that’s a big difference. What I fear, however, is that the irenic quest for understanding, for appreciation of differences, and learning from one another, is not something that will occur overnight. But hopefully, with the right kind of leadership, we can begin to see that take place.
The Founders left the SBC a great legacy, worthy of our appreciation and imitation. It remains to be seen whether Dr. Page and the current leadership in the SBC will demonstrate the kind of leadership that, when you say, “Let’s go back to the Conservative Resurgence,” you are also saying, “Let’s go back to the Bible.”