A lot of folks in the SBC who have been paying attention to the long-standing Calvinism debate have been anticipating the formation of the Page Peace Committee. Dr. Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee of the SBC, announced earlier this year that he was planning to form a “consensus accord”. In May, he explained:
“Given the depth of the fracture lines around the issue of soteriology across the Convention, I sense a need to assemble a representative group of Southern Baptists who can hammer out such a consensus ‘accord’ that will enable the majority of Southern Baptists to work together for the Kingdom purposes which initially bound us together, an initiative I plan to announce at this year’s annual meeting.” (emphasis mine)
Sounds like a great idea. When I heard this, I too went to the SBC Annual Meeting with high hopes and encouraged my Calvinist brethren to work for a Great Commission consensus. While the battle lines had already been drawn, several months prior to the annual meeting, the largely anti-Calvinist crowd had loaded ammunition, so it seemed, and fired away with dozens of blogposts up until the week when we came together. By the time we met in New Orleans, it became clear that the messengers of the SBC had no desire to continue the bickering and infighting, soundly rejecting any attempt by motion or resolution to continue the blustering actions of a few on the blogosphere. Page was one of several voices setting the tone of the convention hall, as the Baptist Press liveblog recounted:
Executive Committee President Frank Page delivered the EC’s second report. Page addressed the issue of Calvinism, saying, “Calvinism is an issue amongst us.” He added, “I’m not a Calvinist … but a lot of our people are.” Page said he is concerned that there are some non-Calvinists who are more concerned about rooting out Calvinists than they are about winning lost to Christ. On the flip side, Page said he is concerned about Calvinists who view those who disagree with them as unintelligent. He referenced the panel that will “chart a way” forward for both sides, but Page did not announce any members of the panel. The two sides of the issue have walked arm in arm for the Great Commission for years, Page said, and should continue to do so. (emphasis mine, see also the BP story on Page’s address)
The big takeaway from New Orleans was to be the developments of Dr. Page’s “peace committee” (or advisory group) and what exactly this new group would seek to accomplish. Yesterday, the names and intentions of this group was announced through Baptist Press. The purpose of the group, according to Dr. Page is:
1. to “develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism”
2. to craft “a statement regarding the strategy on how we can work together” (i.e., “strategy document”)
As for the selection of individuals on the peace committee, Dr. Page sought the counsel of Dr. David Dockery, a well-known SBC statesmen and evangelical leader. Their motivations were to select “people who truly represented the various constituencies involved in this theological discussion.” The names of the individuals on the committee are:
— Daniel Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
— Mark Dever, senior pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C.
— David Dockery, president, Union University, Jackson, Tenn.
— Leo Endel, executive director, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.
— Ken Fentress, senior pastor, Montrose Baptist Church, Rockville, Md.
— Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Ala.
— Eric Hankins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Oxford, Miss.
— Johnny Hunt, pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
— Tammi Ledbetter, homemaker and layperson, Inglewood Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas.
— Steve Lemke, provost, director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
— Fred Luter, senior pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans; president, Southern Baptist Convention.
— R. Albert Mohler Jr., president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
— Paige Patterson, president, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
— Stephen Rummage, senior pastor, Bell Shoals Baptist Church, Brandon, Fla.
— Daniel Sanchez, professor of missions, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
— Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, Fla.
A Few Personal Thoughts About the Peace Committee
When I first read that the purpose and personnel of the peace committee had been announced, I had great anticipation. I had been told publicly and privately this was going to be the ticket to forward the discussion and bring a true consensus among Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC. While I am open to being convinced otherwise, I concluded my reading of the announcement with disappointment and confusion. When I shared that disappointment on Twitter yesterday, some of my SBC pastor friends asked that I explain my reasoning in a blogpost, so for those of you who asked, here’s my answer.
Dr. Page stated the purpose of the committee was to have “people who truly represented the various constituencies involved in this theological discussion.” Great start. But when you look at the committee members, is that what we actually find? I don’t want any member of the committee to take this personally, but does any informed Southern Baptist on either side of the issue consider Leo Endel, Stephen Rummage, Ken Fentress, Daniel Sanchez, or Tammi Ledbetter leaders, figureheads, or authoritative representatives of “various constituencies” in the Calvinism discussion? For a number of years, I tracked every article, blogpost, book, or conference on the Calvinism debate in the SBC, and never once were these names mentioned. I just find it hard to think these are the best, most qualified leaders with the largest constituencies who have a record of being engaged on the Calvinism issue and truly represent either side of the issue in the SBC. Even well-respected leaders like Timothy George and Jimmy Scroggins could hardly be considered well-engaged in SBC life or currently “involved” in [this] theological discussion.
So what could be the answer for the inclusion of such names? I think the answer has to do with one (if not all) of the following approaches: (a) the way the committee system works in the SBC, (b) the superstructure representation, and (c) the quota rule. People are appointed to committees largely by who the established leadership already know. I would venture to say that most if not all of these leaders have served on various SBC committees in the past. They are typical, usual fare for such a thing. Additionally, perhaps Frank Page feels like he needs SBC representation from all levels of the SBC superstructure – i.e., seminaries, state conventions, churches, etc. And finally, there has been criticism in the past of committees not representing various constituencies like African Americans, Hispanics, or women in SBC life.
Perhaps they are the ones whom Page refers to when he says “various constituencies”. Yet in my mind and given the purpose of the committee, the various constituencies are the various theological camps or positions that Southern Baptists hold regarding Calvinism. Those would include Arminians/Traditionalists, Modified Calvinists (or “Calminians” to use Dockery’s terminology), Amyraldians, and Calvinists. Regardless of position in the SBC superstructure, the people who ought to be sitting at the table are leaders in each of these “constituencies” – whether Presidents or pastors, black or white, male or female. I understand the desire to be balanced and stave off the “quota” criticism, but it is precisely this kind of mechanism that makes politics the reputation of the SBC rather than principle.
Let me offer a few examples. Tom Ascol is a local church pastor and executive director of Founders Ministries, popularly known for representing the largest Calvinist affinity network in the SBC. Those who know Tom find him to be a gentleman and scholar, working to build bridges across theological lines as he did in helping form the original Building Bridges Conference with Danny Akin (in 2007). Recently, Tom wrote on his blog, affirming the comments of Dr. Page on Calvinism and has a record of amicably engaging the debate of Calvinism as seen in his series of blogposts on the Traditionalist Statement. In spite of this, Tom Ascol is not on the committee. Nor are guys like Tom Nettles, also with Founders, who is known today among many as the leading Baptist Historian in the SBC and author of numerous books about Calvinism in Baptist life. Failure to include such men on SBC discussions on Calvinism is like failing to have Ed Stetzer on SBC discussions on being missional or Thom Rainer on church leadership. I am sure this case could be argued from the non-Calvinist/Arminian/Traditionalist side as well.
Additionally, it appears there are no individuals representing either side under the age of 40, including the resurging influence of the “young, restless, and reformed” ministers flowing out of our seminaries. I have talked with several non-Calvinists in the SBC my age (let’s just say under 40) who want to change the narrative and work toward a new consensus as I reflected after New Orleans. Guys like Nathan Lino, Jeremy Roberts, and Wes Kenney are a few that come to my mind (and I’m sure there are many others).
What we need is to have a robust discussion about the Calvinist issue in a true Hegelian fashion, if you will. Let there be solid, substantive thesis (position) presented from one side, and let there be a solid, substantive antithesis (position) form the other side. And with a mutual commitment to work together, let’s see how, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, a synthesis (“strategy statement”) might be forged. If synthesis is the goal, it presupposes a necessary means of hearing out both the thesis and antithesis (and allowing each side to represent their position and the other side to offer fair and yet plain-spoken criticism).
But my disappointment is that I don’t think this is going to happen if you have a significant percentage of people on the committee who have offered NO position and have little to NO representation on the issue of Calvinism to date. How does the lack of credentials and commentary on Calvinism by certain people contribute to the stated purpose of the committee? To marginalize those with conviction and klout for a middle of the road is to replace principle with pandering and opt for a shortcut instead of true synthesis. I am not saying you should have people who are combative and have a record of misrepresenting the other side. But I am saying that we should not be naive to have a peace committee say “peace, peace” when there is no peace. It is true that the extremes on both sides tend to shout the loudest and drive the narrative down a dead-end road. But the corrective to these minority groups is not to find people without a position or conviction on the matter in hopes that it might be the easiest way of us all getting along. Rather, we need folks who have strong convictions with real differences who, at the same time, share an undeterred common commitment to understand one another and work toward a meaningful partnership in Great Commission advance.
Dr. Page indicated in the Baptist Press article that other people might be added to the committee. Perhaps that is good, but I am still left wondering how much of this is show and how much of it is go (by that I mean going forward rather than looking good on paper). I consider this as a real opportunity to put feet to the positive words coming out from the mouth of leaders like Bryant Wright and Frank Page at the convention. As I said earlier, I am happy to be convinced otherwise, but at this point my ambivalence is becoming more and more to the level of honorable men like Mark Dever and Timothy George than I had previously imagined.