By Bob Allen
While other U.S. denominations face schism over homosexuality, Southern Baptists are rehashing a 17th-century debate about why a loving God would create billions of souls predestined to an eternity in hell.
“I think it’s a fantastic thing,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in a story about the “New Calvinism” April 3 on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS.
“When you imagine that mainline Protestant denominations have largely been arguing over things like same-sex marriage and any number of other things, and trying to figure out how in the world to engender some kind of genuinely theological discussion, I think we should see this is as a tremendous achievement of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Mohler, a leader in the “young, restless and reformed” movement taking root in Southern Baptist life. “The question is now how we steward that, and I hope we steward it in a very healthy direction.”
This week Mohler and other Calvinist leaders are headlining Together for the Gospel, a biennial preaching conference in Louisville that affirms doctrines including “the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers by God’s decree alone.”
Joining Mohler at the April 8-10 confab at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville are co-founders Ligon Duncan, chancellor/CEO of the Reformed Theological Seminary system, and Mark Dever, the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington.
A fourth founder, C.J. Mahaney, is sitting out this year’s conference because of negative publicity about a lawsuit alleging a sex-abuse cover up in Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church-planting network based in Louisville that he led until last year.
Other keynote speakers include John Piper, founder of Desiring God Ministries and patriarch of the movement of younger evangelicals seeking to recover what founders term the “doctrines of grace.”
Mohler told PBS Calvinism is “about as countercultural as anything you could imagine in secular America,” because by its nature the movement “gets right to the reality of the one, true and living God.”
Not everyone is enamored by the movement’s success.
“I think that there are still people worried that someday the Southern Baptist Convention could split over these issues,” said Steven Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “So that continues to be one of the tension lines in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
In 2012, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page appointed a 16-member advisory committee to study the impact of Calvinism in the nation’s second-largest faith group. A 2012 study by LifeWay Research found that 60 percent of pastors were “concerned about the impact of Calvinism in our convention.”
Page’s committee determined that Calvinism need not split the SBC but urged Calvinist ministers to “be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine” when talking to search committees at non-Calvinist churches.
Lemke said young pastors coming in and teaching and preaching things different than what church members have been taught all their lives has “obviously created tensions in churches and led to churches splitting or pastors being fired.”
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly noted that part of Calvinism’s appeal is to women who believe the Bible commands them to “graciously submit” to their husbands.
“I have a husband who is, I believe, called by God to be the head of our home, and therefore the responsibility lies with him, and I’m happy with that fact,” said follower Connie Christian. “I’m glad I’m not responsible, you know.”
The Together for the Gospel faith statement affirms that “the Scripture reveals a pattern of complementary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer.”
“We further affirm that the teaching office of the Church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God,” it says.
“There’s no justification for any discrimination on the basis of gender,” Mohler explained to PBS, “unless the Creator has told his church, ‘This is how I expect you to organize your church in obedience to me, and this is how I expect you to organize your marriage in obedience to me.’ And I do believe we’re under that authority.”