By Jeff Brumley
Growing disagreements over the role of Calvinism will make the Southern Baptist Convention stronger, not weaker, as long as its focus remains on evangelism, members of an advisory team commissioned to study the topic told hundreds in Houston on Monday.
But whether the rest of the convention sees it that way will depend on churches, pastors and individuals deciding to trust Baptists with whom they disagree on the subject, team members said.
“I sense an extreme level of anti-Calvinist” sentiment across the convention, said SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, who convened an advisory team made up of Calvinist and non-Calvinist Southern Baptists.
“I deal with an anti-Calvinism that is beyond harsh,” Page, a self-described non-Calvinist said during a question-and-answer session attended by at least 300 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. “Trust is hitting a new low.”
That can be overcome only if Baptists on either side of the theological debate speak “not at each other, but to each other,” Page said.
The Q&A session centered around the team’s seven-page report, “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension,” which lays out the differences in the views of election and salvation held by each side, and concludes those views can co-exist if everything else is Bible- and Christ-centered.
Audience questions ranged from how the document can be useful to individuals and congregations to how churches should handle their own internal disagreements over theology. One asked the group’s Calvinist members if they believe infants go to heaven if they die.
“We believe those who don’t reach moral awareness are recipients of God’s grace,” committee member and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin said.
Another asked if seminaries and other institutions should institute quotas to ensure fairness in hiring Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Page said such an approach would be untenable. Committee member Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said institutions instead must seek balance, sensitivity and an openness to divergent viewpoints.
A Tennessee pastor said Calvinist beliefs in who can be saved and how they come to be saved could tear the convention apart, despite what the report concluded.
Committee member Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said those are two issues on which everyone agrees.
“Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Mohler said.