‘Traditional’ Southern Baptists counter Calvinism

Move over TULIP. Another flower is blooming this week in Baltimore.

By Bob Allen

New Calvinists are more Calvinist than Calvin was, Christian apologist Norman Geisler said June 7 at the inaugural meeting of a group formed to balance various Southern Baptist fellowships that gather under the umbrella known as “young, restless and reformed.”

“This is why I say I am a moderate Calvinist,” Geisler, co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary near Charlotte, N.C., said at a weekend “Whosoever Will” conference prior to this week’s Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore.

norman geisler“The five-point Calvinists we have today are extreme Calvinists,” Geisler said. “They are more Calvinist than John Calvin himself.”

The June 6-8 gathering at Northwest Baptist Church in Reisterstown, Md., was planned by pastors who call themselves “traditionalist” Southern Baptists and emphasize God’s love for the unsaved.

The movement lifts up a theological tradition embodied in former SBC presidents Adrian Rogers, Herschel Hobbs and E.Y. Mullins, men who chaired committees that shaped revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement in 1925, 1963 and 2000. 

Planners fear that legacy is being eclipsed by Calvinist groups such as the Founders Conference, Acts 29, 9 Marks, the Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, which agree, among other things, that Christ died only for the elect.

Geisler said Limited Atonement — the “L” used alongside Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints in the acronym TULIP to summarize a theology inspired by the 16th century reformer John Calvin and canonized at the 1619 Synod of Dort — is “probably the most controversial point of the five-point Calvinists.”

“Did God love everyone, or does he only love some people?” Geisler asked. “Because according to limited atonement, he only sent Christ to die for some people.”

Geisler said extreme Calvinists interpret the phrase in John 3:16 “God so love the world” to mean not every person but only those predestined to be saved.

“According to five-point Calvinism, you cannot really walk up to someone on the street and says ‘Jesus loves you,’ because you don’t know,” Geisler said. “If he is not one of the elect, Jesus doesn’t love him.”

Geisler said John Calvin himself did not hold that view, writing at one point: “It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world.”

“We believe that limited atonement is false, because Christ died for all sinners,” Geisler said.

The conference was endorsed by a group called Connect 316. Officially launched last July, it grew out of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation,” signed by more than 900 individuals and drafted by Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss.

On a website, the group rebuts the Calvinist TULIP with an alternative acronym, POINSETTIA.

— Pursuit Unconditional: God desires all to be saved and has made a way of salvation in Christ for any person.

— Own Guilt: Fallen man inherits a sinful nature but is condemned only because of his own sin.

— Inclusive Atonement: The substitutionary atonement of Christ is effective and available for every person.

— Natural Responsibility: God’s grace takes all the initiative in saving souls. Man’s free response is not a work.

— Spontaneous Regeneration: Any who repent and believe are regenerated at that point, not before or apart from it.​

— Election Available: In election, God saves people without predetermining their souls for heaven or hell. 

— Temperate Foreknowledge: God's sovereign omniscience does not mean he causes human decisions about Jesus.

— True Freedom: God gives to each person actual free will to accept or reject his call to salvation.

— Indestructible Security: When one is saved, God promises to complete the process, sealing their eternal fate.​

— Almighty Gospel: As we share God’s love, the gospel is the means of bringing any person to Christ.

Geisler said today’s Calvinists do not believe the one point of Calvinism on which virtually every traditional Southern Baptist agrees — eternal security of the believer, commonly expressed as “once saved, always saved.”

“This is a surprise,” he said. “Five-point Calvinists do not believe in eternal security. At least they do not believe you can know that we are eternally secure.”

“Let me explain,” Geisler said. “Only those who persevere in the holy life to the end will be saved. You don’t know holy life right up until death, so one can’t be sure he is saved until he dies. You can’t have any assurance that you’re saved right now for a five-point Calvinist.”

“There is such a thing as false grace, and people might think they are saved, may have a feeling they are saved, but they’re not really saved,” he explained.

“Only moderate Calvinists, like most of us are, believe you can have security and also assurance, that you can be assured right now that you are eternally secure,” Geisler said. “That’s what we call the doctrine of eternal security. Calvinists call it perseverance of the saints.”