Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi
The goal of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,” according to Dr. Eric Hankins in his introduction, “was to create a statement that would accurately reflect the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists, who are not Calvinists.” Since no specific research was cited to support his claim that a majority of Southern Baptists believe what is contained in the “Traditional Statement,” I will assume that his conclusion is based more on his personal perception than on any documented evidence.
In point of fact, when the “Traditional Statement” was released in late May, it made quite a buzz on the internet. Several hundred Southern Baptists quickly signed the statement in agreement, including such prominent leaders as Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson. SBC Today, the website that initially published the statement, solicited others to add their signatures in support as well. But almost as suddenly as the statement had appeared on the SBC landscape, support for the document began to wane. As of today (more than a month later), the statement has struggled to gain less than 850 signatures. This, despite the fact it was made available for signatures at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, where approximately 8,000 messengers were in attendance.
By my own perception, I grant that most Southern Baptists are not Calvinists; nevertheless, I see no evidence that they believe what is contained in the “Traditional Statement.” I would argue that most Southern Baptists are non-committal. I have actually been in SBC churches where a Calvinistic soteriology was presented. In every case there were a few that strongly supported it, a few that were hostile to it, but most seemed uncertain. And on those occasions where they (the uncommitted) were forced to choose sides, it was more often influenced by the personalities involved rather than by some firm conviction concerning what the Bible actually teaches on the matter.
It’s also interesting to note that while Dr. Hankins has publicly stated that the “traditional” Southern Baptist view of salvation is the majority opinion among Southern Baptists, he also claims that this “traditional” group is comprised of neither Calvinists nor Arminians, because both groups are Augustinian, which Hankins rejects. But a recent poll conducted by Lifeway Research shows that 30% of Southern Baptist pastors say their churches are Calvinistic/Reformed. Another 30% say their churches are Arminian/Wesleyan. So 60% of Southern Baptist churches, according to their own pastors, are Augustinian in their understanding of salvation, yet that same 60% are not part of the “traditional” Southern Baptist majority, according to Dr. Hankins’ own assertion.
Now, I suppose when Dr. Hankins claims that the “Traditional Statement” is a reflection of “the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists, who are not Calvinists,” he could mean that of those in the SBC who are not Calvinists, the statement represents the opinion of most in that non-Calvinist group. Still, I know of no verifiable evidence proving that the “Traditional Statement” represents the beliefs of anyone other than those who actually signed the document, and to date, that is an extremely small percentage of either Southern Baptists as a whole or just the non-Calvinist ones, regardless of what label they may adhere to.
Oxford, Mississippi is my hometown. Recently, the pastor of Oxford’s First Baptist Church, Dr. Eric Hankins, wrote an introduction for and signed a document called “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Accordingly, as the First Baptist Church, it is also the flagship church for all Southern Baptists in Lafayette County, of which Oxford is the county seat. This blog seeks to interact with Dr. Hankins public statements on theology, issues raised by the “Traditional Statement” and its supporters, and address the subject of Calvinism in Southern Baptist life. While I suspect this blog will have a limited lifespan, it may take me a while to raise every issue I feel needs to be addressed.