Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi
As of today, the Southern Baptist Convention is a hot mess. Although the Oxford Baptist Underground primarily focuses on issues relating to Eric Hankins’ Traditional Statement, we are not blind to the goings-on within the convention. Besides the Calvinist-Hankinist debate, there are other cultural issues like the Alt-right, Critical Race Theory and the #MeToo Movement that are wreaking havoc. Things have become so serious that Albert Mohler recently posted an article on Southern’s website entitled, “The Wrath of God Poured Out – The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The purpose of this blog post, however, is not to discuss the different cultural issues.* Rather, in light of these difficult times, the matter at hand involves who is the best man to lead our convention forward when it convenes in Dallas on June 12th. It would appear that we need a president who is both a proven leader but also a fresh face, someone committed to the principles of the conservative resurgence but without the baggage. It is our opinion that J.D. Greear is the man “for such a time as this.” May the Lord have mercy on us.
Addendum (6/16/18): J.D. Greear received nearly 70% of the vote and is now the new SBC president. And while we believe he was the best candidate for the job, we also realize that it will take much wisdom to lead our convention forward in these perilous times. For now, the above-mentioned cultural issues appear to have taken the spotlight, pretty much pushing the Calvinist/Hankinist debate into the shadows. Let us pray for Bro. Greear and all those leading our denomination.
*This has changed somewhat as of 3/1/19 (see the tab above labeled “Purpose of This Blog”).
“Calvinism . . . promotes unparalleled theological snobbery and querulousness.”
– Eric Hankins, 2017 Connect 316 Banquet
One of the complaints you most often hear about Calvinistic preachers, especially the younger ones, is that they tear churches apart – they gather together a group of followers then forcibly try to take over a church. Regrettably, I know this to be true. But I submit that the divisive nature of such tactics has more to do with immature zeal and/or hubris than Calvinist doctrine. Why? Because I’m hearing credible reports about some Hankinist preachers in the area, men who openly hold to the Traditional Statement, doing the same thing. They start by collecting a group of minions, then they attempt to impose their will on the church – from firing Calvinistic staff to alienating long-time members, even some who’ve supported the Traditional Statement themselves. My sources also indicate that at least one of these preachers was well on his way to tearing his church apart. But before that happened, he suddenly (and surprisingly to many) departed for greener pastures. Still, he left in his wake a church full of confusion, chaos, and resentment.
My point here is that such behavior, even snobbery and querulousness, is not exclusive (or inherent) to Calvinism. If that were the case, then these Hankinist preachers – who are by no means Calvinists – would not be doing the exact same thing.
In 1986, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, was the largest seminary in the world with over 4,000 students. At the time, the inerrancy of Scripture was the hot-button issue in the Southern Baptist Convention. Southwestern benefited in no small measure because it was viewed as the most conservative of the six SBC seminaries. Consequently, many students went to Southwestern because of its perceived commitment to inerrancy, at least in a relative sense.
Fast forward 32 years, and all six SBC seminaries are now considered conservative – they all have an extremely high view of Scripture. So the hot-button issue today is no longer inerrancy, but rather a bubbling conflict between two doctrinal statements with two markedly different soteriological positions. The first statement is the historic Abstract of Principles, which is the confessional statement at both the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. The second statement is Dr. Eric Hankins’ Traditional Statement (TS). Although it has no official status, the TS has been signed by both Paige Patterson*, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary mentioned above and Chuck Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. The issue in this controversy is the soteriological direction of our denomination. Shall we return to our roots (the Abstract) or shall we progress in a new direction (TS)? Dr. Hankins, in his 2017 speech at the Connect 316 Banquet made his position clear. He said unequivocally, “I believe that we need to call for the removal of the Abstract of Principles as the confessional statement of Southern and Southeastern.”
But why the concern? In 1986, Southwestern was perceived as the best seminary and students flocked to it because it was the inerrancy school. Today, however, both Southwestern and New Orleans are viewed differently. They are now seen as the TS friendly schools while Southern and Southeastern are seen as the Abstract seminaries. So what do the 2017-18 enrollment figures tell us. Well, according to the Association of Theological Schools’ most recent statistical report, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is now the largest seminary in the world with 3,157 students. That’s a 36.3% increase from 1986. Southeastern’s enrollment has also climbed an impressive 99.4% in the same period. But Southwestern’s enrollment, while still large, is considerably smaller than it was 32 years ago. It’s enrollment has dropped 36.8% since 1986; New Orleans’ has fallen 17.2%.
So then why are students now flocking to Southern and Southeastern? It’s definitely not because it’s cheaper. In 2017, the estimated price for a married student to attend Southern was actually the highest of all SBC seminaries (74% higher than Southwestern). So what is the attraction? 32 years ago students went to Southwestern because of inerrancy, and inerrancy won the day. Could it be that students today want a school where historic Southern Baptist doctrines (the Abstract) are actually believed and taught? If so, then the Abstract could possibly win the day. No doubt about it, if Southwestern and New Orleans were growing like Southern and Southeastern, the Hankinists would not be nearly as alarmed.
*It’s interesting to note that Paige Patterson also signed the Abstract of Principles when he was president at Southeastern. What mental gymnastics he used to affirm two irreconcilable statements is anyone’s guess.
At last year’s Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Eric Hankins spoke at the annual Connect 316 Banquet which was held in conjunction with the convention. See http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/loyal-opposition/. While discussing Calvinism in general, Hankins at one point focused directly on Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Without any context, he told the audience that Mohler “said right to my face in front of a gathering in a lecture hall at Southern that he thought my soteriology was deficient.” At first blush, that sounds ominous. But what Hankins did not convey is what Mohler said next. He [Mohler] explained,
“It is simply because I think my soteriology is ‘righter’ than yours, more correct, that’s why I hold to it. . . . I’m playing around just a little bit in order to say we have two people who disagree. If you actually believe what you believe then you believe the point of disagreement is a deficiency in the other person’s thinking. In other words, you also believe that my soteriology is deficient.”
To which Hankins clearly responded, “Correct.”
So for the sake of full disclosure, Hankins likewise told the lecture hall at Southern that he thought Mohler’s soteriology was deficient.
Ergo, Mohler’s words take on a much more benign meaning in light of the full context.
To see the full Hankins/Mohler exchange, see https://vimeo.com/78882127. The quotes above start at the 15:16 mark.
In my life, I’ve been a member of six Southern Baptist churches in three states – from urban to rural, from small to First Baptist size. And all of these churches had or have a contingent of former United Methodists (UMC). Why is that important? Because Eric Hankins’ so-called Traditional Statement, if anything, reflects what many Southern Baptists believed in the 1950-70s, which I might add was also a time when many Bible believing Methodists in the southern United States (with much of their Arminianism intact) were abandoning the liberal United Methodist Church and were often being received into the more conservative Southern Baptist churches. In fact, the United Methodist Church was still the largest Protestant denomination in the United States in 1964. But 1964 is also the year it began its precipitous decline. In 1967, the Southern Baptist Convention overtook the Methodists and now is more than double the UMC in membership. So how many Methodists “converted” to the Baptist churches? We can’t know for sure because Southern Baptist church records show such additions as baptisms not transfers. Yet the anecdotal evidence suggests that the incoming Methodist wave was large. Also, the ones who left Methodism over the issue of the Bible were probably the more zealous type. So would such a large influx of Bible-believing, zealous Methodists affect Southern Baptist thought? If so, maybe what Hankins is calling “Traditional Baptist” doctrine reflects more of Wesley’s soteriology than Spurgeon’s.
Of course, many Hankinists would demur by saying that they are neither Calvinist or Arminian. Okay, but that’s where the “hybrid” qualification comes into play. A mule is neither a donkey or a horse but the offspring of both – it is a hybrid (with an entirely distinct number of chromosomes). So then could Hankinism actually be a Baptist/Methodist hybrid – not historically one or the other but the offspring of both? I wonder.