Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi
In the preamble to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of
God’s Plan of Salvation, Dr. Eric Hankins writes:
While some earlier Baptist confessions were shaped by Calvinism, the clear trajectory of the BF&M since 1925 is away from Calvinism. For almost a century, Southern Baptists have found that a sound, biblical soteriology can be taught, maintained, and defended without subscribing to Calvinism.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Eric Hankins’ first premise above is correct, namely, that since 1925 “the clear trajectory” in the SBC has been “away from Calvinism.” But what else was going on in Southern Baptist life during the last century? Hmmm . . . it was something that began in approximately the 1920’s, came to a head in the early 1960’s, resulted in the election of Adrian Rogers as SBC president in 1979, and sparked a nearly two decade war within the Southern Baptist Convention. What was it? A “clear trajectory” away from the inerrancy and primacy of Scripture in the collective lives of Southern Baptists.
But now, post Conservative Resurgence, the Bible has been theoretically restored to its proper place in Southern Baptist life. Consequently, what was present before the drift away from the Bible has returned – Calvinism (thus the supposed need for the Traditional Statement). Could it be that, maybe just maybe, something akin to the Doctrines of Grace are actually contained in the Holy Book? And now that Southern Baptists are again focusing on what the Bible actually teaches, could that be a reason why a growing number of these Baptists profess to be Calvinistic? Inquiring minds want to know.
Despite having been circulated almost everywhere Southern Baptists congregate, the Traditional Statement certainly has not generated a groundswell of support. As of today, May 3, 2014, signatures are still being solicited on the website Connect 316, yet the total number of signers is a meager 898. If you believe there are 16 million Southern Baptists, that means over 99.99% have not signed the statement. This in spite of the fact that supporters have been soliciting signatures for almost two years.
However, among the signers listed, a sizable number list Oxford, Mississippi as their hometown. Yet all but one of those Oxford signers appear to come from four area churches – First Baptist, North Oxford Baptist, Yellow Leaf Baptist, and New Prospect Baptist. Noticeably absent are names from the Anchor Baptist Church, which I believe is the largest Southern Baptist church in Lafayette County outside the Oxford city limits. Their pastor, Gerald Shook, is the dean of Southern Baptist pastors in Lafayette County, having served there for over 30 years. Why hasn’t he signed it? Surely he was/is aware of it.
I certainly don’t speak for Pastor Shook, but I’ve heard him preach on numerous occasions and strongly doubt he would be in agreement with the Traditional Statement, kind of like non-signer David Rogers (son of the legendary Adrian Rogers). In fact, speaking of the Calvinist acronym TULIP, David Rogers has said:
I simultaneously affirm 4 1/2 points of TULIP and 3 1/2 points of the non-TULIP, all depending on which perspective you are looking at it from. I also read from and am edified by writers (and listen to speakers) from many different theological camps. I have been especially edified by some of the teaching from some of the Gospel Coalition folks. – See more at: Victims of Soteriological Dishonesty (comment section).
The point here is that whatever Southern Baptists believe, there is no evidence that any massive number adheres specifically to what’s contained in the Traditional Statement. Rather, I suspect most have views that don’t correspond exactly to either the 5 points of Calvinism or the 10 Articles of the Traditional Statement but nevertheless fall neatly within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message. At SBC Open Fourms, Ken Hammrick has posted a helpful chart showing this full spectrum of Southern Baptist soteriological views. (By the way, I think this chart also shows why Calvinist-leaning Southern Baptists call their Traditionalist brothers Arminians, a label which the Traditionalists, of course, deny.)
Update: As of April 18, 2015, the number of signatures stands at 973, which still means that 99.99% of Southern Baptists have not signed the Traditional Statement.
Another update: As of July 9, 2016, the Connect 316 link above now says “The requested page cannot be found.” Although the exact reason for its removal is unknown, it would be fair to conclude, based on the paltry number of signers, that the site failed miserably in its intent. It in no way demonstrated that a majority or even a large minority of Southern Baptists agreed with the Traditional Statement in toto.
On a website called SBC Voices, in an article dated April 11, 2014, Dr. Eric Hankins wrote the following about the Traditional Statement:
There was never a strategy to have the SBC formally adopt the statement as a litmus test. Never. Two Conventions and almost two years have passed and no attempt has been made at any level (not even at the local church level as far as I know) to adopt the statement formally.
If anyone should know, it would be Eric Hankins. He has traveled all over the country talking to Southern Baptists about the Traditional Statement, Calvinism, the Sinner’s Prayer, etc. But considering that Southern Baptists have long been a cantankerous bunch, you would think that some group of Traditionalists somewhere has whispered in Hankins’ ear the hope that the Traditional Statement could be pushed as a formal doctrinal statement. Yet Hankins insists “no attempt has been made at any level (not even at the local church level as far as I know) to adopt the statement formally.”
Then on April 22, 2014, at a website called The Crescent Crier, a trustee of Louisiana College named Jay Adkins published a letter he wrote to Dr. David Hankins, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and father of Eric Hankins. The entire letter is worth reading, but one section is particularly relevant to Eric Hankins’ statement above. Adkins addresses Dr. David Hankins directly. He says:
It has been rumored that you had hoped to have LC adopt the “Traditional Statement” as a guiding doctrinal document. Although I do not know how widespread your thoughts were on this matter, I do know that you made that desire known to the Executive Committee (EC). Again, there is evidence from the EC meeting on the morning of September 17, 2012 that you desired to replace the resolution prepared by the EC with the Traditional Statement stating, “I would be happy if we would take something like this traditional statement and just say this is what it is.” For almost 45 minutes you went on about your concerns over Calvinism and even came to the point of suggesting that the Baptist Faith and Message might need to be changed to “tighten up” the soteriological portion by saying, “I think the statements on salvation in the Baptist Faith and Message are fine unless people are using them to give themselves permission to teach things that Baptist generally do not believe.”
Add this to the March 15, 2014 article published in the Shreveport Times, which also suggests the Traditional Statement was being pushed at Louisiana College, and the questions begin to mount. What kind of questions? How about the questions asked in the comment section of another Eric Hankins’ post on SBC Voices. Someone posting under the name Chuck Quarles* (comment number 260) asks Eric Hankins the following:
Are you denying that a very serious effort was made to impose the Trad Statement on the Christian Studies Division and Caskey School of Divinity at Louisiana College? Such an effort was most certainly made. This is not merely the topic of rumor. Abundant and persuasive evidence of this effort exists. What evidence, in your opinion, would be necessary to confirm that an effort to impose the Trad Statement at Louisiana College occurred and in what forum would the evidence need to be presented? Are you claiming that you were not aware of this effort?
Especially pertinent to this discussion is a letter written by Chuck Quarles to the Trustees of Louisiana College dated March 4, 2014.
*Regardless of the author in the comment section, these questions need to be answered.
We may invigorate our faith and renew our courage by reflecting that divine power has always attended the preaching of doctrine, when done in the true spirit of preaching. Great revivals have accompanied the heroic preaching of the doctrines of grace, predestination, election, and that whole lofty mountain range of doctrines upon which Jehovah sits enthroned, sovereign in grace as in all things else. God honors the preaching that honors him. There is entirely too much milk-sop preaching nowadays trying to cajole sinners to enter upon a truce with their Maker, quit sinning and join the church. The situation does not call for a truce, but for a surrender. Let us bring out the heavy artillery of heaven, and thunder away at this stuck-up age as Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Paul did and there will be many slain in the Lord raised up to walk in newness of life.
– J.B. Gambrell
J.B. Gambrell was a student at Ole Miss and served as pastor of the Oxford Baptist Church (First Baptist) in Oxford, Mississippi for five years. He also served as editor of the Baptist Record, president of Mercer University, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Source: http://www.sbhla.org/bio_gambrell.htm
When the Traditional Statement first came out there was a lot of talk about the ancient heresy of semi-Pelagianism. This is because Article 2 of the Traditional Statement appears to affirm that men have a natural ability to respond to the Gospel with saving faith. Why is that important? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” In other words, are we able to believe the Gospel with a wicked (natural) heart or do we need a new heart? If we are able to believe with a “desperately wicked” heart, what is the point of the promise in Ezekiel 36:26, where God says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that some portions of the Traditional Statement “actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.” See: Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk. Also, Dr. Roger Olson, the Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University, who has never been accused of being a Calvinist, says of the Traditional Statement that “Semi-Pelagianism may be very far from the writers’ and signers’ intentions, but the statement is clearly semi-Pelagian in wording and needs amendment.” (See Olson’s Thoughts on the Traditonal Statement)
With concern about semi-Pelagianism coming from two historically Baptist, yet differing, soteriological perspectives, you would think that if the writers of the Traditional Statement intended something else, they would have modified the statement. Nearly two years have passed, and they have not. It seems, then, they do affirm natural ability. Of course, they claim this is not the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. For some back and forth on the issue, see the debate at SBC Voices.
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.