Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi
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.
According to an article published by the website, SBC Today, Dr. Eric Hankins, made the following statement in 2013 about a belief system called Molinism. He said “We need to be able to account for the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and His predestination, and we need to be able to account for how freedom does not impinge on God’s glory or His sovereignty. I think Molinism gives the best account to date for these things.”
So what’s Molinism? Briefly, Molinism is a philosophical system, a Christianized version of modality, that attempts to harmonize the concept of God’s absolute sovereignty over salvation with libertarian freewill while bringing salvation to as many people as possible. It is extrapolated (not exposited) from Scriptures like Matthew 11:21, which reads, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Molinism rests heavily on counterfactuals like the phrase “if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon . . . they would have repented long ago . . .” From this Molinists postulate that there is not only a possible world where Tyre and Sidon would repent, but more importantly there are myriads of possible worlds, too numerous for us to comprehend, that God in His omniscience knows all too well. So Jehovah, before creation, looked at all these possible worlds – using something called middle knowledge – and in His sovereignty actualized the one possible world where the largest number of people would freely choose salvation. And make no mistake, with Molinism this actualized world will come to pass – it is predestined.
So clearly with Molinism, the doctrine of election still exists, but there is no special electing love for me individually. Rather God elects people based on their future choices in relation to the choices of every other person who has ever lived or will live. So to be elect according to Molinism, my right choosing must also occur in the one possible world where the largest number of other people make that same choice, that is, I must be on the winning team. Why? Because God’s electing purpose is not my salvation per se, but to save the largest number of people possible. In fact, I might have made the salvific choice in most possible worlds. I might have even made the salvific choice in all but one possible world, but if the one world God actualizes is the one where I choose wrongly, then I’m completely out of luck just like the residents of Tyre and Sidon mentioned above. You see, Molinism’s election is really not about you or me specifically. It’s about maximizing results.
So why is understanding the Molinist idea of election important? Because while many Southern Baptists reject the doctrine of election, their reason for doing so is not because they seek to defend libertarian free-will as a concept. That’s not the issue. Rather, they see free-will as the vehicle whereby fairness (or justice) is preserved in the actual world, not in a plethora of possible worlds. Consequently, Molinism, when rightly understood, would be no better in their eyes than Calvinism, maybe even less so. At least with Calvinism your destiny is determined by the all-wise counsel of an infinitely good God alone. With Molinism, you are predestined by the winning team.
Blog Note: Dr. Eric Hankins has left First Baptist Church in Oxford, and our prayers are with him and First Baptist. His leaving does not appear to have any direct connection to the Traditional Statement pro or con. So for the moment, as opportunity arises, the Oxford Baptist Underground will continue to interact with Hankins’ public comments and the comments of others who support the Traditional Statement.
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him (ESV). – Proverb 18:17
Below are two links to videos from Christian apologist and author James White analyzing Dr. Eric Hankins’ public comments concerning Reformed Theology. Note that the analysis of Hankins’ comments on the first video doesn’t begin until the 15:20 mark.
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.
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.
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.