Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi
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 soteriolgy 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.
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.
At the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, the pastor of Oxford’s First Baptist Church, Dr. Eric Hankins, presented a resolution in favor of what is called the sinner’s prayer (a revised version of that resolution was adopted by the convention). For those who may not know, the sinner’s prayer is an evangelism technique (sometimes called drawing the net) used by Evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists, whereby a person is led to repeat a certain prayer, often word for word. Strangely, the exact wording of the prayer is not really that important so long as it contains language whereby the “convert” admits to being a sinner, says that he/she is sorrowful because of sin, and conveys a desire that God would forgive. Of course, there is nothing wrong with someone praying that God would have mercy on them. What is wrong is to equate praying the sinner’s prayer or any prayer with conversion. In Romans 5:1, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therein lies the danger – it is faith in Christ, not prayer that saves, and we must not conflate the two. Granted, prayer is the breath of saving faith, but words can be uttered even when there is no faith in the heart. As our Lord said in Matthew 15:8, “This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.” So if we give people the impression that they are justified because they have mouthed some prescribed words we thereby undermine the Gospel itself.
As alluded to above, there is certainly nothing wrong with someone asking God to have mercy on them because of Christ’s substitutionary death for sinners on the cross. But the idea that it is helpful to lead people in a specific prayer and then call that receiving Christ is wrongheaded. Why? Because, at best, it is unnecessary. At worst, it deceives.
We know that such a prayer is unnecessary simply by looking at the example of Christ and the Apostles. In Luke 18:18, the rich young ruler asked Christ, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In Acts 16:30, the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Then in Acts 2:37, those present on the Day of Pentecost who were convinced they were guilty of crucifying Christ asked Peter and the other Apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” While the responses to those questions differ, especially the one made by Christ, it is important to note that no one was told to pray any type of prayer. This would be extremely odd if prayer is in any way necessary for conversion.
Regardless, some may argue from Romans 10:10 that prayer is still necessary in the conversion process. That passage reads, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Clearly, the confession mentioned in this passage is predicated upon first believing with the heart. But more to the point, the word translated “confession” does not indicate that it has to be a prayer. For example, if a man were to sincerely say, “I am a great sinner, and my only hope is that the blood and righteous of Christ avail for me,” he has thus confessed with his mouth what he believes in his heart and is saved. That is what the Bible calls a “good confession” (1 Timothy 6:12). Granted, this verbal confession could be made in the form of a prayer as was the case with the publican in Luke 18:13, but even there the publican’s prayer was a spontaneous expression of what was already in his heart. It was in no way a prescribed prayer.
Please note, however, that since true faith prays, prayer then is a necessary consequence or fruit of conversion, meaning those who are truly converted will pray, sometimes even without intelligible words (Romans 8:26). This is altogether different from saying that prayer is a necessary component of conversion itself. Prayer is not what brings us from death to life (conversion or regeneration). And it is exactly at this point that the danger of deception lurks. If a man believes he is justified because he prayed a prayer, regardless of the prayer, he has missed Christ and is deceived. Prayer in this case, like the brazen serpent of old (Numbers 21:8-9; 2 Kings 18:4), has been misused and has become an idol.
Dr. Hankins and others would likely argue that the sinner’s prayer is but a helpful tool in leading people to Christ. But if the tool can be deceiving and is actually unnecessary, why use it at all? To put it another way, pretend you’re a physician, and you have a patient with a terminal illness. Also pretend there’s a drug available that many believe might be useful in treating this disease, but there’s a problem. The drug itself can be lethal. Oh, and one more thing – this drug is completely unnecessary because there is another treatment that works just as well, if not better, without the dangerous side-effects. Why then would any doctor use the unnecessary, dangerous drug? And why would any preacher use the unnecessary, dangerous sinner’s prayer?
Sure, if a person wants to pray for God’s mercy, then by all means let them pray. But as a physician to their soul, do not prescribe a prayer. Rather, prescribe that blood-stained cross. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15).
First Baptist Church, Oxford, Mississippi, was “organized on May 8, 1842, by the first pastor, William Hosea Holcombe” – this according to an historical marker conspicuously displayed outside the church’s sanctuary. At the time of First Baptist’s organization, Rev. Holcombe was actually a member of a Baptist church in western Lafayette County, Mississippi, called the Clear Creek Baptist Church. That church (Clear Creek) still exists today and has its own historical marker indicating it was founded in 1836, six years earlier than FBC, Oxford. What is particularly interesting about that is that in 1842 Clear Creek Baptist Church was a member of the Yalobusha Baptist Association in northern Mississippi. That association included churches from what are now Yalobusha, Lafayette, Tallahatchie, and Grenada counties. According to the association’s records, William Hosea Holcombe actually served as a messenger from the Clear Creek Church to the association’s meetings in 1841 and in 1842, the same year he founded First Baptist, Oxford. Why is that significant? Because the statement of faith for the Yalobusha Baptist Association appears to stand in direct contradiction to Eric Hankins’ Traditional Statement, particularly Article 2. Below are some of the more relevant excerpts from the Yalobusha Baptist Association’s Statement of Faith:
VII. OF GRACE IN REGENERATION We believe that in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension, by the power of the Holy Spirit in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence is found in the holy fruit which we bring forth to the glory of God.
Please Note: It says that regeneration is necessary “so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel.” It does not say that regeneration is the consequence of our voluntary obedience to the gospel.
VIII. OF ELECTION We believe in God’s act of choice, or gracious purpose, according to which he calls, regenerates, sanctifies and saves sinners; that it is according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ; and that God, from the beginning, before the foundation of the world, chose His people in Christ, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated them to the adoption of Children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promote humility, thankfulness, and trust in God; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves, demands and deserves our utmost diligence; and that we can only ascertain this by the reception of and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Source for the quotes above: http://msgw.org/yalobusha/baptassochist.html
Granted, Dr. Hankins would likely argue that Baptists started moving away from such ideas in the early twentieth century, and he would be correct. But it also must be pointed out that it was in the early twentieth century that Baptists started moving away from the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture too (see here). Is there some correlation? Undeniably.
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.