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.
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).
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.