A Plea For Theological Responsibility And Integrity
In recent days it has become painfully evident that many Southern Baptists do not “do theology” very well. Some are apparently ill informed and sloppy. Others trying to be cute, are bombastic and irresponsible. Despite our rhetoric to be “people of the Book, we do not know the Book very well. We do not grasp its rich theology. We are failing, and failing miserably, to obey 2 Timothy 2:15-16: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness.”
I want our students to do better. I want you to do theology well. I want you to be clear and careful thinkers, gracious and competent teachers. I want you to be able to articulate a biblically balanced theology with conviction as well as charity. I want our Lord to give you the wisdom of knowing which theological hills are worth dying on, and which ones brothers and sisters in Christ can agreeably disagree, and yet love each other and work with each other in building the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and reaching the nations with the gospel.
If you are wondering what are some of the careless theological statements I have in mind that has moved me to put this challenge before you, let me note just a few that I have heard coming from a number of different directions.
1) You cannot attract a crowd and build a church on expository preaching. It is true you can build a crowd without biblical exposition, but you will never build a Christ-honoring New Testament Church without faithful exposition of the whole counsel of God’s inerrant Word. Further, a number of churches in our Convention have built both a growing church in terms of breadth and depth. It does not have to be an either/or scenario.
2) Evangelical Calvinism is an oxymoron. Anyone who knows church and Baptist history knows how irresponsible this statement is. William Carey, Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, James Boyce, Basil Manly Jr., and John Broadus are just a few of the great missionaries, pastors, and theologians who embraced a Reformed Theology. You may be convinced that Calvinism is wrong. However, do not make yourself look foolish by saying there are no passionate, evangelical Calvinists.
3) Five-point Calvinism is the same as Hyper-Calvinism. This statement again demonstrates historical ignorance. Hyper-Calvinism is a particular movement that appeared in the mid 1700’s that rejects the mandate to share the gospel, denies man’s responsibility to repent and believe the gospel, and in some instances runs perilously close to making God the author of sin. The overwhelming majority of five-point Calvinists would reject each of these positions. Spurgeon, himself a five-point Calvinist denounced in the strongest measure these errors in Spurgeon and “hyper-Calvinism.”
Now, those of you who know my theology know I am not a five-point Calvinist. I believe Unconditional Election is not incompatible with “the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures” (Abstract of Principles, art. IV), I affirm a Universal Provision with a Limited Application as it pertains to the Atonement, and I believe Effectual Calling to be a much better way to describe a significant aspect of the salvation process than Irresistible Grace. Further, anything that weakens the missionary passion of the church and the evangelistic favor of an individual is both dangerous and useless to the Church. Perhaps what some mean by “hyper-Calvinism” is extreme Calvinism or Calvinists with an attitude. I have met more than a few in my lifetime and to be sure, they were not of much value when it comes to the health of the church and reaching the lost. Still, we need to be honest with history and accurate with the facts. Mischaracterizations are of no value on any level.
4) Calvinists are worse than Muslims. The irresponsibility of this statement is tragic. It is one thing to disagree with your brothers and sisters in Christ on a point of theology. It is incredible that you would place them in the category of unbelieving militants who murder innocent victims in the name of Allah.
5) Jesus was a Calvinist. Theological foolishness is not limited to one theological perspective. In a Pastor’s Conference a few years ago one of my pulpit heroes made this statement. Recently a friend of mine wrote a book with one of the chapters entitled, “Christ, The Calvinist.” Such statements are wrongheaded, and yes, again irresponsible, at several points. First, the statement is historically anachronistic. Second, it is Christologically disrespectful. Jesus is the Lord. He is the King. He is God. Our Savior is the grand subject of Christian theology. So whether it is Whitefield, Boice (men I greatly love and admire), or whomever, to call Jesus a Calvinist is theologically misguided and pastorally dangerous. Yes, Jesus believes God is sovereign but He also taught man is responsible. Yes, Jesus taught, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44), but He also gave us the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20).
6) You cannot teach your young people theology. I have a simple and direct challenge: try it. Try it and see what happens. I suspect you will be wonderfully surprised. I suspect some of you will be significantly put to the test! Though I could say much more let me conclude with a simple but helpful beatitude: “Blessed are the balanced, for they will avoid unhealthy extremes.” This is true in doing theology. This is true in our speech. This is true for all aspects of the Christian life.
I love you and thank God for you. May you and your family have a wonderful and blessed Christmas.
Daniel L. Akin
Dr. Akin is the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is not a Calvinist.