Hi and welcome back! This past week, we’ve been talking a lot about Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Yes, Calvinists will soon be reaching for the ultimate domination of the denomination! But I suspect that this summer’s Annual Meeting (when the SBC elects its next President) will just be the anticlimax to a takeover that began decades ago. Calvinists’ takeover of the SBC’s future took longer than their takeover of the SBC itself, and it ran along the exact same lines as the Conservative Resurgence that they ignited. Today, let me show you why the future of the SBC will be Calvinist — and really, already is.
(For information about what Calvinists and Arminians are, please check out this post. Of course, Calvinists don’t just fight against Arminians for dominance. As one source from yesterday puts it, Calvinists’ enemies also include “a spicy blend of pragmatists, pietists, dispensationalists, Finneyite revivalists, [and] charismatics.” Arminians just represent the largest group of their enemies. For ease of discussion, though, I’m referring to the fight as happening between those two groups. Also, a “five-point Calvinist” is a fervent, true-blue, pedal-to-the-metal Calvinist.)
“Ground Zero” For Calvinists: SBTS.
For today’s topic, I feel deeply indebted to Peter Lumpkins. Back in 2011, right when this fight first started to heat up, he wrote a prescient 2011 post about where he saw the fight going (archived link). He begins by stating that yes, there was indeed a fight heating up with Calvinists and Arminians. Then, he offers a book review he wrote for a book about the “New Calvinists” called Young, Restless, Reformed. His review calls the flagship seminary of the SBC, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), “Ground Zero” for Calvinists. Here’s a bit of it:
[Author Colin] Hansen rightly observes that when the Conservative Resurgence was fully armed with enough trustees to take the school over, they wasted no time in replacing the old regime with a new one.
Now they just needed a president to lead their newly-captured seminary.
They needed a craven toady who would follow their desires to the letter to guide their new conquest to Calvinism.
And they found the perfect one: a young Al Mohler.
The Seduction of the Innocent.
In 1993, having gained enough control at last, the new regime’s Calvinist trustees headed straight to a young whippersnapper named Al Mohler. At the time, Mohler was just an editor for his state’s SBC newsletter. He had no real training at all for the job those trustees offered. But they offered it anyway, and he grabbed at it like a toddler reaching for candy.
Those trustees’ reasoning was very simple:
The trustees knew Mohler’s unflinching commitment to the keystone doctrine of the Conservative Resurgence, Biblical Inerrancy. And, according to Hansen, the trustees were impressed with Mohler’s “vitality and plan to restore the seminary’s confessional identity” (p.72).
Since Al Mohler himself was rigidly inerrantist and fully-madly-deeply embraced “five point Calvinism,” Lumpkins tells us, SBTS’s “confessional identity” was obviously gonna be Calvinist too. (See endnotes for a really cringey extra.)
It doesn’t sound like it took long at all for Al Mohler to push that change through the seminary.
As a result of that shift, every single student who attends SBTS now gets exposed to Calvinism — and will likely adopt it. They leave that seminary for various Christian jobs. And they take Calvinism with them, teaching it to others.
In its way, the plan was chilling and crystalline in its simplicity — and its effectiveness.
The Evolution of Calvinists’ Victory.
Other seminaries seem to have followed suit pretty quickly. Here’s a small selection of sources that talk about the steady creep of Calvinism into seminaries serving SBC families.
2007: “Calvinism & Southern Baptists,” by Frank Page (yes, that guy) (Arminian). In this essay, Frank Page, then the SBC’s president, notes a survey indicating that about 10% of SBC pastors considered themselves “five-point Calvinists,” but 29% of recent seminary graduates identified as such. That figure included “over 60%” of one seminary’s graduates.
2011: “SBTS: Ground Zero,” by Peter Lumpkins (presumably not Calvinist). We talked about that more above. However, Lumpkins also mentions Tom Ascol (a Calvinist firebrand from way back) gloating about how Calvinists had also fully infiltrated the SBC’s International Mission Board (IMB). We talked about the IMB just last week. Even I was astonished at how poorly the IMB treated that whistleblower.
2012: “Is Southeastern [Baptist Theological Seminary] Part of a Calvinist Plot?” by Les Puryear (Arminian big-name SBC pastor). Well, he sure thinks so! Someone at Southeastern got super-shirty with him over this essay.
2016: The Calvinists’ “Trojan Horse,” Rick Patrick (Arminian). Rick Patrick led a group seeking to counter Calvinists’ growing power. In a guest speaking engagement, he told students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that if they really needed to be Calvinists, then they should go join the Presbyterians instead.
2018: “Playing the Southern Baptist Blues,” at Juicy Ecumenism. A surprisingly balanced essay about the tensions between Old Guard Arminians and the younger Calvinists who are slowly overtaking them. The writer begins by describing a speech at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that described that tension.
Calvinists’ Success, Bought With Authoritarianism.
Yesterday, I described how Calvinism leaned on the doctrine of inerrancy to gain a foothold in evangelicals’ hearts. Once Southern Baptists bought that load of hooey, Calvinists’ leaders just needed to use inerrancy to excuse and validate all their other claims.
Part of me wonders if Calvinists’ extreme authoritarianism had something to do with their incredible success in recruiting young seminary students.
Young evangelicals grow up under authoritarian parenting, more often than not. And authoritarian parenting completely warps children’s minds. As a result, children subjected to this kind of parenting learn some truly dreadful lessons. They don’t learn proper socialization, nor can they trust others easily. And they never, ever truly feel safe unless they are 100% dominant.
Thus, evangelical kids grow up with a focus resting entirely on power — the gaining of it, the guarding of it, the growing of it. They ache to feel safe, which requires a complete shrink-wrapping of their environment. If they can’t subjugate every person in the world, then they seek to punish every single person who rejects their control. (There’s a numnuts drive-by in a recent post’s comments doing exactly this right now as I speak, but he won’t last long.)
So when an even more authoritarian group comes into their spaces and tells them that there’s an even more correct and proper way to Jesus the Jesus-Jesus, and that they will not be safe till they adopt it, those kids are going to glom right the hell onto it.
(This is exactly how I almost got sucked into a Waco cult not long before David Koresh’s neighboring cult made the news.)
Calvinists Ain’t Done Yet by Half: The Endgame.
What really alarms me is that Tom Ascol — the firebrand mentioned earlier — has told us exactly what his tribe’s endgame is: greater authoritarian control of church flocks. Here’s Peter Lumpkins again with a quote from Tom Ascol:
“The conservatives have been in charge now for a couple of decades and our convention is no better off on basic issues than when the liberals were running things. That’s because inerrancy isn’t enough. We have to actually understand and apply what the Bible says. The conservatives thump the Bible but are unwilling to just obey the Bible in the most basic ways. How can you be an inerrantist and not practice [church discipline according to] Matthew 18? You might as well be a liberal.”
I literally gasped in horror when I read that.
Anybody who is not absolutely horrified by church discipline in particular and Matthew 18 in general is either exactly the kind of abuser who needs to be kept well away from power, or someone who has not yet run afoul of these practices.
But that’s exactly where the SBC is heading: into church discipline territory.
SBC pastors can’t even keep their own dicks away from their flocks’ children under Arminian rules. They can by no means assure the safety of any member of their denomination, and in fact bristle at the mere suggestion that maybe they should do more there. But somehow they’re gonna act totally responsibly with even more ultimate power and even less accountability under Calvinists’ iron fists? Really?
For real. Not kidding. Any Southern Baptist who wants to avoid what promises to be an absolute nonstop parade of pastoral abuse scandals needs to get off the SBC bus ASAP.
Calvinists and Christianity’s Broken Roadmap.
Like little else could, Calvinism demonstrates exactly why Christianity is a broken roadmap.
Christians think they have, in their belief system, a roadmap that goes from Point Here to Point Safety From Everything. But that road doesn’t exist. If they try to follow it, they will only find greater and worse griefs than they have now.
As I discovered many years ago, the more seriously Christians take Christianity and the harder they try to Jesus correctly, the more authoritarian their groups get. And the more authoritarian their groups get, the more abusive their leaders get. The more power Christian leaders gain over their flocks, the more horribly they abuse it.
It doesn’t work any other way.
And it never has.
For all their utter contempt and snarling hatred for groups that don’t Jesus as hard or as (scare-quotes) “correctly” as they do, Calvinists can’t manage to come anywhere close to those groups’ safety record.
A Fitting End That Needs to Come Sooner.
I wish Christians as a group understood how dangerous unchecked power really is.
However, they tend overwhelmingly to think that “as the night the day,” perfect Jesus-ing can’t possibly result in abuse and cruelty.
Or worse, they think Jesus will protect them from harm (just like he did the 1700+ children who died from abuse and neglect in 2018).
Or that only disobedient Christians need to worry about leaders gaining ultimate power over them.
It’s just tragic. Heartbreaking and tragic. Y’all, utter irrelevance can come not a moment too soon for the SBC.
But at least now we know what their game plan is.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, we’ll look at how Robert Aaron Long, the recent Atlanta mass shooter, struggled under his Calvinist indoctrination — and why the Calvinists around him couldn’t do a damned thing under the sun to help him or stop him.
Regarding Al Mohler’s elevation to the presidency of SBTS: Peter Lumpkins offers us an interesting quote from Tom Nettles. Lumpkins bills Nettles as “a leading theologian in the inerrancy movement and a professor of historical theology at SBTS.” And Nettles declared Mohler’s hiring as “providential. I saw it as something that could not be generated by any human instruments. God Himself was doing something that we could never have thought of twenty years ago.”
Any time Christians get confronted with an absolutely boneheaded decision on the part of their leaders, they punt to religious mystery. You’d think that Tom Nettles would have known that the Calvinists who spearheaded the Conservative Resurgence valued loyalty and obedience far above job qualifications. They still do. No gods had to tell the Calvinists hiring for SBTS to go for Al Mohler.
Forget all the violent crimes committed in 1993, too. Jesus had no time to help their victims any more than he ever has time to protect little children from abuse! He had to get AL MOHLER into the leadership of a fundagelical seminary! Who cares about all the other stuff he ignored? Right?
Hooray Team Jesus!
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