Are Southern Baptists Calvinists?

At the G5 summit in 2009, Dallas Baptist University professor and author Dr. David Naugle sought the historical connection between Baptists and Calvinists and explained that:

My recent review of notable Baptist statements of faith (The New Hampshire Confession, 1833; The Abstract of Principles, 1859; the Baptist Faith and Message, 1925, along with its several editions) leads me to suggest, not assert, that, with the exception of particular Baptists, most Baptist churches have, indeed, been historically Calvinistic. –“Calvinism and Baptists – Friends or Foes?”

He then goes on to explain the distinctive element of this “Baptist Calvinism” is that it is “of a more Amyraldian kind.” (I had to look that one up.) I’d never heard of Moses Amyraut, who was a Reformed, French protestant theologian during the early 17th Century. His was a 4/4.5 point Calvinism that held to a “kind of unlimited, limited atonement.”

I’ve found it interesting that even in the last few months as my attention was drawn more and more to conversations within the Southern Baptist Convention, the passionate response that Calvinism brings about. Either one is convinced that it is a scourge upon Baptist life that needs to be pressed out for fear that it undermines missions and evangelism while creating an arrogance among the “elite” elect, or it is passionately defended as the genuine article, the true interpretation of Scripture, and the only truly God-centered theology.

I find it interesting to note that, at least according to Dr. Naugle, all Southern Baptists are Calvinists to some degree.

Maybe we’re just predestined to argue amongst ourselves.

  6 comments for “Are Southern Baptists Calvinists?

  1. 1 August 2011 at 9:08 am

    I always find it an interesting idea for someone to consider themselves a “Calvinist” if they hold to less than the traditional 5 points. I recognize that we have often tossed around the terms “4-point Calvinist” or even “3-point Calvinist,” but that seems nonsensical. Can you be a Baptist but just not believe in believer’s baptism (while still holding to autonomy of the local church, priesthood of the believers, etc)? I would argue (and having read Calvin’s Institutes cover to cover, I believe it is fair) that a 4-point Calvinist is not a Calvinist. Interesting thoughts.

    • 1 August 2011 at 10:10 am

      It’s an interesting line of thinking. But I think it’s important to note (as I’m sure you’re aware) that Calvin never boiled his theology down to five points – in fact, as he arduously poured over the Scriptures, his institues (intended to be “basic” theology) swelled exponentially. Calvin’s calvinism was much more encompassing than five points, as it taught weighty matters well-beyond soteriology.

      The five points agreed upon at the Synod of Dort (in response to the five points published in the Remonstrance) were reactionary, and a poor method of setting out theology for all of history. I personally like James K. Smith’s description of Calvinism as, “grace all the way down,” and Spurgeon’s as “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”

      I think the New-Calvinism is much more open to 4/4.5’ers than historic Calvinism (undoubtedly with the Limited Atonement piece primarily in dispute), which explains it’s growing popularity.

      • 1 August 2011 at 11:35 am

        The hard thing for the New Calvinism is overcoming the historic Dortian 5 points. While you may think it was a poor method, Dort has set the accepted standard for defining Calvinism. I agree that Calvin’s theology encompassed more than what is currently viewed as Calvinism. I also believe that Calvin would shun the term Calvinism and its Dortian definitions. However, no one has ever been able to provide a lasting definition of Calvinism that has overcome Dort. That is the problem that Neo-Calvinists face. They must redefine something that has had a standing definition for nearly 400 years.

        The problem with Smith’s and Spurgeon’s definitions is that they do not define anything. What does “grace all the way down” mean? Down to where? Spurgeon’s definition (though probably not intentional) raises the ire of non-Calvinists because they reverse it to say that he means the gospel is Calvinism. If you don’t accept Calvinism then you don’t believe the gospel. That is not Spurgeon’s point, but it demonstrates why Spurgeon’s definition is not widely accepted.

        You are correct to note that limited atonement is the most hotly debated of the 5 points. The question though remains: Is Calvinism Calvinism without limited atonement. Most of my Calvinist friends would say no.

        • 1 August 2011 at 2:05 pm

          Interesting thoughts to be sure. Thanks for not letting me off the hook easily 😉

  2. 1 August 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Enjoyed the discussion. Look forward to interacting with you in class in the fall.

    • 1 August 2011 at 2:37 pm

      absolutely!

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