Even though I don’t consider myself a Southern Baptist at this point in my life, God was pleased to save me in a SBC church. I then joined as a member of that SBC church, and became a regular participant in my campus BSU. I even seriously thought about enrolling in a SBC seminary in Memphis. So I can gel with where you all are coming from.
I’ve been reading the last couple of weeks about your all’s trials. Having run in your all’s circles when I was a college punk, it is regrettable that various leaders, pastors, and Bible college administrator types are so vehemently opposed to your Calvinistic convictions. It truly is sad, really.
I can say with gratitude that when my Calvinist fervor began to ignite in my heart, I didn’t experience opposition from the leadership at my church. In fact, rather than extinguishing my newly kindled theological passion, my college pastor, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears (before Refrigerator Perry and the 85 Super Bowl), was the person who loaned me his copies of Lorraine Boettner’s “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” and Thomas and Steele’s little primer defending Calvinism. Where I felt any noticeable push back was from my fellow pew-sitting laymen who thought I had gone off the rails as one who was “way too serious about “doctrine.”
Still; that’s nothing like having a Bible college president causing a St. Bartholomew’s Day-like expulsion to rid the school of Huguenots.
Even so, I was once a young, SBC Calvinist firebrand like yourselves, though that was 20 years ago now. I know how you all like blog posts that “lists” things, like “13 ways to become an effective church planter” or whatever, so I wanted to offers up a “list” of exhortations for your consideration.
1) Keep some perspective. You need to face a couple of hard facts:
A) People are misinformed about your new found beliefs. As a result they have cultivated ignorant, bigoted opinions about what it is you believe. Those opinions may run the spectrum of thinking you are just “going through a phase” to perceiving you as a viable threat to their church. You already have a difficult road to travel with them. Telling them they are ignorant and bigoted doesn’t help.
B) The spiritual condition and overall health of the SBC does not rest on your shoulders. Remember that it is Christ who builds HIS church. Be happy you don’t have to carry that burden and relax. Maybe even smile.
2) Don’t throw books at your detractors. If a person is challenging your Calvinism, the last thing he needs to hear is “well, if you’d just read thus and such book, you’d be convinced of my position.” While it may be true there are a handful of recommended sources on that subject that could be helpful, it’s better to recommend them to more serious inquirers who genuinely want to learn. Throwing out unsolicited book recommendations after a heated conversation at the men’s breakfast only serves to make the head of the deacon committee think you believe he’s an illiterate rube.
3) Do talk with the folks about the Bible. That is the core of your beliefs anyways. Make any disagreement be with the text of Scripture, not your personality or even “Calvinism.” I always like to ask people, “what does Ephesians 1:1-4 still tell us about election if Calvin had never existed?”
4) Don’t run leadership down. If the leadership at your church or college is your primary antagonists, in spite of their resistance, you need to honor them. That means you aren’t running them down among your friends and other congregants. Also, you aren’t leading an underground “secret Reformed Bible study” behind their backs. And whatever you do, don’t start a blog detailing how unbiblical, man-centered Arminians have overrun your church. Such attitudes are factious and plays into their erroneous misconceptions that Calvinists split churches.
5) Do support your leadership. By praying for them, respecting their decisions, and avoid being a troublemaker. Serve them in whatever capacity you can find. Be the first one to show up and the last one to leave.
6) Support any evangelistic efforts. Springing from the previous point, one of the ways you as a young, firebrand Calvinist can support your leadership is by being involved with any community outreach opportunities. By exhorting you in this regard, and knowing SBC churches these days, I completely understand “outreach” may be trite, seeker-sensitive oriented endeavors. Regardless of that, put your back into helping out as best you can as long as you are not compromising Scriptural principles.
Look at it this way: Calvinist have the reputation of being anti-evangelistic. All you Calvinists care about is your ivory tower and theology. What better way to dispel that myth than by supporting the biannual “revival” service, youth pizza bashes, or harvest festivals at Halloween. Besides, you’ve probably read a hundred books about the “Gospel”® written by all the TGC authors or John Piper®. It’s high time you put the theoretical knowledge into practice.
7) Don’t turn every college/home Bible study into a lecture on Calvinism. I’ve been there; I’ve done that as a young Calvinist firebrand. You’re so excited about your newly discovered theology that you want to tell everyone without exception. It’s like being born-again, again.
This may come as a shock to you, but everyone else isn’t where you are (See #1). In fact, they probably think you are an obnoxious obsessive compulsive because every conversation – I. mean. “every. conversation.” – with you is turned into a dissertation about total depravity or limited atonement. The last thing you want happening is people avoiding you at church and fellowship because they see you coming and they don’t want to hear about Calvinism for the umpteenth time.
8) Realize that Church History didn’t start in 1517. I realize there is a famine among the rank&file SBC church goer regarding the subject of church history. That is a crying shame to be sure, and it needs to be remedied. However, at the same time, please understand that church history didn’t start and end with the Reformation. There was 1500 years before that and there has been 500 years after. And, when you do a talk on the Reformation do so accurately and with balance, warts and all. Don’t white-wash our Calvinist/Puritan heroes. They were fallen men like us and at times it showed.
9) Covenant Theology is not necessary to be a Calvinist. A lot of the books and websites you are probably reading from these days on Calvinism are written by guys who adhere to covenant theology. The authors probably write in such a way so as to suggest that if you are a serious “Calvinist” and want to be “theological consistent” and whatnot, you’ll abandoned any premillennialism and Dispensational leanings you were taught at your SBC church and become a full on amillennial/postmillennial supersessionist (and even baby-dipping) covenant theologian. The folks at your church who are the most resistant to Calvinism are reacting toward those virulent ideas of covenant theology. They think you want them to become wet Presbyterians, and they’re not into that.
Remember that Calvinism is derived from the exegesis of the relevant texts of Scripture, not a system of theology. You do not need to embrace Covenant Theology and a strict adherence to the LBC1689 in order to be a consistent Calvinist. Put those ideas out of your head now.
10) Don’t ever play the “That’s just your tradition” card. When you young Calvinist firebrands get into a verbal tussle with a group of stodgy, life-long SBCers about the doctrines of Grace, there is a temptation to repeat what James White (I know a lot of you are listening to James White!) wrote in an open letter to Dave Hunt and accuse your detractors of being blinded by their “SBC traditions.”
Listen: I know what you mean, and there is a hint of truth to that accusation. However, Calvinists have traditions, too. You need to recognize them and be prepared to defend them; but in the meantime, it is just better to stay away from playing that card.
11) Leave graciously and without animosity. After exhausting all your efforts to maintain a good relationship with your SBC church, or even college, there may come a time when you may need to bow out and leave. That is understandable. However, such a move should be done ONLY as a last resort after all avenues of reconciliation have been weighed and considered, but have ended.
When that happens, you need to leave with graciousness, without leaving a stink. Even though you no longer share the same perspective of ministry, more than likely, you are leaving the church where you were either saved or that got you headed in the right direction as a new believer. They are your extended “family.” Burning the bridge behind you is not only foolish, but unloving. There is no need for it.
And most importantly, before you pull that trigger and leave, you want to make sure you are leaving TO a good church that reflects the convictions you insist are so foundational you’d be willing to go nuclear on your current church. If not, then you seriously need to re-evaluate why you are leaving.