Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 1: We are a Spectrum, Not a Polarized Body

Posted on April 29, 2013 by


See all the posts in the series, Toward Southern Baptist Unity»

Despite the many misguided characterizations of the SBC as a polarized body of Calvinists and “Traditionalists,” Southern Baptists are represented by a spectrum of beliefs* and are not a mere two-party denomination. A key to regaining unity in the SBC is found in the recognition that the two groups who are most opposed to one another do not make up the whole of the convention—that there is a stable middle that has traditionally gotten along well with either end of the spectrum but is much less vocal and often overlooked. I’m speaking of those who are “non-Calvinists” but still hold that God ultimately determines the destinies of men—but He does so without impinging the free will of men. You can call them compatibilists, antinomists, congruists, centrists and middlers. But you cannot call them anything that puts them in the camp of those who deny divine determinism or in the camp of those who deny freedom of will—except to call them Southern Baptists. The current practice, prevalent in discussions of Calvinism, of breaking the SBC into two categories, Calvinists and “non-Calvinists,” with the false assumption that all “non-Calvinists” deny divine determinism, is just plain wrong.  If we were merely composed of Calvinists and “Traditionalists,” real unity would be much more difficult to achieve.

Typical Southern Baptist Centrist beliefs:

  • God is the ultimate Determiner of destinies
  • Men have free will and are accountable for their choices
  • The gospel, Christ crucified and risen, is sufficient to save any and all men
  • Regeneration is the life-giving indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is given in response to the faith of the sinner
  • Sinners are unable to come to Christ only because of their moral aversion to God, which provides no excuse
  • Those whom God saves were persuaded by God but not forced or coerced; and such gracious persuasion is done from outside the person, as God does not indwell a man until He is invited.
  • Calvinists and libertarians/Traditionalists are extremes on either side of the centrally-located, Biblical truth.

This fact of the presence of a large segment of centrists should not be surprising. The compatibilistic approach typical of many Southern Baptists and their appeal to mystery regarding the affirmation of unconditional election and free will are born of the unwavering spiritual conviction of the Biblical truth of both. Rather than rejecting both Calvinism and Libertarianism (Arminianism) in their entirety, they have shared certain principles of Scriptural truth with both. The Southern Baptist middle has never been completely “other” and separate from the two systems. On the contrary, it has been centered between them and within them, albeit with a slight bias toward Calvinism that is traced to the convention’s Calvinistic roots. The centrality of the compatibilist/antinomist position was not due to a desire for compromise, but it was due to an unwillingness to compromise, as they found the Biblical truth to be located in the middle.

The presence of a strong core of middlers who do not share the discomfort for mystery (regarding how divine determinism and free will are reconciled) that those on either end seem to have, and also do not share the incendiary opposition that the two ends often have for each other, offers hope for enduring the current struggles and an improved organic unity.

Continue to Part 2: We are Not Defined by Political Representation, but by Biblically Determined Truth»

Ken Hamrick, 2013

* SBC Spectrum Chart