Richard Land should know better. The former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (the policy arm of the SBC) came out in support of Ken Hemphill’s candidacy for SBC President on Monday with this tawdry article. In it, Land is quoted throwing out the same tired old calumnies against calvinists that have been around for ages, and that have made “calvinism” effectively an ad hominem in many quarters of the SBC. He warned his readers of the mythical calvinist who somehow only shares the gospel with the elect and--hold on to your KJV--likes to “talk theology over lattes.” He argued there are two wings of the SBC--the “Billy Graham wing” and the “John Calvin wing,” apparently forever locked in manichaean conflict.
Now, Land is not wrong to endorse Hemphill for the presidency. He can (and should!) advocate for whomever he wants to see serve as president of the SBC. That’s part of how we function as a denomination. But if he does, he should frame the debate on the merits of the candidates. In his statement, he and the SBC come off looking like a bad novelist’s caricature of old line baptists--a reality both saddening and frustrating for young baptists, whether calvinist or not. The fact is, the presidency of the SBC doesn’t need to be linked to a debate over calvinism. The Baptist Faith and Message has room in it (designedly so!) for arminians and calvinists to both affirm in good conscience. What weakens it as a dogmatic statement strengthens it as a broad rubric for independent churches to cooperate in the cause of the Great Commission for the glory of the Triune God.
Slander of those with whom we disagree does not advance this cause. Land should know better, should retract much of what he said and issue an apology. Let all baptists, both arminians and calvinists, confess together the historic faith given once for all to the saints. Let them all in good conscience affirm the Baptist Faith and Message.
Let calvinists confess that at our worst, we can tend toward a sinful, heretical fatalism and cold-heartedness toward the lost. Let us remember with humility and sadness that it was calvinist baptists who patronizingly told William Carey (who, by the way, was also a calvinist) that if God wanted to save the heathen, he could certainly do it without sending missionaries from the english baptist churches. Let us remember that it is not arminians who have a “cage stage,” but calvinists.
Let arminians confess that, at their worst, they tend toward exalting the freedom of the will so highly that it denies the power of God to save. Let them confess with humility and sadness that if they spent more time “talking theology over lattes” fewer of our lay people would be pelagian heretics and blood-and-soil nationalists, who mistake the American tradition of rugged individualism for the gospel of the Lamb who was slain and yet lives.
Let us all confess together that, as our brother Jim Elliot said, “Heaven will be a great eye-opener and a great mouth-shutter.” The time is short and the days are evil. Arminians at their best have proclaimed the gospel to millions, founded movements, reached unreached nations, exalted the beauty of a crucified and resurrected Savior, and loved their neighbors and their God. Calvinists too, at their best, have proclaimed the gospel, started missionary endeavors, reached the nations, lifted up Christ for all the world to see, and loved their neighbors and their God. The place to debate between the two is in the church fellowship hall, with our bibles open and our stomachs full of casserole, not in the tabloids as we seek to select a president for our denomination. May God give us unity around the gospel of Jesus Christ and build his church, no matter who becomes president of the SBC.