I had a discussion the other day with a man who had been the pastor at a church that was wrought with power brokers who desired to keep it just the way it was forever. He related to me the situation that led the church to a brighter future, even though it led to his departure from that ministry.
So I asked him how the church was doing now. He said it was doing really well. Then he continued with a big "although the current pastor and I would disagree on some things." The old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, but now mine was aroused and I had to asked him "in what way?" Having only met him briefly one other time, and not knowing where I stood on any of this stuff, he commented about the way this young guy came out of seminary and follows guys like John Piper down to the "T". I just nodded, and continued asking about the church.
Ten years ago, Voddie Baucham once said how he had three beliefs that he held to which were not completely in line with typical SBC churches. The family integrated church model and his absolute advocacy for homeschooling did not cause him any true rejection in Southern Baptist life. However, he said, when he "came out" as a Calvinist, it cost him any respect and opportunity for service to the SBC.
"No… I’m not gay. It’s far worse than that. I’m a Calvinist! That’s right, I’m a fire-breathing, TULIP believing, five-point Calvinist. That, my friends, is the unpardonable sin in contemporary Southern Baptist life (unless your name is Al Mohler and you've been President of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since you were in your early thirties and happen to be the most intelligent, articulate, winsome public face the Convention has)."
But that was ten years ago. Even though there are no true Calvinists among Southern Baptists (those who would hold to infant baptism or the marriage of the church and the state), there has been a trend among Southern Baptists to lean that way, some further than others. In fact, there has been talk of a growing rift between those among us who are more reformed in our doctrine of salvation, and those who cling to a more General Baptist position (both of which are part of the heritage of baptists going back to the 1600's). And I am thankful for the ministry of wonderful presidents of the SBC and EC who have in the last few years been successful (in my opinion) at avoiding the rift and helping to keep extremism and name-calling and arrogance minimal. Seems like both groups have really refocused upon the gospel and the calling to spread it, rather than on us.
I do want to take a second and speak toward an often overlooked reason that SBC churches and pastors, seminary students, missionaries, etc, are moving to be more Calvinistic. And let me preview this: I am not a five-point Calvinist. Sorry to my five-point friends. But I only have a problem with a limited atonement, all the other points are good with me. Sorry to my non-Calvinistic friends. Obviously, I don't have time to get into an overview of the differences. On one side we be careful not to equate Calvinism with the gospel, and on the other side not to become anti-Calvinists. But I do think a reason that there is reason under the surface, not just in simple exegesis. It is the fact of the great big God that the Calvinistic baptists present.
It's not that the general baptists don't believe in that same big God, they do, it's just that they don't seem to express it as much or as well or as often. I think that people are drawn by the glory that they are helped to see by current more reformed speakers and writers, and only confirmed by the text of scripture. As far as the scripture goes, we all come with different preconceived notions which are hard to separate in our exegetical work. But there is in all of us a longing for greatness, gloriousness, wonder, and awe in our God.
Maybe I am just completely wrong. Maybe it's just that the current Calvinistic Baptist speakers are the most persuasive. Maybe is the passion they exude. Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way in a few years. I don't claim to have all the answers, but this conversation the other day just made me think, because he was down on the pastor who followed him, not ever asking his story. I, for one, was very anti-Calvinistic all through seminary and into my first pastorate. I read several books by Piper and had a MacArthur study bible that I recommended people to get, but to be on guard against his Calvinism. But one book (The Pleasures of God by Piper) described God in such a way, expanded my brain and soul on His being, that I was overcome. And he also, in the footnotes (praise the Lord, I HATE end notes, they are of the devil), and rationale for a more reformed understanding of God. It was strange. I wanted to embrace more of a position that I had warned against. It was (and is) a journey of understanding, and I definitely leave room for my error, but that's why I argue, not just to argue. I know that I don't have God figured out. None of us do. If we did, He wouldn't be much of a God, and we definitely couldn't speak of His immensity, His limitlessness, or His incomprehensibility. Don't think that simple exegesis, simple experience, or even simple logic is the end all, or the winning reason. Ask.