Is Calvinism a Trojan Horse?

Today Pastor Rick Patrick of First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, Alabama, published a blog title Saying “No Mas” to Additional Calvinist Entity LeadersThe very title of the blog raises enough concern without having to read it. Patrick was recently brought underneath the Southern Baptist spot light after giving a lecture on Calvinism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During this lecture he stated, “If we are not careful a myriad of related beliefs and practices will enter our camp, hidden within the Trojan Horse of Calvinism.” One does not have to be a Calvinist to understand how incredibly demeaning this is to a large number of faithful Southern Baptists.

In this article Patrick asserts exactly what the title assumes. It’s time to say no more to hiring Calvinist Southern Baptist as entity leaders in the SBC. He lists a number of SBC leaders (funny thing is many of them are not five point calvinists) to prove the lack of theological diversity in the convention. He further states that many of these men are “protégés” of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler. He paints Mohler as this man in the high castle that is organizing a calvinist take over of the convention. However, he does say that this is, “absurd, conspiratorial and impossible to prove.” But, is that not what the entire article is seeking to do?

Mohler seems to argue against that in an article titled Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk when he says, “the last thing Southern Baptists need, now or ever, is the development of theological tribalism among us.” He further notes, “But tribalism, whether Calvinist or non-Calvinist, is an affront to the Gospel by which we have been saved and to the mission of the Great Commission that is entrusted to us. May God save us from dividing into tribes, even as we gladly and eagerly talk with one another about the doctrines we cherish, and especially when we discuss the doctrines on which we may disagree.” However, Mohler does believe in Calvinist soteriology so it should not come as a surprise that those who have been trained by Mohler share the same theological convictions. I saw a comment to this issue today that read, “I think what so many of these guys miss about the number of entity leaders emerging from SBTS is that Dr. Mohler is a high-capacity leader who attracts other high-capacity leaders. It shouldn’t surprise us that some of the leaders working alongside him go on to lead at other places.” Say what you want about Mohler’s theology, he is a man of integrity and conviction. In the words of Patrick himself, “Leaders influence followers.” Which means that the problem most likely is not with Calvinism. 

Patrick addressed the fact that soon some of our seminaries will be in need of new leadership. Some of the men in leadership such as Paige Patterson and Chuck Kelley identify as traditionalists and it is a concern of Patricks that when these men leave their posts they will be replaced by soteriological Calvinists. In this article he says, “If Southern Baptists refuse to address this problem, it is possible that one day every single Southern Baptist entity might be led by a Five Point Calvinist or a Four Point Amyraldist.” (I’m glad he eventually made that distinction). For patrick it would intolerable for one of these men to be replaced by a Calvinist.

Personally I do not support , as Mohler calls it, “theological tribalism” in the SBC.  However, I do not understand the extremes that Patrick is taking. He seems to be speaking against what he thinks is theological tribalism in the SBC but building a tribe at the same time. He is propagating diversity behind the banner of unity. He has created a divide and has created a tribe. In his article he calls for traditionalists to “get ahead” if they wish to “reverse the calvinist trend.” It seems silly really. Instead of men and women working together to take the gospel to the nations, Patrick has turned the convention into a political race or a high school football rivalry at best.

This is not even the most shocking thing about Patrick’s article. As they say, “he saved the best for last.” Patrick wraps up his article with what seems like a threat. Okay, that’s exactly what it is. Here are his words, “This is our convention too. SBC entity boardrooms must offer seats at the table for leaders from our theological wing. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to turn our No mas into No mas dinero.” In other words, Patrick is threatening to pull Cooperative funding if the entity leadership is not dispersed fairly. Not only is he threatening to do so he is asking his fellow traditionalists to do the same. So, what exactly does that mean? What is CP funding and why is that important? Well, let’s have an SBC 101. The CP funds, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Every SBC seminary, Historical Libraries, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (you can expect an article about the ERLC soon #standwithMoore), and SBC operating. I would hope that any Southern Baptist that is committed to the Great Commission would stand firm against such absurdity.

My fellow Southern Baptists, Rick Patrick is afraid that Calvinism is a Trojan horse that threatens the principles we hold so dear. However,  there is nothing more important to the success of the SBC’s mission in taking the gospel to the nations than the Cooperative Fund. If our theological differences lead us to tribalism and puts the mission of the church at risk our theology is most likely not the issue. Our heart is. In the statement from the Calvinist Advisory committee they state, “Southern Baptists are Great Commission people. We are also doctrinal people, and those doctrinal convictions undergird our Great Commission passion and vision.We are a confessional people who stand together upon the doctrines that are most vital to us all, confessed together in the Baptist Faith and Message.” Therefore, if we are to judge someone to be an entity leader in the SBC it should not be based on if they are a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist. The litmus test should be the integrity, honor, and commitment to the Great Commission. In the words of Dr. Mohler, “It is no small matter that Southern Baptists are discussing how best to speak of God’s salvation, even as we are fully engaged in the task of reaching the nations with the Gospel of Christ. I am profoundly thankful that we are not a denomination that is arguing over the Great Commission, embarrassed by missions and evangelism. We can handle this current discussion, and we should actually be grateful for it…we should pause to reflect that, thanks to the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, we are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible.”

I would love to say that this will be an issue that is quickly resolved. Unfortunately this is a volcano that has been expected to erupt for quite a while. I plead with you to not let this create a divide or a tribe. There is to much at stake.

Seth Sandlin lives in Birmingham Alabama with his wife Hope and his daughter Piper. He is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the co-founder of The Baptist Review.