In his book, A Quiet Revolution, Earnest Reisinger (along with co-author, D. Matthew Allen) notes what he feels is the forsaking of historic Christianity in the Southern Baptist Convention and the recovery of the gospel...
A Quiet Revolution
Plainspoken in the clearest terms, Reisinger describes what he thinks ails the largest Protestant body in America—the absence of the gospel, the absence of Calvinism. He writes:
“Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism” (link)
And, in another chapter,
“...reforming a local church involves both the demolition of misguided theological notions and the laying of a biblical foundation anchored by the doctrines of grace” (link)
For this reason, Reisinger—the Father and Founder of The Founders Movement—called for a revolution albeit a quiet revolution. As a quiet revolution, the strategy included “reforming” the Southern Baptist Convention one-church-at-a-time, and doing so patiently but more significantly, quietly:
- “Don't try to reform a church until you have first earned spiritual credibility. This means you have to live what you teach in terms of holiness before you can even begin to teach it…
- My advice is that you not try to do too much too soon. Many mistakes have been made by doing the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time…
- Remember the principle of restraint. Don't tackle the whole church at one time. Choose a few men who are sincere, teachable and spiritually minded and spend time with them in study and prayer. They will help you to reform…
- In the pulpit, don't use theological language that is not found in the Bible. Avoid terms such as Calvinism, reformed, doctrines of grace, particular redemption, etc…Teach your people the biblical truth of these doctrines without providing distracting labels for them…” (link)
I have a question to pose to Southern Baptists? Has Reisinger’s quiet revolution paid off?
My own answer is yes, it certainly has reaped a harvest to be sure. While the Reisinger-Founders Quiet Revolution Principle of reforming one-church-at-a-time has not worked so well on churches per se, the quiet revolution has in fact worked in other significant ways, ways we will shortly propose. For now, let's consider how the Reisinger-Founders Quiet Revolution Principle has utterly failed.
For the most part, the Baptist resistance to a hostile takeover albeit a quiet takeover of local congregations has proved to be much more difficult than Founders advocates imagined. In the best scenarios, the Calvinist pastor who comes in quietly under-cover, when exposed for the dishonest theological charlatan he is, has been sent packing by the church. This happens quite often in many congregations.
In the worst scenarios, the pastor-revolutionary gathers enough around him to decimate the church, decimation being either in the form of the congregation being gutted with only a tiny minority remaining, or the pastor taking his disciples down the road a bit and qualifying with the Southern Baptist Convention as a “new church plant.” From the evidence about which I’m aware, these seem to be the norm. Any successful “reforming” to Founders Calvinism among congregations at large remains the exception to the rule.
An Unexpected Quiet Revolution
So, if the quiet revolution has seen success—significant success--where is the success visible? If few churches have been “reformed” and the “lost gospel” found, where has reformation been successful? The revolution has been successful in the most surprising places. While Calvinism has made little headway among rank-and-file Southern Baptists in the local congregations, on a far more significant level, Calvinism has saturated the visible structures of Southern Baptists.
Indeed I saw this taking place in 2006 which those who have followed this blog from the beginning know that aggressive Calvinism was explicitly stated as the reason I started blogging. The truth is, so far as I know, not a single influential blog existed among Southern Baptists which bore a definitively non-Calvinist message at that time. Calvinists owned the blogging world. And, even more significant, when non-Calvinists showed up on the Calvinist blogs to “dialog,” they were systematically ridiculed, hounded, and flamed.
In addition, Calvinist blogs took their surgical blades and dissected every sermon they could find from the “big guns” which mentioned Calvinism is some perceived bad light. No mega-church pastor escaped their fiery analysis—Adrian Rogers, Steve Gaines, John Sullivan, Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, Ronnie Floyd, Charles Stanley, as I recall, Danny Akin himself. Not one thin line escaped the all-seeing eye of Founders-driven critics led by Tom Ascol, the successor to Ernest Reisinger's reform movement.
What I saw beginning in 2006, and morphing into a “kinder-gentler” more quiet revolution in national leadership, switching focus from reforming one-church-at-a-time—the original application of the Reisinger-Founders Quiet Revolution Principle--to reforming one-leader-at-a-time and one-entity-at-a-time—the current application of the Reisinger-Founders Revolution Principle--I’ve more than once reiterated it to many friends, not to mention on this blog, making the analogy of Founders influence to an octopus whose tentacles reach deeply in every direction into Southern Baptist life. Nonetheless, more than not, I’ve been dismissed as reactionary…one who just doesn’t like Calvinism, an ant-Calvinist in heart, or some other reason I was just over-reacting. We’d finish our conversation and that would be that.
So what is the surprise?
Well, from my standpoint, it was not surprising grassroots Southern Baptists strongly resisted aggressive Calvinism. While Calvinists can come in under stealth, they find it impossible to remain there—especially young Calvinist pastors who have little to no experience dealing with sometimes ornery church members. They do not have the discipline necessary to be “patient.”
Even so, perhaps more resilient and resistant and much more challenging for the stealth "reformers" are grassroots Southern Baptists—the ones who are and remain active in discipleship, Bible study, prayer, and care about biblical beliefs—Baptists who are not, in whole or in part, the dumb, theological dimwits Reisinger assumed they were. Some of us actually do believe the Bible and don’t necessarily cow-tow to man-made theological templates over-layered on the Word of God. While Scripture is necessary for spiritual health, contrary to the Reisinger-Founders Quiet Revolution Principle, Calvinism is not.
What is the surprise, then?
The surprising success I see is the perceived non-resistance to the altered application of the Reisinger-Founders Revolution Principle from one-church-at-a-time to one-leader-at-a-time and one-entity-at-a-time. In fact this is being openly celebrated before our very eyes.
Let me show you what I mean.
Only this week, circulating around many visible Calvinist supporting sites was an interview with past SBC president and Georgia mega-church pastor, Johnny Hunt. If I am not mistaken, the video was originally posted by Founders advocate, Timmy Brister and Founders executive director, Tom Ascol. By all estimations, the video-interview is well received among Calvinists.
Especially enlightening concerning the video, along with other assessments of the status of Calvinism in the SBC, is a recent blogpost written by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student and Kentucky pastor, Jared Moore. Entitled “9 Reasons Why the SBC is in Trouble IF Calvinism is a Threat,” Moore catalogs nicely how the Reisinger-Founders Quiet Revolution Principle has shifted in focused application, a shift which demonstrably shows some striking and positive* results.
Whereas Founders strategy of reforming one-church-at-a-time in the SBC met an incredible resistance, failing far more than they viewed as success, applying the same revolutionary principle to leaders and entities rather than local churches has not bore the same failures. In fact, as Moore depicts, the quiet reformation extends far, and its influence a mile wide.
Among the many marks of success in the complete Calvinization of the Southern Baptist Convention, Moore records**:
- Southern seminary’s entire faculty affirms Calvinism—they are “so vocal” about Calvinism, any student not a Calvinist “would feel “out of place” because Calvinism is”universally affirmed” and “universally taught *as truth*” (emp. mine)
- The Presidents of Southern Baptists’ two most popular seminaries are Calvinists. Al Mohler is *the* intellectual voice for Southern Baptists and a 5-Point Calvinist; while Danny Akins is a Calvinist (4-Point Calvinist), along with Thom Rainer (Lifeway) and Kevin Ezell (NAMB)
- All the young “movers and shakers” in SBC life are Calvinists—including Matt Chandler, David Platt, J.D. Greear, Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, Jeff Noblit, Voddie Baucham, etc***[one must ask, by whom are these young “movers and shakers” given a national voice in Southern Baptist life? By the older “movers and shakers who, for the most part now, all happen to be Calvinists]
- Johnny Hunt, a former poster-child for anti-Calvinism darts in the SBC, has repented. [Interestingly, it is ambiguous whether Moore means to frame Hunt’s “repentance” as repentance from his “anti-Calvinism” stance or repentance from his supposed false doctrine or both]
- According to Moore, Lifeway’s study of Calvinism predicts that graduating students are 30% more likely to be Calvinists
- Icons of “young, hip, and cool evangelicals” are almost exclusively Calvinists—among them Mark Driscoll, Justin Taylor, Francis Chan, D.A. Carson
Are young Calvinists like Jared Moore celebrating too quickly? Is the Calvinization of the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership so thorough and complete, that it is too late to address this radical revolution come to us, not through the local church, not through grassroots Bible study or lay renewal, but through the denominational leadership that we ourselves have put in power?
One has got to wonder here.
When the Conservative Resurgence began to take hold beginning in 1979, the fundamental problem articulated everywhere was, our seminaries were teaching doctrines diametrically opposed to the people in the pew, specifically that the Bible was not the inerrant Word of God but a fallible human compilation which contained the Word of God.
The reasoning was simple but the result was profound: Grassroots Southern Baptists faithfully sent their sacrificially monies to the Cooperative Program supporting six seminaries in the United States, not to mention several theological schools abroad. What we felt then was, Southern Baptists were being snookered. We supported sound theological education but we did not and would not put up with our views being trampled.
Even so, now we have another situation which may be much more similar to pre-1979 than at first we imagine. Even if Calvinism is, as some argue, “on the rise in the SBC” there is a substantial majority within the SBC who are decidedly non-Calvinist. Indeed granting the best present scenario, a mere 10% of SBC churches would classify themselves as Calvinist. If I am correct, there exists as much or more disparity on the question of Calvinism in the SBC as the inerrancy issue of the Conservative Resurgence.
In other words, if it was alarming to grassroots Southern Baptists to support seminaries which taught non-inerrancy to the students they sent them--a doctrine the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists did not embrace—why is it not equally alarming to grassroots Southern Baptists to support seminaries which teach Calvinism “as truth”—a doctrine the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists do not now embrace?
The window to act is fast closing shut. If Southern Baptists do not stand up and stand up quickly, what the Reisinger-Founders Quiet Revolution Principle failed to do with local churches, it will succeed in doing through the denominational structure. It is happening right before our eyes.
God raised up a group of men in the 1970’s to take on the denominational '”powers that be.” Every man of the Conservative Resurgence coalition was an outsider, possessing no strings to the inside. They were powerless to do anything to change the system. Nevertheless, change they did.
Whom will God choose to favor in rising up and saying to an out-of-control, aggressive Calvinist take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention,
“Just as we were not Liberals concerning God’s Revelation, neither are we Calvinists concerning God’s Salvation!”?
When? Who? How?
I don't know. I just don't know.
With that, I am…
*as with the proverbial understanding of “beauty,” so am I using “positive” above
**it is not necessary for Moore to be correct concerning all the details. In other words, even if he claims as a Calvinist someone who is not, missing a few does not overturn his assessment of the convention; while an “update" would be in order, it seems to me the significance of his point would remain
***it must be said that some on this list appear strained to be there, for there are '”mixed messages” concerning whether they are, in fact, a Calvinist (4 or 5Point). Even so, consider the footnote above