In part I, we rehearsed the historical relationship Dr. Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has had with Founders Ministries since its inception in 1982. Nettles still sits on the board of directors for Founders Ministries. Nor has Dr. Nettles been rhetorically shy about stating in forceful language precisely how he sees those Traditional Baptists who deviate from what Director of Founders Ministries, Tom Ascol, has called "historic Southern Baptist Orthodoxy." Nettles wrote: >>>
Southern Baptist beginnings were self-consciously and vigorously Calvinistic. This is reflected in the confessions, the associations, the preachers, and the theologians. The changes that have come could with clear justification be called "theological apostacy." Some feel the force of this historical reality and with both conscience and conviction desire to restore the spiritual dynamic of the living truth of the documents. Others would rather ignore the implications of this theological matrix. As the outworkings of this apostacy have established themselves, we should see that the changes have not contributed to our health but have spawned a climate of theological disunity, rampant absenteeism, a circus mentality in much evangelism, and a justified distress concerning the spirituality of professing Christians (//link; embolden added)
One may only wonder how Founders Calvinists generally and Nettles particularly see themselves as congenially cooperating with Southern Baptists whom, they strongly insisted, not only exist outside historic Southern Baptist Orthodoxy, but also as Traditional Southern Baptists who have allegedly committed theological apostasy. Is this the same Dr. Nettles who also satirically mocks non-Calvinists like Jerry Vines for expressing reservations about the so-called "New Calvinism" as a breed apart from more traditional Calvinism? Says Nettles:
One observer [Jerry Vines] has stated that there is a new kind of Calvinism among us. Some, not all, new Calvinists are hostile, militant, and aggressive. Oh, that's probably what I'm being right now; I'm sorry. This kind of Calvinism is troubling our churches, hindering evangelism and missions, and disrupting the fellowship of our convention. I would hope that men of good will, whether Calvinists or not Calvinists, would repudiate that kind of Calvinism. So, according to this objection, it is not Calvinism that is the problem, but it's this kind of Calvinism.
My first response is confusion concerning Dr. Nettles' point. Vines clearly made a legitimate (and logical), careful distinction between some Calvinists and all Calvinists, a habit most sober critics practice when offering sound discernment. Nevertheless, imagine how Nettles would have objected had Vines stated his assertion generally as in "Today's Calvinists are... or Today's Calvinism is..." In the twinkling of an eye, Nettles would have charged Vines with broad brushing and overextending his assertion about all Calvinists, etc. But since Vines carefully suggested he and others like him voice no opposition about all Calvinists or all Calvinism, there remains little left for Nettles to do but enter into satirical meltdown which, from my perspective, is basically what he did in the remainder of the transcribed remarks by Jared Moore.
So, while Bryant Wright and Frank Page are speaking "Peace, Peace" to convention attendees in New Orleans, Nettles seems to have been stirring division at the Founders breakfast.
Leaving the transcribed words behind, the editor of Associated Baptist Press, Bob Allen, reported some other words Dr. Nettles spoke at the Founders Breakfast. Writes Allen,
Nettles said recent criticism doesn't stop with Calvinist thought but "seems nonplussed that the Calvinist would want his church to have an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation."
One hardly knows how to respond to sensational rhetoric coming from a distinguished professor like Dr. Nettles. I'd be surprised if Nettles could offer a single, tangible example where an idea like this is being seriously considered much less pragmatically implemented. No non-Calvinist Southern Baptist I know or have ever read embraces the nonsense Nettles suggests that somehow we are perplexed that even the strongest Calvinist would want his congregation to follow his theological lead. The truth is, most non-Calvinists are not concerned with what the church down the road is doing so far as Calvinism is concerned. Nor do I concern myself with what Nettles' church is doing. They can believe as they wish so far as I am concerned.
On the other hand, Southern Baptists do have a stake in the cooperative mission projects they support together, and Nettles addresses this. He said:
"Apply majoritarian pressure that indicates that it is not appropriate for Calvinists to hold positions in which their salary comes from the Southern Baptist Convention, the property of the traditionalists," he continued. "No matter their competence, their orthodoxy in historic Christianity, their views of biblical authority, their thorough commitment to Baptist ecclesiology, their involvement in church planting, missions and evangelism in the local church, their contractual obligations to support a chartered confessional statement, the newly minted traditionalist says we do not want such a person in a position of influence."
First, why shouldn't "majoritarian pressure" be appropriated to ensure distinguished Baptist belief is taught at our seminaries from professors whose salaries come from the Southern Baptist Convention, the property of Southern Baptists? Was this not precisely how, beginning in 1979, Conservative Resurgence supporters argued their case against moderate and liberal professors who taught non-inerrancy of the biblical text? Was it not the "majoritarian pressure" which voted in a conservative president, elected conservative committees, and approved conservative trustees which made the Conservative Resurgence an historic success? Why Dr. Nettles now appears to question the "majoritarian pressure" which he so readily approved leading up to and finalizing a biblically conservative academic culture among our institutions--a culture which decidedly paved the way for him to be comfortable teaching at a Southern Baptist seminary--seems entirely out of place. If we Traditionalists are "nonplussed" it is because of Nettles' explicit lament about the presence of the "majoritarian pressure", a phenomenon he once adored and embraced.
Second, Dr. Nettles overstates the concern Traditionalists have normally and clearly expressed concerning the presence of Calvinism at the institutional level of convention life. We have been clear it is not the presence of Calvinists heading our institutions and agencies. Rather it is the number of Calvinists in powerful positions about which we have raised concerns. If Lifeway's numbers are conceivably close in gauging the number of strong Calvinists in our convention, then the number of Calvinists in positions of power and influence is completely out of line with the number of Traditionalists who fund those entities and agencies.
What is more, Dr. Nettles serves a seminary which is well-known to have marginalized a Traditional Baptist theological ideology. Indeed as one author put it, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is "Ground Zero" for the young, restless, and reformed" movement in evangelicalism. Few can easily deny this. In addition, the institution where Dr. Nettles freely teaches the students that non-Calvinist, Traditional Southern Baptists have committed "theological apostacy," and hence stand outside "historic Southern Baptist orthodoxy," has a president that is committed to the Abstract of Principles more than to the Baptist Faith and Message, and that even when he pleads for all Southern Baptists to cooperatively encircle themselves around the Baptist Faith and Message alone. After leaving New Orleans, Dr. Mohler wrote (italics added):
The most recent of these was 2000, when Southern Baptists adopted a revised statement of "The Baptist Faith & Message," our confession of faith... We will stand within the "Baptist Faith & Message" and we will learn how to talk in a way that will help each other to be more faithful and biblical, not more hardened and bitter."
Even so, Dr. Mohler has not employed "our confession of faith" which he identifies as the Baptist Faith and Message to return Southern Baptists to "historic Southern Baptist orthodoxy" or as he says, "the true substance of our theological heritage." Even the updated Baptist Faith and Message 2000 with its clear statements on biblical gender, homosexuality, open theism, and especially biblical inerrancy remained insufficient to guide the seminary through theologically murky waters ahead.
Instead Dr. Mohler employed the Abstract of Principles to thoroughly Calvinize Southern Baptists' oldest seminary even though not a scintilla of evidence exists that "Reforming" Southern seminary meant recreating the seminary into a bastion of Reformed theology. If Mohler was commissioned to do so, let him or the trustees of Southern produce the goods. Southern Baptists have a right to know if our trustees commissioned Al Mohler to transform the seminary into an exclusively, strongly Calvinist seminary rather than transforming the seminary into a conservative seminary the faculty of which embraced a robust view of biblical inerrancy.
Writing an article for Founders Journal in 1995 entitled, "James Petigru Boyce and Southern Baptist Theological Education," Dr. Mohler explained the personal significance the Abstract of Principles has for him and the vision he has for Southern Baptists' oldest seminary (embolden added):
The Abstract of Principles came primarily from the editorial pen of Basil Manly, Jr., who had been assigned the task of drafting the confession. Manly drew from the very finest and most faithful Baptist tradition by turning to the Charleston confession and its Reformed Baptist orthodoxy. The Abstract of Principles stands as a brilliant summary of Biblical and Baptist conviction. It is solidly based within the confessional tradition of the Baptists and was, as acknowledged by those who set it in place, a faithful repetition of the central truths found within the Westminster Confession.
Thus the great truths of the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace were incorporated within the heart of Southern Baptists' first theological institution. Here was to be found no lack of doctrinal clarity and no ambiguity on the great doctrines which had united Baptists to this date. Sincere and earnest Southern Baptist who wish to understand the true substance of our theological heritage need look no further than the Abstract of Principles for a clear outline of the doctrines once most certainly held among us. Let there be no doubt that in the years to come Southern Seminary will be unashamedly and unhesitantly committed to these same doctrinal convictions as set forth in this incomparable document.
As seems evident, Drs Nettles and Mohler are thoroughly and unambiguously committed to Calvinizing the Southern Baptist Convention, and they are doing so through our educational institutions. Albeit they routinely suggest we rally around our Baptist Faith and Message as the statement upon which all Southern Baptists agree, they continue to push and employ a document which Mohler not only describes as "incomparable," but also a document he historically traces back to Presbyterian origins found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Even so, Dr. Nettles wonders why Traditional Baptists are "nonplussed" about what's going on with Calvinism at the convention level while Dr. Mohler suggests any conversation about Calvinism will "marginalize those whose influence should be marginalized."
Let's face it. We've got a big problem here. Traditionalists are implicated in committing "theological apostacy" while the "true substance of our theological heritage" found exclusively in the "doctrines of grace" (i.e. 5 Point Calvinism) is being pumped out into Southern Baptist congregations via our educational institutions. What is more, record numbers of church plants are being started with church planters who are indoctrinated with the "true substance of our theological heritage" found exclusively in the "doctrines of grace" (i.e. 5 Point Calvinism) as taught by Nettles, Mohler, and Ascol. They may cry, "Peace, Peace" but there is no peace and will be no peace until Southern Baptists first face the not-so-lovable reality that we've got a serious problem.
I never thought I'd find myself advocating this position, but I think it's time: the Southern Baptist Convention needs to consider purging itself of all confessional statements to be used by our agencies and entities except the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. All not some. All. And, all means all. While we have absolutely no say-so over individual churches and the confessions they embrace, using proper organizational protocol, we still have control over all our agencies and entities, a control we could implement despite Dr. Nettles' objection toward "majoritarian pressure."
It's time for Southern Baptists to stop the institutionalization of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps weaning ourselves from leaning too strongly on confessional documents which advocates like Mohler suggest are inspired by historic Presbyterian theology would be a first step in returning our convention back to a "balanced" peaceful cooperation between Traditionalists and strong Calvinists.