According to a 1996 Baptist Press article by James A. Smith, Sr., Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., urged the revision of the Southern Baptist Convention's 1963 statement of faith while speaking at the 14th annual meeting of the Founders Conference held on the campus of Samford University, Birmingham, Ala. Smith wrote >>>
Speaking on the topic of "Irresistible Grace," one of the five points of Calvinism, Dever asserted the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message leans more toward the Roman Catholic position of salvation by works than the traditional Protestant position of salvation as a gift of grace from God.1
Dever quoted from Article IV, section A of the statement, which says:
"Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour."
Smith then records Dever's explanation :
"I do not hear that they are wrought by the Spirit of God. I do not hear that they are gifts given. I hear they're things that we do. I hear Schleiermacher in that 'experiences of grace,'" referring to the 19th century German theologian. "Faith is not a meritorious work of man on the basis of which God accepts the sinner," Dever said. "It is a gracious gift of God by which he converts us."
Speaking of the 1963 statement, Dever said, "I'm not asking for it to become an exclusively Calvinistic document. I simply want it to rejoin its long line of Baptist predecessors ... and end this 30-year exile. I want it to come home and be more clearly Protestant!"
Curiously, Smith notes that in an interview with Dever he had following his speech, Dever stressed he could sign the 1963 confession "happily."
In addition, Smith reports both Tom Ascol and Tom Nettles' reaction to Mark Dever's call to change the 1963 BF&M.
Of Ascol, Smith reports:
Although he agreed the statement could be strengthened, Tom Ascol, coordinator of the Founders Conference, said in an interview, "I see no significant purpose that could be served" by amending the confession at this time.
And, Tom Nettles is reported to have responded to Dever:
"I think that the phrase 'inseparable experiences of grace' is clearly consistent with the position that Baptists have taken on that issue in the past and, therefore, do not feel the same alarm that Mark (Dever) does. I would not issue a call for revision for the sake of that one issue," said Nettles who also serves on the planning committee of the Founders Conference.
Dever is correct the 1963 statement "is not as explicit as some former confessions," Nettles added. "I agree with the central burden of Mark Dever's concern that the confession be more bold and explicit in its articles concerning the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ," Nettles said.
If I read the Smith article correctly, while Mark Dever had grave concerns over the 1963 BF&M and called for it to be revised since it sounded more like a "works" salvation statement, he was not necessarily interested in the document becoming an "exclusively Calvinistic document." Whatever the case, Dever indicated he could "happily" sign the document.
On the other hand, neither Ascol nor Nettles appears to have questioned the 1963 statement in any significant way, Ascol indicating he saw nothing in it which called for immediate revision. Nothing was indicated by either Nettles or Ascol about the 1963 statement being much less Calvinistic than the 1925 statement. Nor was it suggested by these men that the 1963 statement reflected a pronounced Arminianism contra our supposed historic Calvinistic heritage.
My how times have changed.
We now are often lectured by our Calvinist brothers how blatantly Arminian the convention became as expressed by the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. The 1963 BF&M is clearly much less Calvinistic than the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message we are routinely reminded. Even so, the 1963 statement apparently was not so much less Calvinistic than the allegedly much more Calvinistic 1925 statement that even the detractors could not "happily" sign their names to it.
1James A. Smith Sr. "Speaker calls for revision of Baptist Faith and Message" Baptist Press 7/29/96