A brief rejoinder to Breland’s “lengthy response” to Jerry Vines may be helpful. First, Breland criticizes Vines because “citing Calvinism as the reason for current division within the SBC is not helpful to the discussion.” Why? Because, according to Breland, since “Calvinism neither walks nor talks” but is a mere “system of theology”, Breland concludes “ Calvinism is not creating division in the SBC but people are.”
Where to begin to respond to this is frustrating. So should Dr. Vines have named names? Is this what Breland is advocating? Suppose Dr. Vines had said in the interview when quizzed about the challenges we face, “Well, basically our challenges are dealing with people like ___ ___, ___ ___, and ___ ______. And everybody knows ___ ________ is our greatest challenge!" Not only is it just weird to complain that somebody didn’t personalize a challenge we face, it is also naïve to think that ideas have no more influence than Breland seems to acknowledge. I suggest Breland pick up a copy of R.C. Sproul’s The Consequences of Ideas, a very helpful book. But more importantly, the raw power ideas possess are detailed by Sproul.
Second, Breland complains at length about statements made by Vines without establishing any obvious reasons that Breland correctly understood the point Vines was making. For example, Vines wrote, “current attempts to move the SBC to a Calvinistic soteriology are divisive and wrong” to which Breland curiously interprets as “involv[ing] SBC seminary graduates going into churches and faithfully preaching and teaching God’s Word.” Huh? Where does Breland gather the assumption Vines was referencing exclusively-- if referencing at all--seminaries, seminary graduates, or becoming pastors of churches? Even so, Breland argumentatively goes on in a lengthy paragraph assuming Vines was referring to seminaries, its graduates, and becoming a pastor, definitively pronouncing Vines’ statement to be “divisive and wrong.” Breland's point fails for the simple reason Vines argued, asserted, or implied nothing whatsoever Breland contests in the entire paragraph!
Third, though other problems exist in Breland’s “lengthy response,” enough has been recorded to question the legitimacy of those thus far publicly criticizing Jerry Vines’ remarks. Breland criticizes Vines’s statement “that should the SBC move toward five-point Calvinism it will be a move away from, not toward, the gospel.” Breland writes:
This type of statement is beyond the pale… This type of rhetoric which attacks good and outstanding members of the SBC… will only cause problems and lead to a split in the convention. The statement is also anti-historical. I guess The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary founding president and five-point Calvinist James P. Boyce and many other SBC founders were leading the SBC away from the gospel all those early formative years. Am I to believe, according to Dr. Vines, that the SBC was at some point rescued from those who did not have the gospel? I am disappointed that Dr. Vines would make such a statement given his long history in SBC life”
Note that Breland asserts Vines’ rhetoric “attacks good and outstanding members of the SBC” and will only “cause problems and lead to a split in the convention.” Question: how is explicitly addressing an idea—“that should the SBC move toward five-point Calvinism…”—an attack against outstanding members of the SBC? Good criticism most always deals with ideas which is precisely what Vines did. Further, recall Breland’s rejection of Vines' point earlier because, in Breland’s words, a “system of theology” like “Calvinism neither walks nor talks”. I'm afraid Breland cannot have it both ways. Since “Calvinism neither walks nor talks” how does it follow Vines' non-Calvinism attacked “good and outstanding members of the SBC” who presumably both walk and talk?
Even more, Breland earlier defended his point about Calvinism not splitting churches by instead insisting unequivocally it is people who split churches. Now, however, Breland has apparently switched fiddles to play, insisting Vines’ rhetoric will “only cause problems” and lead to a “split in the convention.” But I thought it was “people” who do the splitting of both churches and presumably conventions. If the rhetoric of Calvinism itself cannot split people up, as Breland asserted earlier, then neither can Breland suggest now that the rhetoric of non-Calvinism or even anti-Calvinism can split people up. I'm afraid it just doesn't work that way.
And, the answer is no, the Founders were not “leading” the SBC away from the gospel all those early formative years. If anything, the “Founders”--at least those whom Breland references--scratched and pawed their way through the latter part of the 19th century trying to hang on to their high-Calvinistic influence. Indeed strict Calvinism had apparently so waned in influence among Southern Baptists by the turn of the century that Z.T. Cody could answer the query, “Are Baptists Calvinists?” with a resounding no. Says Cody:
The so-called "five points of Calvinism" are the essential doctrines of the system. Men have forgotten them now but they were once as familiar as the letters of the alphabet. They are, particular predestination, limited atonement, natural inability, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. Now if this is the system that constitutes Calvinism it is again very certain that Baptists are not Calvinists.
This system can be, it is true, found in some of the older confessions of faith and it was at that time held by some Baptist churches. It is also true that there are now many of our churches which hold some of the doctrines of this system. All Baptist churches, so far as we know, hold to the perseverance of the saints. But it can be very confidently affirmed that there is now no Baptist church that holds or defends the five points of Calvinism. Some of the doctrines are repugnant to our people. Could there be found a minister in our communion who believes in the theory of a limited atonement? (embolden added)
So far as I am concerned, while our Baptist heritage is something in which we may remain healthily proud, we nonetheless are obligated by our unwavering commitment to the Word of God and to the God of the Word in evaluating our heritage in light of inspired Revelation. Hence, it follows that just because many of our Founders were strict Calvinists—high Calvinists—does not necessitate an on-going allegiance to strict Calvinism anymore than because they were pro-slavery, so should we be pro-slavery as well.
Finally, Breland rhetorically asks: “Am I to believe, according to Dr. Vines, that the SBC was at some point rescued from those who did not have the gospel?” And, precisely where does Dr. Vines imply anyone needed to be rescued from those missing the gospel? As we saw in Part I, Dr. Vines indicated a move toward Limited Atonement would be a move away from the gospel. He did not suggest a move toward Limited Atonement would be a loss of the gospel.
The irony is, Calvinists are the very ones who imply we have lost the gospel! Again, in Part I, we saw how Founders Calvinists promote a reformation in SBC life in order to “recover the gospel,” a gospel we’ve apparently lost. And, according to Founders, intrinsic to this recovery is the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace (i.e. T.U.L.I.P.).
Hence, I’m afraid like Mark Lamprecht, Breland needs to concern himself more with Founders rhetoric than the statements of Jerry Vines.
With that, I am…