As the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) gears up for its meeting in New Orleans, a new debate is raging between Arminian and Calvinist factions. Christianity Today reports that tensions are high ahead of the meeting, and not just because the SBC (the largest Protestant group in the US) has selected an African American President. On May 30th, an Arminian group within the SBC released a statement regarding their view of salvation, which has been heavily criticized by folks on both sides.
But the rhetoric is heating up, and that always popular “h word” (heretical) is being dropped. The statement is allegedly “semi-pelagian” (referring the condemned heretic Pelagius, whose theological argument lost out against Augustine of Hippo).
The controversial statement is supposedly this: “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.” Now, apparently both classic Arminians and Calvinists deny would disagree with this statement, suggesting that saving faith requires an initial movement by God to allow someone to respond to the gospel.
Where I get confused is how this statement denies that God initiates the movement of salvation. It simply states the man can actually respond to God’s work in them. Sounds fairly in line with the Arminianism as I understand it.
Of course this may become a very destructive debate. As a baptist, not part of the SBC, I see where this is headed. Baptist history is a funny thing. Folks calling themselves “baptists” have since early on been both Calvinists and Arminians. Smyth and Helwys, the first leaders of the first ever baptist Church were heavily influenced by Dutch Mennonites (Arminians). Later, the Spilsbury church also called themselves baptists (later clarified as “Particular Baptists”) while holding to a Reformed/Calvinist perspective. But in many times and locations, General (Arminian) and Particular (Calvinist) Baptists have been in communion. The CBOQ is one such communion of Baptists, which honours diversity in conviction, in principle at least.
The SBC may be opening the debate, which if church history is any indication, may lead to yet another split. It’s what denominations often do. We disagree, so we go do our own thing over here. We can’t have our way, so we take our ball and go home. The early rhetoric has me uneasy. A juggernaught like the SBC seeing it’s scholars slinging accusations of heresy is not likely to end well.
You can read the statement on the SBC Forum here.