Patterson & chapel speaker address topic of Calvinism

Paige PattersonPaige Patterson stated his personal views on Calvinism in a blog post in light of a chapel speaker's critique of the doctrinal system and "rude behavior [in response] on the part of a few students."

The speaker, Rick Patrick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Ala., spoke about salvation in Christ at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in a Nov. 29 message titled "The greatest thing that ever happened to me."

Patrick, a 1993 Southwestern master of divinity graduate, spoke of his salvation in Christ from a family suffering from alcoholism and divorce, then spent the remainder of his 38-minute message describing the Connect 316 organization and its various resources that openly oppose Calvinism.

He and other traditional Southern Baptists are troubled as parts of the convention "increasingly embrace the Presbyterian view of salvation doctrine, church government, the mode of baptism, avoidance of the altar call, the use of beverage alcohol, the approval of societal missions funding and so on."

Patrick urged the chapel audience to study whether "these Reform practices are making these things better or worse."

Patterson, in a Dec. 2 blog at the seminary's Theological Matters website, stated that Patrick presented his views on Calvinism "as would be expected at a Southern Baptist seminary in view of the current discussions in our denomination." Patterson said he responded to students "who had not agreed with the speaker and had stood up during the message and walked out to show their displeasure."

Patterson then set forth a number of facets of his view of Calvinism. In the blog post, he noted that "Baptists have historically been divided into two camps (at least)—namely, Calvinist and non-Calvinist. I do not anticipate that this will change. ...

"[A]s long as the heart is hot for the winning of men and women to Christ, as long as the passionate evangelism exhibited in the New Testament is the major commitment, as long as the Calvinism on display is like that of [famed 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon] Spurgeon, who even wrote a book specifically on soul-winning, I am content—no, I am elated to work with these brethren for the cause of Christ," Patterson said.

Patrick, in a statement to Baptist Press, said in part, "I made every effort to speak of issues and not personalities. While I make no apology for my doctrine, holding it firmly, I sincerely desire interpersonal reconciliation with any listener who might have been offended. The SBC is indeed stronger with two healthy wings, and I affirm both the right of Calvinists to share their beliefs and practices contrary to mine, as well as my right to share my beliefs and practices contrary to theirs."

The full text of Patterson's Dec. 2 blog follows:

"Concerning Remarks on Calvinism in Chapel at Southwestern"

By Paige Patterson

Recently, a speaker in chapel at Southwestern dealt in a portion of his message with the subject of Calvinism (link to chapel message). He presented his views on the subject, as would be expected at a Southern Baptist seminary in view of the current discussions in our denomination. At the close, the president responded to rude behavior on the part of a few students who had not agreed with the speaker and had stood up during the message and walked out to show their displeasure.

In my reported statements, let it be clear that I asked no one to leave the SBC! Let me go further and say that I am fully aware that Baptists have historically been divided into two camps (at least)—namely, Calvinist and non-Calvinist. I do not anticipate that this will change, though historically, one observes an ebb and flow within these positions, just as in the doctrine of eschatology. I must also acknowledge that as long as the heart is hot for the winning of men and women to Christ, as long as the passionate evangelism exhibited in the New Testament is the major commitment, as long as the Calvinism on display is like that of [famed 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon] Spurgeon, who even wrote a book specifically on soul-winning, I am content—no, I am elated to work with these brethren for the cause of Christ.

What I did say was about myself. I said that if I held Presbyterian beliefs, I would be a Presbyterian. If I held charismatic beliefs, I would probably affiliate with the Assemblies of God. If my only difference with Presbyterians were that I favored only baptism of adult believers rather than the baptism of infants, I would probably be conflicted, but I might affiliate with Primitive Baptists. I asked no one else to respond this way. I expressed what I would do just as every Baptist is free to do and especially as is our custom in the academic world.

My own theological roots are with the Anabaptists and with the early General Baptists of England. That, too, is a position well represented in Southern Baptist life. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a document written as purposefully as possible to allow for both views. I appointed the committee that drafted the revision. Purposefully in my appointments, I included representation from the diversity within Southern Baptist life. The members of that committee had a variety of views, among them being Calvinists and non-Calvinists. My perspectives have not changed.

On the other hand, the whole Conservative Resurgence was really always about one thing—reaching men and women for Christ. My unalterable fear for our denomination today is that baptisms will continue to plummet, giving a certain indication of loss of evangelistic concern and fervency. Southern Baptists prospered by being the most effectively evangelistic among all denominations, and we will only prosper again if we honor God in that way.

Again, I expressed in chapel my personal commitment. I did not mandate anyone else to do anything. Believing as I do that some good can come from even our most severe misunderstandings and human faux pas, wishing that I had been more precise, maybe from all of this can come a new determination to present the Gospel to every man and woman, boy and girl! At least, that is what I am going to attempt for whatever remains of my life. After all, Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." And any fisherman knows that you do not catch fish by sitting in a boat discussing fishing or by arguing incessantly about the nature of fishing.

Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Leave a comment