In “The Revolution of the Saints,” Michael Walzer wrote that by the end of his life, Martin Luther was a bitter, disappointed reactionary watching his dreams of a reformed church crumble, while on the other hand John Calvin was an inexhaustible source of revolution across Europe and beyond. Well, it is 2013, and the Genevan lawyer and theocrat is STILL stirring the pot, this time in America’s largest Protestant denomination.
This is one of the reasons I like the Southern Baptists: they take theology seriously. And the growing popularity of Calvinist theology in the Southern Baptist Convention has been a quietly building source of conflict for years. It provided part of the back story for Ergun Caner’s fall from grace, for instance, as Calvinist opponents of his were among the first to suss out that his storied biography wasn’t quite what he made it out to be. And it’s been embraced by some of the denomination’s most prominent leaders.
On the other hand, as Greg Horton points out over at Religion News Service, Calvin’s theology presents all kinds of challenges for Southern Baptists, especially on the rather essential question of salvation: Calvin taught that Jesus died only for those people God had already decided to save, not for everyone. This does not go over well with, say, people who are trying to win converts:
“Eighty percent of SBC pastors disagreed with the idea that only the elect will be saved, according to last year’s LifeWay poll, and two-thirds disagreed with the idea that salvation and damnation have already been determined.”
There’s also a gender component at work here (there usually is): “Neo-Calvinists” take the denomination’s traditional teaching on the differing roles of men and women a step further.
“Unlike what you might see in run-of-the-mill SBC complementarianism, where women’s subordination and male headship is affirmed only within the nuclear family unit and the local church, many Neo-Calvinist complementarians view women’s subordination and male headship as something that applies to all spheres of human life,” says former Southern Baptist Emily McGowin. Which means that men lead in the family, in the economy, in politics, in everything, and women obey.
The Southern Baptists are meeting in Houston next week, where a committee will release a new report on Calvinist soteriology in an effort to convince all Southern Baptists to get along with each other:
According to Baptist Press, the report “lists areas of theological agreement and acknowledges differences between the two camps, saying ‘we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension.’”
Should be interesting! In the meantime, take this handy quiz to see how much you know about the world’s most famous Genevan fan of St. Augustine.