The Southern Baptist Convention’s new ‘traditionalists’

Meredith Flynn —  April 3, 2014

COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

If there is any swordplay between the dominant camps at the Southern Baptist Convention this summer, it will likely be in the vice presidential races. Reformed leader Al Mohler announced he will reach across the aisle and nominate for the SBC presidency Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, who is not known as a Calvinist. So, dueling will be consigned to lower ranks. And the first candidate has stepped forward.

Clint Pressley of North Carolina will be nominated for first vice president. What’s interesting is that it was Pressley who nominated Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins for second vice president in 2012.

Hankins is the author of a document called “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” The document was a response to the rise of Calvinist theology in the Convention. That bubbling debate cooled only when Executive Committee President Frank Page invited Hankins, Mohler, and 17 others to join him in a study group seeking a peace between the sides and avoidance of a schism.

Hankins was not elected second vice president. He and another candidate were defeated by a surprise nominee, Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller. Miller’s nominator had posited him as a less divisive alternative.

Hankins exited the platform that year, but has remained active in the discussion of SBC polity and theology. Now, Pressley returns, not to nominate, but to be nominated.

That’s not at all surprising.

From a seat two rows behind them in Hebrew class, it was clear these young men were headed somewhere. Tall, sharp, and confident, in the football-player way, Hankins and Pressley went through college together as best friends. At seminary, they were a better-behaved version of Butch and Sundance. They were young men on life’s adventure as friends, role models, family men, pastors of ever-larger churches. And apparently, they were instrumental at the start of a movement to recapture “traditional” as a theological position worth holding and an identity worth upholding.

One started the race; we’ll see if the other can carry the torch on the next lap.

One more development on the traditional front: A group calling itself Connect 316 announced its first meeting to be held during the Convention. Offering their network as an alternative to “Calvinist-leaning” groups such as the Founders Ministry, 9 Marks, and Acts 29, they claim the theological tradition of Herschel Hobbs and Adrian Rogers. In other words, “traditionalists.”

A friend of mine is looking forward to the Convention in June. She wants to see if Pressley will again make an appearance in his seersucker suit. The summer staple of Southern lawyers was an old-time favorite of preachers, too. Could seersucker, and traditionalists, make a comeback in Baltimore?

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

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