Archives For Reformed theology

Note: The column below is excerpted from a response to “Is ‘missional Calvinist’ an oxymoron?” by Eric Reed. Read the original column here.

COMMENTARY | Josh Flowers

Two weeks ago I sat in a village in Brazil where I have been ministering alongside a Presbyterian national missionary. Over lunch that day, I had challenged the methodology of this brother for being too theological. I asked him if he really thought they were ready for this level of deep thinking. He defended his methodology. A few hours later, in front of our small group, my partner asked those in attendance if the material was too deep or too theological. The aged spokesman of the group stood up and emphatically responded, “Absolutely not!” He continued to explain that they must hear and study the deep teachings of the Bible to grow in their faith.

…My family left Illinois in 2009 to attend seminary and are now in serving the IMB in the Amazon Basin. I left a good job and proximity to family and friends. These were not decisions taken lightly. The Lord called our family to share Jesus Christ with the many UPGs in the Amazon Basin. The cost has been high in the eyes of the world, yet Acts 20:24 has remained an important verse during our transition to the mission field. It has been worth it. I say all this in response to your apparent fear that evangelistic zeal might be in jeopardy. With all my heart I want every group in Brazil to hear the message of the gospel and respond affirming their need for Christ. However, one day I will return to the United States. On that day, I don’t want the then current missionaries redoing what I’m investing my life into right now. I want those brothers of the villages where we’re working to be active in their faith reaching into the furthest corners of the Amazon to reach every tribe for Christ. If that means that baptism numbers don’t look as good, so be it.

David Platt is a man who has the anointing hand of God upon his life. His passion for reaching the lost is incredible. While his theology may be different than the status quo, I believe his selection is providential for driving Southern Baptist missions endeavors. I pray that our national and state convention leaders will choose to support the leader of the IMB as God’s anointed man for this time. As for me, my family, and my colleagues, we will support David Platt as he pushes Southern Baptists to attack lostness around the globe.

Josh Flowers
IMB Missionary, Brazil

John Calvin, 1509-1564

John Calvin, 1509-1564


Like “jumbo shrimp” and “paid vacation,” some phrases bring together contradictory words and give them new meaning. They’re called oxymorons. Even that is an oxymoron, connecting two Greek words meaning “sharp” and “dull.” And there’s “awfully good,” “near miss,” “minor miracle,” and “adult children.”

Some would say we should add to the list “missional Calvinist.”

The election of David Platt as president of the International Mission Board prompted this hallway conversation:

“What’s the effect of Calvinism on missions?”

“Historically, not so good.”

“Oh, I guess I’d better read up on Calvin.”

Yes, that may be helpful in understanding some objections raised about the choice of Platt, but there’s a new breed of Calvinists today, identified by the editorial director of The Gospel Coalition, Collin Hansen, as “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” In his 2008 book, Hansen coined the term “the new Calvinism.”

Historically, strongly Reformed denominations weren’t strongly committed to missions. It is true that a couple of brands of Presbyterians were early leaders in the missions movement, sometimes blazing trails that Southern Baptists would later follow. Lottie Moon’s own biography is littered with Presbyterian missionaries who shared her field in China and, as deeply, her passion for converting lost peoples.

But for most Reformed denominations the passion didn’t last. The record of “old Calvinism” is that conversions declined over the years as the emphasis on evangelism was eclipsed by the dedication to discipleship and doctrine.

Although Southern Baptists generally would say “evangelistic discipleship” is not an oxymoron, the two seem to get pitted against each other in the debate over how people are actually saved. The challenge for Platt will be to bolster the evangelistic zeal of missionaries on the field while he espouses more disciple-making and less easy-believe-ism.

If he’s concerned about abuse of “the sinner’s prayer” in leading people to Christ (at the 2012 Convention, Platt famously tried to explain his challenge of Southern Baptists’ favorite evangelism tool), then he must clearly explain how IMB missionaries are to guide converts to the point of public commitment.

Baptists, historically, have been good at helping seekers commit to Christ and show it by believer’s baptism. We’ll have to watch the baptism numbers from our foreign fields to see how well the union of Reformed theology and missional praxis works. Is it—or isn’t it—an oxymoron? Platt, and his IMB, will be Southern Baptists’ most public test of that question.

No one doubts Platt’s passion. Even his biggest supporters rib him for his intensity. “Do it for the nations, David,” a famed Reform pastor teased during a panel discussion in Baltimore. The crowd laughed, recognizing one of Platt’s driving phrases. But Platt is serious about it.

“For the Nations” might serve well as IMB’s motto under Platt’s leadership. There’s nothing oxymoronic about that.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Ronnie_Floyd_blogCOMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

Ronnie Floyd is the first candidate to toss his hat in the ring for the next Southern Baptist Convention president. Although, in keeping with tradition, Floyd’s nominator actually did
the tossing: Southern Seminary President Al Mohler announced last month he will nominate Floyd for the convention’s top elected post at the annual meeting in Baltimore.

No one else has allowed his name to be brought forth so far. This unusual across-the-aisle nomination, and a potential single-candidate race, has several implications for Southern

1. The Calvinism debate doesn’t have to result in a hostile takeover for either camp. Mohler’s well-known and well-documented theological perspective is different from what is known of Floyd’s. In an open letter announcing the nomination, the seminary president and leading Reformed thinker lauded Floyd as a unifier. He specifically mentioned the theology talk that has dominated conversation over the past several years, pointing to Floyd as a leader who can move the SBC toward a common goal of reaching the world for Christ.

Mohler’s nomination of Floyd is likely the kind of unifying event SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page had in mind when he appointed an advisory committee to study how the two “sides” can work together.

2. The generation gap may be narrowing. Mohler has the ear of many young Baptists, as a seminary president and proponent of Reformed theology, whose adherents tend to skew younger. He is in the unique position of being able to steer 30-somethings toward active participation in Southern Baptist life, without being a 30-something himself. His nomination
of Floyd indicates he’s willing to guide young leaders away from a concentration on divisive issues and toward goals we can work on together.

3. With revival as the goal, Baptists are ready to rally around the Great Commission. Current SBC President Fred Luter made revival and spiritual awakening his platform during his two years of leadership, aiming to stem the decline in baptisms. “Fred Luter has led us so well as he has unified and inspired us,” Mohler wrote in his nomination letter. “Our next president needs to unify and inspire us for our next steps together.”

Floyd chaired the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, which presented a comprehensive strategy in 2010 to push funding to areas of the country (and world) that are less churched and often more urban. More recently, he organized two prayer gatherings to guide pastors and leaders toward personal and corporate revival.

“Pastors believe the Great Commission can be fulfilled in their generation,” Floyd blogged after the prayer meeting in Atlanta. If he’s elected in June, he’ll be charged with communicating that vision to a multigenerational, theologically diverse denomination.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Baltimore_blogCOMMENTARY | Eric Reed

The calendar says the season is winter, and the snow bank outside your house would seem to confirm it, but there’s another we must consider: it’s SBC presidential nomination season.

Somewhere today in a church office or study, there’s a man praying about nominating his friend for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. And somewhere else, that possible candidate is asking God whether he should allow his friend to make that nomination public. Rarely does one nominate himself to run for SBC President. It is the work of prayerful men, considering the needs of the convention, and the qualifications of their closest friends to lead to meet the needs of the time. As with the committee that selected Paul and Barnabas (“It seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us”), nomination is a work of the Holy Spirit and prayerful men.

It’s also a function of geography.

For example, Fred Luter was elected SBC president in his hometown, New Orleans, in 2012. Orlando’s Jim Henry presided over a convention in Orlando. And in Houston, favorite son Ed Young, Jr., was re-elected to a second term.

Consider the location of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention. It’s in Baltimore.  Not since 1910 has the annual convention been held in Baltimore.

On the East coast, 40 miles from Washington D.C., a Baltimore convention is likely to draw a different crowd of messengers than if it were held in Texas or Florida. For one thing, there’s no “Six Flags over Baltimore” to draw the messenger who likes to pair the convention with a vacation. The serious-minded will travel to Baltimore. (Forgive us, Baltimore, if we underestimate the drawing power of crab cakes and historical sites, but without Shamu, how shall we entertain the children?)

And consider the nearest neighbors to Baltimore: the closest SBC seminaries are Southern in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southeastern in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Many of the churches in the region surrounding Baltimore have their pastors and leaders supplied by these schools. They are likely to be very well represented at the meeting in June.

While we don’t know yet who will run, we should note that it has been three years since there was a contested election for SBC president. Any match-up that pairs a Reformed candidate against one who identifies himself as a “traditionalist” – the labels used in the Calvinist theology debate of recent years—will likely test the peace loosely stitched by leaders of those camps just before the 2013 convention.

A cursory tour of the blogosphere shows no suggestion that Baltimore 2014 will be for Calvinists what Houston 1979 was for Conservatives – opportunity to bolster their leadership role in the denomination with thousands of close-by voters. But with strong centers of Reformed theology in neighboring states and many adherents in the region, Baltimore may be the best location for a Reformed candidate to mount a campaign.

Tuesday_BriefingUrges cooperation, unity around Baptist Faith & Message ahead of meeting in Houston

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The advisory committee formed by Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Frank Page to study the divide over Reformed theology in the convention released its final report a week before the SBC was scheduled to hold its annual meeting in Houston.

Page assembled the group last August, after an annual meeting in New Orleans where Reformed theology was a hot-button issue. Much of the conversation then centered on the need to work together despite theological differences; Page wanted the team to help him develop “a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.”

The group’s 3,200-word statement outlines nine areas of theology that all Southern Baptists can agree on, and then tackles areas of disagreement within those issues. For example:

“We agree that God is absolutely sovereign in initiating salvation, uniting the believer to Himself, and preserving the believer to the end, but we differ as to how God expresses His sovereignty with respect to human freedom,” the report reads.

Pointing to one of the tenets of Reformed theology, the statement continues, “We agree that the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel enables sinners to be saved, but we differ as to whether this grace is resistible or irresistible.”

But those tensions shouldn’t hinder cooperation, according to the advisory committee, which was made up of people from both sides of the theological divide. Rather, “we urge Southern Baptists to grant one another liberty in those areas within The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) where differences in interpretation cause us to disagree.”

Later in the report, the group points to the BFM, as adopted in 2000, as the confession that “is to serve as the doctrinal basis for our cooperation in Great Commission ministry.”

A report on the group’s work is expected during next week’s annual meeting, which begins June 11. In its closing words, the statement offers a challenge that could be especially important in Houston:

“If we stand together in truth, we can trust one another in truth, even as we experience tension. We can talk like brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can work urgently and eagerly together.”

Read the full report at

-With reporting by Baptist Press

Other news:

Baptists expected to discuss Boy Scouts at annual meeting
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land told CNN there is a “100% chance” there will be a resolution to disaffiliate with Boy Scouts during the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention in Houston. “…And a 100% chance that 99% of people will vote for it,” Land continued. “Southern Baptists are going to be leaving the Boy Scouts en masse.” Boy Scouts of America recently voted to allow gay-identifying youth to be members. As autonomous churches, Southern Baptist congregations can choose their own course of action when it comes to Boy Scouts, but many will likely find it difficult to comply with the new policy, SBC spokesman Sing Oldham told CNN. “With this policy change, the Boy Scouts’ values are contradictory to the basic values of our local churches.” Read more on CNN’s Belief blog.

What does Illinois’ non-action on same-sex marriage mean for the rest of the country?The St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked that question in the wake of Rep. Greg Harris’ refusal to call the same-sex marriage bill for a vote before the Illinois House adjourned its spring session May 31. David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, told the paper, “The momentum has been stopped.

“It shows that it’s not as popular with people as the national media is telling us.”

Smith added that the non-action in Illinois could be a “bellwether” for other states, especially those that don’t lean as far to the left. As the Post-Dispatch pointed out, “If gay marriage fails here, how would a state like Missouri ever even flirt with it?” Read the full story here.

One-third of Americans trust God more during suffering
A new study by LifeWay Research found 33% of Americans trust God more during times of suffering that seems unfair. The research, conducted after the devastating May 20 tornado in Moore, Okla., also found 25% of people reported being “confused by God” during such times, and 16% say they “don’t think about God in those situations.” Read more at

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has named a 16-member advisory team to help him address theological differences – specifically, Reformed theology – within the SBC.

“My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism,” Page told Baptist Press in August, shortly after he was part of a conference hosted by the Kentucky Baptist Convention to address the Reformed theology debate.

During “Calvinism: Concerned, Confused, or Curious,” held at Crestwood (Ky.) Baptist Church, Page acknowledged a theological divide within the SBC, but insisted Southern Baptists can learn work together peaceably, even if they disagree on Reformed theology.

“We’re talking about and at each other too often,” he said. “When you respect someone, you talk to them.” He added, “If we can do missions and evangelism together … then we can pull this thing together.”

Page’s advisory team consists of pastors, educators and denominational leaders mostly from Southern states, where the debate threatened to reach a fever pitch earlier this summer. Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, is the lone Midwestern representative. Read more.

What do you think? Does the debate over Reformed theology in the SBC warrant an advisory team to study the issue? Will it be beneficial to the convention, and to individual churches?

Other news:

Penn State campus minister blogs to help students
Southern Baptist minister Johnny Pons has directed New Life Fellowship at Penn State University for 22 years, but the 2012-13 school year promises to be different than any other. Scandal has rocked his school since last November, when a revered football coach was accused of child abuse, and several other prominent university leaders appeared to have helped cover it up.

Pons has been blogging this summer at, partly to help the students who are away on vacation to know what to expect when they return. By writing about his personal response, the university’s corporate response, and New Life Fellowship’s ministry response, Pons hopes to help prepare his students for the ministry opportunities he believes this fall will bring.

“I do anticipate more opportunities to talk about several spiritual issues/implications of the scandal,” Pons told the Illinois Baptist. “I think the fall will hold some interesting opportunities, but we need to address them with sensitivity and humility.” Read more about Pons’ ministry at Baptist Press.

Stetzer: The dangers of demonization
In the wake of a shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C., missions leader and LifeWay Vice President Ed Stetzer blogged about the dangers of demonizing people you don’t agree with. “Respectful and civil discussion of the issues is essential. We must be able to disagree without demonizing or labeling as ‘haters’ those with whom we disagree.” He called on members of both sides to study their actions: Groups that support traditional marriage can’t stay silent when members of the LGBT community are bullied or treated violently, and those who support same-sex marriage shouldn’t label the other side as “hate groups.” Read his full blog post at

One billion living without religious liberty
Religious freedom around the globe is “sliding backwards,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as her department released its annual religious liberty report. “More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom,” Clinton said. Eight countries are on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. Read the full story at Baptist Press.

Student Life joins LifeWay family
Student Life, Inc., one of the nation’s largest providers of Christian student conferences, became part of LifeWay Christian Resources in August. The organization’s employees will remain at their headquarters in Birmingham and continue to their identity and conferences, said LifeWay’s Ben Trueblood. “Both of our organizations provide conferences and camps in slightly different ways that meet needs of individual churches and student ministries. Many of those differences won’t change so that we can continue to meet specific needs of individual churches.” Read more at


HEARTLAND | Jim Rahtjen

Editor’s note: Reformed theology in the Southern Baptist Convention became a hot topic earlier this summer, when a group of leaders wrote a statement affirming “traditional” Southern Baptist theology. Columnist Jim Rahtjen explains how he was convicted of his own pride, and convinced that encouraging fellow ministers is more important than judging their views on secondary issues.

John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he is not one of us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:49-50

I had no idea John’s statement and Jesus’ reply would dramatically change my life and ministry, but I’m immensely grateful it did.

I had been preaching through the book of Luke, this was the next passage. The week before, God showed me a mountain of spiritual pride in my life, and this week He would show me it was more like a mountain range.

In Luke 9, the disciples argued among themselves as to who was the greatest (a prideful game that I myself had played in my mind). John changed the subject and told Jesus of the disciples’ efforts to thwart the ministry of this man who was casting out demons but “wasn’t one of us.” Jesus told them to stop hindering him.

What a tragedy! This man had a calling he couldn’t fulfill because the disciples hindered him. The disciples had a calling of their own which they neglected in order to hinder this man.

God showed me myself in this passage when I prepared to preach it. You see, in those days, I defined myself by my theology; consequently, if a brother wasn’t of my theological persuasion, if he “wasn’t one of us,” I’d look down at him with an attitude of superiority. The Lord illustrated this to me the next week as I attended the Southern Baptist Convention.

At the convention, I saw a man who was my mentor in college. He invested deeply in my life teaching me one-on-one how to grow spiritually, have a quiet time, and study and apply the Bible to daily life. He loved Jesus, loved me, and loved to quote his favorite preacher, Charles Spurgeon. I still deeply love this man, see him as a spiritual father and seek his counsel today.

At the convention, I also ran into another mentor who invested in me as I began to serve in ministry. He taught me one-on-one how to faithfully serve as a minister and deepen my spiritual walk. He introduced me personally to Well-known theologians who began to shape my theology. He loved Jesus, loved me, and loved to quote one of his favorite preachers, Charles Spurgeon.

Because of their common investment in my life, and their mutual respect for Charles Spurgeon, I thought it would be great for them to meet. I mentioned to my first mentor that my second mentor was at the convention. I told him about some of the men to whom he had introduced me.

He bristled and asked, “Is he a Calvinist? Are YOU a Calvinist?” And over the next few days, without knowing my mentor, he made several unflattering assumptions about him based solely on a stereotype of Calvinists. I thought, “But you don’t know him. You’d love him. He’s one of us!”

The next day, when I saw my second mentor, he had same reaction in reverse. I told him about my first mentor’s appraisal of Calvinists. He bristled and said, “Oh, don’t tell me he’s an Arminian!” And then he began to make inaccurate assumptions of my mentor, based on a stereotype of Arminians. Again, I thought, “No, you’ve got him all wrong. You’d love this man. He’s a brother!”

My mind went back to the lesson from the passage I had just preached. Rather than encouraging a man, the disciples allowed their bias to get in the way. They saw him as an opponent and tried to hinder him, rather than seeing him as an ally in God’s Kingdom.

From that moment, I asked the Lord to help me to tear down that mountain of pride in my life that causes me to judge a brother by his theology rather than know and encourage him. I came to better understand what Jesus said to John: “Stop hindering him. He who’s not against you is for you.”

Jim Rahtjen is chairman of the IBSA Board of Directors.