Would Herschel Hobbs have a place in today’s Southern Baptist Convention?
In an article reportedly due out in an upcoming issue of SBC Life, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, dismissed statements like “Election works like this: God voted for you. The devil voted against you. And you cast the deciding vote” as “an inaccurate reflection of biblical revelation.”
Akin did not identify the source of the quote in the article on Calvinism and the SBC, but it is Hobbs, in a sermon preached in 1967 on The Baptist Hour titled “God’s Election Day.”
Hobbs, who died in 1995, was one of the most important Baptist statesmen in the 20th century. Nicknamed “Mr. Southern Baptist,” Hobbs was the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. But will likely be remembered longest for chairing the committee which drafted the Baptist Faith & Message statement of 1963.
Hobbs agreed with the Calvinist tenet of “once saved, always saved,” expressed in Article 5: “All true believers endure to the end.”
But Hobbs did not agree with Calvinist doctrines of “unconditional election” and “irresistible grace.” He believed God’s purpose in election was not to save only a few but as many as possible. He thought man’s nature was only “inclined” toward, and not in “bondage” to, sin and felt the only limitation in who is saved is man’s choice and not God’s decision.
In their book Baptist Theologians, Timothy George and David Dockery observe, “It is quite possible that Hobbs is largely responsible for moving Baptists away from their Calvinistic foundational doctrines to a more semi-Pelagian view known as Arminianism.”
Named after a British monk who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in the fifth century, Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is capable of choosing good or evil without divine help.
Arminianism, named after Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, who died in 1609, is the belief that God has given man the choice to accept or reject salvation. It was his response to John Calvin’s doctrine of Predestination, that God ordains for some people to be save and others damned.
For the most part, Southern Baptist consensus developed around some Calvinism notions, such as once-saved-always-saved, while differing on other points, such as whether Jesus’ death was for everyone or only the elect, whether all people are capable of accepting Christ or only those whom God prompts to do so, and whether God’s “elect” must be saved or still have free will to reject God’s purpose.
A more recent front in the sovereignty vs. free will debate is “open theism,” a position that says in order for free will to be truly free, the future choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. Opponents to the view say it limits God’s “omniscience,” meaning God knows all things.
The Southern Baptist Convention attempted to settle the matter when it revised the Baptist Faith & Message in 2000, adding a sentence to the 1963 version that “God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.”
“Pelagianians, Arminians and Open Theists will not find a home in our Southern Baptist family,” Akin wrote in his article. “We will love them while also disagreeing with them.”
Tom Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries, an organization that believes the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were five-point Calvinists and advocating a return to those roots, applauded that line “a wonderful statement” that “begs for further definition.”
“These three theological views need to be explained,” Ascol wrote in a Sunday blog. “Once they are, I fear that we will find more of their proponents within our borders than we dare to imagine. Where they do exist, or where such teachings even inadvertently appear, they should be exposed and renounced, REGARDLESS OF WHO IT IS THAT ESPOUSES THEM.”
Unlike some people, Akin said, he does not believe debate over Calvinism vs. free will threatens to split the Southern Baptist Convention, but he called for people on both sides to “tone down the rhetoric.”
Akin urged ministers to “act with personal integrity in your ministry” when dealing with the issue of Calvinism. “Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty,” he wrote. “If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone.”
“If a person is strongly committed to five-point Calvinism then he should be honest and transparent about that when talking to a church search committee,” Akin said. “He should not hide behind statements like ‘I am a historic Baptist.’ That statement basically says very little if anything and it is less than forthcoming. Be honest and completely so. If it is determined you are not a good fit for that congregation, rejoice in the sovereign providence of God and trust Him to place you in a ministry assignment that is a good fit. God will honor such integrity.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.