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Readers who have followed our blog accounts of the Baptist History Celebration in Charleston this week will know that both Bruce Gourley and I have noted that the meeting has incorporated a diversity of Baptists, but with a distinct Calvinist flavor.

While former Baylor University professor Bill Brackney emphasized that Calvinism is not a monolithic Baptist belief and Wake Forest University divinity school dean Bill Leonard pointed to ways in which Calvinism has adapted to culture and technology, the majority of speakers appeared to assume that Calvinism is normative theology for Baptists.

I was particularly surprised that one speaker didn’t even rank the Calvinist/Arminian (or Particular/General) debate among the top five controversies experienced by Baptists.

Jim Renihan, of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster Seminary in California, led a breakout session on Baptist controversies. He chose five, beginning with a Christological debate among English General Baptists in the 17th century and conflict over hymn-singing among Particular Baptists of the same period, but didn’t mention the bitter antinomian debate among Particular Baptists of the same period.

Renihan discussed the struggle for religious liberty in 18th century America under the rubric of “Baptist theological controversy,” though that conflict is generally seen as between Baptists and the state more so than within Baptist circles. Finally, Renihan pointed to the conflict between northern and southern Baptists in 19th century America and the fundamentalist/modernist debates of the 20th century.

While the last two should probably be in the top three of any list of Baptist controversies, it’s hard to imagine that the long-running Calvinist/Arminian divide could fail to make the same list.

Then again, I suppose the fact that we see could things differently and still speak cordially is one of the clearest signs that we’re truly Baptist.

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