Danny Akin on Southern Baptists and Calvinism

Joe Thorn has reported that the April issue of SBC Life will feature an article by Dr. Daniel Akin on Calvinism in the SBC. The article can be downloaded here (provided you wait for the countdown at the bottom of the screen). Joe’s interaction with the article is well worth reading.

Akin, who is President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, gives a fairly balanced treatment of the issues at stake as the concern Calvinism proper. He does not mention that the founders of the SBC all came from churches and associations that affirmed the so-called “five points,” but he does acknowledge that “many wonderful and significant Baptists in the past” were of this persuasion. He lists “William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, John L. Dagg, Basil Manly Jr. and James Boyce as examples.”

He also gives a summary of the five points. I have seen such summaries so often caricatured beyond recognition that it is very encouraging to find them treated responsibly and with historical sensitivity. Akin acknowledges that he is unconvinced of “limited atonement” as it is understood to affirm the particular redemptive work of Christ. However, in a wonderfully refreshing admission that “all Bible believers limit the atonement in some way,” Akin warns that a failure to have some kind of limitation necessarily leads to universalism.

He prefers to locate the limitation “in its application, not its provision.” Classical reformed teaching locates in the intention and not merely in the application. He offers his observation in hopes that it may “foster some rapprochement” among those who views these matters differently. It is a helpful approach. One wonders if Akin would be comfortable with the language that describes the atonement as being sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect. Another way to speak of the inevitability of limiting the atonement in some sense is to see it as being limited either in its scope or in its power. This fits with James Boyce’s teaching as well as with John Owen’s.

Akin’s primary purpose in writing is to encourage healthy, humble dialogue on what tends to be a divisive and incendiary topic. He cites examples of what he considers unbalanced language that does not help this kind of approach. Without attaching names to various quotes he suggests that comments like, “Jesus was a Calvinist,” “Calvinism is the gospel” and “election works like this: God voted for yo. The devil voted against you. And you cast the deciding vote” should be resisted. Of course, at least in those three examples, real names can be placed with the quotes. For your convenience, I will do so. These statements were made by John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon and Hershel Hobbs, respectively.

One final comment on Akin’s article: he writes, “Recognize that our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a well constructed canopy under which varying perspectives on this issue can peacefully and helpfully co-exist. Pelagians, Arminians and Open Theists will not find a home in our Southern Baptist family” (emphasis added). This last sentence is a wonderful statement and begs for further definition. These three theological views need to be explained. 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.

Pray that this article will point the way forward for helpful theological reflection and dialog among Southern Baptists.