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.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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