Lifeway: 10% of SBC pastors are 5 Point Calvinists

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[9/19/06 EDIT: A friend from LifeWay contacted me today to let me know about the availability of a brief podcast with Dr. Waggoner regarding this research project as well as other research projects in the works. He even gives a “60 second overview” of Calvinism that is actually very good. It is certainly better than what is often presented. Dr. Waggoner makes the point that LifeWay wants to be on the cutting edge the things that are being discussed in our denomination as well as in evangelicalism in general. After discussing some of the plans with my friend and listening to the podcast, I am very encourged with potential good that LifeWay Research can do in helping pastors and churches understand various trends and tendencies that affect us all. You can access the podcast from the LifeWay news page. Click the podcast button.]

According to Baptist Press, a recent study by Lifeway Research, one out of every 10 Southern Baptist pastors considers himself a 5-Point Calvinist.The research also found that 85% do not consider themselves Calvinists while 4% do not know if they are or not. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that that latter group aren’t either.

Brad Waggoner, director of Lifeway Research said that the study found that, contrary to popular opinion that the resurgence of the doctrines of grace is a young man’s movement, “there is no significant statistical difference in those who are over 40 years of age responding in the affirmative and those under 40. Therefore, age is not a determining factor in those who embrace Reformed theology.” I find this interesting, as well. The recent Christianity Today cover story suggests otherwise. Also, most of the anecdotal evidence indicates that the rising generation of evangelicals is more inclined toward reformed theology than those in the recent past.

I would be quite pleased to discover that one’s age is not a factor in the theology he espouses. There are certain measurable realities, however, that would lead one to expect that more ministers being trained today in our seminaries would be Calvinistic than would have been the case 30 years ago. One of those realities is the fact that we now have more professors in our seminaries who understand and appreciate the reformation heritage of our Baptist faith. Only a few decades ago it was not uncommon to find seminary and college professors who were largely unware of the Calvinistic foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Consequently, those reformed roots were often overlooked when teaching Baptist history and theology. I well remember when it was common to hear the charge, “Southern Baptists have never been Calvinistic.” With every new republication old books and articles, however, those claims became exposed as unfounded.

Another factor that leads me to believe that today’s students would more likely be Calvinistic than previous generations is the breakdown of Southern Baptist sectarianism that we have witnessed over the last 30 years. For example, in the 1970s very few Southern Baptists were members of the Evangelical Theological Society. Today Southern Baptists are well represented in that organization. Interaction with the broader evangelical world has made Southern Baptists more aware of helpful writers and teachers who are not part of our own denomination. Men like John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper and Iain Murray have been favorably introduced to Southern Baptists and their ministries have challenged many to look more favorably on reformed theology. In fact, one seminary dean told me 5 years ago that more and more students are showing up with reformed commitments already firmly in place.

The BP story also reports this interesting tidbit:

LifeWay Research also found that a slight majority (51 percent) of Southern Baptist pastors address Calvinism from the pulpit once a year or less, while 45 percent of SBC pastors address Calvinism several times a year or more from the pulpit. Four percent refused to answer the question regarding the frequency with which they address Calvinism from the pulpit.

I would guess that there are more Calvinist pastors in the first group than in the second. One common misconception is that a pastor who is committed to the doctrines of grace is regularly ringing five bells from his pulpit. A pastoral intern in our church disappointed a former classmate of his when he was asked what it was like to be in a church “where Calvinism is preached all the time.” The intern honestly replied, “I don’t know. In the four months that I have been here, all I have heard have expositions, mostly from the book of Ephesians.”

As has been demonstrated on this blog and many others, what seems to be far more common is for Calvinism to be attacked from the pulpits of those who fear it, do not understand it, or vociferously oppose it. Too often when that has been done, the doctrines of grace have been caricatured and then dismissed as heretical. In this new information age, a pastor does that at his own peril. Thirty years ago, men could get away with making outlandish statements about what Calvinism is and what specific Calvinists have believed and taught. Today, with a reliable internet connection and google, those claims can be checked out very easily. Sometimes, when a check is made and claims are discovered to be inaccurate, the making known of that fact draws the accusation of “impertinence.” Though a haughty spirit can rightly deserve that label, there is nothing impertinent in exposing error with truth.

I am grateful to Lifeway for conducting this research. I hope they will do it again in 5 years, because the return to the historic faith of our Southern Baptist founders is growing. John Broadus referred to “that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism, which compels an earnest student to profound thinking, and when pursued with a combination of systematic thought and fervent experience, makes him at home among the most inspiring and ennobling views of God and the universe He has made.” This biblical system of truth is being seen by more and Southern Baptists who take the Word of God seriously. By God’s grace, that trend will continue and increase.

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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