The Beginnings of Reformation in The Southern Baptist Convention

Chapter Three

The Beginnings of Reformation inThe Southern Baptist Convention:

The Rise of the Founders Movement


The Reasons for Our Hope

In Chapter 2, we offered our diagnosis of the problem with American evangelicalism: It is sick and dying because it has abandoned its Calvinistic foundations. Our prescription for a cure is that our churches return to the old paths from whence they drifted.

We have reasons to hope for a full recovery.

In the first place, Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism. Obviously the future of Christianity itself is not in doubt, for our Lord declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s church. And yet we should be quick to acknowledge, of course, that God is not obligated to keep his church existent in America. In God’s sovereign providence, Christianity has been wiped out of other cultures over the centuries of its history. Still, we have hope for revival because our hope is in the God who revives. The same God who opened our own eyes can open the eyes of others.

In the second place, despite evangelicalism’s turmoil, there remain true Christians present in America. Wherever true Christians exist, hope for revival must also exist. For whoever believes in God’s redemption through Christ and recognizes his own utter dependence on God, whoever recognizes that salvation is of the Lord, whoever seeks to glorify God in his worship and life, that person is already implicitly a Calvinist, no matter what he calls himself. In such circumstances, to make the person an explicit Calvinist, all we are required to do (humanly speaking) is to show the believer the natural implications of these already-held fundamental principles, which underlie all true Christianity, and trust God to do his work, that is, trust God to reveal these implications to the person.

In the third place, across denomination boundaries, God has been pleased to open many formerly blinded eyes to the truth and light of the doctrines of grace. In these days, the old paths are being trodden afresh. Interest in the writings of the Puritans, the theology of Jonathan Edwards, and the preaching of Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, has increased exponentially. Undoubtedly, access to historical and contemporary treatments of the doctrines of grace on the Internet has something to do with this. In the last ten years, at least, God has used the Internet to do more to bring exposure to historical reformed theology than anything else. It is not an exaggeration to say that for this generation, it represents what the Banner of Truth Trust was for the last – the vehicle by which mass exposure is brought to the teachings of those spiritual giants who walked before us.

Narrowing the focus to our own Southern Baptist Convention, God has used mightily the work of the Founders Movement to bring about widespread exposure to and acceptance of the doctrines of grace. This chapter describes the rise of the Founders Movement. It endeavors to explain what we pray is only the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of a massive movement of God toward the glorious work of local church reformation.

The Starting Place

What is now known as the Founders Movement can be traced back to a simple idea in the mind of a single Florida pastor in the late 1970s. Ernest Reisinger was the senior pastor of North Pompano Baptist Church, a small SBC church in North Pompano Beach, Florida. Reisinger did not think to begin a Southern Baptist reform movement. Instead, he had a much smaller vision in mind – to republish an old Baptist systematic theology and send a copy to every graduating Southern Baptist seminary student.

By God’s providence, Reisinger was the right man in the right place at the right time. He had come to the ordained ministry late in life. For over twenty years, he had owned and operated a successful contracting business in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There, he had also been a founding elder of Grace Baptist Church, which by the 1960s had become the flagship reformed Baptist church in America. Thus, Reisinger had long held to the doctrines of grace. In fact, he had been instrumental in leading many others in the broader evangelical world to appreciate and love these doctrines. Reisinger also understood the power of sound literature. He had served for a number of years as a trustee of the Banner of Truth Trust, the premier publishing house of reformed theology and Puritan reprints. Through his lay preaching ministry and other personal contacts, he had influenced countless numbers of men and women to discover for themselves the deeper truths of the doctrines of grace. Then, after retiring from the contracting business in 1966, Reisinger was ordained to the gospel ministry and served several churches in Pennsylvania and Florida. He had retired to Cape Coral, Florida, he thought for the last time, when, in 1976, God called him to his greatest work.

Reisinger was summoned out of retirement to rejuvenate a virtually lifeless North Pompano Baptist Church. He had begun a reform work there, and was beginning to see significant fruit in the congregation. Some of his work in that church is described in his own words in the next chapter.

Although busy with the local church reform work at North Pompano, Reisinger also longed for spiritual renewal and reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole. Reisinger had a deep love for the SBC. Although he was sometimes accused of not being a “real Southern Baptist” since he had spent a number of years in an independent Reformed Baptist church; this charge was inaccurate. Reisinger’s baptism was in a Southern Baptist church and the first church he joined after his conversion was a Southern Baptist church (First Baptist of Havre de Grace, Maryland). Thus, Reisinger wanted to give something back to his home denomination. Frustrated with the liberal bent of the convention in the 1970s, he enlisted the support of his church to launch what he called the “Boyce Project.”

The “Boyce Project” was to republish Abstract of Systematic Theology by James Petigru Boyce, the primary founder and first theology teacher of the first Southern Baptist seminary. The goal was to distribute Boyce’s Abstract to every student graduating from the six official Southern Baptist seminaries and a few more.

Reisinger, his associate pastor Fred Malone, and the North Pompano church, began the Boyce Project for several reasons.

First, they believed the project would bear fruit for God in the whole Southern Baptist Convention. They believed that the Southern Baptist founding fathers had a grasp of God’s truth which they longed to see taught and proclaimed in our day. They longed for the faith of our fathers, the Biblical faith that would strengthen evangelism and holiness in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Second, at the time they started the project, Reisinger could not, in good conscience, lead his church to give large sums of money to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. He believed that, in that time period, the convention was out of step with orthodoxy itself, not to mention the Reformed theology of James P. Boyce, so much so that he could not allow the church to contribute heavily to its causes. Theological liberalism was rampant in the convention’s leadership and agencies, and the conservative resurgence that has now brought the convention back from the brink of ruin had not yet begun. Hence, he saw the project as “cooperating” in a different fashion – by contributing to the theological development of young ministerial students and exposing them to the doctrines of grace believed and loved by our Baptist forefathers.

Why Boyce? James Petigru Boyce was the leading founder for organized theological education in the Southern Baptist Convention. Born in 1827 to a wealthy South Carolina family, Boyce was converted during his college years at Brown University under the influence of Francis Wayland. Boyce received his theological education at Princeton Theological Seminary, under the sound tutelage of Archibald Alexander, James Alexander and Charles Hodge.

For a time, Boyce struggled with the issues of Calvinism, resenting the suggestion that the doctrine of election was a reflection of the goodness of God. One of his former students, David Ramsey, called this the deepest soul struggle that this young Charlestonian had in the formative period of his life. But Boyce met and conquered his enemies through faith, and the reward of victory shone forth in all his thinking and teaching.

His famous sermon, “Three Changes in Theological Education,” his inaugural address as a professor at Furman University, sounded the clarion call for an educational emphasis in Southern Baptist life.

Along with Basil Manly and John Broadus, Boyce founded The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC’s mother seminary. He served as its first president and contributed much of his personal fortune to its continued existence at a time when its future was very much in doubt. Hence, even in the era when the convention had been captured by the liberal element, Boyce was revered as the founder of Southern Baptist theological education. As Roy Honeycutt (later president of Southern Seminary and no sympathizer to Calvinism) wrote in a 1979 letter to Reisinger, “We owe our existence as a seminary to [Boyce], and the entire Convention is indebted to him for the significant contribution he made in instituting theological education at the seminary level among Southern Baptists.”

Boyce was not afraid to be found on the “old paths.” His beliefs and his teaching were decidedly Calvinistic. He believed what his friend Charles Spurgeon said about that doctrine: “That doctrine which is called ‘Calvinism’ did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine. Augustine obtained his views, without doubt, through the Holy Spirit of God, from the diligent study of the writings of Paul, and Paul received them of the Holy Ghost, from Jesus Christ, the great founder of the Christian dispensation.”

In the classroom, Boyce’s earlier struggles with Calvinism made him sympathetic to the struggles of his students. Ramsey recalled: “Sometimes in the class discussions a Newfoundland fog would settle over us, but through the darkness there was ever one gleam of light; Boyce’s face with his great blue eyes shining on. Memory wings its way back across the years. I see Dr. Boyce in the old Fourth Avenue lecture room the last day of the class, which was the last time I ever saw him. I left him there. Also I left many of my doubts and difficulties on the same spot. My religious life, I trust, has expanded, my creed grown shorter and deeper, but like the face of a young man whom I know whose characteristic features are practically the same as they were at two years of age, only grown more mature, so has my creed on Calvinism and free grace.” E.E. Folk also commented on Boyce: “He was a great teacher. He could get more hard, solid study out of a boy than any teacher whose classes we ever had the privilege of attending, with possibly one or two exceptions. You had to know your systematic theology, or you could recite it to Dr. Boyce. And though the young men were generally rank Arminians when they came to the seminary, few went through this course under him without being converted to his strong Calvinistic views.”

Boyce’s legacy is the biblical theology expressed in the Abstract of Systematic Theology. Created from his classroom notes, the final revision was completed in 1887. Boyce never considered the Abstract to be a masterpiece for the learned, but he envisioned it as a practical textbook for students and pastors. The famed Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield said about Boyce’s Abstract:

In the selection and ordering of the matter, in the proportion of its distribution, and in the method of its presentation, the same fine judgment is displayed which has governed his theological conceptions themselves…. The result is that he has given us a textbook which we are glad to place on the same shelf with ours Drs. A.A. Hodge, Dabney, and Smith, and with his Dr. Strong, as another admirable compend of Augustinian theology.

Reisinger and Malone wrote a publisher’s introduction to the reprint of Abstract of Systematic Theology, in which they made a strong appeal for the theology of Boyce and the founding fathers of Southern Seminary. The following extract from the introduction provides a flavor of Boyce’s character:

Boyce’s Christian Character

There are several incidents which related how Boyce’s character as a man and a Christian gave great weight to his influence and teaching.

During one of John Broadus’ illnesses, Boyce personally paid for a trip for him to get rest. Arriving at the hotel, Broadus was too ill to climb the stairs to his room. Dr. Boyce then lifted his colleague into his arms and bodily carried him to his room. Broadus said, “He seemed strong like a giant, and he was tender as a woman.” Such was his manhood….

One of the highest tributes was paid to Dr. Boyce when a student returned to Southern after several years interval. When asked why he returned, he said, “I want to attend Systematic Theology and hear Dr. Boyce pray.” There cannot be a greater complement to a teacher of theology….

Boyce’s Legacy and Message Today

Dr. Boyce founded the first Southern Baptist Seminary in 1859 along with John A. Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr. and William Williams. At its founding the seminary rang out a theological clarity that we pray this reprinted Abstract of Systematic Theology will help preserve and ring out still to the present generation. This is the faith of our Baptist fathers which we believe is still the Biblical faith for their children. May God grant it a thorough reading today.

Boyce was reared in a Calvinistic atmosphere and also immersed in the doctrines of grace that dominated Princeton Theological Seminary where he entered as a student in 1849. At Princeton, he was taught and influenced by some of the leading theologians such as Charles Hodge and Archibald [Alexander]….

Boyce’s close friend and fellow founder of the seminary, John A. Broadus, expressed his own feelings about the theology of Boyce which we call Calvinism: “It was a great privilege to be directed and up borne by such a teacher in studying 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.”

…. The board of trustees, in its first meeting after Dr. Boyce’s home going, expressed their sense of deep loss, calling him “the father of the great institution over which he presided. Identified with it from the beginning, he gave the whole of his noble life to it. Without his sagacious counsels, his heroic exertions and his sublime self-sacrifice, the institution could not have survived its trials. The seminary is his monument, and a blessed memorial to him is written in the hearts of the people of God.” What a fitting tribute this was to one who said, “The seminary is my child.”

His life’s teaching was the theology of John Bunyan, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, George Whitefield (the greatest evangelist that ever put foot on American soil), Jonathan Edwards, William Carey and Adoniram Judson, great Baptist missionaries. Boyce had such a respect for Charles Spurgeon that he visited him in England during the last year of his life in 1888. His daughter records that Spurgeon asked Dr. Boyce to speak at his Pastor’s College, but he declined. She said that her father literally trembled and became short of breath because of being in Spurgeon’s presence. Such was his love and respect of Spurgeon, that after the meeting he told his daughter, “Compared to him, I have done nothing.”

Dr. Boyce’s legacy to us and to our posterity is the biblical theology expressed in the Abstract of Systematic Theology, which is nothing other than his classroom teaching…. According to Mueller, he always considered it not to be a masterpiece for the learned but a practical textbook for students and pastors without seminary training. This is its great value for today, profound enough for the seminarian, simple enough for the layman…

As a theologian Dr. Boyce is not afraid to be found ‘in the old paths’. He is conservative, and eminently Scriptural. He treats with great fairness those whose views upon various points discussed he declines to accept, yet in his own teaching is decidedly Calvinistic, after the model of ‘the old divines’. Difficulties as connected with such doctrines as the federal headship of Adam, election and the atonement he aims to meet, not so as to silence the controversialist, but so as to help the honest inquirer. (Quoting The Standard of Chicago).

In their introduction to the republished work, Reisinger and Malone expressed their prayerful desire that Boyce’s Abstract would obtain a wide distribution and that its reading would provide a catalyst for change in Southern Baptist pulpits and pews. Their hope was that a discovery of the theology of Boyce would cause pastors and leaders to change the man-centered evangelism so characteristic of our day to the God-centered evangelism of Boyce and the founders. They fervently believed this was the greatest need in twentieth-century evangelism:

Many a life has been changed by one book. And we want to say again, that the views that Boyce taught are not some strange, new theological opinion that comes racing on the contemporary scene, but it is that of our first founding fathers; the founding fathers of the first Southern Baptist Seminary….

And we long to see those doctrines that Boyce taught, that our founding fathers believed, that Spurgeon, Bunyan, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards preached, we long to see those truths thunder through America and through our Baptist churches. This is our desire; this is our motive; this is our longing prayer that God would be pleased to own this work to the glory of His great and holy name, and to the good of His church.

Publishing the Boyce volume required massive effort and sacrifice by the small North Pompano church. Reisinger and the den Dulk Christian Foundation planned and proposed the project. However, it was the church members that carried it. Many in the congregation made a real financial sacrifice to fund the project. Elderly ladies would purchase one book each month from their social security checks to give to a seminary student.

After the Boyce volumes were reprinted, Reisinger wrote to the six presidents of the Southern Baptist seminaries asking permission to visit their campuses and present the book to graduating students. At some seminaries, he spoke in the chapel service.

In the 1978-1979 school year alone, the North Pompano Baptist Church distributed over 2,000 copies of Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology. By the end of 1980, the church had distributed over 5,000 copies of Boyce’s book, and Reisinger and Malone had received hundreds of encouraging letters from the graduates who received them. They continued the project in 1981, giving away over 1500 copies that year. All in all, the church ended up republishing and distributing over 12,000 copies of the Abstract of Systematic Theology.

As Reisinger and Malone distributed Boyce volumes, they wrote to each seminary graduate who received a copy of Boyce’s Abstract:

I am writing this letter to take a little survey of opinions on a few of the chapters in Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology. For your cooperation in this survey, we will send you a free copy of the Old Baptist Confession of 1689, later adopted by the Philadelphia Association out of which the Southern Baptists came.

The questions:

      1. Do you believe that Dr. Boyce is biblically correct in his chapter on Effectual Calling (Chapter XXI – page 367)?
      2. Do you think his view of the Doctrine of Election is the biblical teaching (Chapter XXIX – page 341)?
      3. In Chapter XXVIII – page 295, Dr. Boyce sets forth several views of the Atonement. Which view do you believe to be the biblical view?
      4. Please comment on Chapter XII – page 106 – the will of God.

Reisinger never dreamed that the Boyce Project would become the unlikely spark that God used to ignite a fire of reformation in a number of Southern Baptist churches. Through the distribution of Boyce’s Abstract, the reformation fire was spread from pastor to pastor, member to member, one person at a time. It was God who opened the eyes of those who truly saw for the first time. This is illustrated by the following letter, written by Don Whitney, a student at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in 1979 and now a professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary and leader in the Founders’ Movement:

Late in April 1979, I was walking through the Student Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX. A man with a box of books at his feet asked if I were graduating next month. When I told him I was, he offered a copy of the book, provided I simply read a few specific pages and responded in writing to the sheet of accompanying questions. I paused, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to complete that assignment during the last week of school, but finally agreed on the condition that I could fulfill their request in a few weeks. Later that day, back in my apartment in Irving, I placed my new copy of James P. Boyce’s systematic theology on a bookshelf. I can still see it pulled halfway out of the shelf, my self-reminder to keep my word about the reading and responding.

Sometime during the summer I found the time to take down the book and read the section selected for me. Out of sheer obligation I finished the pages and dutifully wrote my answers to the questions. The heart of my response was: “Thank you for the book. But Boyce’s views in this passage cannot be true, for if he is right then there’s no such thing as free will. (“And,” I implied, “everyone knows that we all have a free will.”)

In January of 1980 I assumed my first pastorate, a country church near Arkadelphia, AR. Shortly thereafter I began preaching through the book of John in the morning and Ephesians in the evening. By the time I got to Ephesians 1:4 I had to deal with the subject of election. I decided to check everything I could find in my library on the subject. I remember locating twenty-nine different sources which dealt with the issue, from commentaries to systematic theologies, including the book by Boyce. As I read, a change began to come over my thinking. Previously I had believed that the doctrine of election was either true or false. Now I realized that was a false dichotomy. EVERYONE I read believed that the Bible taught election, they simply differed on what it taught. It dawned upon me that, after all, “election” is a Bible word, not a word developed by theologians.

My second encounter with Boyce was read with new eyes. This confrontation with the Scriptures on the subject, and the arguments of men such as Spurgeon and Boyce, shattered my preconceived ideas about and prejudices against the sweet doctrine of God’s sovereignty in choosing whom He will to salvation.

For the first time in my life I think I understood grace. I thought back to my conversion at age nine. When I was six I had a long illness which could have killed me, and was nearly run over by a car at age seven. I realized that had not the Lord spared my life, and then drawn me to Himself, I would have been at that moment a young boy in Hell and deserving to be there. Previously I would have thought as many do (though no one would be crass enough to say it) that, “Yes, the Lord saved me, but at least I had enough sense to know what to do when I heard the Gospel.” Now I realized that I had contributed nothing to my salvation but my sin, and that God had no obligation to save me or even to allow me to hear the Gospel. I had nothing to offer Him, no claim upon Him. He saved me purely out of His sweet sovereign grace and mercy.

I put my head down on my desk that February morning in 1981, and sobbed convulsively over my sin, presumption, foolishness, and the wondrous, free grace of God.

Another Southern Baptist theologian also recognized the importance of the Boyce Project and the part it played in re-introducing Calvinism to Southern Baptist life. In 1982, Dr. James Leo Garrett told a class of students at Southwestern Seminary:

Now, I want today…to introduce some sub-types of Southern Baptist Theology. There are some movements that seem to be on the horizon…. Now, I call these sub-types because I am assuming (this may be a faulty assumption), but I am assuming that not one of these can really claim to be the majority belief of all 13 million Southern Baptists…these are minority movements, or they are sub-categories; they are movements or they are teachings that have surfaced in Southern Baptist life enough that you can see them and detect them, but you may not know where they are going from here.

Dr. Garrett went on to discuss five movements within the Convention: (1) the Charismatic Movement; (2) Dispensationalism; (3) the Biblical Inerrancy Movement; (4) The Keswick Movement; (5) the Calvinistic Movement. This is what Dr. Garrett had to say about our Baptist Calvinistic roots:

Fifth: The Calvinistic Movement. Now, this is a movement that asserts the truth and the viability of the strong Calvinism that we can find in our Southern Baptist past and our English past. It is an affirmation of strong Calvinism that we can find in our Southern Baptist past and our English Baptist past. It is in a sense an effort to recapture the Calvinism that has been lost in the last three quarters of the century, or so, and to cover this involves a new emphasis on the writings of John L. Dagg and James P. Boyce and of the 1644 and 1689 Particular Baptist Confessions of Faith. The North Pompano Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, of which Ernest Reisinger is the pastor, now offers to give a copy of James P. Boyce Abstract Of Systematic Theology to every graduate of the six Southern Baptist Convention Seminaries and to Mid-America and Luther Rice Seminary graduates. So, when you graduate here, all you have to do is go by and sign your name and you’ll get a free copy of Boyce, thanks to the North Pompano Baptist Church of Pompano Beach, Florida.

Now, I would like to say that there is one difference that I can see between the neo-Calvinist movement and the other four. You may want to disagree with this, and that’s all right. I believe that it differs from the other four in that it can more widely claim endemic to the Baptist past, the Baptist heritage and teachings of the past, than can the other four. What I am saying is that whether we want to be Calvinists or not, today, any serious study of our Baptist past must acknowledge that Baptists have been Calvinists. To distort that is to distort the records, it seems to me. So what I am saying is that: it seems to me that the neo-Calvinist movement is able to say, “we are recovering part of our Baptist past” in a way that the charismatic movement cannot say, because the charismatic movement represents something that is not endemic to the Baptist past, that has not been a common practice in Baptist churches through the years, and not been a teaching that has prevailed…. [I]t is not a part of the Baptist past the way the Calvinistic doctrine is. So I think I can draw that one distinction and be relatively fair in that assessment, and that dispensationalism as well is not endemic to the Baptist past in the same way that this new Reformed or Calvinistic [is]. I don’t mean to suggest by that, that therefore it is valid and the other four not, in some kind of sweeping statement. I am simply making that observation.

As he traveled to the various Southern Baptist seminaries presenting Boyce’s Abstract to students, Reisinger was permitted to speak in chapel only at New Orleans Seminary and Golden Gate Seminary. Although speaking to students in chapel at Southern, Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries was out of the question, the Boyce Project, at least initially, received a warm reception from the presidents of those institutions – men who were on the other side of the inerrancy controversy. For example, Russell Dilday, then-president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary, wrote to Reisinger:

Thank you again for what your church is doing in helping seminary students get acquainted with some of the classical books of theological expression. I have particularly enjoyed the David M. Ramsey’s Founders Day address at Southern on Dr. Boyce. Thank you for your interest and help. Our students certainly appreciate the generous gift.


Russell Dilday

This warm reception soon cooled, however, as the seminary presidents began to understand the nature of Boyce’s theology. One student told Reisinger that, as a result of the Boyce book, “You can hear discussions of Calvinism in the parking lot.” Dilday soon barred Reisinger from distributing Boyce’s Abstract on the Southwestern campus.

In contrast, Paige Patterson, then-president of Criswell College, received the book warmly. He not only graciously offered to distribute the book during graduation exercises, held as part of the regular Sunday evening worship service of First Baptist Church of Dallas, which guaranteed the book exposure to 30,000 to 40,000 people (including radio audience), but he also invited Reisinger to speak at a chapel service and ensured that the book was sold through the Criswell Center bookstore on a regular basis. George Davis, chairman of the chapel committee, took some books with him to distribute on mission trips to rural parts of the country.

Patterson had a deep appreciation for the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. He wrote his dissertation on John L. Dagg and, at Reisinger’s request, wrote the following introduction to the reprint of Dagg’s Manual of Theology:

Periodically, the work of a seminal thinker who influenced his own generation will burst, like a long dormant volcano, upon another generation with renewed vitality. The present treatise on theology by John Leadley Dagg was pivotal among Baptists in the South in its own era. Dagg’s works represented the first full system of theology prepared by a Baptist in America, including monographs on theology, ecclesiology, ethics, and apologetics. The sociological ferment of the Civil War and reconstruction periods produced an eclipse of the work of this former president of Mercer University in Georgia.

In a day when many are searching for their ‘roots,’ Baptists need to rediscover their own heritage. For this reason, many will greet the republication of Dagg’s theology and ecclesiology as the harbinger of a new day. If one wishes to know what most Baptists believed during the formative days of the Southern Baptist Convention, he will discover it in this volume. With remarkable insight, John Leadley Dagg – pastor, theologian, evangelist, teacher and college president – presents the essay of biblical truth in a thoroughly readable, yet scholarly presentation.

The indefatigable spirit of this early Baptist thinker, who suffered numerous physical reversals, glows with experiential insight into the crucial doctrines honored by Baptists everywhere. Every pastor, professor, and seminary student should avail himself of the opportunity to become acquainted with one of the most sublime of our Baptist fathers.

Although Patterson obviously admired Dagg, it soon become obvious to Reisinger that Patterson did not hold to Dagg’s theology. Reisinger wrote Patterson on May 5, 1981:

Paige, as you know, I am with you 100% on the battle of inerrancy. However, my concern goes one step farther, that is, What does this infallible Bible say? What does this infallible Bible mean, that is, what does it teach? – and, How does it apply to those to whom I preach?

They had several vigorous exchanges on the extent of the atonement. On September 10, 1981, Patterson wrote:

It would be inappropriate and dishonest for me to deny that Dr. [Tom] Nettles and Ernest Reisinger are more Calvinistically turned than I am. You would be correct in your assumption that I would reject the concept of a limited atonement as it is most frequently defined in Calvinistic theology, and would even want to be sure I heard the definitions on three others of the traditional points of Calvinism. However, if the two poles under consideration are Calvinism and Arminianism, I am certainly far more Calvinistic than anything else. As your letter would indicate, you doubtless have found the seat of my reticence about much of contemporary Calvinism, i.e., its tendency to foster a stifling of world missions and evangelism. Of course, I am not so naive as to believe the two are necessary concomitants, only that they have too frequently found a home together.

…I am just grateful to God that those of us who do have a thorough belief in the sovereignty of God, unshakable confidence that salvation is all of God’s grace, and a quiet confidence that God has revealed Himself propositionally through the pages of the Bible as well as in a living way through Christ are able to get along together victoriously even when we may be somewhat at odds in some of the details. I would hope that process would continue.

…There has never been the slightest feeling on our part that you nor Dr. Nettles nor any of the other precious saints of the Lord that we know in our Baptist fellowship are anything other than compassionate and industrious in your search for the souls of lost men. Consequently, you are always welcome here and, in fact, we desire your fellowship and presence.

On February 17, 1982, he wrote:

It is apparent that we differ some in regard to soteriological matters – at least regarding the order of events in soteriology. What does concern me even more greatly, however, is that we are going to eventually forfeit the Southern Baptist Convention as a forum for the discussion of differences among people who have no questions about the total truthfulness of the Bible unless we stay together. I see the possibility of a rift developing between Bible-believing conservatives over the question of the extent of the commitments to Calvinistic theology. If we allow the rift to take place at this stage of the game, I am convinced that it could be all the detractors of the Bible need to wreck our effort to establish the source of truth among Baptists.

I am certain that you have no more desire to see this happen than I, but I want us always to keep before us the importance of staying together until we can win this primary battle concerning the authority of the Word of God.

Some years later, on August 21, 1995, Patterson, by this time president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, reiterated in correspondence to Reisinger that “the liberals would love to see a division among us and are actively promoting it…. Let’s be sure we don’t give them an opening.”

Reisinger heartily agreed that conservatives had to stay together to stave off the liberals in the Convention. He repeatedly told Paige Patterson, Adrian Rogers, Paul Pressler and other leaders of the conservative resurgence that the Calvinists in the convention identified with and supported the conservatives in the inerrancy battle. He recognized that the liberals would have loved to see a division among conservatives, and he was determined not to allow that to happen. Tom Nettles, professor of church history at Southern Baptist Seminary, and Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, likewise stated that they would hate to see those who hold common views on the nature of the biblical revelation censure one another over the differing views of grace. After all, if the whole house is on fire, what good is there in arguing over which room one should sit in?

At the same time, there could be no mistaking an overtone of hostility against Calvinism on the part of some conservative leaders. Paige Patterson had these words to say about John Calvin in a May 10, 1982 letter to Reisinger:

I deeply resent ever being called by the name of a man who baptized babies, thought he found the Church in the Old Testament, and thought nothing of his failure to rescue Servetus from the flames when a word from him would have been sufficient.”

He explained that his strong words stemmed from his belief that acceptance of the doctrines of grace lead to apathy toward evangelism:

We have severe difficulties with some of the student disciples of the Calvinists that we do have on the faculty [of Criswell College] who now eschew evangelism and, in two cases, have even left Baptist churches to go into ‘covenant congregations.’ I will not be party to anything that seeks to deter our young preachers from the stated task of reaching the 4 billion people on the face of the globe with the gospel.”

Reisinger responded on May 20, 1982 with the mild statement that “all true Christians are Calvinists on their knees.” He told Patterson that “the only people who do not believe in limited atonement in its application are Universalists.” He again responded on June 16, 1982, graciously acknowledging that a combination of heavenly zeal, true piety and sound doctrine, joined with biblical evangelism, such as that seen in Calvinists Bunyan, Spurgeon, Whitefield, and Edwards was “rare upon the earth.” He confided that the marriage of a Calvinist foundation and a zeal for evangelism was “the burden of my life.”

The Founders’ Movement

The Boyce Project had an immediate impact beyond the seminaries. For example, it inspired Bob Selph, pastor of the Miller Valley Baptist Church of Prescott, Arizona, to distribute a small book he had written, Southern Baptists and the Doctrine of Election, to all Southern Baptist pastors. This book had a positive impact on many pastors’ views of Calvinism. Unfortunately, the Yavapai Baptist Association did not see it the same way. It formally charged Selph with heresy for his agreement with the historic Southern Baptist view of unconditional election. He was subjected to formal proceedings that stopped short of removing him and his church from the association. Thankfully, in 1993, the same association adopted a resolution repenting of this sin against Selph and his church.

The greatest immediate impact of the Boyce Project was in the many new contacts Reisinger made as a result of his travels distributing Boyce volumes to seminary graduates. As more and more Southern Baptists began to understand, appreciate, embrace and love the truths of the doctrines of grace, Reisinger and Malone received letters and telephone calls from hundreds of young Southern Baptist pastors wanting help in applying those precious doctrines to the Christian life and to church practice. The following letter from a pastor in Cascilla, Mississippi is representative:

I came to embrace in my early years as a Christian some of the truths of the “doctrines of grace,” and have attempted, especially since entering the pastorate about a year ago, to implement these theological understandings into the work of evangelism. I find myself the pastor of a rural church in Mississippi which is basically untheological in its approach to Christianity and church order and practice. Of course, when there is a dwarfed understanding of the doctrines of the Bible, there is a consequent shrinking of the spiritual life of the church members. I must also confess that I, as the pastor, am not completely clear in my own mind as to the proper approach on the practical level to evangelism and church order. I am well versed in the “decisionizing process”…and am dissatisfied with its fruits, but am not ready to discard the invitation system completely. My problem is that I have never seen a church which embraces the work of evangelism and has instituted church order from this biblical standpoint while remaining fervent and experiential in its outworkings of the Christian life.

…Could you help me? How do you lead folks to a conversion experience without “decisionizing” them? Applying the emphasis you speak of on teaching, when and how do you lead the sinner to close with Christ? Realizing that baptism is the biblical way of confessing Christ as savior and of identifying with him, how does a church accept a person as being a proper candidate for baptism? How do you do this in a congregation which would consider discarding the invitation system as heresy and has such a low view of conversion and regeneration and no concept of biblical church order? Could you make an attempt at answering some of these? I realize that some of them are matters of practicality, but I am a bit perplexed as to how to proceed.

This letter added a P.S.: “Do you know of any churches and pastors in this area which are concerned with reformation in the local church which I could have fellowship with?

Heart-felt concerns like this, spurred on by the rediscovery of books like Boyce’s Abstract, led a group of men concerned with restoring the doctrines of grace and their practical implications to Baptist life to form the Southern Baptist Founders Ministries.

It started during Reisinger’s spring 1979 visit to Southwestern Seminary to distribute Boyce books. He stayed in a campus dorm, and one night, struck up a conversation with the switchboard operator. The operator was a student who told Reisinger that the best professor on campus was Dr. Tom Nettles. Reisinger had already heard about Nettles from another student, and so he made it a point to meet him. Reisinger and Nettles quickly discovered that they were like-minded on the doctrines of grace. They also discovered that they both had a deep concern to fellowship with other Southern Baptist Calvinists and encourage one another that they were not alone – that others existed who shared their convictions. They began to pray together, crying out to God for wisdom and direction to satisfy the need they saw for fellowship among Southern Baptist Calvinists.

Meanwhile, Reisinger began to gather from his personal contacts and voluminous correspondence the names of Southern Baptist pastors who were at least sympathetic to the doctrines of grace. By July 1982, he was busy making contact with an informal network of over 500 Southern Baptist preachers, by mail or phone, at least twice a month, to discuss their mutual interest in the theology of Southern Baptist fathers such as Boyce, Broadus, Dagg and Mell. On October 6, 1982, Reisinger sent the following letter to pastors who shared an interest in reformation in the denomination:

This is a form letter and I am sorry I do not have time to write a personal letter at this time. However, I would really appreciate your cooperation.

There are an increasing number of men among Southern Baptists who have come to a knowledge of those great truths of our founding fathers. John A. Broadus, in describing the theology of Dr. James P. Boyce, called these truths “that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism.” I have quite a few names and there must be many more.

Several persons have expressed a desire that we compile a mailing list of such men within the Southern Baptist Convention. The immediate purpose would be that we could have some contact with each other and possibly recommend such men to churches in our various associations that are without a pastor. Also, we could recommend the men and their churches to our own people who are vacationing, or moving and seeking a church that holds to the biblical beliefs of our Baptist fathers.

Secondly, we may be able to have a little newsletter every three or four months to keep in touch with each other. Definitely not to form an organization or party, but principally for acquaintance and fellowship.

Your name has been given to me by a mutual friend so I am writing this letter to ask if you would send me the names and addresses of men in the Southern Baptist Convention that you know who believe the Doctrines of Grace, or are sympathetic toward these Doctrines. For this assistance, I will send you the list of names when it is compiled.

I am enclosing a copy of our church paper, “Good News.” If you would like to be on our mailing list for subsequent copies, please advise.

With warm Christian regards,

Sincerely yours in Christ’s service according to my light and power,

Ernest C. Reisinger.

Then, on November 13, 1982, Reisinger, Nettles and Malone met at a Holiday Inn in Euless, Texas, for prayer to seek God’s direction with respect to a Southern Baptist conference ministry. Nettles brought to the meeting several young men who had embraced the doctrines of grace. Among them were Bill and Tom Ascol, Ben Mitchell and evangelist R.F. Gates. Reisinger later called this one of the most meaningful prayer meetings in which he had ever participated. The attendees spent the first half of the day in prayer, reading Psalms and hymns. During the second half of the day, they discussed ideas. They finally settled on the idea of a conference with the doctrines of grace as its foundation. Thus began the Southern Baptist Founders Conference.

The Founders Conference

The group decided that the purpose of the Founders Conference would be to promote instruction in both doctrine and devotion, as expressed in the doctrines of grace, and the experiential application of those doctrines to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. This was to be accomplished through the putting on of conferences where a variety of speakers would be engaged to present formal papers, sermons, expositions, and devotions, and at which literature consistent with the nature of the conference would be recommended and sold.

The motive was to provide encouragement to Southern Baptists through historical, biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies that would glorify God, honor his gospel, and strengthen his churches. To this end, the group agreed that the theological foundation of the conferences would be the doctrines of grace, those doctrines known as the five points of Calvinism (e.g., total depravity, election, atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance) and related truths. These subjects would all be presented doctrinally, expositionally, homiletically, and historically. Each conference would concentrate on the experiential and pastoral application of the respective doctrines.

With fear and trembling the first conference was planned and held August 1-4, 1983, on the campus of Southwestern University (now Rhodes College) in Memphis Tennessee. The speakers and topics were:

Pilgrim’s Progress & Teaching Grace – James D. Gables
Meditation from Psalm 80 – C.S. Storms
Life & Labors of P H Mell – Ben Mitchell
Sovereign Grace in Romans 8 – Richard P. Belcher
Sovereign Grace in Romans 9 – Richard P. Belcher
The Doctrine of Election – J.W. Baker
Doctrines of Grace In Baptist History – Tom Nettles
Doctrines of Grace In Church Planting – George McDearmon
Doctrine and Devotion – Ernie Reisinger
LIGN=”JUSTIFY”>Lordship of Christ – David Miller
The Effective Call – James Millikin

The Founders Conferences have continued annually ever since. Until 1991, they were held at Rhodes College. Since 1991, the conferences have been located at Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama. Speakers have included such distinguished men of God as John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, John Piper, Al Mohler, David Dockery, Timothy George, Tom Nettles, Walter Chantry, Al Martin, Iain Murray, Errol Hulse, and Geoff Thomas. These and other speakers have impacted countless numbers of attendees, as demonstrated by the following letter published in the fall 1992 issue of The Founders Journal:

This letter is written to you to express my sincere appreciation for your hard work and dedication to the furtherance of the gospel through a Southern Baptist conference that promotes the faith of our founders. While I realize this gathering is primarily for pastors, I feel it is something through which all believers can derive great benefit. I want to express some of the benefits I have received:

As this is my second year to attend the conference, I arrived with a spirit of anticipation that I would be greatly blessed as I had been in the prior year. Not to my surprise I came away with a feeling of rejoicing in my heart, a renewed mind, and an uplifted soul. I can truly say with the Psalmist, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” Time after time, the men of God ushered me into the throne room and I worshipped at His feet. What a marvelous blessing!

While I ponder and contemplate the messages at hand, I find myself falling on my knees and crying out…”Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I examine myself and find there to be many wicked ways within me. Praise His name that He is a merciful and forgiving God!

Although my soul has been thrilled, my heart is weighted down with the heaviest of burdens and feels as if it would at any moment break into a thousand pieces as I think of all the lost and dying souls in the world! It seems too great a task, an overwhelming mission – nevertheless, my Lord has commanded me to go, and that is what I must do. The time spent last week has reinforced this in my mind and heart. O that I would be a faithful servant to do His will!

It seems an incredible and amazing thing to think that just a year ago I was living in darkness without even a will to go on living! Yet today I sit here writing to you having seen the brilliant splendor of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly the Lord is my light and my salvation without whom there would be no hope. It is my greatest desire to share the joy of this light with others. Your endeavors this past week have been mighty in the promotion of the Kingdom of God. I will use my experiences to implore others to come and hear the proclamation of God’s word.

Finally, I am writing this letter to encourage you in the faith, to be strong and not to grow weary in well doing. We, as the flock, must realize that our shepherds do become discouraged and weary at times. I will lift your name before the Lord that He would give you strength, wisdom and boldness in your labors on behalf of Him.

L. G.

From its humble beginnings, the Founders Conferences have continually grown. In 1999, almost 600 ministers, students and interested lay people attended the conference in Birmingham, Alabama and heard John Piper give an unforgettable series of messages on fulfilling the Great Commission by becoming missionary-martyrs.

Founders Ministries

From the conferences came a ministry designed to channel and guide the resurgence of the doctrines of grace in the convention. It is now called Founders Ministries. In 1987, Founders Ministries formed its first youth conference. As of the time of this writing, Bill Ascol has organized and led this conference, and acted as camp manager and camp chaplain, for twelve years. Moreover, numerous regional conferences more or less affiliated with Founders Ministries have been held on an annual basis all around the United States.

In 1990, the decision was made to begin publishing a quarterly journal, Founders Journal, under the editorial direction of Dr. Thomas K. Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. In the inaugural issue, Dr. Ascol explained the reason for the journal:

This journal, as the name reflects, emerges out of the same concerns and principles which have guided the Southern Baptist Conference on the Faith of the Founders over the last eight years. The energy which is being generated by the divine renewal of the Doctrines of Grace among Southern Baptists should be conserved and guided. The Founders Journal hopes to be of use in this effort by providing historical, biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies which will glorify God, honor His gospel, and strengthen His churches….

The plan is to publish a quarterly journal with articles which reflect doctrinal and devotional commitment to the Doctrines of Grace (election, depravity, atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance) and their experimental application to the local church. Contemporary voices, as well as those who “being dead, yet speaketh,” will be featured. Sermons, expositions, essays, letters, book reviews and newsworthy notes will be included.

The first two issues were distributed free of charge. There would be no further issues unless a sufficient number of readers demonstrated an interest in continuing the publication. Fortunately, they did. Ascol wrote in the second issue: “Cards and letters which have been received indicate that the initial issue of the Founders Journal has met with a warm welcome among ministers and laymen from across the country. A pastor in Valdosta, Georgia writes, ‘God bless your work. It is desperately needed!’ His sentiments were echoed by many….” The Founders Journal began with about 200 subscribers in 1991. As of 1999, it was distributed to over 1200 readers. In 1995, a special SBC Sesquicentennial Issue of Founders Journal was published and sent to every pastor, missionary, and professor in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Ascol continued to expound the reason for Founders Ministries’ existence in the second issue of Founders Journal:

No blind adherence to tradition motivates this desire to return to the faith of our founders. Nor is there any incipient desire to canonize our “Baptist fathers.” Rather…God’s truth does not change. If what these men believed was true then, it is still true today. If they were correct in their understanding of the gospel, then it is incumbent upon us to have our own beliefs accord with theirs. If they were incorrect, then we ought to repudiate their views and renounce a significant part of this denomination’s heritage. The question is open to debate, and should be addressed on the basis of what God’s Word teaches.

A pastor from Palo Pinto, Texas commends the first issue of the journal as “a fine balance of irenic polemics and devotional edification.” This is precisely the spirit and balance which we hope to promote. We are not so naive as to believe that every Southern Baptist will join with us in returning to our theological heritage. Reasonable men who love the Lord and who desire to know His will occasionally differ in their interpretation of various biblical teachings. This has ever been the case. Where such honest disagreement exists, Christian charity should be extended while seeking to establish the biblical arguments for one’s views. This journal intends to reflect such a spirit as it contends for the doctrines of grace.

Public Opposition

While the Founders Journal may be “a fine balance of irenic polemics and devotional edification,” as suggested in the above-quoted letter, the opponents of the doctrines of grace have not always been so charitable in their descriptions of Southern Baptist Calvinism.

For example, William R. Estep, professor of church history emeritus, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, leveled a sweeping broadside against Ernest Reisinger (by name) and other Southern Baptist proponents of Calvinism in an article published in the Texas Baptist Standard, March 26, 1997. He accused Southern Baptist Calvinists of having “only a slight knowledge of Calvin or his system” and of “simply borrow[ing] that which they assume to be both biblical and baptistic without adequate research.” He contended that the Calvinistic system is “without biblical support.” It arrogantly assumes “to know more about God and the eternal decrees upon which it is based than God has chosen to reveal in scripture or in Christ.” Its advocates worship a God who “resembles Allah, the god of Islam, more than the God of grace and redeeming love revealed in Jesus Christ.” Its view of human responsibility makes “a person into a puppet on a string or a robot programmed from birth.” It is “anti-missionary.” Its proponents historically have been “marked by intolerance and a haughty spirit.” In sum, according to Estep, “if the Calvinizing of Southern Baptists continues unabated, we are in danger of becoming ‘a perfect dunghill’ in American society.”

Tom Ascol responded in the next edition of Founders Journal:


Dr. Estep’s article seriously misrepresents what John A. Broadus called “that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism.” I am sorry that it appeared in its current form. The topic which he addresses is an important one and should be discussed. But such discussion ought to conducted on a high level, working diligently not to misrepresent those with whom we disagree, seeking not only to be understood but to understand, and with renewed commitment to love the brethren–even those, perhaps I should say especially those, who differ with us theologically.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also responded that if Calvinism were accurately represented by Dr. Estep’s treatment, he would have nothing to do with it. “Nevertheless,” he continued, “few of Calvin’s friends or enemies will recognize Calvinism as presented in Estep’s article.” He went on to correct Estep’s portrayal of Calvinism.

Roger Nicole answered Estep in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter, responding in devastating detail to Estep’s misrepresentations of Calvin’s own teachings, concluding with the observation: “I do find comfort in the thought that although you may oppose Calvinism on this earth, you will be yourself a Calvinist when you get to heaven, for I say ‘Who will deny or seek to restrict the sovereignty of God when appearing before His throne?’”

Mark Wingfield, then-editor of Kentucky Baptists’ Western Recorder, also took aim at Southern Baptist Calvinism in a September 9, 1997 editorial, declaring that the doctrine of particular redemption “drives a dagger through the heart of the gospel” and “doesn’t breed a natural zeal for missions.” In an attack apparently directed at Southern Seminary and Albert Mohler’s presidency, he opined that just because the SBC’s founders believed in the doctrine, that did not make it right. “Many supported slavery, for example, and believed women should not have the right to vote.” Thom S. Rainer, dean of Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, responded sharply: “I simply cannot let your inaccuracies and innuendoes pass without comment…Your editorial is hurtful, inaccurate and divisive.” He continued: I can say without fear of inaccuracy that the emphasis on missions and evangelism has increased exponentially since Dr. Mohler came as president.”

As these attacks reveal, much of the opposition to the revival of the doctrines of grace in Southern Baptist life has consisted of essentially unsubstantiated name-calling and clumsy ad hominem barbs. Curiously, the opposition has never really attempted to mount a biblical defense of the non-Calvinistic position. One could speculate that this is because liberals who do not hold to the full authority of Scripture drive much of the vitriol. Perhaps their goal is more political than theological – that is, as Patterson pointed out, to drive a wedge through the conservative coalition now in charge of the convention.

Recognizing this aspiration on the part of the liberals, some prominent conservative Southern Baptist leaders have been more muted lately in their statements about Calvinism. Despite his antipathy toward the full Calvinistic position, as discussed above, former SBC president and current Southeastern Seminary president Paige Patterson stated in November, 1999: “There’s plenty of room under the [SBC] umbrella for anyone who is anything from a one- to five-point Calvinist. There’s room for a two- or three-pointer like me, provided he can explain what is meant by two and three. There’s room for four- and five-pointers whom I believe lack scriptural justification for that, but I’m certainly not in favor of running them out.” Indeed, when World Magazine suggested that Patterson and Mohler had “locked horns” on the issue of Calvinism in the convention, the two seminary presidents wrote a joint letter to World stating that they had “never really discussed the subject,” although they “intuitively know that we do not see the order of salvation events and some aspects of election exactly the same.”

While Patterson has been somewhat circumspect in his comments, Adrian Rogers has not been so guarded. In correspondence, sermons and pamphlets, he has represented Baptist Calvinists as believing that God does not love everyone and that he condemns infants to hell. He has represented the doctrine of irresistible grace as teaching that God is “going to zap you…no matter what.” He has referred to Calvinists as the “chosen frozen, the elite, the satisfied, the cheese and wine theologians.” On March 13, 2000, he preached a radio message in which he called a belief in election and irresistible grace a “libel against God.” He accused Ernest Reisinger in correspondence of having “more zeal for the cause of Calvinism than for missions and evangelism.” He equated the God of Calvinism to the god of Islam and stated, “I refuse[] to let my church be dampened down by a form of incipient fatalism.”

Texas evangelist Freddie Gage has also stated that “there is not a nickel’s worth of difference between liberalism, five-point Calvinism and dead orthodoxy” because all are “enemies of soul-winning.” Of course, Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Carey and Judson would have been mightily surprised to learn that they were “enemies of soul-winning”!

Yet to be fair, if the criticism of opponents has, at times, been less than judicious, the zeal of converts to the doctrines of grace has been, at times, equally misplaced. Patterson and Rogers both have expressly linked their condemnation of the doctrines of grace to what they perceive to be the over-abundant zeal of Calvinistic men they have known. Frankly speaking, many who have sought to bring about reformation in their local churches have not gone about it in the right way. Sometimes their timing was wrong. Sometimes their methods have been wrong. Sometimes they needed the wisdom from above, described in the Epistle of James: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” James 3:17 (NIV).

Some have caused unnecessary divisions over secondary matters (like eschatology). Others have not understood the biblical doctrine of accommodation (discussed in the next chapter). We all need more of the application of the words of our mentor, the great Apostle Paul, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26 (NKJ)).

Recent Developments

Despite the misguided opposition of some and the misplaced zeal of others, interest in the doctrines of grace continues to grow apace among Southern Baptists. Founders Ministries has branched into the publishing business with the creation of Founders Press. And, with the explosive growth in the World-Wide Web as a means of publishing, Founders Ministries decided to go online in Winter 1996 to make the journal and conference information more widely available. Founders Ministries’ web page, Founders Online, is found at www.founders.org. Founders Ministries’ most recent venture is to assist like-minded pastors and lay leaders in local communities to join together for fellowship and encouragement through the formation of “Founders Fraternals.”

Founders Ministries has recently received some attention in the broader evangelical world. Both Christianity Today and World Magazine have run stories on it and the impact it has had in helping Southern Baptists discover anew our Calvinistic roots.

Calvinistic Southern Baptist churches continue to spring up all over the convention. Many of them are sponsoring their own web sites, which promulgate Calvinistic Baptist views more widely.

The primary goal of Founders Ministries is to assist and encourage preachers like the man who wrote the following letter published in the Summer 1997 Founders Journal:


Dear Friends:

I deeply appreciate the Founders Journal and its commitment to returning Southern Baptists to their historical theological roots. I have enclosed [a gift] to help with your ministry. Within the last couple of years, the Lord has given me a small degree of boldness to proclaim the doctrines of grace. I am beginning to sense what I am sure many of you dear brethren know all too well–that although the doctrines of grace are precious to us, they are hated and despised by others. I ask that you please pray for me. I have not experienced any open hostility, but I often feel faint. The Arminianism that we see both in and outside of the Southern Baptist Convention seems almost like a taunting Goliath that threatens to devour anyone who dares to challenge it. There is comfort, however, in knowing that, unlike David who had to fight alone, you brothers are out there. May the Lord bless and multiply your ministry.

In Christ,
T. H., Mississippi

And so the work goes on.

The Southern Baptist reformation started with a small stream as Ernest Reisinger planned and implemented his Boyce Project. By God’s providential direction, the stream turned into a river with the formation and success of Founders Ministries. The river has now turned into a torrent as Southern Baptists all over America and beyond are beginning to rediscover, or discover for the first time, the reformed, Calvinistic roots of our denomination. A quiet reformation is slowly but surely spreading as God continues to open Southern Baptist eyes to the glorious truths of his grace. Only God knows how far it will go.

Chapter Four

A Quiet Revolution: Table of Contents

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