These Aren’t the Calvinists You’re Looking For

In Star Wars Episode 4, A New Hope, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi uses a Jedi mind trick on a group of stormtroopers to protect the safety of this ragtag group of heroes.  As he waves his hand upon the investigative soldiers seeking to identify if the robots in the back seat are the ones on the most-wanted list of the Empire, he changes their mind with the iconic phrase:

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

The stormtroopers are forced to believe him and they continue on to safety.

Sometimes, I wish I could wave my hand around and get people to think differently.  Especially, when it comes to ministry.  Let me explain.

Yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear to serve in the temporary, volunteer position of President.  With great divisive debates swirling around the Convention, I was unsure how the election would turn out.

He was running against Ken Hemphill, a great candidate and friend.  Honestly, what a blessing  as a Convention to have two great candidates who love Jesus, the gospel, missions, and the local church.  While these men agree on so much, many people sought to point out their differences in significant ways.

A few days ago, I posted:

  1. Will certain Baptists disregard Ken Hemphill as a candidate for Convention President because they have “nothing to learn” from someone older than them even though he was a stalwart for conservative theological education before they were old enough to sing “Jesus Loves Me?”
  2. Will certain Baptists disregard J.D. Greear as a candidate for Convention President because his theology includes Reformed beliefs and people are fearful of unevangelistic Calvinists ruining the SBC even though his church who “must not focus on outreach” has somehow sent out over 1,000 missionaries, planted over 40 churches in the United States, and planted over 200 churches overseas in 15 years?

While the Convention would have been led wonderfully by either men, the messengers at the Convention have spoken, and Greear is the new President.

And yet, many Baptists are very concerned about J.D. Greear due to his soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).  Unfairly reduced to a singular element of his theology, Baptists who are fearful of reformed theology stereotype him as a Calvinist which spells out danger in their minds.

Why Many Baptists Don’t Like Calvinists

Many Southern Baptists dislike Calvinist theology for differing reasons.  I will give you a few that many express.  I am going to list them like I hear them and not as I necessarily see them.  Here you go:

  1. Calvinists don’t prioritize evangelism.
  2. Reformed theologians are boring and stuffy.
  3. The degree of their belief in God’s election causes them to stifle missions.
  4. They come across as know-it-alls.
  5. They criticize anything in ministry that appears successful regarding numerical growth.
  6. They don’t give invitations or altar calls.
  7. They are the frozen chosen.  No passion.  No zeal.  No heart.
  8. They play loose with certain conviction areas of morality that could be stumbling blocks for weaker Christians.
  9. Reformed pastors pass the blame when their churches are dying because “people just can’t accept the truth” and never evaluate how they are ministering.
  10. Calvinists like to assemble people who like to discuss theology and neglect evangelism with non-Christians.
  11. And they go on, but you get the point.  Or 5 points, I suppose 😉 …

While I personally do not believe that everyone who is a card-carrying, rally-crying Calvinist fits this bill, many of these stereotypes have labeled this group due to some version of reality.  Some of these characterizations are seen in vocal adherents.  Mishandling of how to discuss theology has divided churches, disrupted friendships, and discouraged groups.

I’ve always believed that biblical theology should produce godly practice, but sometimes we get in the way.  When pride, arrogance, and divisiveness are felt among the Church at large over theological disputes, people begin to draw their lines in the sand.

When we disagree on doctrine, theological tribes inevitably form and our brothers and sisters tragically become our enemies.

Why Greear Isn’t Your Typical Calvinist

Depending upon what side of the theological aisle you sit, you interpret Greear’s election in some extreme way.  Many rejoiced at a younger, different type of leader being elected in what has been an expected and repeated template in recent history.  Others bemoaned the apparent loss of the SBC due to a fear of a hostile Calvinist takeover.

So, let’s make sure we know who we are dealing with regarding the new SBC President.  Since being called as the pastor of a declining church, in the last 15 years, the Summit Church as seen:

  1. Over 1,000 missionaries sent to the nations
  2. Over 40 churches planted in the United States
  3. Over 200 churches planted overseas
  4. Expanded to a multisite model with campuses in prisons and in different languages
  5. Went from 350 to 10,000 in attendance
  6. Over 500 baptisms last year
  7. They have sent out seven-time more missionaries than the next highest church in the SBC
  8. His sermons give passionate, evangelistic invitations to respond to the gospel

If that type of Kingdom work is the danger that Calvinism brings, I wish others would welcome that risk.  Lord, would you please send us more who believe and practice like this brother!

  • While you might disagree with certain elements of his theology, is he doing something wrong?
  • Is his belief in the sovereignty of God slowing down his zeal for missions?
  • Have you ever had a conversation with him regarding his beliefs?
  • Listened to a sermon?
  • Read a book?

I fear you might be labeling a stereotype unfairly on someone you might agree with more than you realize or want to admit.  I believe if you grasped the entirety of Greear’s theology and practice, you would find yourself a lot more in common than you think.

“You Can Go About Your Business”

I understand if you are fearful of certain theology that leads to neglecting evangelism.  You have the right to be worn out on divisive theological snobbery.  But equating J.D. Greear with the frustration that others have caused is an unfair and unwarranted stereotype.  Regarding the new SBC President and other leaders like him, I must say:

These aren’t the Calvinists you’re looking for.

I can’t wave my hand at you and make you believe me, but would you be willing to give this brother a chance to lead even if you don’t agree with him on every single point?

If you have an axe to grind with Calvinists who aren’t missional, that is fine, but I don’t think you should be fighting against the apparent fruit in Greear’s leadership in his church and the Convention.  This isn’t the same type of person that frustrates you.

The SBC has spoken.  For this time, Greear will have a significant leadership role.  From what I know of him, I am extremely expectant.

Even if you have concerns, fears, or frustrations, would you be willing to put down your stereotypes and listen to brothers and sisters who believe differently than you?  Will we be willing to let a genuine and passionate pastor “go about his business?”  Would you work with those who don’t fit neatly into your camp?

That is for all of us, regardless of where we each land on such issues.  We can spend all our time yelling across the aisle at the opposing open microphone or we could unite our voices together to proclaim the gospel to those who have never heard.

We’ve got work to do, let’s get after it.  Together.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).

Travis Agnew is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. He serves as the Senior Pastor of Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is What God Has Joined Together.