Tom Ascol has his finger on the pulse of the SBC, and has identified what he believes are four distinct types of Southern Baptists today. I think his analysis is right on, and his commentary on the bigger picture of what’s happening in the convention right now is definitely worth a read. Here are the four types:
- Intolerant Calvinists—These are those who are convinced of the doctrines of grace and believe that anyone who does not agree with their views does not really believe the gospel. Therefore, they are always suspicious and often dismissive of folks who understand issues like unconditional election, particular redemption and effectual calling differently than they do and think that it is unwise at best and most likely impossible to work together with such people.
- Cooperative Calvinists—These are people who believe the doctrines of grace but recognize that there are other brothers and sisters in the SBC who do not agree with their understanding. They are not mad about the disagreement but believe there can be genuine cooperation on the basis of what is believed in common. They do not think that it is necessary to be a Calvinist in order to “really believe” the gospel and they acknowledge that there are good and godly people who simply disagree with some of the specific tenets of reformed soteriology. They are unwilling to compromise their convictions but do not see cooperating with gospel-believing non-Calvinists as necessitating that.
- Cooperative non-Calvinists—These Southern Baptists disagree with one or more points of the Calvinistic understanding of the doctrines of grace but do not believe that Calvinists are heretics or believe a “different gospel.” They are open to dialogue about their differences and willing to work with Calvinists and others who might disagree with their views as long as there is agreement on the nature of the gospel. They are not embarrassed about the Calvinistic heritage of the SBC and harbor no paternalistic attitude toward their Calvinist brethren. They are unwilling merely to tolerate Calvinists but desire to work with them in the common cause of making Christ known to the nations.
- Anti-Calvinists—This group genuinely believes that Calvinism is a serious threat that must be rooted out of the convention or at best, relegated to a “back of the bus” status. They seek to marginalize Southern Baptist Calvinists by actively working to block access to local churches and denominational positions. Those anti-Calvinists who are denominational employees sense a stewardship to stand against Calvinism as well as, with increasing regularity, against those cooperative non-Calvinists who embrace their Calvinist brethren as equals. They believe that by doing so they are protecting the convention.
Like Ascol, I am a type-2 Southern Baptist, which he believes is the fastest-growing group. The vast majority of our church membership probably fall into category #3, though we have our fair share of #4′s as well. I hope and pray that the coming years will see the growth of categories 2 & 3, with fewer and fewer on the fringes who are unwilling to cooperate.
I highly encourage you to read the rest of his article here.