Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher



July 2010



Can Baptists Be Reformed? Part 1

Written by , Posted in History, SBC, Theology

A couple of weeks ago, some friends told me about an interesting blog post by Les Puryear titled “Can One Be Reformed and Southern Baptist at the Same Time?” Puryear argues that the “Reformed” label is inappropriate in a Southern Baptist context. I learned yesterday that Matt Svoboda (among others) responded to Puryear’s initial post by arguing that Southern Baptists can indeed be Reformed. He accused Puryear of “using a Presbyterian definition rather than a ‘Reformed Baptist’ definition.” In researching for this post, I discovered that Puryear is now writing a whole series of blog articles on what he perceives as differences between Reformed churches and Southern Baptist churches.

Some readers may know that this is not a new debate, but rather is one that gets resurrected every few months in the blogosphere and on the message boards. It is also not a debate that is limited to Southern Baptists. Some Reformed pedobaptist scholars take umbrage with the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement, popularized in Collin Hansen’s article and book on the topic. Men like Scott Clark, Michael Horton, and Darryl Hart raise concerns that Hansen, and the movement he writes about, play fast-and-loose with the Reformed label. Following the lead of Reformed pedobaptist historical theologian Richard Muller, they argue that adhering to the “five points” of Calvinism is only part of what it means to be Reformed. Specifically, these men argue that covenant theology, covenantal pedobaptism, the regulative principle of worship, and a certain type of piety are inherent to the Reformed tradition. So by their understanding, many of the Young, Restless, and Reformed types—and for that matter all Calvinistic credobaptists—are not really Reformed.

Of course this issue is being debated precisely because there are lots of Southern Baptists who do consider themselves Reformed. As Svoboda’s aforementioned post notes, many Southern Baptists are comfortable with this descriptor. For example, my friend Justin Nale argues for the existence of Reformed Southern Baptists in a follow-up post to Svoboda’s piece. Though I’m not sure how to prove it, I would suspect that many (though not all) who identify with Founders Ministries would be very comfortable calling themselves Reformed.  Besides Southern Baptists, there are other credobaptist evangelicals who consider themselves Reformed, including many Evangelical Free folks, the Sovereign Grace movement, Acts 29, and many non-denominational churches. Some within these groups, like Acts 29’s Mark Driscoll, call themselves Reformed but don’t affirm the Dortian articulation of limited atonement.

Perhaps most important for this debate, there are hundreds of churches that self-identify as Reformed Baptist. Most of these churches are not Southern Baptist, though some are. While Reformed Baptists appreciate several historic Baptist confessions, it seems that most of them strongly prefer the Second London Confession, a statement that combines a baptistic ecclesiology with not only the “five points” but also covenant theology, the regulative principle of worship, and a “Puritan” understanding of the Lord’s Day. Jim Savastio, pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville, KY, has authored a paper titled “What is a Reformed Baptist Church?” that serves as a helpful introduction to what I call the “capital-R” Reformed Baptist movement. Another helpful resource is the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog. The most well-known group (among many) of self-designated Reformed Baptists is probably the Association of Reformed Baptist Church of America; some Southern Baptist churches that affirm the Second London Confession are dually affiliated with ARBCA.

So there are many Calvinistic Baptists, including some Southern Baptists, who do not hesitate to call themselves Reformed. As a general rule, these churches not only embrace the “five points” but they also at least tend toward the baptistic covenant theology, affirmation of the regulative principle of worship, and Puritan view of the Lord’s Day articulated in the Second London Confession and related confessions.