Can Baptists Be Reformed? Part 2
As I mentioned in my previous post, this series has been sparked by Les Puryear’s recent post “Can One Be Reformed and Southern Baptist at the Same Time?” and the responses it has provoked. Though I didn’t mention this in my first post, one of the interesting aspects of this debate is that Puryear affirms the “five points” of Calvinism, but he eschews the Reformed label. And he’s not alone. While some have argued that the term Reformed is bandied about far too often, there are lots of Calvinistic Baptists who, like Les Puryear, reject the label. They fall into several categories.
The Sovereign Grace Baptists, not to be confused with C. J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, were the first Calvinistic caucus within the SBC of which I am aware. Among the better-known Sovereign Grace Baptists were evangelists Rolfe Barnard and Kentucky pastor Henry Mahan; the latter’s church in Ashland hosted an annual Bible conference that promoted Calvinistic theology. The Sovereign Grace folks held to the “five points,” but many of them rejected covenant theology and a Puritan view of the Lord’s Day. Many of them were dispensational in their eschatology and exhibited Landmark tendencies in their ecclesiology. They also tended to cooperate more with Independent Baptist fundamentalists than most other Southern Baptists. Their legacy continues on today among several networks and associations, including a group of African American Calvinistic Baptist churches. Some Sovereign Grace Baptists have also gravitated toward the following movement.
Another Calvinistic Baptist group arose from within the self-designated Reformed Baptist movement and articulate a system they call New Covenant Theology. The New Covenant folks also adhere to the “five points,” but their hermeneutic is an effort to bridge the gap between traditional dispensational and covenant theologies. They tend to prefer the First London Confession over the Second London Confession, believing that the latter is too influenced by Reformed pedobaptism. Although they argue it is not the central tenet of their system, the New Covenant movement is probably best known for rejecting the Puritan view of the Lord’s Day, which is a reflection of their particular view of the role of the law under the new covenant. While there are self-confessed New Covenant theologians, conferences, and networks of churches, this movement has gained some traction among mainstream evangelicals through scholars whose views have some affinity with New Covenant Theology, but who don’t formally identify with the movement.
A final group of Calvinistic Baptists that rejects the Reformed label isn’t so much a formal movement as it is a tendency among some Baptist churches. For lack of a better phrase, I call them “John MacArthur Baptists.” John MacArthur is of course a prominent pastor-theologian who teaches both the “five points” and dispensationalism. Strictly speaking, MacArthur isn’t a Baptist, though his church is credobaptist. Because of his influence, there are many self-designated Baptists that embrace MacArthur’s Calvinistic dispensationalism. There are also some dispensational Calvinistic Baptists who picked up these emphases through the influence of certain current and former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of the largest Baptist churches in this part of North Carolina is an Independent Baptist congregation that I would place in this stream.
So there are many Calvinistic Baptists, including some Southern Baptists, who embrace the “five points” but reject the Reformed label. Many of these churches have qualms with other historically Calvinist ideas such as covenant theology, the regulative principle of worship, and a Puritan view of the Lord’s Day. Having established there are Calvinistic Baptists who would answer the question “Can Baptists be Reformed?” in different ways, in my final post I will conclude this series with my own perspective on the question.