The Pen

SBC "Traditionalists" Invite Believer in Purgatory, Pseudo-Universalism to Speak at Event

A group of Southern Baptist “traditionalists”* are taking part in an upcoming conference and have invited a speaker who falls far, far short of Christian orthodoxy.

Leighton Flowers, who hosts the anti-Calvinism podcast, Soteriology 101, is organizing the event. It will take place August 11 through August 12, and is called “The Great Commission Summit.” Speakers, other than Flowers, include other members of “Connect 316” (the organization that exists to promote anti-Calvinism in the SBC), consisting of Eric Hankins, David Allen, Rick Patrick, and Adam Harwood.

All of those speakers are known for their ardent denial of God’s sovereignty over salvation, and their continued work with Connect 316. Hankins is the son of David Hankins (Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, who sought to remove Calvinists from Louisiana Baptist life and helped create the Louisiana College scandal and cover-up), who himself drafted the anti-Calvinist “Traditionalist” Statement). David Allen is Dean of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written extensively against the Doctrines of Grace. Rick Patrick is the Executive Director of Connect 316 and recently likened Calvinism to a “Trojan Horse” at a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service. Adam Harwood is professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and denies the historic understanding of Original Sin in his book, Born Guilty.
All of those men are, at the very least, Southern Baptists. And although they deny the truly traditional Southern Baptist understanding of God’s sovereignty over salvation, they nonetheless can affirm the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) and more importantly, are relatively within the confines of Christian orthodoxy (some caveats might be necessary). However, there’s one additional speaker at the Great Commission RoundTable, who is wildly unorthodox.

Dr. Jerry Walls

Invited to speak at the anti-Calvinist conference is Dr. Jerry Walls. Walls is author of the book, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, which is a “good idea that can be reclaimed by Protestants.” Like Rob Bell, Walls asserts that “love wins” and that there will be a chance for salvation after this life is over. Unlike Rob Bell, Walls does believe in hell (with significant differences from the traditional Christian view), even if most will be given a chance in the afterlife to avoid it, and even if they die in a state of unrepentant sin and unconversion. In fact, a belief in purgatory might be what Walls is best known for, has written other books on the topic, and defends a second-chance in eternity as strongly as any Roman Catholic.
Walls also flirts strongly with universalism, if he isn’t an altogether brazened advocate for it. Consider Walls here

The notion that the opportunity to repent is over at death is hard enough to defend as a matter of justice … But it is impossible to square with the claim that God truly loves all persons and sincerely prefers the salvation of all. I do not think the Bible teaches that the opportunity to repent ends at death, and the reasons that have traditionally been given to support this claim are dubious. … If God, whose mercy endures forever, is not willing that any should perish, but that all will come to repentance, wishes to extend his grace after death, he is certainly capable of enabling sinners to repent …Read more here

Jerry Walls also promotes the false doctrine of Conditional Immortality, and has appeared on the leading Conditional Immortality podcast, Rethinking Hell, with Chris Date. I was present at a debate between Chris Date and Len Pettis on the topic of Conditional Immortality just last year, and I assure you, the doctrine is abundantly false and condemned by the Church Historic.
That the Connect 316 fellows would invite (or speak with) one who believes that the opportunity to repent is not over at death is amazing. Truly.
Several of the speakers were reached out to for comment, and they defended the invitation of Walls, citing the Gospel Coalition’s invitation of Tim Keller, who “BAPTIZES INFANTS” (emphasis theirs). Of course, paedobaptism, while wrong (this author is a credobaptist), does not rise to the level of historic unorthodoxy or heresy. Universalism – what many of us believe is the logical conclusion of unlimited atonement – certainly is a sub-Christian heresy (click here for more) and the belief in purgatory is well beyond heterodoxy.
Sadly, the anti-Calvinists in the SBC who recently started going by name “Traditionalists” have decided to yoke themselves with one who holds to anything but traditional Christian views on a whole host of issues. While we applaud our Synergist brothers for focusing on the Great Commission, we have to sincerely ask them what on Earth they’re thinking. If we will be given a second chance in the afterlife, what’s the rush with evangelism? Walls, except for similarly being a critic of God’s sovereignty over salvation, seems to undermine the entire urgency for Biblical evangelism in a way that Calvinists from Whitefield to Washer could never have dreamed.
Perhaps their invitation to Walls has to do with his detestation of Calvinism, which is nearly unparalleled. For while promoting Universalism, Conditional Immortality, and Purgatory, he’s managed to squeak in a book or two against Calvinism.
It seems the “Traditionalists” are eager to attack a historic and orthodox position of the church, and willing to overlook much more damning, sub-biblical positions to do so.