Don’t Panic. JD Greear is Not a Calvinist.
The heir-apparent candidacy of JD Greear for Southern Baptist president has the Arminians (who have taken the historically absurd title of “Traditionalists”) in a tizzy, with plagiarist, Richard Land, warning that there was a “war” coming over Calvinism in the SBC. Of course, there is not a war coming, because Calvinism (or some strange variant thereof) has overtaken the majority of Southern Baptist institutions with Calvinists or kinda-sorta Calvinists running Southern Seminary, Midwestern Seminary, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. If there was a war, it’s over and there’s no turning back.
However, in reality, there’s very little for the Arminian contingent (who Land refers to as the “Billy Graham Wing”) of the SBC to worry about. Albert Mohler, who once ridded Southern Seminary of non-Calvinist professors, now says the Abstract of Principles (the Calvinist founding document of the seminary) can be interpreted as a “three point document” (which refers to three of Calvinism’s five soteriological points, and is keeping with the so-called Traditionalist’s soteriology, denying Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace). In fact, that Mohler has been busy stacking the teaching roster at SBTS with non-Calvinists like filling the (should be) infamous “Herschel Hobbes Professorship” with Finneyesque Steve Gaines and reinterpreting the Abstract of Principles has been almost entirely lost on the not-so-Traditionalists.
Likewise, Russell Moore of the ERLC – a protege of Albert Mohler – identifies with Calvinism but doesn’t hold to Limited Atonement, without which, there’s no Calvinism. Holding to the “TULIP” without the L of the acronym (the aforementioned Limited Atonement, the idea that Jesus died only for those who would believe and that he successfully redeems all he came to save) is called “Amyraldism,” which is easily as much modified Arminianism as it is modified Calvinism. Likewise, David Platt, dances on the issue of Limited Atonement and although he certainly sounds more Calvinistic than Moore, also expresses “a sense” in which God intended to save all people through the atonement, meaning that he sounds nothing like John Calvin.
The fact is, while a modified form of Calvinism has grown in recent years and taken some in the SBC away from Finney’s notions of Decisional Regeneration, the Sinner’s Prayer and altar calls, Calvinism in the SBC is typically a world away from the staunch Calvinism of the Reformation that the not-so-traditionalists fear so greatly. In fact, most of the “Calvinists” in the SBC really aren’t Calvinists at all; they’re just men who have grown tired of the number-counting, every-head-bowed and every-eye-closed salvation mills popularized by Semi-Pelagian preachers like Billy Graham, Billy Sunday and Charles Finney, who did little more than serve as midwives for the spiritual still-births of generations of false converts.
In reality, there is very little difference in the soteriology between most of these men identifying with John Calvin and the men identifying with Billy Graham. The biggest difference is one of methodology, which although might be noticeable, isn’t the chasm or gulf that men like Richard Land make it out to be. The latest example of this is JD Greear. He tweeted this earlier:
Greear is the supposed Calvinist in this contest for presidency of the SBC (which will be no contest at all, because he will win in a landslide) and Ken Hemphill (don’t worry about who he is, you don’t know and probably never will) is the Arminian **ahem, I mean “Traditionalist”** opponent. The scuttlebutt in the small world of Richard Land, Leighton Flowers and Rick Patrick (those involved in the anti-God’s Sovereignty group called Connect316) is that this is some kind of duel to the death between the forces of Calvin and the forces of Billy Graham. It’s not a contest. It won’t be close. But the Arminians need to understand that what they are despising as “Calvinism” really is not.
Don’t get me wrong. Calvinism is beautiful. It is the same thing as the Gospel (in so far as it is the best articulation and understanding of the Gospel). But the vast, vast majority of “Calvinists” in the SBC are not really Calvinists. They are – at best – a Southern Baptist variety of Calvinism, one which is not really Calvinistic generally speaking. There are real Calvinists in the SBC (Founders Ministry is an example), but most who use the title just do so because it has come to be used as a synonym for one who doesn’t use stupid, self-manufactured methodologies of getting people to walk aisles or make other meaningless spiritual overtures.
JD Greear wrote the (more or less astute) book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. The premise of the book is solid enough; “asking Jesus in your heart” really isn’t a thing. It’s a meaningless term. It’s not a Biblical expression and the time for the term to die was the proverbial yesterday. Rather than repeating a superstitious mantra or incantation, Greear argues that Biblical conversion is seen in repentance and authentic spiritual transformation.
Sadly, the not-so-Traditionalists aren’t typically theologically savvy enough to understand the difference between rejecting Finneyist methodology and embracing Dortian Calvinism (it is possible to do the former and not the latter). The issue isn’t soteriology. The issue is typically just about what happens the last five minutes of the worship service.
As you see from the screenshot above, Greear rejects the pivotal Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement (there’s nothing wrong with the rest of his tweet). Greear’s own definition of Calvinism (I mean that literally – it is his own definition, is absolutely contrived and pulled out of his own head) falls short of Calvinism. Greear defines it vaguely without any real or meaningful reference to soteriology at all, and by his own definition, Richard Land is a Calvinist. This isn’t new for anyone who has followed Greear for any amount of time. He has said repeatedly that the Gospel is not the same thing as Calvinism, which is something that no real Calvinist would say (Spurgeon, for example, said the two are the same).
At the most, one could say that JD Greear is Calvinisticky. His theology is more or less in line with other 3 or 4 point Calvinists (which is the same as a 1 or 2 point Arminian, which is also pretty much the same thing as Richard Land). What’s different about him from Richard Land is methodology, plain and simple.
If this were a battle over methodology (and it is), we should genuinely look at the numbers of nickels and noses and determine that the faux-Calvinism of the SBC is pretty successful. Certainly, it’s not anti-missional or anti-church growth. In fact, the argument could be made it’s been resoundingly more evangelistic than the generation that preceded it.
Thankfully, however, God is not a pragmatist and faithfulness to the Word of God isn’t determined by nickles or noses, and it really shouldn’t matter how many satellite campuses JD Greear manages. What should matter is that satellite campuses are unbiblical and unbaptist (that’s a word now, I guess). What should matter is that JD Greear is a charismatic who doesn’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. What should matter is that Christine Caine, the Jezebel prophetess possessed by the spirit of the cows of Bashan that she is, liked Greear’s tweets because they’re pals on the lecture circuit. All of those things are the very type of things that the not-so-Traditionalists should be paying attention to if they could look past the boogeyman of Calvinism that – all things considered – really isn’t hiding under the bed of the SBC after all.
We’re Calvinists at Pulpit & Pen (mostly), but we would rather have a Cessationist 3 pointer who identifies as a Traditionalist but holds to actual Baptist ecclesiology than have a Charismatic 3 pointer who self-identifies as a Calvinist and who holds to the Presbyterian ecclesiology of multi-site kingdoms. At this juncture, the term, “Calvinism,” is little more than denominational identity politics anyway.