A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 1: The Historical Question
[Read the live-blog account of this presentation HERE.]
1. The Historical Question
Before specifically addressing the doctrine of Unconditional Election, Dr. Land gave some comments on the historical situation of Calvinism among Baptists in America. Dr. Land introduced these statements with somehing to the effect of: ‘Some Calvinists have tried to abscond our history, which is broader than they have presented.’
Dr. Land’s presentation of Baptist history in America seemed particularly focused on an attempt to demonstrate that Baptists in the South have regularly held to a soteriology that was a mix between elements from both Calvinism and Arminianism, rather than being especially Calvinistic.
For evidence to support this claim, Dr. Land presented selections from the writings of John Leland. Dr. Land claimed that John Leland articulated a distinctive Southern Baptist soteriology before there was a Southern Baptist Convention. John Leland is certainly an important figure in American Baptist life, most often noted for his views on the relationship between church and state. As Dr. Land demonstrated, Leland also apparently advocated a mixed soteriology of elements from both Calvinism and Arminianism about 70 years before the Southern Baptist Convention was founded. But in my training in both history and philosophy (my Bachelor’s degree is in history, with a minor in philosophy) it was repeatedly stressed that just because one event precedes another does not mean that the first event was causal or formative to the second; there must be specific proof linking the events and demonstrating the relationship between them. It is apparently true that Leland advocated a mixed soteriology; it is also true that the Southern Baptist Convention was formed about 70 years later, but was Leland’s soteriology formative in the understanding held by Southern Baptist’s concerning matters of salvation? To prove this, Dr. Land would have to produce documentation from the founding generation of Southern Baptists verifying that they were influenced by Leland’s writings in this specific area.
Additional evidence was given in relation to the New Hampshire Confession, a Confession drawn up in 1833 that allowed for greater latitude in doctrinal positions than many previous Baptist confessions (the extent of the atonement, for example is not mentioned), and which was certainly influential to the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. In regards to the New Hampshire Confession, the historical claim of Founders Ministries must be noted; namely, that each church or association represented at the original meeting to form the Southern Baptist Convention held to the 1689 Confession, or its American versions- the Philadelphia and Charleston Confessions- all of which are certainly Calvinistic. If this claim is true then by their own confession the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were, by definition, Calvinistic, and so Dr. Land would have to prove this claim to be false if he wishes to assert the primacy of the New Hampshire Confession during the founding generation of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Finally, Dr. Land asserted that we have a Charleston tradition, but this tradition has always been the harmony to the melody of the Separate (revivalistic) Baptist tradition. In this statement, Dr. Land seems to return to a two-stream theory of Southern Baptist origins. In the context of the John 3:16 Conference, it seems like the second of these streams (the Separate, or “revivalistic,” Baptists) was presented as being non-Calvinistic. The Calvinism of the Separate Baptists has been established, however, by a careful examination of documents from the Separate Baptists themselves, as demonstrated in the Founders Journal issue titled “Sandy Creek Revisited.”