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.”

-Andrew Lindsey

Explore posts in the same categories: John 3:16 Conference

8 Comments on “A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 1: The Historical Question”

  1. mark12ministries Says:

    An additional evidence for the Calvinistic nature of the SBC in its early years would be the writings of John L. Dagg and James P Boyce. Dagg’s “Manual of Theology” is certainly Calvinistic as is Boyce’s “Abstract of Systematic Theology”. These are the first two major, writing Theologians of our Convention’s history.
    Great article, keep it up!

  2. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    What is that that Land is head of again… the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission?

    Ahem. Do you think maybe that a guy in that position should at least be one with the ethos of the Commission?

  3. Brent Hobbs Says:

    Dr. Greg Wills has done significant research on John Leland and maintains that he was a strong Calvinist. Many of the history books don’t read that way, but only because a lack of dependence on primary sources. I’m not sure if he’s published anything on it yet, but check the SBTS website for his email and I’m sure he can let you know.

  4. Darrin Says:

    Tom Ascol’s brief “Sandy Creek Revisited” editorial you link is well worth the read. Though I haven’t yet read the other articles he includes, I did read the “Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association” at
    These two principles in particular (no pun intended) stand out:
    “That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed.”
    “We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.”
    Man’s impotency and God’s effectual calling? This really is well nigh a Calvinistic confession! Brothers Ascol and Patterson apparently know whereof they speak here.
    As we examine actual history vs. modern misconceptions (and the strange fire it fuels), it is again encouraging to see that we do have an SBC heritage that largely has understood the biblical gospel.

  5. […] Strange BaptistFire A Closer Look at the Doctrines of Grace in the SBC « A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 1: The Historica… […]

  6. […] A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 2b. C.S. Lewis’ Philosophy of God’s Relationship to Time in Miracles 1. […]

  7. […] A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 3a. Romans 9 in Ironside’s Lectures 1. The Historical Question […]

  8. […] In my previous post responding to Dr. Land’s use of history at the John 3:16 Conference, I conceded that, based upon the quotes cited by Dr. Land, it appears that John Leland, an influential Baptist minister in Massachusetts and Virginia in the late 18th and early 19th century, did seem to advocate some form of hybrid system of Calvinism and Arminianism. I made this concession especially in light of a statement from Leland presented by Dr. Land, which said, “the preaching that has been most blessed of God, and profitable to men, is the doctrine of  sovereign in the salvation of souls, mixed with a little of what is called Arminianism.” A commenter on that previous post, Brent Hobbs (who, I believe, is a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), questioned the concession I had made and (in effect) challenged me to examine primary sources of John Leland. I have subsequently been searching through The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland (available on Google Books HERE), and have been surprised at the vigor with which Leland defends certain doctrines that most people would certainly describe as “Calvinistic.” […]

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