“Calvinism” in “Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1859-2009)”- excerpts from the book by Dr. Gregory A. Wills, Part 2
Part 2: “Calvinism” in both Landmark and non-Landmark churches during the early days of the SBC
[In the following excerpt from Dr. Gregory A. Wills‘ new book Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1859-2009), historical information is given that demonstrates a broad acceptance of “Calvinism” within both Landmark and non-Landmark churches of Southern Baptist Convention previous to 1900.
In Baptist circles, the terms “Landmark Baptists” or “Landmarkers” refer to those who hold to a specific view of Baptist history: namely, that there has been an unbroken line of Baptist churches from the apostles to the present. This view usually has implications for how Baptists are to relate to other churches or if other groups can even properly be referred to as “churches.”
Baptists who reject the Landmark view of Baptist history would agree that the church during the apostolic era was baptistic in nature- in other words, all Baptists are convinced that we get our ideas about baptism and church government, etc., from the apostles- but consider the idea of an unbroken line of Baptist churches to be historically dubious as well as biblically unnecessary.
That both Landmark and non-Landmark Baptists at the beginning of the SBC held to a “Calvinistic” understanding of God’s work in salvation is interesting for Southern Baptists today because many in the SBC who hold to a Landmark-influenced view of Baptist history- such as the leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary- also reject “Calvinism” and would charge non-Landmark “Calvinists” with over-emphasizing the historical-theological connection between Baptists and the Puritans.
The remainder of this post is a quote from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1859-2009), pages 91-92.]:
The non-Landmark leaders of the southeastern states drew on a well-established Calvinist tradition. Jeremiah B. Jeter, president of the Foreign Mission Board and a seminary trustee, explained to his readers that Baptists believed in predestination. God “elects or predestines some to be saved,” and others “are destined to be lost.” Samuel Boykin, editor of Kinds Words and other Sunday school publications, explained that since Christ’s death was vicarious, it was “necessary to limit the extent of his atonement to the number of those for whom he died.” Henry H. Tucker, editor of Georgia’s Christian Index and president of Mercer University, taught in striking terms the doctrines of total depravity, predestination, and particular redemption. David Shaver, another editor of Georgia’s Christian Index, wrote that the rejection of the distinctive teachings of Calvinism was a passage “to grievious forms of error- an avenue in which Henry Ward Beecher stands but midway.” C.T. Bailey, editor of North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, affirmed that he believed “in the doctrine of predestination and personal election.” The creeds adopted by the churches and associations reflected these commitments.
But the Baptist leaders of the Southwest, many of them Landmarkers, were just as keen to advance Calvinism. James R. Graves disavowed the label of Calvinism but nonetheless advocated traditional five-point Calvinism. When Graves was preparing to debate Methodist preacher Jacob Ditzler on baptism, communion, and perseverance in 1875, he asked [John] Broadus’s advice on defending “limited atonement” from objections based on 1 John 2:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:19. His argument, he told Broadus, was “wholly based on the covenant of redemption. Christ undertook to save those his Father gave him- for these he died. These he ransomed by his death.” Graves did indeed establish the doctrine of perseverance on the covenant of redemption, including total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. Jesus was the “surety, mediator, only for ‘the seed of Abraham’- the elect of mankind.” Their names “were put in the eternal contract,” and none for whom Christ died would be lost. There was “no universal atonement.”
Landmark leader James B. Gambrell, editor of Mississippi’s Baptist Record and later editor of Texas’s Baptist Standard and executive secretary of the Texas Baptist Convention, assured Mississippi Baptists that he believed “most fully and firmly in predestination” and that “all the saved will owe their salvation to predestination.” He held that although men were “free agents,” acting as they chose, their free agency “does not prevent God’s governing men as he chooses.” God “can cause men to do freely what he wishes them to do.” Gambrell also taught particular redemption: “Those for whom Christ atoned must be pardoned… If justice is satisfied, who shall lay a charge against God’s elect, for whom Christ died? The sacrifice of the Lamb of God… makes the salvation of all for whom it is offered certain.” Jesus bore the sins of the elect only, Gambrell wrote, for “Christ pays with his blood… and gets all he pays for.” Landmark leader Thomas T. Eaton, editor of the Western Recorder from 1887 to 1907 and a seminary trustee, took it for granted that Baptists were Calvinists: “The essence of Baptist doctrine, called usually the great Calvinistic faith, is that it makes God great.”