Before launching further into our series proper, one additional word needs to be said, I think. It’s a preliminary word, a disclaimer of sorts, before the genuinely important questions like “Where is the intersection of Calvinism and Baptist history?” And “What are the major differences between Arminianism and Calvinism?” And “Within Baptist thought, where does Calvinism live today?” And, finally, “What was the role of Calvinism in the Reformation?”
This preliminary clarification is hinted at in the title of this entry: Not all Baptists are anti-Reformed. It’s a necessary preliminary clarification because very recently Ed Young, pastor of a Baptist church in Texas, opined of Reformed pastors in general and one Reformed pastor in particular:
Are they all bad? No they just don’t reach anybody. Last year at Fellowship Church we baptized 2,632 people. One of the fair-haired boys of this movement, I will not call his name, they baptized 26 people last year. (he then drops his hand-held mic on the floor and looks stunned). Oh, he’s deep. What are you smoking? Are you kidding me? I cannot put my head on the pillow at night knowing we baptized 26 people.
I’ll leave aside for the moment the many problems of such a statement in terms of arrogance and pride and focus on Young’s self-evident loathing of Reformed theology, pointing out simply that though there may well be others who feel something similar, there are many, many Baptists who would be shocked and dismayed by the sentiment exhibited by Young and those of his negligible camp.
For example, none less than A. T. Robertson, perhaps the finest Greek scholar of the Baptist tradition, while listing those whom he considered the best examples of preaching scholars, wrote:
This then is true; not all scholars can preach, and not all preachers can become scholars. There are varying degrees of both, but the best preachers have generally been men of the best training in the schools. This is all that can be said and it is enough. For each man wants to do the most that is in him for the glory of God. The leading examples of preaching will confirm this statement. Paul was an educated man, and so was John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouthed preacher of later days. Luther was a theological professor. Calvin preached every day for a long time while professor of theology at Geneva. John Knox learned Greek and Hebrew between the ages of forty and fifty. Whitefield and Wesley, the great popular preachers, were Oxford men. The famous French preachers, Bossuet, Bourdaloue and Massillon, were likewise scholarly men. And the exceptions usually prove the rule, for even Spurgeon has made a respectable scholar of himself in spite of the lack of early training.
Robertson’s inclusion of Knox and Calvin is certainly not accidental, and had he believed as Young believes, he certainly couldn’t have included them.
Other famous Baptists have also found much merit in Calvin, including but not limited to—and in no particular order—Charles Spurgeon, Roger Williams, Basil Manly, J. P. Boyce, and, of course, Al Mohler. Young may be a vocal critic of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, but he is not a central voice, and he is not even an important voice.
Calvin, the Reformed Tradition, and Calvinism have all been extraordinarily important in the history of the Baptists. Some marginal people may wish to attempt to rewrite history, but they won’t succeed. There are too many who know the facts.