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The pastor of First Baptist Church in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, for 27 years, Joe Elam only encountered Calvinism once during his ministry—and it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Though forbidden to do so, a former youth pastor at his church secretly taught predestination to teens, Elam said, sowing seeds of lingering division among several families.

"It was a wake-up call for us," said Elam, who recently led the Arbuckle Baptist Association to adopt a motion calling on the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma to rebuke Reformed theology. It sent copies of the motion to all members of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee.

"We would like to see Southern Baptists become aware that [their] money is being used to teach Calvinism in our seminaries," Elam said.

That secret may already be out. Although only 10 percent of SBC pastors identify themselves as Calvinists, nearly 30 percent of recent seminary graduates do, a groundswell that could spark more Oklahoma-like conflicts. Some of the denomination's leading Reformed thinkers come from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, including its president, Al Mohler, and Tom Nettles, coauthor of Baptists and the Bible, a seminal text in the SBC's conservative resurgence.

Long considered more Arminian in orientation—emphasizing an individual's need to respond to the gospel rather than God's election in salvation—the nation's largest Protestant denomination is grappling with doctrines of grace and election amid a seminary-led revival.

Last November, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, co-hosted a conference entitled "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism," which brought 550 registrants ...

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February 2008

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