Commotion arose in February over reports that Calvinists teaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas, might be in danger of losing their jobs.
Pastor Wade Burleson of Enid, Oklahoma, raised the alarm in a February blog post alleging that SWBTS president Paige Patterson had met with professors and implied that the seminary, which is facing economic problems, might first target Calvinist professors if it had to resort to layoffs.
Seminary officials declined to comment, saying the Calvinism flap was a "non-story" based on false information. Greg Welty, an SWBTS professor for six years and a five-point Calvinist, said Calvinist professors had received no such warning, and urged Burleson to "repent of your lies and slanders."
Burleson did not repent. He told Christianity Today that he received the information from professors who had been in the meetings. Burleson believes his report caused the seminary to temporarily retreat from the alleged plan.
Randall Easter, a student and five-point Calvinist at SWBTS and pastor of First Baptist Church of Briar, near Fort Worth, told CT that tensions remained on campus over the possible firings. He said that some professors who hold to Calvinism told him they had recently been called into meetings with Patterson.
"They started with four-point and five-point Calvinists," Easter said. "They said they were asked about their soteriology, their view of salvation. They were left with the impression that they may or may not be laid off because of their soteriology."
Although Patterson has publicly expressed concerns about Calvinist tenets that he thinks might hurt evangelism, he has said the issue should not divide Southern Baptists. He and close friend Albert Mohler, the Calvinist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, debated the issue at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention.
Shortly after Burleson's blog post, Patterson was interviewed by Oklahoma pastor Wes Kenney, who asked about "rumors" of possible Calvinist firings.
"We're hopeful that we don't have to cut any professors," Patterson said in the taped interview, posted on Kenney's SBC Today website. The president said he would not hide behind a screen of economic problems if he thought a professor needed to be removed because of certain Calvinist beliefs. "I will say," Patterson continued, "that Southwestern will not build a school in the future around anybody who could not look anybody in the world in the eyes and say, 'Christ died for your sins.' "
Patterson's words, Burleson said, are a rejection of limited atonement, a tenet of five-point Calvinism that holds that God's plan of atonement is effective only for those chosen by God for salvation before the world began.
The events at Southwestern will not be the last opportunity for Baptists to "get up in arms" about Calvinism, said Tom Ascol, executive director of the Founders Network, which aims to encourage Baptists to accept Calvinist principles.
"It's not going away," said Ascol. "The question is whose vision of the future will prevail?" In other words, can Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the denomination work together?
"We need to address these issues like brothers," he said. "If we disagree, okay. It won't be the first time. Let's find where we can agree and link arms in preaching the gospel message. It will be like iron sharpening iron."
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LifeWay has conducted research on Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.
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