Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., has been elected the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
It's not a huge surprise: he's a megachurch pastor with a lot of support among the SBC leadership. It is a bit of a surprise that he won by so much. With 3,100 votes, he had more than twice as many as the next candidate, fellow Atlanta-area megachurch pastor Frank Cox of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga. With six candidates for the position – the most since 1979, when the conservative resurgence in the denomination began – many expected the vote to go to a runoff .
What does Hunt's presidency mean for the SBC? So far, it's hard to tell, though I'm sure the Baptist bloggers will be full of analysis tonight. Hunt's main emphases were preaching and missions (he was particularly vocal about finding new ways of funding missions). But his stances on controversies within the denominations may have had an effect as well.
It's clear that Hunt is no fan of the growing Calvinist movement within the Southern Baptist Convention. He's hosting a major conference to refute Calvinism at his church in November. But most of the candidates were not friendly to Calvinism, and Hunt has given indications that he's not out to purge the denomination of Reformed influences.
"I am not overwhelmingly concerned about Calvinism," Hunt told Baptist Press two weeks ago. "I am concerned about hyper-Calvinism, simply being defined as those that take election to the point that they feel that the Gospel should not even be shared with the whole world. ... I trust that Calvinists, and those who love Jesus of other persuasions, would come together for the common cause of making Jesus Christ known to the nations. There is plenty of room for all of us in this Baptist family."
It's worth noting that Frank Page, the current SBC president was also highly critical of Calvinism (even writing a book titled Trouble with the Tulip) but had an irenic spirit that won him support among Calvinists and Arminians alike.
Things may have gone quite differently had Al Mohler, the Calvinist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stayed in the race (he suffered health complications).
Hunt was actually a leading candidate during the last SBC presidential election, but dropped out a month before the vote.
Hunt might be considered a moderate (though that word is awfully complicated in the SBC context) on one of the denomination's biggest controversies: the International Missions Board's guidelines forbidding missionaries from using private prayer languages, and requiring them to have been baptized in a specific way. Hunt told Baptist Press:
I am not sure that I fully understand all that the IMB trustee guidelines have said, however, if a person has received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and has been baptized by a minister who embraces the Gospel and the Scriptures as we do, their baptism should count in our churches. If James Dobson desired to become part of First Baptist Church Woodstock, I would not require him to be re-baptized.
Concerning the private prayer language: If, indeed, it is private, it seems as though we really don't have an issue to deal with. When a person chooses to become more Pentecostal in their convictions and beliefs, our concern then becomes that of what they are relating to the people on the field. That should call for proper action.
That's an answer that's unlikely to please either of the two major sides in the debate, but it's an answer that's also unlikely to make either to see him as a crusader for the opposition.
Baptist blogger Nathan Finn publicly supported Hunt before the election, and his lengthy blog post last month serves nicely to summarize the main concerns people had about a Hunt presidency, and how Hunt supporters answered.