ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Nov. 27, 2007 – At the opening session of the “Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism” conference Nov. 26, Union University President David S. Dockery cited 1 Thessalonians 5:21, urging Southern Baptists to “hold on to what is good.”
The three-day conference, held at LifeWay Christian Resources’ Ridgecrest Conference Center, was sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries.
In his address, Dockery spoke to more than 540 Southern Baptists on the historical record of Baptists and Calvinism. Beginning with John Calvin, he made his way through the history of Calvinism within the denomination, from Southern Baptist origins to the recent conservative resurgence.
Dockery said understanding the past is vital to the SBC’s future as a denomination.
“By and large, we don’t know our heritage, our history, our theological identity or the distinctiveness of the various traditions,” Dockery said.
He noted that almost three decades of controversy over theological issues and denominational polity have left Baptists asking important questions about their identity, heritage and future.
He said that these questions have brought about four distinct trends in the SBC: a refocus on the Bible and its authority, a re-emphasis on the importance of theology, an attempt to reclaim and to understand Baptist heritage and conversations with evangelicals outside Baptist life.
Dockery urged the group to think together about the heritage, history and traditions that have shaped Southern Baptist life.
“Southern Baptists are both beneficiaries of good, wise and sound traditions, as well as victims of poor, unwise and unsound traditions,” he said.
He noted that Southern Baptists, as beneficiaries, receive “nurturing truth and wisdom from God’s faithfulness in past generations.”
He also said that Southern Baptists are victims who “take for granted things that possibly/probably need to be questioned.”
“Let us hold on to that which is good, and carry it forward for the cause of Christ, the advancement of His kingdom and for His glory,” Dockery said. He asserted that, in regard to questions of Calvinism, it is important that Baptists hold on to both the clear biblical affirmations of God’s sovereignty and the responsibility of men and women.
After walking through an overview of Southern Baptist theologians, including John Dagg, James Boyce, B.H. Carroll, E.Y. Mullins, W.T. Conner, Herschel Hobbs and W.A. Criswell, Dockery said, “We can hold hands together as Calvinists, as modified Calvinists, as lenient Calvinists and as modified Arminians — working together to advance the cause of the gospel.
“I believe it is time to recognize that a variety of perspectives can be found in Baptist life and have been found in Baptist life. It is clear that faithful and earnest followers of Christ have viewed these important matters differently.”
Dockery ended by urging Southern Baptists to pray for a “Great Commission resurgence” and affirming that the Word of God must be the last word in sifting through and evaluating both Baptists traditions and challenges.
Dockery's address, as well as audio from the rest of the conference, can be heard at Inside Lifeway.
By Kristen Nicole Sayres