It was somewhat expected by those in the know that J.D. Greear would be elected to serve as SBC President at the annual meeting in Dallas this week. I was still somewhat surprised by the 68% of ballots he received from messengers. While many were pleased with the announcement the reactions ranged from “Thank God” to talk of the downward spiral the SBC has been on for years. While I would make a good 3 1/2 point Calvinist at best I am going out on a limb and saying this choice will not seal our fate. Greear’s election is not the final nor any other nail in the coffin.
Most of the day to day activities of Southern Baptists are far removed from what goes on in Nashville. While some SBC members read Baptist Press and follow state and convention wide news and events there are many others that are totally clueless. I would venture to say (since I’m not a betting man) that the majority of SBC church goers could not have told you the name of the SBC President if you had asked them six months ago. It was newsworthy when Fred Luter became the first African American SBC President a few years ago. I later followed Ronnie Floyd on Facebook and Twitter. Did you know Steve Gaines was the current president? I know his picture when I see it but honestly don’t know anything about him. I would not recognize the sound of his voice. In my day to day routine of Bible study and sermon prep, the occasional hospital visit etc. his name just doesn’t come up. I get excited about our state convention as it approaches each November here in Georgia, but much of the year I don’t think about that either. A few times during the calendar year I will see or listen to a speaker from Duluth. When I was on the mission field in the state of Kentucky (or the Commonwealth for those of you that really care) there were a few people in the state office that new my name. Keith Inman was the state student ministry leader at the time but he has gone on to other things since. I had no contact with anyone in Nashville. Not much has changed as I pastor in Georgia. We don’t live in different worlds we just run in different circles.
Is Greear a Calvinist? Brace yourself: So what if he is? I am not a Calvinist. Like most Southern (and other) Baptists I’m on board with total depravity and perseverance of the saints, which translates in small country churches as once saved, always saved. I get off the train before it pulls into irresistible grace and find the idea of limited atonement offensive. My personal conviction is that limited atonement is not biblical. There is nothing limited about the shed blood of Jesus Christ (a statement Michael Spencer made not when I first met him but where he ended up before his journey was completed). Having said that… I served on the mission field with Calvinists that jokingly referred to themselves as 7 point Calvinists; hyperbole for those that missed it. They left churches they had served in and moved their families hundreds of miles in order to serve in rural Appalachia. I worked with Calvinists, non-Calvinists and other good hearted Christians that didn’t know the difference on a daily basis. My wife and I joined a local Baptist church only to find out later the pastor was as 5 point as they come. And he had a heart for the Gospel and a passion for sharing it with anyone that would listen and young people in particular. Instead of going to the annual state convention he made an annual, if not more often, mission trip to Haiti. A few times we sang 8 or 10 verses of Just As I Am as the altar call was extended. I’ve seen him pray for lost souls until tears squeezed from his eyes. He was a leader not just in the church but in the local community. I could not reconcile his passion for sharing the Gospel with his Calvinism. We had this and similar discussions many times. He was convinced that sooner or later I would see the light and cross the aisle, so to speak. In the meantime he also invited me to preach in his pulpit, direct VBS, drive a church bus and so forth. He was a supporter of the school with an international student body and a supporter of my work in the ministry. His heart was in the right place and I can say with confidence he was doing God’s work. We didn’t agree on everything but each day we engaged in what I consider the most important things.
I don’t know Greear’s heart. I have read that it is in the right place and he has many faithful followers. Here is a brand new article published just this morning about his goals which includes some Q & A. I know this: the SBC is bigger than one man just like the federal government is bigger than one man. Whether you care for Donald Trump or not the United States will survive his term in office. And as far as Calvinism is concerned the argument is academic. Election vs. freewill is an argument over how we are saved. There is no disagreement that the lost need to hear the Gospel. There is agreement among all Christians everywhere that Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life. My advice is this: Read your Bible. Pray. Do your good works before others so they can see them and give glory to the Father. That advice will not change no matter who is elected to what office.