The Conservative Resurgence, Calvinism, and Plurality of Elders

By Nathan Akin

Southern Baptists were given a great gift in the Conservative Resurgence (CR) as we reaffirmed our commitment to Sola Scriptura. We were taught in the Resurgence an absolute commitment to the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Scriptures. We are indebted to men like Patterson, Pressler, Criswell, Rogers, Vines, and many more for this work. This work is a grace gift to us younger SBC’ers, one that we dare not miss. There are many observable benefits of the CR. One of the most apparent is that there are 6 SBC Seminaries that affirm the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures.

I believe the CR has directly led to trends and current debates in Baptist life that some may view as curses and others as blessings. However, I see these trends and debates as the outworking of treating the Word of God as inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative. I would like to bring up three of these, though I believe there are others. The architects of the CR may or may not necessarily love all of these trends, but I believe these are directly linked to these leaders passing on a confidence that the Scriptures are sufficient! I believe we should be thankful for these current trends and debates when viewed through the lens of the debates we might be having had the CR never taken place.

  • The Surge in Reformed Theology in the SBC – Perhaps this is the current conversation that brings the most heat. I believe a surge in Reformed Theology can be directly linked to the CR. Calvinism was not being debated in our seminaries or churches prior to the CR the way it is now. This should be viewed as a healthy development. Not only can this be a legitimate interpretation of the Scriptures, but this position has also been held by many of our forefathers and foremothers whom we love, admire, and respect (Lottie Moon, SBTS founders, and more). Many in the young reformed camp would point to this absolute commitment to the sufficiency of the Scriptures (reading through Romans, Ephesians, etc) as the reason that they began to embrace the doctrines of grace. I believe we should see this as a healthy discussion (though at times the more extreme voices on each side are very unhelpful, and I wish they didn’t have access to computers!) since it is healthier to be debating the finer points of soteriology than the exclusivity of the gospel.
    • Note: I just want to add a side note about the young reformed group in the SBC. I believe if there was humble, open dialogue on both sides, then they would find that they have much more in common than they think. I think many of these young reformed have been heavily influenced by the CR in that they are committed not only to reformed theology, but also Expository Preaching, an absolute commitment to Penal Substitution that permeates their preaching, and to the primacy of the church. This is observable in their preaching through books of the Bible and their commitment to Regenerate Church Membership. So, though they tend to be different than their Fathers in things like casual dress and contemporary worship (which they see as a sufficiency issue because the Bible doesn’t address dress or musical worship style), there is much similarity in what they hold as most central.

  • A Commitment to Plurality of Elders – Another hotly debated issue is whether or not there should be a plurality of elders in a local church, or whether “elder” is even a good term to use synonymously with pastor. I believe this surge in the SBC can also be directly linked to the CR. I am confused by some of the heat in this debate. I think any fair reading of the text would yield a plurality of Elders in an autonomous, local church as one viable option. Though many SBC churches do not employ this leadership structure (nor use the name Elder), it is a viable option in the NT.  In addition, the heat over the use of the term “Elder” is troubling because it is by far the preferred word used by Paul and the apostles. Further, some even levy an accusation that churches/men that use this terminology or have plurality are “Presbyterian.” This sort of rhetoric and name-calling does not help the church leadership conversation, demonstrates a lack of understanding, and misses the prevalence of the term to represent leadership in the NT. It is quite possible to have a plurality of Elders leading the body, while at the same time having congregational responsibility (I pastor/elder in such a church). I believe the increasing amount of churches using this terminology and polity in Baptist life can be directly linked to the CR. Many of those employing plurality and using the term elder for their pastors would point to the Scriptures repeated use of the term as the reason why they employ the term and polity. I think this is also a healthy conversation. It is better to ask these questions about vocabulary and polity rather than whether or not to ordain homosexuals as Pastor/Elder/Overseer.
  • ChristCentered Preaching: Should we preach Christ from every text, especially in the OT? This is a good question to explore, and it is a preferred debate to the ones other denominations have. I am glad we are discussing whether Jonah was a type of Christ rather than if there ever was a prophet named Jonah and if a big fish ever swallowed him. (Note: There will be a panel on this topic at this year’s SBC)

So, I am very thankful for the CR. It has led to a confidence in the Scriptures. And it has led to the SBC having “debates” and conversations that are different than sister denominations. Instead of an unhealthy sign, I believe we should see these conversations as a sign of health. Though I get tired of our fighting over Calvinism (usually from the extremes on both ends), I do believe we are having healthy conversations and I would not trade our discussions for others. However, I do hope we can move forward with all of these topics as family not sniping at one another over them since all of these issues can be legitimate outcomes of a belief in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. I am thankful for this commitment to the Scriptures that has been passed down to us. This commitment has taught us to search out what these Scriptures say about things like church order, life, salvation, God, and many other things. And I am thankful for the men of the CR who led us to this confidence in the Word. They have certainly impacted the church I serve, which is why we often speak at Imago Dei of being a people seeking to stand “under” the authority of the Word.  

The B21 Panel (Danny Akin, Matt Carter, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, and David Platt) will discuss topics like this Tuesday, June 11 at this year’s SBC in Houston – Register today (Lunch and Free Books Provided)

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Nathan Akin

Nathan Akin is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the Liaison to the Churches for SEBTS. In addition, he serves as the College Director at Open Door Baptist Church. Nathan has a BS in Political Science and a Social Sciences teaching degree from Murray State University, where he also played basketball (Go Racers– The 30th best basketball program since ’85 according to espn.com).

13 thoughts on “The Conservative Resurgence, Calvinism, and Plurality of Elders

  1. Nathan,

    I can personally attest to the truth you have mentioned. It was my discovering and committing to Sola Scriptura that let to my embracing Reformed Theology, plurality of elders, and Christ-centered preaching. In my youthful folly, I regretfully have been one who brought more heat than light into discussions about each. Fortunately, God graciously showed me the error of my ways and now I’m striving to build bridges instead of win arguments. Thanks for the good word.

    1. You mean “Tota Scriptura.” I believe in “Sola Scriptura” but certainly not in “Tota Scriptura” because Paul was a dirty Gnostic heretic as were any other NT writers who teach predestination. The difference between Sola Scripture (Scripture Alone) and Tota Scriptura (You have to believe every word of Scripture or burn in hell) is with Sola Scriptura, scripture is a grab-bag, the sold grab-bag but still a grab-bag, from which to build a system of theology: whereas with Tota Scriptura one is bound hand and foot to follow scripture in every absurd statement and conclusion and end up with a non-senisical contradictory tyrannical system.

  2. If you don’t get how arrogant and insulting comments like this are than the fighting can never stop:

    “Many in the young reformed camp would point to this absolute commitment to the sufficiency of the Scriptures (reading through Romans, Ephesians, etc) as the reason that they began to embrace the doctrines of grace”

    Truly? No generation before this had an absolute commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. If only nonCals would read their Bibles like you arrogant young punks than they too would know the glories of the DOG.

    There will be no unity when the young keep telling their elders that they are better at studying the Scriptures than they are.

  3. Anny,

    While I don’t need to speak in defense of my brothers statement, He was not saying that this younger generation is “better” at studying the Scriptures than their elders. He did say that their was a generation of LIBERAL scholars and teachers who minimized and ripped apart the Bible and its doctrines as myths and fables. The CR did fight against such heresy.

    While you may disagree with some of Nathan’s conclusions, the way you address the issue lacks and grace whatsoever. I would hope the generation that Nathan lauded as fighting for TRUTH would give respect too the generation to follow us. If they are incorrect in their ways how about applying Galatians 6:1 and “gently” restore them.

  4. Anny,

    I want to say a few things. First, I never said the things you claim. The only argument I made was that reformed theology is one legitimate interpretation, not the only. Second, I never claimed that the younger generation reads the Scriptures better than our fathers. The post is arguing that our fathers helped us to love the Scriptures and study them, even if father and son come to different (but still legitimate) conclusions on what they read. Third, the reason I argue that the CR & a re-commitment to the sufficiency of the Scriptures in the SBC has led to some surge in reformed theology is b/c of real conversations I have had with young reformed guys who say that what the CR leaders passed down to them is what led to them reading these verses and coming to reformed conclusions. Some of them say they are reading the Scriptures like our father’s father’s fathers. So, this is not an age thing. Finally, the rhetoric and name-calling you have engaged in (i.e “punks,” “arrogant,” “insulting”) is disappointing to me because the post doesn’t call anyone names, in fact it laments any name-calling in this debate on either side. And, this kind of rhetoric is not helpful to the conversation. I am thankful that most reformed & non-reformed guys I know can engage in a healthy discussion about these things without using this kind of heat.

    Nate

  5. Although I do not believe Jonah to be a type of Christ, I certainly agree that the dialogue is far better than it would have been had the CR never occurred.

    Thanks for this post. It is good food for thought.

  6. James,

    I think I am going to stick with Peter (see what he thinks of those that twist Paul’s writings below), the overwhelming weight of church history, and the reformers on the reliability of Paul’s orthodoxy and Epistles.

    “…Just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
    (2 Peter 3:15-18)

    Nate

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