Poll: SBC pastors have ‘mix of beliefs’ about Calvinism

Nearly equal numbers of pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention consider their churches as Calvinist/Reformed as they do Arminian/Wesleyan, although more than 60 percent are somewhat or strongly concerned about the effect of Calvinism on the denomination, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research.

LifeWay Research presented a slate of statements about Calvinism to a randomly selected sample of senior pastors in the SBC to gauge their theological inclination and whether they are concerned about the impact of Calvinism in the convention.

Sixty-six percent of pastors surveyed do not consider their church a Reformed-theology congregation, while 30 percent agreed (somewhat or strongly) with the statement “my church is theologically Reformed or Calvinist.” Four percent did not know.

By the same token, 64 percent of SBC pastors also disagreed (15 percent somewhat; 49 percent strongly) that “my church is theologically Arminian or Wesleyan.” Thirty percent of respondents classified their church as Arminian or Wesleyan, with 6 percent selecting “don’t know.”

“Historically, many Baptists have considered themselves neither Calvinist nor Arminian, but holding a unique theological approach not framed well by either category,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.

The survey revealed that 61 percent of SBC pastors agree (35 percent strongly; 26 percent somewhat) they are “concerned about the impact of Calvinism in our convention.” Thirty percent disagreed (16 percent strongly, 14 percent somewhat) with the statement. Nine percent chose “don’t know.”

Pastors age 18-44 are most likely to strongly disagree (26 percent) that they are concerned (4 percent selected “don’t know”) and are more likely (20 percent) to somewhat disagree than pastors age 55-64 (10 percent) and 65 and older (9 percent).

Seventy-eight percent of pastors responded they personally are not five-point Calvinists, while 16 percent agreed with the statement “I am a five-point Calvinist.” LifeWay Research asked a similar question in a 2006 SBC survey, which revealed 85 percent did not consider themselves five-point Calvinists and 10 percent affirmed that they were five-point Calvinists.

“Rather than ask a single question of yes or no, the new survey was intended to capture some of the complexity of the debate by covering several specific theological points and bringing clarity to how strongly pastors hold each position,” Stetzer said.

Ten percent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement “Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone in the world” and another 6 percent somewhat agreed. More than 80 percent somewhat disagreed (6 percent) or strongly disagreed (77 percent) with the statement.

Half of SBC pastors agreed with a statement related to irresistible grace – 31 percent strongly agreed and 19 percent somewhat agreed with the statement, “God is the true evangelist, and when He calls someone to Himself, His grace is irresistible.” Forty-eight percent (29 percent strongly, 19 percent somewhat) disagreed with the statement.

Two-thirds of SBC pastors strongly disagreed with a statement on double predestination: “Before the foundation of the world, God predestined some people to salvation and some to damnation.” Eleven percent strongly agreed with the statement, while 10 percent somewhat agreed and 9 percent somewhat disagreed.

More than 90 percent strongly disagreed that “it diminishes God’s sovereignty to invite all persons to repent and believe.”

Ninety-four percent of respondents believe in the security of the believer, disagreeing with the statement that “a person can, after becoming a Christian, reject Christ and lose their salvation.” Five percent agreed a person can lose their salvation.

“There appears to be a lot of concern among Southern Baptist pastors on the impact of Calvinism, but the beliefs in these doctrines, at least measured by these questions, show quite a mix of beliefs,” Stetzer said.

He summarized: “Most Baptists are not Calvinists, though many are, and most Baptists are not Arminians, though many are comfortable with that distinction. However, there is a sizable minority that see themselves as Calvinist and holds to such doctrines, and a sizable majority that is concerned about their presence. That points to challenging days to come.”

The survey was conducted April 1-May 11 online and via mail from a randomly drawn list of SBC congregations. – LifeWay