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A Second Look At Dr Elmer Towns Letter

by Alan Davis

Dr Elmer Towns titles his letter, “What Should Southern Baptists Do with Calvinists.” The title itself insists that something is wrong with Calvinists right off the bat. Imagine if the title said, “What Should Southern Baptists Do with Armenians” or “What Should Southern Baptist Do with Traditionalists”. The word structure suggests something is wrong and something must be done. Like, “What Should Parents Do with Rebellious Youth?” My first remark to Dr. Towns is, why should Southern Baptists do anything about Calvinists? Or at least do any more about Calvinists than they would do about Armenians or Traditionalists? In his title alone Dr Towns sets the premise that the Calvinists need to be fixed or that the Southern Baptist Convention needs protection from them. It is as if the Calvinists have an infectious disease and he doesn’t want to catch it. This is not a mistake by Dr Towns nor was it something coincidental. A learned man like Dr. Towns set this title intentionally knowing that many will have their first glance skewered by his structure of said title. Unfortunately Dr Towns set the tone for most of the letter as he miscommunicates Baptistic Calvinism and Historic Baptist Doctrines through much of the letter.

To Dr Towns’ credit he did open up the letter with a sentence giving some historical fact concerning the Southern Baptist Convention and Calvinism but the letter began to digress from there. His second paragraph makes the assumption that the Doctrines of Grace is to be fought and a battle must ensue within the Southern Baptist Convention over these doctrines. Once again painting Calvinism as a disease to be avoided. I think he hit on a truth when he said in the third paragraph of his letter, “Some feel the next battle in the Southern Baptist Convention is the intrusive practice of Pentecostal sign gifts.” I believe THAT is the battle, as this practice is a twisted and unbiblical practice unknown to the SBC and Baptist through church History. He draws a parallel with the unsound practices of today’s Pentecostal gifts with Calvinism, thus making Calvinism as guilty as or guiltier than these twisted practices and of being dangerous and worth fighting against. Again Dr Towns is a learned man and knows what he is doing in this letter.

In his fourth paragraph it seem Dr Towns gets to the point of his letter as he introduces the “battle” (signifying Calvinism needs battling!). He broaches his intended subject by immediately calling Calvinism “intrusive influence.” Sort of like an unwanted dinner guest dropping into a family Sunday dinner, intruding on the family’s meal and fellowship, and being unwanted by everyone. The Webster dictionary defines intrusive as “intruding where one is not welcome or invited.” The word usage by Dr. Towns is clearly used for the purpose to set the average Southern Baptist reader immediately at odds with this “intruder” into the Southern Baptist Camp. Again this is no mistake on Dr. Towns’ part.

In his sixth paragraph, Dr Towns asks the question, “should or should not Southern Baptists attempt to purge itself of five point Calvinists?” He never answers his own question here making the reader believe that there is validity in “purging” the SBC of Calvinists! This is a dangerous premise at best. He doesn’t just want the Southern Baptist Convention purged of Calvinism but of Calvinists! In this same paragraph he states, “The following questions are asked to help Southern Baptists identify the problem and come to some sensible answers.” Dr. Towns once again labels Calvinism and Calvinists as the problem. Imagine someone of Dr Towns’ stature saying that “Traditionalists are the problem” or “Armenians are the problem”.

In Paragraph eight of Dr Towns’ letter he immediately makes a dogmatic statement without proof. Elmer Towns states, “The problem is that most five point Calvinists don’t just point to their flag; many become exclusionary of any other view that will not salute their flag and fight for the flag in ecclesiastical battles.” Is this not what Dr Towns is doing? He made this into a battle, then presents Calvinism as the problem and thus the enemy (you cannot have a battle without an enemy). Does Dr Towns know “most five point Calvinists” in the SBC? Has he done a study of “most five point Calvinists” in the SBC on this very matter of fighting for their flag? Imagine another well-known Baptist Professor saying that “Most Armenians in the SBC preach easy believism.” He certainly would be called on the carpet.

Dr Towns moves back to being factual, or at least an attempt at a balanced letter, in the subsequent paragraphs concerning evangelism and I appreciate the truth there. In his paragraph just before his conclusion, Dr Towns likens Calvinism to the weeds in his yard. Weeds that spread their unwanted seed and this seed begets other weeds in amongst his much wanted grass. One could say with Dr. Towns great knowledge of Scripture there was a subversive message and allusion to the parable of the wheat and tares. I certainly hope not, but if he proofed this paper I would not doubt he saw that shadow and maybe grinned. But just on face value alone Elmer Towns here again likens Calvinism and Calvinists as something to get rid of at any cost.

In one of Dr Towns closing paragraphs he states that it is alright to not be a Calvinist (absolutely!). Then Dr Towns goes on to state what he sees a non-Calvinists church doing. We would have to presume by the structure of his letter and this paragraph this is in opposition to a Calvinists Southern Baptist Church.  So he states the non-Calvinist church are just satisfied with finding lost people and taking God’s Word at face value. As if the Calvinist Southern Baptist Church doesn’t do that! Even after stating the factual statistics that says there is virtually no difference in a Calvinist Southern Baptist Church and a Non- Calvinist Southern Baptist Church concerning evangelism and Baptisms. Then in this same paragraph he states the “Non- Calvinist Southern Baptist Church” will not pick up theology leading them to sprinkle children. Does Dr. Towns know of a current cooperating Southern Baptist church which sprinkles children? If he does he does not state so. Evidence here could make a point and lack of makes for a manipulative letter. On the other hand I DO know of Southern Baptist Churches that baptize 4 year olds and have heard of a 3 year old being baptized. These would NOT be Calvinistic Southern Baptist Churches. He goes on to state that the “Non-Calvinist Southern Baptist Churches” will not have confirmation classes for their youth thus making an assumption that Calvinistic Baptist Churches do. I know of no Calvinistic Southern Baptist Church that has confirmation classes for their youth. Does Dr Towns know of some? Again he does not tell us if he does, he only alludes to this. He also states that the Non-Calvinist Southern Baptist Church will lead young and old alike to Christ through a tangible conversion experience, once again as if this is in opposition to the Calvinistic Southern Baptist Church.

I challenge Dr. Towns to support his assumptions from this letter with facts. I know he will not because he has no facts to back up what I brought out above. Dr. Towns crafted this letter such as to direct the mind of the average reader to see Calvinistic Baptists and Churches as the enemy. Dr. Towns, by this very letter, condemns the Calvinistic Southern Baptist Churches and Calvinistic Southern Baptists as holding aberrant theology that is unwanted in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sola Scriptura
Pastor Alan Davis
May 2, 2016

From → SBC

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