As the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention convenes this morning in Houston, theological issues will be ever close at hand. This is as it should be, for Baptists are a theological people. The history of the Southern Baptist Convention has been a legacy of significant doctrinal debates and controversies — most of them over issues that matter. There is no embarrassment in this, for the only way to avoid doctrinal debate is to assume a lowest-common-denominator level of doctrine that is unworthy of a people committed to the Gospel of Christ.
In other words, doctrinal controversy and debate can be a sign of denominational vitality, rather than an assured sign of denominational trouble. The key word in that sentence is can. There is no assurance that doctrinal controversy will stay healthy and vital. It is up to the participants in a controversy to keep it healthy and the entire denomination has the responsibility to urge participants to be respectful, honest, and Gospel-centered.
In recent years, Calvinism has been the focus of intense debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. There are influential figures within the SBC who fervently desire the denomination to move in a more explicitly and comprehensively Calvinistic direction. There are others who are just as fervently committed to prevent that from taking place. This debate is partly generational, partly theological, and, more recently, intensely personal.
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