Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover: Is Southern Seminary Ground Zero?

You’re going to hear a lot about Collin Hansen’s new book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. This explosive little volume is certain to incite strong opinions across the Evangelical spectrum. What concerns me in this post is the fourth chapter of his book titled “Ground Zero – Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.”

Is Southern Seminary Ground Zero?

Let’s being with the obvious failure of this chapter to support its headline. As an experienced journalist, Collin has crafted a compelling angle. Yes, we all want to hear the inside story of Norton Hall’s subversive theology. Yes, we all want to see the photos of students sporting Tulip Tattoos. But Hansen’s visit to Lexington Road must have been mildly disappointing.

Three Southern students are mentioned by name: Matt Hall, Bradley Cochran and Timmy Brister. If Southern is “Ground Zero” then we should expect to hear about the irresistible influence of Calvinism at Southern Seminary. But all three came to Southern already convinced of reformed theology. These same stories could have come from any Evangelical Seminary in America. What about the other 4,300 students at Southern? Perhaps a broader sample would yield different conclusions.

Four Southern Seminary professors are mentioned by name: Albert Mohler, Tom Nettles, Bruce Ware, and Tom Schriener. If Southern is “Ground Zero” then we should expect to hear about their agenda to convince student of reformed theology. But each interview affirms the school’s commitment to the Bible above any theological system. Consider Mohler’s quote:

“When I say that my agenda is not Calvinism, I say that with unfeigned honesty, with undiluted candor,” Mohler told me. “My agenda is the gospel. And I refuse to limit that to a label, but I am also very honest to say, yes, that means I am a five-point Calvinist. If you’re counting points, here I am.”

The majority of this chapter actually speaks to the larger discussion between Southern Baptists. Even the most creative readers will struggle to see the connection with our Seminary.

The chapter title is a great hook, but twenty-four pages later it sounded like hype. Hansen offers no evidence of a vast Calvinist-wing conspiracy at Southern Seminary.

Is Southern Seminary the Geneva of the Calvinist comeback? That question is still open for discussion, but consider some observations by Trevin Wax.

  1. Currently, not one of the deans at Southern Seminary is a five-point Calvinist.
  2. Calvinism is not a litmus test for teaching at the seminary.
  3. Calvinism is not the main subject of interest among faculty members or students.

He concludes:

Southern Seminary, like the wider Southern Baptist Convention, contains both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Next time you hear someone speaking of Southern Seminary as “Calvinist,” I hope you will be inclined to correct the misconception and provide some additional details in order to put an end to some of the false, sweeping generalizations about Southern.

The Real Ground Zero Revealed

What disappoints me most about this chapter, and the whole Calvinism conversation, is what Hansen didn’t say. Granted, his visit was brief, but sometimes it’s better to skip the tulips and smell the roses first.

Consider Mohler’s convocation message from 2000 as told by Baptist Press:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Theological education is fruitless unless it is Christ-centered and evangelism-driven, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told new and returning students at the seminary’s convocation Aug. 29.

“These days there is some confusion about what theological education is all about or should be all about,” Mohler said. “… It is clear that some theological seminaries see themselves as training schools for religious professionals. And others see themselves as academic research centers for theology and religious studies.”

But Mohler said the role of Southern Seminary — as well as that of other evangelical institutions — must be different.

We ought to define who we are as an institution by thinking of ourselves as ground zero for the cause of the gospel,” he said. “There is always the danger of missing the obvious. A true test of a theological seminary is its faithfulness to the gospel. Is the gospel truly central?”

I’ve been at Southern since 1999, first at Boyce College and now as a LEAD school student. Granted, I’ve been off campus and attending part-time. But after nearly ten years and around 150 credits at Southern, my experience has proved Mohler’s vision is still on track.

Collin is a great writer, but his label for Southern just doesn’t stick. The renewal at our seminary is more diverse and gospel-driven than his treatment suggests. There may be students who are out of bounds, either too Calvinistic or too pragmatic, but our common passion is to preach Jesus Christ and a Gospel Worldview.

If you really want to understand the ethos of Southern and its faculty, I suggest you visit their personal blogs. Here are a few standouts. You can find more on our Faculty Said page.

  • Moore To The Point – Russell Moore (Ph.D from Southern) – Associate Professor of Christian Theology (2001); Dean of the School of Theology; Senior Vice President for Academic Administration
  • Biblical Church Growth by Chuck Lawless (Ph.D from Southern) – William Walker Brookes Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth (1997); Dean, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth; Director of Professional Doctoral Studies
  • Culture & Missiology by David Sills – Associate Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology (2003); Director of Great Commission Ministries; Director of the Doctor of Missiology program, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth
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32 Responses to Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover: Is Southern Seminary Ground Zero?

  1. Tony,

    FWIW, I brought up the critiques in my interview with Collin today. We discussed Challies, Lamb, and your thoughts (as to “ground zero” and why he did not talk exclusively about SBTS). The interview will be in three-25 minute segments, with the portion on the SBC in the third one.

    Also, Tim reposted Scott’s review on his blog today. I would like to interact as well but am about to head out the door with the fam for spring break.

    In any case, I think we need a healthy conversation about the milieu we find ourselves; I just hope we can do it with a listening ear and a humble heart.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..WordPress New Dashboard

  2. Trevin Wax says:


    This is a good response to Hansen’s chapter on Southern. Hansen is right to see the Reformed Resurgence in Louisville; however the picture he paints is ultimately inaccurate because it doesn’t take into account the diversity at Southern Seminary.

    Trevin Wax’s last blog post..In the Blogosphere

  3. Tony Kummer says:

    Timmy – Thanks for listening to my views on this. I look forward to hearing the podcast with Colling – and I look forward to meeting him at Band of Bloggers.

    I probably won’t finish the book until after the Semester is over, but I am glad that he has given the topic a full book length treatment.

    Trevin – I’m looking forward to reading your reviews of the book too. Looking back I’ve seen Southern called “ground zero” for several different movements. I think this is what Mohler was echoing when he preached his sermon in 2000. Perhaps Hansen was pulling from some of the historic rhetoric as well.

    SBTS has been called “ground zero”
    – for the moderate theology in the SBC
    – for the conservative resurgence
    – for Calvinism
    – for the Gospel
    – fill in your own

  4. Fusion! says:

    I liked Challies review and his post today. I have only three questions: How big is this? will it get bigger? and what do we call ourselves? It’s something I’ve been blogging about as of late. Do let me know what you think. BTW: I’m really liking this page.

    Fusion!’s last blog post..So, what DO we call ourselves?

  5. Ricky Love says:

    Bradley Cochran whom you mentioned in this post also happens to be a good friend of mine. We both attended Liberty University which is not know for pumping out Calvinistic Theology. However, while at LU Bradley Cochran recieved an award called ‘The Soul Winners Award,’ which is given to a student who exemplifies a commitment to sharing the gospel. He recieved this award in front of the entire student body of around 10,000 students. Talk about ground Zero!

    A fellow SBTSer,

    Ricky Love

    Ricky Love’s last blog post..Gregory the Great

  6. Tony,

    I don’t want to spoil the interview with Collin, but here’s my take on why SBTS is “ground zero” (which is not the answer Collin gave).

    Two things should be mentioned that brought about reform in SBTS and will bring about reform in the churches of the SBC, viz. confessional identity/fidelity and the primacy/sufficiency/centrality of Scripture.

    When Dr. Mohler pressed for confessional accountability with the Abstract, he enforced the standard belief of our institution which is unmistakably Reformed. Had he not done this, we would not have the professors we have today (many of whom do not have a history in the SBC). In fact, I would argue that a good number of our faculty would not be teaching in an SBC context were it not for Dr. Mohler, the reformation that took place, and the Abstract as our guiding confession of faith. While not all professors are “five point Calvinists” (I’m tired of this term BTW), many if not most of them are.

    Secondly, SBTS puts great emphasis on the primacy, centrality, and sufficiency of Scripture in regards to our doctrine, our view of preaching, and church governance. This will inevitably change the nature of the SBC. Just the mere fact that we are training preachers, expository preachers, to go into the pulpits will change the SBC (if not immediately, over the course of a generation). When you have pulpits that emphasize biblical exegesis, preach the whole counsel of Scripture, and have high view of God and His Word, the outcome very often leads to a Reformed understanding of salvation (that is not to say that only Calvinists have a high view of God and Scripture of course).

    HOWEVER, here is where “ground zero” is taking place. On point one, there is a movement that is trying to make the Abstract null and void (which will never happen). They don’t like it because of how uncompromising it is on some key doctrinal points (basically a distilled version of 2nd LBC). How SBTS and the Abstract relates to the rest of the SBC and the BF&M is one facet of ground zero.

    On the second point, ground zero takes a more practical, and more pointedly, a more consequential reality. That is to say, these preacher boys who have been taught to rightly divide, exegete, and preach the Scriptures are not being given an open door to churches because they come from “that Mohler seminary” (which I have been told more than once). You have DOM’s operating as bishops, telling prospective ministers that their resumes aren’t allowed because they come from “that Calvinist seminary”; thus, they are disallowed opportunity of ministry positions in associations where DOM’s have control. For a convention that holds to the autonomy of local churches, it should not be a surprise to see state convention officers and DOM’s hands in the business of individual churches.

    The bureaucratic control goes to another level informally but yet with equal influence when denominational leaders give these preacher boys ultimatums and arbitrate between the hiring process of these pastors with a concocted protocol and litmus test. If you are up front and tell them you are a Calvinist, they will say, “You’re not one of us, sorry.” If you don’t tell them and just preach the Bible, they wil say, “You are being deceitful, dishonest, and disrupting our churches.” And while denominational leaders are putting SBTS alumni in this predicament, birds are chirping on Lexington Street.

    So I would argue that, indeed, SBTS is ground zero, and Collin was right in more than one sense in not limiting his chapter to SBTS, for this leads to the issue of just how does SBTS fit into the bigger scheme of things, especially the scheme of those piping out the rhetoric and ultimatums.

    You know, and I know, that many students coming to SBTS are not from the SBC, and many will leave with no plans to serve any churches in the SBC. They just want to benefit from the excellent education (IMO the best in the world) without the political baggage that comes from identifying with such controversy. They don’t want to get into the trenches when there is no guarantee that their commanding officers will lead the way.

    It will be a great tragedy if so many graduates of SBTS and SEBTS (and other seminaries) who are Reformed never get placed in SBC churches. There are so many godly, gifted, and good men and women who will never be given the opportunity to make a difference if things don’t change. And it won’t change until we (at least) have the conversation.

    But having that conversation, unfortunately, has been considered “off limits” for public discourse, or at least that is how it is perceived.

    There are others ways that the connection can be made between SBTS and the SBC, but then again, I don’t want to be too “creative a reader”. Collin is an excellent journalist, and he has done his homework. His titling of the chapter is not a figment of his imagination, but the result of many conversations (first-hand) from many folks in the SBC. I realize that you and others chalk it up as hype, but the fact is that record enrollment at SBTS has come first and foremost because of who we are and what we believe, and that is not something we should be embarrassed about or apologize for (neither should we brag about or gloat over either).

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  7. Tony,

    Now, let me interact a little with your arguments:

    1. This explosive little volume is certain to incite strong opinions across the Evangelical spectrum.

    I don’t mean to sound harsh here, Tony, but your rhetoric and choice of words represents the very kind of thing you are talking about. Did you read Collin’s chapter? Really? Where’s the rhetoric? Yet you are guilty of the very thing you accuse Collin of in your retort. Hmmm.

    2. Albert Mohler, Tom Nettles, Bruce Ware, and Tom Schriener. If Southern is “Ground Zero” then we should expect to hear about their agenda to convince student of reformed theology. But each interview affirms the school’s commitment to the Bible above any theological system.

    But Tony, no professor or administrator will tell you that they are out to “convince them of reformed theology.” They don’t have to. Read their books, articles, and essays. No gives a better historical defense of Calvinism in SBC life than Dr. Nettles. No one gives a better articulation of unconditional election and irresistible grace than Dr. Ware. No one is more thoroughly Reformed in their doctrine and practice than Dr. Schreiner. And all of these men were brought on by Dr. Mohler with these realities in full view. NONE of these men will ever try to put any theological system above the Bible, but that logic is fallacious, given that any exposition of Scripture will be interpreted through a hermeneutical grid (i.e. “theological system”). The question, then, is whether that grid accounts for the entirely of biblical revelation. And when it doesn’t, do we have the intellectual honesty and humility to admit that?

    While you have confidently stated the “failure” of Collin’s work by unraveling the “subversive theology” from Norton Hall, I fear that your post best reflects that you actually failed to read the chapter as Collin presented it. Your “flowery” response, though sure to invoke responses from the Amen corner, will have accomplished little in addressing the substance of Collin’s presentation and argument.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  8. Trevin Wax says:


    I think Tony is right to point out the inconsistency of labeling Southern “Ground Zero” when his interviews are with three people who came to the Seminary already convinced of Calvinism. The impression one gets when reading this chapter is that Southern is transforming all its students into Calvinists.

    The reality is more complex. Southern has begun attracting people who are already Reformed in their theology. The reality is different once you take in the extension centers too, where the majority of students (at least in my experience) do not hold to TULIP.

    By not showing how many of the professors are not 5-point Calvinists, by not addressing the number of students who are not Reformed, and by not taking into account the fact that many professors are seeking to temper the Calvinist fervor of the proverbial “cage-stage,” Hansen paints a superficial picture of Lexington Avenue. It makes for fascinating reading, but I’m afraid it will only add fuel to the fire of those already hotly denouncing the Seminary.

    Trevin Wax’s last blog post..Proud to be a Theologian?

  9. Tony Kummer says:

    Timmy – Thanks for the in depth interaction. I appreciate the way you connected the dots between SBTS and the environment in the SBC. I’m sorry I missed all that in the chapter.

    I appreciate you pointing that out the quotes from Nettles/Mohler which talk about confessionalism and inerrancy as major factors which move a faculty toward Calvinism. I agree with you, the more reformed theology was a side effect of recovering a more reformed methodology.

  10. Trevin,

    I do not think Collin ever attempted to make the claim that SBTS is turning out Calvinists, and therefore should be labeled “ground zero.” Rather, SBTS is ground zero precisely because it is headquarters for Reformed theology in the SBC. In other words, it is not because SBTS produces Calvinists, but that Calvinists acknowledge and rally around a school that believes (and represents) their theological convictions. Ergo, the enrollment surge in the past decade.

    As far as extension centers go, take Lakeview in Auburn, AL for instance. They are in NOBTS territory but would not have NOBTS professors teaching their interns. They broke the politically understood rules and territorial rights of seminaries to have the professors they wanted (and I don’t blame them for that). However, these students are markedly Reformed and most are heading out on the mission field with the IMB. Another example is the talk about another possible extension center at First Baptist Muscle Shoals, another Reformed hotbed in Alabama (again in NOBTS territory). There is a reason why these churches who are moving to church-based theological education are looking to SBTS in partnership and not other seminaries.

    You are correct to say that not everyone at SBTS or teaches at SBTS are Calvinists. Again, Collin did not try to make that argument. The critiques of what Collin did not say are superfluous, and in my mind, reflect the thoughts of the reader than the author himself.

    Regarding the professors seeking to temper the “cage-stage,” no doubt they should. But they are also not naive to two realities:

    1. SBTS is responsible for much of the “cage-stage” by virtue of the explosion of truth and biblical training. Some things are inevitable.

    2. SBTS is ill-equipped and unable to adequately deal with it. SBTS is not a church and cannot address these issues as you could in an ecclesiological context. Therefore, the best they can do is field the phone calls from folks in SBC land regarding a relatively few who are going in trying to reform churches in a reckless and irresponsible manner, and, as a result, express their remorse and make a blanket statement of concern and caution.

    I realize that for those of us who stroll the halls of Honeycutt and catch our breaks in the Founders cafe, Collin’s chapter appears “superficial.” Yet, it is a journalist’s perspective, not the commentary of “an insider.” He came, interviewed several folks, and wrote based on his first-hand experience (something which, I presume, many of the detractors have yet to do). If his perspective is not the perspective of a non-Calvinist, if it is not the perspective of a 10-year student at SBTS, then that does not thereby make it “superficial.” While we all have perspectives, I think it would be better to listen and consider the merits of what is said than to offer knee-jerk reactions as seen in Tony’s rant.


    FYI, Sills is a Calvinist. 🙂

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  11. Tony,

    A few more things I thought about today for your consideration:

    1. SBTS Leadership in the SBC

    Have you noticed, in recent years, the number of folks in leadership positions from SBTS. Akin and Finn at SEBTS, Dockery and Thornbury at UU, Rainer, Stetzer, and Waggoner at LifeWay, Hamilton at SWBTS, and Burk at Criswell. So yeah, I think there’s a connection between “ground zero” and the rest of the SBC. Interestingly enough, about half are Calvinists and half are not.

    2. Why T4G and NA in Louisville?

    Have you ever wondered why these conferences are in Louisville and not some other, better suited, city? Answer? 2825 Lexington Road. They know that a considerable percentage of those attending will come from the closest proximity, and these conferences which cater to the YRR have Dr. Mohler as a keynote speaker to boot.

    3. SBTS Partnerships

    Have you noticed how SBTS partners with other Reformed ministries, such as DG and IX Marks? Who are the administration’s interns and comprise their inner circle? Are they not often disciples of John Piper and Mark Dever? Graduates of TBI or interns from CHBC? Why are they not students from FBC Woodstock or FBC Jax?

    4. Professors without SBC History

    There are considerable number of profs who are now tenured at SBTS who have little to no experience in SBC life, much less pastoral experience. Some are from The Master’s Seminary (Scott), others from Toronto Seminary (Haykin), others still from Bethel in Minneapolis (Ware/Schreiner, or elsewhere. The fact is that ground zero is not just baptist but evangelical in is scope, and the resurgence that is taking place transcends denominational lines as it does in faculty of our school.

    5. The oddity of our LifeWay

    As Collin noted, the first fixture standing out in our LifeWay (at the time) was MacArthur’s commentaries (not SBC). We have books, systematic theologies, and works as required reading that you simply cannot find in any other LifeWay. Why is this? Why do we have pictures of Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, etc. framed and for sale around the walls instead of those cheesy pictures in most other LifeWays? My point is that we are fueling this vision and passion like no where else. And most of these books are written by folks who are not Southern Baptist.

    So for all this talk about Collin’s chapter “not being helpful” or “superficial” or “obvious failure”, it seems like we are ignoring the handwriting on the wall–handwriting that we have written with our hands.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  12. Trevin Wax says:


    Collin never explains what he means by labeling the chapter on Southern as “Ground Zero.” It could mean what you say (the center of Calvinism in the SBC), but it could also be taken as the center of the Reformed Resurgence, period. I shuddered at the chapter title, because I know it will inevitably be cited by all the anti-Calvinists in our Convention as evidence against the Seminary. Likewise, I hope that Southern Seminary will be Ground Zero for the gospel and not for Calvinism… two separate things that we should not confuse.

    I don’t believe it’s superfluous to critique what Collin did not say. If I were writing a book about Baptists and I were to paint a picture of the Southern Baptist Convention as if it were completely non-Calvinist and not give any exposure to the Calvinist side, you would critique my journalism. You would say, “Hey… there’s more to the SBC than what you wrote.” Likewise, by critiquing Hansen, I am simply pointing out that the picture he paints is not totally accurate and does not take into account the diversity of the faculty and student body.

    As you know, I am more Calvinist than not. I try to temper the cage-stage fervor of some of my friends. I recoil at the attacks from those in the wider SBC against my Calvinist brothers.

    At the same time, though we celebrate certain aspects of this movement, we must also be concerned with the perils represented by other aspects. But… alas… I’ll leave those concerns for my series on this book scheduled to appear the week of T4G.

    BTW… in Tony’s defense, I don’t think his post is a rant. I think it’s a good word for all of us. If Southern Seminary becomes known primarily for its Calvinism, we will be impoverished, because it’s the gospel that we must rally around, believe and obey. And that gospel is the same for all Southern Baptists, not just those of the Calvinist persuasion.

    Trevin Wax’s last blog post..Proud to be a Theologian?

  13. Trevin,

    Collin answers the question as to why his chapter is called “ground zero.” You are right. I’m sure it means six things to five different people. 🙂

    I am equally concerned that there is too much emphasis on Calvin-ism rather than the gospel. I have challenged and critiqued Calvinists and non Calvinist’s alike. However, in the SBC, the only acceptable kind of Calvinist is an embarrassed one. Imagine telling Hunt, Vines, and Graham that they should not be so outspoken about their revivalism. The double standard is simply unfair.

    With that said, what you will hear from Collin, and what he has stated in his book, is that the consistent theme and outcome is the outward expression of revival–where men and women are going to the nations because of the discovery of the doctrines of grace, ministers are growing to love and appreciate the church as the bride of Christ, to be pure and healthy, and Christians taking seriously the study of God’s Word to greater degrees, leading to personal and corporate reform. This is not by-products of coffee shop conversations. It is the gospel-driven response to what God has revealed to them–namely, the doctrines of sovereign grace.

    So to pit Calvinism and the gospel over and against one another is to present them as those there is a dichotomy or polarity to them. Spurgeon didn’t think so, neither did Edwards, Carey, Fuller, Judson, etc.

    And neither should we.

    And perhaps that is some anecdotal evidence to LifeWay’s research where the new Calvinists are actually more evangelistic than their fellow non-Calvinists in the SBC, why the leading church planting movements are from Reformed ministries, and why SBTS is sending out more missionaries overseas than any other seminary.

    The doctrines of grace is the exposition of the gospel. To say that Calvinism and the gospel should not be confused is a confusing statement to make. What is Calvinism but an appreciation and articulation of the gospel?

    If the anti-Calvinists find this chapter as fodder for their conferences and sermon rhetoric, so be it. What’s new? You mean to tell me that they haven’t been doing it for two decades already? Southern Seminary is what it is, and the days of political appeasement have done little to advance the cause of cooperation and consensus. If anything, it has contributed to the outsourcing of some of the most gifted and capable ministers of the SBC–and for that, we should lament.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  14. Trevin Wax says:


    This is an interesting discussion. We are doctrinally one-point away from each other, yet we have profoundly different outlooks on Southern Baptist cooperation.

    I am not pitting Calvinism against the gospel. But they are not the same thing. And regarding the Spurgeon quote, “Calvinism is the gospel…,” I concur with Danny Akin who says the “great Charles Spurgeon got it wrong.”

    The doctrines of grace is not the exposition of the gospel. If they are, then the majority of Christians do not believe the gospel. No… I think we need to keep first things first and follow the lead of Graeme Goldsworthy and others who would remind us time and time again that to confuse the doctrines of grace with the gospel is in error. (I’ve quoted him at length as one of my “Gospel Definitions” on my blog.)

    Regarding the anti-Calvinists, your attitude of “So be it” concerns me. There is a difference between appeasement and cooperation. I am not seeking to appease the anti-Calvinists, but I do not want my Calvinistic theology to preclude cooperation with them. I look forward to cooperating with Southern Baptists and evangelicals who differ with me on Calvinism, because being “Together for the Gospel” should actually mean “for the Gospel” and not “Together for Calvinism.”

    Trevin Wax’s last blog post..Proud to be a Theologian?

  15. Trevin,

    Yes, I think we agree on just about everything said, although we are coming at a different angle. I am not saying that non-Calvinists don’t believe the gospel; what I am saying is that Calvinists say more about the gospel, not less.

    I am all about cooperating with non-Calvinists, but there are anti-Calvinists who are creating such a climate where it is impossible to even have the conversation, much less cooperation. Collin’s journalistic reporting hardly puts a dent into a long tradition of burning straw men and caricature building. Cooperation does not necessitate total agreement on every point, but it does mean understanding, truthfulness, and charity–all of which are rare jewels in SBC land.

    While we certainly should begin by pointing the finder at ourselves, the lion share of culpability lies in hands of those who are doing everything they can to make it impossible to be a Calvinist in the SBC (case in point: having a conference on what you against rather than what you are for, as in the John 3:16 conference–all as a reaction to T4G and the Building Bridges conferences).

    It was the hopes of Building Bridges that there could be a healthy, spirited, and yet irenic and cordial conversation on these issues, with the hope to build consensus and cooperation for the betterment of the SBC. Unfortunately, such an effort is not esteemed among some. If we can come together under the vision and efforts of men like Rainer, Akin, Ascol, and Dockery, then who will lead the way? I don’t see anyone from SBTS even attempting to do it.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  16. Adam Winters says:

    Just read your post and I am very much in agreement that SBTS is not “ground-zero” for Calvinism. I don’t have any statistics, but I would wager that most students in the school of theology come to Southern already Reformed. (I would be curious to see some “conversion” statistics, as I’m sure it happens now and then.)

    I would like to spend some more time with Hansen’s book, as it looks like a great read. But I think he probably overstates his case on the Southern chapter. Southern is ground zero for the gospel, not Calvinism.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Tony.

  17. Tony Kummer says:

    Timmy & Trevin – You guys have offered some helpful points and the discussion is a very fitting supplement to my little post. I am tempted to re-title this post as a forum. I do appreciate your feedback and disagreement.

    I don’t think this merits an argument, but I’ll be happy to back up my basic point: Southern Seminary was not the “ground zero” for the rise of the new Calvinists.

    Step 1: Define ground zero.

    Quoting from

    Main Entry: ground zero
    Function: noun
    Date: 1946

    1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs
    2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; broadly : center 2a 3: the very beginning : square one

    I am inferring from Timmy’s comments that #2 is the most appropriate way to understand the chapter’s title.

    Step 2: Quote a real historian.

    I’ll appeal to Mark Dever’s series of blog posts titled Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?

    Here are the ten causes he suggests:

    1. C H Spurgeon
    2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
    3. The Banner of Truth Trust
    4. Evangelism Explosion/D. James Kennedy
    5. Inerrancy Controversy
    6. Presbyterian Church in America
    7. J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God
    8. RC Sproul and John MacArthur
    9. John Piper
    10. Rise of secularism and decline of Christian nominalism

    If SBTS merits the label “ground zero” then Dever was wrong to omit our seminary from his list.

    Step 3: Offer an alternative explanation

    The influence of Calvinism at SBTS is an effect of the wider Calvinist resurgence in evangelicalism.

    But the stated (and demonstrated) passion of our Seminary is to be “ground zero” for the Gospel.

  18. Adam,

    Again, it is not “either/or” but “both/and”. It is absurd to argue that one of the major reasons (if not THE major reason) folks come to SBTS is not because of our Reformed soteriology. Again, no one is making the claim that if you go to SBTS you will be converted to Calvinism.

    Secondly, for all you guys who are talking about SBTS being ground zero for the gospel, what do you mean that? And how is this personally evidence in your own life?

    One of Scott Lamb’s critiques of Hansen’s book was,

    “How terrible it would be if Calvinist soteriology got branded on the hearts of young people, only to have them choose individualism over God-glorifying commitment and dedication to the local church. Christ did not die on a cross for a conference, campus Bible study, or book publisher. He laid down his life for the church.”

    But this movement is a gospel movement and centered in the local church, not just conferences or books. Has Scott not considered the church planting efforts of Sovereign Grace, Redeemer Presbyterian, and Acts 29? Has he not considered the church reform and revitalization of IX Marks and Founders? Has he not considered SBTS and other seminaries training pastors and church planters to be placed across the country and world?

    Indeed, there is a God-glorifying commitment and dedication to the local church. Indeed, the most gospel-centered and gospel-driven efforts both in print and in practice can be found within this apparently not-so-impressive work of God.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..POTW :: Lindsay the Grad

  19. Ben says:

    Doesn’t Hansen deserve as much slack as Mohler does? Someone touched on this point in the comments above, but surely when Mohler called SBTS “ground zero for the cause of the gospel,” he didn’t mean that SBTS students weren’t in favor of the cause of the gospel before they arrived.

    Seems to me that Mohler was using the term either idiomatically or, more likely, rhetorically, as has been suggested. I don’t see why Hansen can’t do the same legitimately.

    Ben’s last blog post..Can Your Church Be Too Congregational?

  20. If SBTS merits the label “ground zero” then Dever was wrong to omit our seminary from his list.

    Um, if Dever did have it on the list, that would have made Collin’s term “ground zero” sound like child’s play.

    The implications would have been huge.

    Timmy Brister’s last blog post..Who Is Jeremiah Burroughs?

  21. kschaub says:

    Tony, Timmy, Trevin, etc.:

    A couple of observations . . .

    First, did you know the professors at SEBTS are also required to sign the Abstract? I have heard Akin talk about this at length in chapel, also.

    I think Dever’s post, ‘Where’d All the Calvinists Come From,’ fits better than saying SBTS is ground zero. But, Timmy’s comments are excellent too.

    However, this is the best part of the post: “We ought to define who we are as an institution by thinking of ourselves as ground zero for the cause of the gospel.” That is why I love Mohler. Same for Akin (non-5 point Calvinist). I think every self-respecting Calvinist should think that way.

    kschaub’s last blog post..Sufjan and the Old Covenant

  22. Pingback: Interview with Collin Hansen, Part Three « Provocations & Pantings

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  24. Tony,

    I’m afraid the discussion has taken on the wings of ad infinitum. Let me say a hearty thank you for the original post. You never know who might be watching the blogging going on- by all means everyone should do so in all candor and integrity.
    I for one appreciate the clear disclaimer of being ground-zero for anything- I think you have done us a favor who are trying to convince the poor folks in the supporting churches that there isn’t a grand calvinist cospiracy going on. I have been struggling to regain the confidence here at FBC Richmond who had already bought deeply in the conspiracy theory and therefore the atmosphere in our church had a definite hostile bias towards the Seminary of which you speak.

    God bless you. I intend to link this in some way to my blog.

    John Paul Todd

    John Paul Todd’s last blog post..You won’t believe who my Dentists are !

  25. Just for the record (I don’t know if he says this in his discussion of me in the book): I came to Southern because I was a Calvinist and was sick of hearing proff’s bash Calvinism like it was the beast of revelation come to devour the church’s passion for evangelism.

    Southern is inevitably calvinistic as a by product, not as a conscious primary agenda. Timmy is right that Southern is a magnet for calvinism as well as a hot-bed for it. Tony and Trevin are right to point out that this does not mean Southern is trying to be a hot-bed for Calvinism. It is also true that many Calvinists are launched from Southern without being taught how to steward their convictions in a way that will promote max cooperation with others who disagree. Perhaps there should be a lecture given every year entitled: “How to not let your Calvinism become important to you than the gospel” which exploits practical WHAT TO DO and WHAT NOT TO DO type of advise from the local church trenches.

    Calvinism is not the gospel. Therfore, if a preacher preaches Calvinism, he is not saying more about the core of our faith (i.e. the gospel) but wrapping skin layers around the core. I ran from Liberty to Southern precisely to avoid all the Calvinism basing and divisiveness. My “cage stage” was in large part a result of being attacked all the time. I eventually learned the skill of debate and began to make a sport out of it (bad for your spiritual health).

    On the one hand, Southern is not trying to be a hot-bed for Calvinism as a matter of priority, but only as a by-product of the convictions of the leader (Al) and many of the teachers. On the other hand, Southern has a bad reputation for producing pastors who are divisive with their Calvinism.

    I’m an 8 point Calvinist, but lament the spirit in which a lot of these things are being discussed. It seems that Calvinists can’t even talk about Calvinism without being divisive. Much of what I see in Reformed circles seems to point to a divisive spirit of theological snobbery and pride in argumentation. I once was blind of this sin in my own life, and am glad to now be aware of it so as to fight it.

    sorry so long winded

    Bradley Cochran’s last blog post..Critical Evaluation of Bonhoeffer on Discipleship (Part 2)

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  29. Dr. James Willingham says:

    Sirs: I have watched this summer heat lightning from afar. There is another reason to add to Dr. Dever’s list and that is a pastor setting in his study, reading the bible in plain English, e.g., “No man CAN come to me,” and knowing can means ability had to then acknowledge that grace had to be irreistible. esp. in light of man’s deadness. Later, he would began to realize that every point of the tulip outline, including predestination & reprobation, was an invitation to trust Christ, that God was plased to make use of almost any one in his work of saving His chosen ones, and even in His most benign treatment of those that perish. As John Gill said, “God treats the wicked so well that no man in his right mind will condemn God for sending them to Hell” in view of their response to his good treatment of them. So why rail at the Arminians. Just treat them like brothers & leave their being straightened out to the one who is responsible for them, namely, our Lord. Dr. Lee held all five points of the tulip outline, but he didn’t want to advertise it, because so many tak it wrong. One I know of recently railed against divisive radical calvinism, meaning tulip, due to the Primitive Baptists and their opposition to evangelism & missions. Well, I know Priitive Baptists who are not that way, who are evangelistic & missionary as they understand it. Jesus told His disciples regarding some that followed not with them, “Do not forbid them.” Children & servants are not all at the same level of understanding. Whitefield was turned from his opposition to Harvard by Jonathan Edwards. In turn Whitefield woudl seek reconciliation in spite of Wesley’s hostile rejection of Election and Predestination. SOME OF WHITEFIELD’s METHODIST CHICKENS WOULD BECOME BAPTIST DUCKS. ONE SERVED AS PASTOR OF THE SECOND OLDEST BAPTIST CHURCH IN SC, THE WELSH NECK BAPTIST CHURCH. ANOTHER PREACHED IN GEORGIA. Gentlemen & ladies, ELDERS & ELDRESSES (?), YOU MIGHT BE ADVISED TO GET READY FOR THE THIRD GREAT AWAKENING COULD BE ALMOST UPON US. THE STORM OF GOD’S GREAT LOVE COULD BE READY TO BREAK OVER THE FACE THE WHOLE EARTH. The wisest man I ever met, who had done 10 yrs of research in baptist church history & whose church excluded him for reporting what he had found, once asked me: “Have you ever thought that at any on time every last soul upon the earth in one generation could be the elect of God?” I said, “No, I had never thought of it.” I quoted that man in my M.A. Thesis in American Social & Intellectual History on the subject, “The Baptist & Ministerial Qualifications:1750-1850,” in 1971 at Morehead State Univ., Ky. I think a time of great joy is coming upon the earth, I pray that it is shall, like C.S. Lewis who declared in his sci-fi work, That Hideous Strength, “They pull downdeep heaven upon their heads.” And Heaven came down in his novel, an apt description of a great awakening. AS JERRY CLOWER USE TO SAY, “AIN’T GOD GOOD?”

  30. David Henderson says:

    Dr. Al Mohler claims to be a 5 point Calvanist. He has made that abundantly clear. That is why Southern has been labeled as Calvanist. In some cases you can judge a book by its cover.

  31. Tony Kummer says:

    @David Henderson: You make a fair point, and one that Dr. Mohler has answered publicly.

    See this post:

  32. Dr. James Willingham says:

    The hardest task of all is to be faithful in the face of opposition and long continued trials of deprivation and denial. The Great Awakenings and the Great Century of Missions might well have been an answer to all those dear saints praying during the Dark Ages. Even then their faithfulness could be seen. Reinarus Saccho (sp), an inquisitor, spoke in the 1200s of the Waldensians having churches in Constantinope and Philadelphia (the Philadelphia of Rev.3). Another source mentioned the Waldensians as sending a committee/representatives to check on the church in South India in the 13-1400s. Then came the Reformation and after that the Great Awakenings. Who is to say that we can’t have another, an even greater one, world wide, tasking the whole earth in one generation and, who knows? perhaps for a thousand generations. After all, Abraham’s seed by faith is supposed to be as innumberable as the sand by the seashores and as the stars of heaven which cannot be numbered. I spoke of a great awakening as Heaven coming down to earth. Interestingly enough, there is a description of a heavenly influence coming down upon the church and area in which the Moravians lived in 1727, Ten miles from the church, some men working in a were converted. And this occurred at the beginning of the 100 yr prayer meeting of the Moravians. The joy and the happiness of such an event is not to be believed. I dare say that we might have to advise people to exercise restraint in giving vent to their jubilations as much as Edwards’ counseled reserve in expressing fears under the apprehensions of approaching doom. It would be nice to have that problem to deal with (now simmer down, don’t let your joy carry you away). Consider the case of the missionary who for a period lost his mind, when a convert really gave evidence of his conversion. That missionary was Dr. John Thomas, and his convert was Krishna Pal whom Carey would baptized while Thomas raved in elation. Every cloud has a silver lining, and every while one casts a shadow. But think of the whole earth being covered with the Lord’s knowledge and glory as the waters cover the sea. I am reminded of the dear old poor woman who saw the ocean for the first time in her life. She said, “Well, this is the first time I ever saw any thing where there was more than enough of.” The nice thing about abundance of rain is that ministers do not have to maipulate or pound with a sledge hammer. When the flood of grace comes to answer the flood of the enemy, it will be a wonderful day. And the flood of grace could come quietly and gently as showers upon young plants. However it comes, we ought to be pleading all those promises discussed by Edweards and Carey for the advancement of the Gospel. Those verses are the promises that were pleaded for the Awakenings and Missions, and the still merit pleading in prayer to God for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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