The Dovetail—Calvinism and the Baptist Church


Predestination or free will? Irresistible Grace—or grace for all?

A perennial debate among Baptists heated up when a group of prominent Southern Baptist leaders signed and published “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” on May 31. The document addressed a major point of discord between Baptists who hold Calvinistic views and those who do not: Baptists who disagree, that is, on election.

Election, defined as “God choosing a person or people group for a specific purpose, mission, or salvation,” is historically connected to the concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, and free will.[1] The non-Calvinistic viewpoint (often associated with Arminianism) asserts that election is conditional and that any man can, by free will, choose to receive the grace of God. Calvinism, however, emphasizes the total depravity of man and the inability of the individual to receive the grace of God—and, thus, salvation—on his or her own.

Where is the intersection of Calvinism and Baptist history? What are the major differences between Arminianism and Calvinism? Within Baptist thought, where does Calvinism live today? What was the role of Calvinism in the Reformation? We want to weigh in on some of these issues, so we’ve asked two terrific writers to do just that. Contributing to this miniseries are Jim West and Michael DeWalt.

Jim West is an adjunct professor of biblical studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and the pastor of Petros Baptist Church in Petros, Tennessee. He has written numerous book reviews, articles, and books (one of which, Christ our Captain: An Introduction to Huldrych Zwingli, you can find within the Works of Zwingli).

Michael DeWalt is a tutor at Granite Classical and a graduate of Word of Life Bible Institute, Baptist Bible College, and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He is a member of The Evangelical Theological Society and a regular contributor to Calvin500. See all his posts here.

Follow us on for this short series. We’ll dig into the history of Calvinism and Arminianism within the Baptist Church—and, at the end of each post, feature a unique deal from Logos Bible Software so that you can follow along in the research for yourself. Do you have other questions? Want to know more? Leave us a comment!


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[1] Thornhill, A. C. (2012). “Election.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.


  1. I’m interested in this discussion. I’m a Non-calvinist that is one of the hundreds of people to sign “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”. Though I have reservations about the language on eternal security as I am more Arminian than those that drafted the statement. I am a member of both a SBC Church and a UMC Church and regularly attend both UMC and SBC Churches as they have different meeting times a fact that my wife and son don’t understand. Anyway a recent study by Lifeway found about the same percent of Arminian or Wesleyan Pastors are in the SBC as are Calvinists. Both have about a third of the Pastors if I read the study correctly. I wonder if your series will explore Sandy Creek Tradition vs. Charlestown traditon also the role of Unity Churches which I think historicaly had a much bigger impact than people think. An example most of the UMC’s and SBC’s in my town were joined in a number of Unity Churches with each other one reason I think the Baptists in my area in the pews are more Arminian than perhaps in other areas.

  2. David McThompson says

    Southern Baptists historically were clearly within the Calvinist tradition. Fundamentalism, Dispensationalism, and Evangelicalism have influenced SBC leadership and institutions for so many years few members know their historical roots.

  3. I have been on both sides of this issue and feel that I’ve gained a fuller appreciation of God’s love and grace as a result of this debate. There is a time and place for healthy discussion between Christian brothers and sisters. A public signed statement is not that time or place. It makes me think of the bullies who hang a kid up by the feet to shake out all of his lunch money. The signers of this document are creating a problem that doesn’t exist. We have a Baptist Faith & Message that we all agree on. The Calvinists in the SBC for the most part are not trying to take over. They are firm in their convictions just as many Arminians are firm in theirs. Who doesn’t want to advocate for their position? So, I think we need this conversation but making it seem like a certain group is unwelcome is not a great way to start the conversation.

    • Alfred Thames says

      I have been a Baptist for much of my life. But just recently, through tragic events, I started to an intense study of God’s word for the first time. I discovered a lot of unanswered questions. I will not go into detail, I am sure you already know the usual questions. My Baptist pastor, I felt avoided in answering these questions. So through individual study and research,and the Holy Spirit, I have discover that I am a Calvinist in a Southern Baptist church whoes doctrine reflects the 5 objections of Armenianism. What should I do,stay or find another church.

  4. Alfred Thames says

    I disagree with Baptist believing in dispensationalism, I am a dispensationalist and that is a dirty word at my Baptist Church.

  5. Look for another Southern Baptist church, brother. There you can go deeper in your relationship with God and learn and server Him. Blessings.