When Richard Land retired after 25 years as President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, said that "Richard Land has never lacked for courage. He'll stand when all the rest of us are seated." Late last month, I sat down with Dr. Land in Grand Rapids, Michigan while attending Acton University. We discussed Baptists, Calvinists, Mormons, salvation, and what would happen if he received a new revelation.
RealClearReligion: What do you think of Russell Moore, who is replacing you as head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission?
Richard Land: I think he'll do a fine job.
RCR: Fred Luter?
RL: I've known Fred a long time. I've been waiting half my life for a Fred Luter to become President of our Convention. I think he's done a lot for racial reconciliation just by being the kind of President that he's been.
RCR: Do you think a black President was necessary?
RL: It was necessary that until we elected an African-American President, it was going to be hard to convince African-Americans that they fully and completely belong to the Southern Baptist Convention.
RL: The Southern Baptist Convention Presidency is a position of power. When you elect someone President, you're giving them the keys to drive the Southern Baptist Convention. They have tremendous appointive power over the various institutions and agencies. Making African-Americans vice presidents is decorative. Making an African-American president is the ultimate sign of acceptance.
Fred is a solid Southern Baptist and a great pastor. He's also just difficult to dislike.
RCR: What do Baptists believe?
RL: That depends on the Baptist. I can give you a summary of what the majority of Baptists believe. We believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and that it's authoritative for faith and practice. We believe that the Church is a New Testament institution, so the manual for faith and practice is the New Testament. We believe in congregational polity; each congregation is autonomous.
A New Testament Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a baptized body of believers -- baptized by immersion. For a Baptist, a proper baptism has to have a proper definition. It is not sacramental; it is an act of obedience and an act of testimony, but it has no saving efficacy. It has to have a proper mode: immersion. It has to be done by a proper person: a person who has made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
We believe in salvation by faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). We would be strongly in the evangelical tradition. We believe in the Virgin Birth. We believe in substitutionary atonement. We believe in a physical resurrection and we believe in a physical Second Advent into history.
RCR: In none of that did you mention predestination. Why all the fuss over Calvinism in Houston at the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention?
RL: First of all, Baptists as a movement started in about 1611 when we had the First General Baptist Congregation, which was an Arminian congregation. They were preceded by the Anabaptists in the 16th century -- none of whom believed in Reform theology. And then you have, starting in about 1642, Baptists in Britain who are Reformed. They grew along two tracks in England: the General Baptists, who were more Arminian, and the Particular Baptists, who were more Calvinistic.
In America, you had both General Baptists who had migrated to the United States and that is the genesis of the Free Will Baptist movement of today. Baptists were a small persecuted sect in America until the First Great Awakening. In the First Great Awakening, there was the Great Movement of God and you had these people coming out of the congregational churches and coming from the Presbyterian churches and they separated. In New England you had the Old Lights who were against the revival and you had the New Lights who were for revival.
A lot of those people who were revived through the First Great Awakening and came out of their dead, formal, episcopal, congregational, and Presbyterian churches became Baptists. In fact, George Whitefield complained that too many of his chickens had become ducks. Then as this moved into the South in the 1750s, it swept across the South. It was a Separate Baptist movement. They were converts out of congregationalism and Presbyterianism. So, between 1750 and 1800, the Baptists went from being a small, persecuted sect to being the largest denomination in the southern United States, and they were almost all Separates.
Now, Separate Baptists cannot be defined clearly as either Arminian or Calvinist. They're somewhere in between. They all believed in eternal security or what Reformed theology calls "perseverance of the saints." They were giving invitations, altar calls at their revival meetings in the 1750s.
RCR: That's not Calvinist.
RL: Not at all. The Separate Baptists were doing it and I would argue they were doing what Peter did at Pentecost. How do we know that 5,000 people were converted unless they came forward? A significant majority of Southern Baptists have always been from this Separate, Sandy Creek tradition. There have always been Calvinistic Baptists who came from what's called the Charleston tradition.
Now, I think it is historically demonstrable that in Southern Baptist life in America the Calvinists have never been the melody. They've always been the harmony. The melody has always been Separate Baptists. We have always been Separate Baptists with some flavoring from Charleston, and with some flavoring from the older, General Baptists.
RCR: The harmony has grown loud enough that it's become an issue at Southern Baptist Conventions.
RL: The harmony is getting louder in some sections. I've seen polls that show 30% of our seminary students are Calvinists and 10% of our churches are.
RCR: Are you a Calvinist?
RL: No. I'm what most of Southern Baptists are and that's about a three and a quarter pointer [of the Calvinist TULIP]. I buy all of "P" [perseverance of the saints] and none of "L" [limited atonement]. I buy about three quarters of "T" -- I believe in disabling depravity, but not total depravity. I believe in eternal election, but not unconditional election. I believe in prevenient grace, not irresistible grace. Three quarters of "T," three quarters of "U" [unconditional election], and about three quarters of "I" [irresistible grace].
I don't believe God has revealed Himself as a God who created anyone who can't be saved. He knows those who won't be saved. But I don't think God has revealed Himself in Scripture to be a God who created some people with no possibility of being saved. I can tell everyone I meet: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
RCR: Some Calvinists wouldn't say that?
RL: Well, they can't if they're consistent.
RCR: Then there's no reason to evangelize.
RL: Well, there's a reason for it, but it does tend to impact their evangelistic zeal. They're mostly right about point number one. Since man is mostly depraved, it makes a difference whether you think your preaching makes a difference. If you have a deterministic view that the saved are going to be saved and the unsaved aren't going to be saved and you don't have anything to do with it, it's going to make a difference in your evangelism. It shouldn't, philosophically. But, since men are mostly depraved, it does.
I saw the resurgence of Calvinism begin in Southern Baptist life. When I was a seminary student in New Orleans between 1969 and 1972, our seminaries were well to the Left of where most people were. Most Southern Baptists believed that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and I didn't have but more than two professors who believed that.
So, when students went to seminary and they heard the Bible being attacked, they started looking for a defense. The most available, well-developed defense of the inerrancy of God's Word was Reformed. They started reading B.B. Warfield, J.P. Boyce, and other Banner of Truth books. I saw guys who had never heard of Calvinism until they went to seminary, become Calvinists while they were in seminary, and they picked up the baby with the bathwater.
RCR: Is megachurch evangelicalism becoming more Calvinist? Mark Driscoll would be a prime example.
RL: Well, Rick Warren isn't. Rick is a fourth generation Southern Baptist. I don't think there's a dime's worth of difference between what Rick believes and what I believe about soteriology. We both got it from the same source.
RCR: You aren't concerned, then, that because of pastors like Mark Driscoll, more young people are being attracted to Calvinism?
RL: I would say to a seminary student, who is a Calvinst: if you want to have a Calvinistic church, either go to one or start one. Don't try to steal one.
This is a fight among believers. It has been a debate within the faith since the Reformation. But I don't think this is going to cause the kind of rift we had in the Convention over inerrancy. Because inerrancy is a question about what the Bible is; this is a question about what the Bible says.
RCR: Do you think this fight has anything to do with the decline in Southern Baptist membership?
RL: No. The biggest reason is that we're having fewer babies. If you talk to a sociologist, he'll tell you that the biggest reason for the plateauing of Southern Baptists --
RCR: It's a plateau, not a decline? It was recently reported that Southern Baptists may catch up with the United Methodist decline.
RL: Whoever said that is uninformed. Methodists have gone from 13 million to 6 million. Southern Baptists have gone from 16.2 million to 15.9 million. I'd call what's happening to Southern Baptists a plateau; what happened to Methodists was implosion. The Methodist pulpit began to deny the Scripture and so, Methodists walked away.
The Southern Baptist plateauing is because we're not having babies. A lot of our growth was home grown. A second reason is that we have a lot of churches in rural areas with older people and they're just going to decline. We're going to lose more churches than we're going to lose members.
What's more, we are still suffering the lingering effects of a generation of theological malformation in our seminaries. Our seminaries started drifting Left in the early to mid-60s. Two of them were not good and four were horrible. It got worse before it got better.
RCR: What do you think changed in Southern Baptist seminaries?
RL: Only since 1992 or 1993 have our seminaries been what the conservative resurgence wanted them to be. This is why you have a disproportionate number of young pastors who are getting opportunities to pastor significant churches ten years earlier than they would have otherwise. The guys before them were chewed up by theological malformation. If they survived seminary, they survived warped. This is a lost generation of pastoral leadership.
That, I would argue, is the main reason for the plateau.
But as the younger pastors move in, you're going to see Southern Baptists grow again.
RCR: Why are Southern Baptists so sure of their salvation?
RL: It comes from the New Testament. We believe that God is a keeper of his promises and that Jesus is a Truth teller. In 1 John 5:13 it says: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" -- that you may know it! Not that you may think it or hope it, but you may know it!
We believe Christianity is a first-person, singular relationship between an individual and God through the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that I am saved, not because of anything that I've done, but because of what Jesus did on the Cross and what He promised to do. He promised that He would come into my heart and He would never leave.
That does not mean that I can live the way I want with impunity. The Bible teaches us that those who are His children, He spanks. Those who He does not chastise are illegitimate. We believe that if you are living a life that is out of fellowship with God, He is going to punish you -- in this life.
RCR: Where do you think a Rob Bell-type denial of Hell comes from?
RL: It comes from moral relativism. The idea that we are our own God. People don't want to believe in Hell. How could a loving God send anyone to Hell?
This is a total post-modernist misunderstanding of the righteousness of God. If God is going to be righteous, He must punish evil. One of the greatest myths of modern America is that God is a grandfather. He's not; he's a father. What's the difference? Fathers spank, grandfathers spoil. God is a father.
Romans is pretty clear, that if God did not demand a price for sin, He wouldn't be righteous (3:22-25). A price has to be paid for our sins and we either pay it ourselves through eternal damnation or we let Jesus pay it on the Cross.
RCR: Why do you think evangelicals were so apprehensive about supporting Mitt Romney?
RL: Evangelicals, almost to a person, do not believe that Mormonism is a Christian faith. Here's a distinction: Catholicism is an errant form of the Christian faith; Mormonism is another religion.
RCR: Because Mormons reject the Trinity?
RL: They're polytheists. Mormonism is the fourth Abrahamic religion.
RL: I'm serious. It is the fourth Abrahamic religion with Joseph Smith playing the role of Muhammad and the Book of Mormon playing the role of the Koran. Yes they accept the Old Testament and the New Testament, but they interpret it through the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith the way Islam accepts the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it interprets it through Muhammad and the Koran. It is as much another religion as Islam is. One president of the Mormon Church said: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." The only thing that's correct about that is the punctuation.
RCR: Franky Schaeffer has compared today's evangelicalism to Islam because "By basically taking the sacraments out of the Christian experience, all evangelicals have left is the Bible" -- a "magic book."
RL: First of all, I would take everything Franky Schaeffer says with a peck of salt. He's got his own baggage and there's a lot of it.
We don't have just a book. We have a Savior. We know that Savior through the book, the New Testament. It's not just a book, either. It is sacred Scripture, God's revelation of Himself to us. We understand and know Him through that book.
We've been accused of bibliolatry before: "I only believe in Jesus." Well, which Jesus do you believe in? One of the problems with mainline Protestantism is that it has too many Jesuses. Everybody has their own autobiographical Jesus that meets their own ego. I believe in the Jesus who is written about in the New Testament. I believe in the Jesus who says that He knows his sheep and His sheep know Him. I believe in the Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary, died on the Cross, and was Resurrected on the third day, and promised to come back again.
Evangelicalism believes in the Jesus who existed and who exists. Many mainline Protestants believe in a mythical Jesus who never existed. How do we know? We validate our experience through Scripture. For instance, a demon could come to me in a vision and tell me that he has a new revelation for me where everybody would be allowed into Heaven. That could be a real experience, but it would be wrong because it contradicts the New Testament. The devil can counterfeit my experiences, but he can't counterfeit the New Testament.