Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Founders Movement and Billy Graham

Primitive Baptists identify themselves as adhering to the original or “primitive” faith once delivered to the saints both in doctrine and in practice. As such we remain committed to the notion of defining and defending our beliefs solely on the foundation of scripture. So when we hear of our brothers and sisters in Christ among the Southern Baptists promoting a notion they call the Founders Movement - it gets our attention, because Primitive Baptists have long contended that the doctrine and practice of modern-missionary-style-Baptists is very much the result of their departure from the doctrine and practice of the first century church described in the New Testament. Having examined their writings, however, I find that their well-meaning efforts at reforming the SBC are fundamentally flawed and contradictory. Let's take a look at what I mean by that.

The Founders' Flaw

The Founders’ flaw is best seen in their mission statement:

"Founders Ministries is committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches. We believe that the biblical faith is inherently doctrinal, and we are therefore confessional in our convictions. We recognize the time-tested Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) as a faithful summary of important biblical teachings." (Founders Ministries Website)
Here the Founders movement admits that they have chosen for their “foundation” the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 (SLCOF), an admitted “summary of important biblical teachings.” This observation alone raises innumerable issues:
  • Why isn’t the bible regarded as the foundational statement of Baptist beliefs?
  • How can a “summary” document be considered foundational?
  • How can a “second” confession be considered foundational? 
  • What about the numerous other Baptist confessions? 
  • Was there a foundation for Baptist beliefs prior to the 17th century? 
  • If so, why isn’t THAT the foundation instead? 
  • If not, did Baptists lack a foundation for some 1689 years? 
  • Since the SLCOF is in many respects a direct copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith does this not establish that the Baptist foundation rests upon Presbyterianism? 
Troubling questions could be multiplied but I believe this list is sufficient to establish that to regard a 17th century, summary document as one’s foundation is an enormous flaw. To make matters worse, the very first precept of the SLCOF would eliminate itself from consideration as a foundational document by stating, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience,” (SLCOF 1.1).

The Founders' Contradiction

When such evident contradictions exist in the core of one’s mission statement, it should come as no surprise when additional examples of addled thinking crop up elsewhere in their works. Nowhere is this more readily evident than in the Founders articles on the ministry of Billy Graham (Shaping an Icon: Billy Graham, Here’s the Point: Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC). These brief works are so evidently contradictory and pose such enormous problems for the Founders position that I posted a couple of comments to their blog to highlight those issues more explicitly. Those comments thoroughly dismantled their threadbare position in a way that is very difficult for reasonable people to deny. It came as no surprise to me that a short time later the comments section was eliminated from the Founders blog. While coincidence is no proof of causation, the timing did seem curious. What follows is the analysis I left as a comment on Tom Nettles' Shaping an Icon article.

TETH on Shaping an Icon

"This article underscores one of a great many contradictions in the Founders Movement. If one can praise the evangelical efforts of Billy Graham - arguably the most successful promoter of non-sovereign-grace, false gospel of decisionism in world history - as an "evangelistic success" then one wonders: why on earth would the Founders seek to supplant his efforts with their undeniably less-successful brand Calvinism? The bottom line is this: If you are going to promote the salvation by sovereign grace taught in the scriptures then you are going to have to reject the ministry and legacy of Billy Graham. What's more if you are going to go back to the "Founders" you are going to have to go back much further than the theology of John Calvin (who was not even a Baptist) but back to the source - the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace taught in the word of God by the prophets, the apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself long before Calvin ever made an appearance on the world stage. Stated plainly - the Founders Movement is riddled with logical contradictions." (TETH)

The Founders' Response

A short time later the Founders responded to that comment with the following:
You need to read the entire series. The concluding post is here: Here’s the Point: Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC. (Tom Hicks)
That article goes on to build a case for why Founders' Calvinism is correct and should be the position of the SBC but it does not in any way address the dilemma raised by the previous article. After reading the Here’s the Point article, I responded with the following comment.

TETH on Here's the Point

"So your conclusion is that SBC Calvinists are right. The clear implication of that conclusion is that the Arminian gospel of, 'Christ died for all men and has supplied all men with sufficient capacity to ‘accept Jesus’ unto the eternal salvation of their souls,' is categorically false. How can someone of this opinion regard Billy Graham’s ministry as an 'evangelistic success'? If the Founders Calvinist’s theological claims are correct, should they not rather state:
Billy Graham’s ministry was the most devastating opposition to the biblical truth of salvation by sovereign grace in the 20th century in that it successfully proselytized millions of SBC members on the sinner’s-prayer-false-gospel of Arminianism to such an extent that the majority of our members and churches wholeheartedly affirm and promote this unscriptural contrivance to this very day. This being the case, and given the great gravity of the matter of promoting a false gospel, we must categorically reject the ministry and evangelistic efforts of Billy Graham.
If the SBC 'Founders' are unwilling to explicitly and openly adopt that position on Dr. Graham as an unavoidable logical consequence of their doctrine then I would suggest they reveal their opposition to be a matter of far less importance than they are willing to openly admit. At the end of the day Founders Movement Calvinism rails on the evils of Arminianism, but fails to back that up by thoroughly denouncing the ministry of Arminianism’s most victorious promoter among their ranks. They decry Arminian false gospel notions such as 'God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life' while at the same time teaching that 'God loves all men and he is sincerely offering eternal life to all men in the gospel.' There is not a lick of difference between those two notions and perhaps that is the most revealing observation of all. At the conclusion of their wearying and contentious journeys along separate theological paths, both the SBC Arminian and the SBC Calvinist find that they have arrived at the exact same destination – the religion of Well-Meant Offerism.

Truth be told, neither the SBC Arminian nor the SBC Calvinist have a firm understanding of salvation based on an everlasting covenant that is ordered in all things and sure (II Samuel 23:5) and a Savior who promised to give eternal life to as many as the Father gave him (John 17:2), nor of the gospel that proclaims this truth. The gospel is not a well-meant offer of salvation to all of humanity as both SBC camps claim – it is the proclamation of the finished (John 19:30), effectual (Romans 8:31-39) work of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of his chosen people (Ephesians 1:4-5, Matthew 1:21), accompanied by the assurance that those who believe this testimony HAVE eternal life (John 6:47), and the admonition to follow the Lord in obedient discipleship as their reasonable service to God (Romans 12:1)." (TETH)


While I believe that we have a great many brothers and sisters in Christ among the Southern Baptists, and I believe that they hold their beliefs in sincerity, I cannot understand why this glaring contradiction is not incredibly troubling to them. Perhaps the fact that these comments were removed is an indication that it is, at least to some. The bottom line is this: If you want to hit foundational bedrock on Baptist doctrine and practice you will have to look well beyond the Calvinistic confessions of the 17th century based on Presbyterianism and go all the way back to the teaching of the prophets and apostles of the bible. When you get there you’ll be blessed to find the Lord’s church waiting to welcome you home. We invite you to attend the Primitive Baptist church and to rejoice in the foundation of the finished work of Christ found only in the word of God.


  1. Good discussion, this is. Like you, I cannot understand why men like MacArthur and Nettles can, on the one hand, bemoan the false gospel of decisional regeneration that Graham popularized but simultaneously claim him to be a genuine servant of God. It's absurdity 101.

    1. DavidC,

      I agree. If Billy Graham was an "evangelistic success" as Nettles asserts, then they would do well to abandon their Founder's Calvinism in favor of Graham's much more numerically successful philosophy of ministry. I would speculate that the reason they do not utterly reject Graham is twofold: (1) They do not want to deal with the fallout that would attend a direct repudiation of Graham given his popularity among SBC members, and (2) at the end of the day, both the SBC Grahamites and the SBC Founders are promoting the gospel of "God loves you and he has a wonderful plan for you life" - albeit expressed in slightly different terms.

      In my opinion, unless the Founders are willing to accept the unavoidable logical ramifications of their position, they may as well lay down their grievances against their Arminian brethren and instead lock arms with them as kindred spirits in the religion of well-meant-offerism that they both so zealously promote.

      Or so it seems to me,

  2. What exactly was the comment the Founder's deleted?

    1. The comment I originally left on the Founders blog in response to their article "Shaping an Icon" is reproduced verbatim in the paragraph above entitled "TETH on Shaping an Icon." Their response is quoted in the "Founder's Response" section. And finally my verbatim response to that, after reading their concluding article entitled "Here's the Point..." is reproduced in full above under the heading of "TETH on Here's the Point."