It seems that some doctrines and beliefs are not taught openly. I was curious, what is the Southern Baptist doctrine regarding predestination?

Do they believe in unconditional election or complete lack of free will?

  • "The will of God is so the cause of all things , as to be itself without cause , for nothing can be the cause of that which is the cause of everything ." (Jerome Zanchius 1516-1590)
    – user4093
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 17:32

5 Answers 5


Historically, Baptists drew from both the Calvinist (Predestination) and Arminian (Free Will) soteriologies. Early Baptists were first and foremost dissenters - people who disliked the establishment churches of England and Virginia.

What drew them together was not soteriology but rather a disdain for establishment church.

The Puritans in particular (one set of proto-Baptists) were basically Calvinist. Many of the more famous English baptists - John Bunyan (1600s), William Carey (early 1800s), Charles Spurgeon (late 1800s), were all Particular Baptists. Many of their kin settled in Virginia and Massachusetts (or like Roger Williams in 1636 were kicked out and stuck in Rhode Island), and helped to form the basis of Baptists in the United States.

When the Baptist movement spread during the two Great Awakenings of the 1700s, much of it was fueled by charismatic Arminians, such as the Wesley brothers. In the 1700s in particular, Baptists and Methodists both were very closely related - the primary distinction between the two was the autonomy of the local congregation. Methodists had bishops, Baptists had "associations."

By the time Baptists were allowed to practice freely (1786 is a good year) both stances were evident.

Eventually, there were two main camps of Baptists - "General" Baptists who believed in General atonement, i.e. anyone who chose (i.e. free will) to believe in Christ. In contrast, "Particular" Baptists were Calvinists, who believed in Limited Atonement. These are the Baptists who wrote the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, one of the closest things to a "founding Baptist creed" you'll get from a Baptist. As you would expect from a Calvinist, they believed in predestination - i.e. that God has foreknown whom he would save from before the beginning of time.

When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, the issues that divided Baptists had far more to do with whether or not Sunday schools and missionary work were important, than the means of salvation. (Actually, the argument against was predicated on the belief that if God had already chosen who was saved, then it was just a waste of resources to invest in those things. That didn't stop a a guy like William Carey, though, because he realized that even the elect should work to help the elect who didn't know they were saved to be saved!)

More to the point for Southerners was whether or not missionaries could own slaves. The SBC has acknowledged this was their genesis, and apologized for it in the 1990s.

Throughout all of this, both strains of salvation continued through all the denominations, although many of the more prominent current Baptists (Paige Patterson, Al Mohler) are definately of the Calvinst persuasion.

That said, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is clearly ambivelent on the matter.

Section 4. Salvation says:

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

implying free will

Section 5. Grace says:

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. All true believers endure to the end.

which could come out of the Tu-lips of Calvin himself.

Incidently, there is a Free Will Baptists denomination who are most definately Arminian in their soteriology.

tl;dr In short, Baptists have always been both.

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    @bruisedreed in re: George Whitefield updated! Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:00
  • In re: the free agency of man - the ambivelance is the point. Election is the Calvinst side, the free agency shows the tempering. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:01

As a denomination, Southern Baptists haven't taken a stand on this issue. Therefore, it's pretty much up to the individual churches and individuals to decide for themselves what to believe regarding these topics.

The argument comes down to Calvinism versus Arminianism. A rough breakdown of the differences can be found at the Wikipedia site on Arminianism. But what is important is how this relates to the Southern Baptist convention:

From the Southern Baptist Convention FAQ

The Southern Baptist Convention has not taken an official stance on either Calvinism or Arminianism. If you surveyed Southern Baptists across the nation you would likely find adherents at both ends of the spectrum with plenty at each point in between.

Essentially, Southern Baptists, as a denomination, does not take a stance on free will, predestination, or unconditional election.

There is an interesting, deep and fascinating article about the subject from someone attending a Southern Baptist seminary that claims a Southern Baptist stance on the subject, if you're interested.

  • After these two Baptist questions I'm beginning to think that a better question would be, "Do Southern Baptists agree on anything?"
    – user23
    Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 0:11
  • @JustinY - Actually, it's a Baptist distinctive that we reject the idea of a central authority, and instead we place our trust in Scripture. In general, all forms of Baptists distrust central authority and instead hold to the idea of a local Church, answerable to Christ. Several good reasons stand behind this stance, and it might make a good question as to why we reject a central authority. Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 2:15
  • @DavidStratton I'm on it.
    – user23
    Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 2:22

There is no official SBC position on predestination, and the issue is up for debate. The two major camps within the SBC are Founders Ministries on the Calvinist side and a new group led by Dr. Eric Hankins that have put forward this statement in May 2012 to get churches on board with an opposition movement.


Predestination has to do with the destination of a group of people called believers, not the destination of individuals. This is the only way you can have predestination and free will both exist (i.e. they are both taught in the Scriptures).

To illustrate: A bus has been selected to take all riders to a destination (predestination) but it has not selected who will be on the bus (free will). A human has the free will to believe or not; the ones who by free will choose to believe (place their trust in Christ as Savior) become members of the group that is predestined to go to heaven. Those who by the exercise of free will who do not trust Christ are predestined to go to hell.

Note Ephesians 1:13 NIV "...you also were included...when you heard...having believed". Included in what? the group of believers (predestined); when? when you heard and believed (free will). The verses prior to 13 explain what one who believes will be included in.


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    Welcome to the site, Bill. We are glad you're here. This answer is not too bad, but it would be better if you linked a source that was Baptist and said the same things. Click edit below your post to add something in. Here's a +1 in advance.
    – user3961
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 4:18

90% of southern baptists do not believe in predestination as interpreted by the "reformed" churches.

in fact any baptist that calls themselves "reformed" in their theology is not a true baptist, because reformed theology involves a lot more than the 5 points of calvinism, and it directly opposes some baptist distinctives.

"reformed" churches beleive that they were meant to reform the catholic church, and retained many catholic ideas and still use the nicene creed (true baptists reject the use of creeds--the BIBLE alone is our creed),

most refromed churches believe that the LORD'S supper and baptism are sacraments rather that ordinances,

most reformed churches practice infant baptism, and believe in a central church authority controlling all churches, rather than each local church being independent.

that is not to say that some baptists dont believe in predestination--some do, but even the "primitive baptists" who hold very strongly to predestination, are insulted if you call them a "calvinist" because of the reasons ive previously stated.

ALL southern baptists believe in predestination, but they dont all agree on exactly what predestination is---most but not all, believe that we are predestined according to the FOREKNOWLEDGE of GOD--in other words we believe that GOD knows everything in advance, so HE already knows who will come to repentance, and thus he pre-determined that these people will reap the reward of heaven.

heres my parable of what i believe---theres a train that will only hold a certain number of people. this is because GOD knows how many people will decide to pick up their ticket and board the train. CHRIST has purchased a ticket for EVERYONE, but not everyone will claim their ticket, because they think that if they work hard enough, they can save enough money to purchase their own ticket. BUT NOBODY can afford the price of the ticket, because the price of the ticket is PERFECTION, so their works are in vain. only CHRIST is perfect, and only HE can take away our sin and imperfection, so only HE can pay the price for our ticket.

so there are enough tickets for EVERYONE, but since GOD in HIS foreknowledge knows how many will repent (change their minds about trying to purchase their own ticket and surrendering to the fact that CHRIST has already paid the price), then the number of seats on the train is fixed at that number. the train represents the church--the elect--so the CHURCH is predestined, NOT individuals --GOD IS NOT WILLING THAT ANY SHOULD PERISH BUT THAT ALL (all means ALL) should come to repentance. the train WILL reach the destination that GOD has predestined it to reach--the destination is this---that all who are on the train (the church) will be conformed to the image if HIS SON, and ultimately be received into glory as the bride of CHRIST. if you want to be in the elect, then run for the office and GOD will elect you! his vote is the only one that counts in this election!

thanks so much for your compliment! its nice that we can have a discussion and see the other view point without anger--the key to any disagreement is the ability to see the valid points of the other side--i have to disagree about the "90%"--my statement is based on a survey done by various sources including lifeway and a non-baptist source (christian exchange) which did surveys among churches in the sbc which states that 90% do not beleive in predestination as interpreted by the reformed churches--i have been in a southern baptist church my whole life, being a member of several different churches in different cities, and none of them beleived in the reformed doctrine of predestination. all the churches i have attended have been linked to pastors and leaders such as jerry vines, adrian rogers, bill stafford and others, and i am very active in the stome mountain association, and none of our churches currently endorse that doctrine, altho some have staff members who do, so i stand by my statement. but again the difference is the INTERPRETATION of predestination. if you asked "do you beleive in predestination" my answer would be yes--but i would have to qualify what i mean by that. having said that here is the reason i oppose the use of the word "reformed" in baptist discussion--1) to a non beleiver, it sounds as tho you are a recovering baptist lol--like saying i am a reformed alcoholic--they dont understand the term. also it can be taken to mean that you are not part of the larger baptist body. for example, there is a church called the "reformed catholic church" which means (at least to roman catholics) they are NOT in communion with rome and thus are NOT catholic at all. the other reason, is that reformed theology implies a LOT more than just predestination---reformed churches for the most part accept infant baptism, believe in sacraments versus ordinances, and are completely protestant in nature. even the primitive baptists who believe very strongly in predestination, are offened if you call them calvinists or reformed. reformed churches also usually believe in some form of centralized church govt. read the statement made by charles spurgeon---" We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not begin our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor I believe any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with the government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men. — Charles Spurgeon (From The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol.VII, Page 225). so i beleive when you use that term people assume you mean reformed in the same sense as presbyterians or dutch reformed church--if you stick to the scriptures, there is no need to ever reform your theology--i do not for a MINUTE doubt your sincerity, but i am also a student of baptist history, and can trace my family back to the church where the sbc was fouded near crawfordville ga--it still stands. i will agree that at that time a lot more baptists beleived in your predestination than do today, but it was never a majority. the church that has a sunday school wing named after my great aunt still has as theor official name RUHAMA MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH, even tho they have assoicated with the sbc since its inception in 1868--it is being said by some baptists that those who use the term "reformed baptist" are really just presbyterians in disguise--again this statement isnt meant to imply that i dont believe youre a baptist if you hold to classic predestination--i just view with suspicion anyone who uses the term, because everyone i know that uses that term spends more time attending presbyterian school and church than they do baptist ones, and to SOME it appears that those who label themsleves that way spend way more time trying to convert others to that theology than they do Christ--not saying i believe that, just saying how it is perceived. grace to you brother!

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    Sorry, as a former SBC pastor, an M.Div grad, and a student of Baptist history I have to cry foul on the "90% of Southern Baptists are" ... what is properly termed a "General Baptist." If anything, its about 10% General and 90% Particular. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 2:28
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    Also, "reformed baptists" didn't want to reform the Catholic church - we wanted a reformed theology (i.e. Calvinism) Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 3:34
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    Your analogy of predestination reveals your thoughts on the matter well, though. I look forward to future contributions! Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 5:39
  • just to thank you for the compliment, but disagree over the 90% thing--see new post--sorry im not internet savvy!
    – k. mann
    Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 18:47
  • 3
    Great leaping Wall of Text! That said, extended discussions are discouraged on any StackExchange site. That's one reason you can only put 600 characters in a comment. So, I moved what you said in the other answer and put it at the bottom of this one. In the future, please do edit your answer or take discussions to chat. :) Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 23:24

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