Why The Term Traditionalism

People sometimes ask questions about the term Traditionalism. Where did the term originate? Is the term ever misunderstood? Why is it better than all of the alternatives? What does it actually mean? These are all very good questions.

HISTORY

In 2001, Fisher Humphreys and Don Robertson wrote God So Loved the World: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism. When these two irenic professors used the term traditional in their book, there was no outcry, for everyone grasped the fact that they were using the term to describe the widely held basic Southern Baptist view of salvation taught by Herschel Hobbs and preached by Adrian Rogers. In 2012, another effort was made to define what most Southern Baptists believed about salvation. This document, whose primary author was Eric Hankins, was entitled A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. The word traditional was again used for the basic Baptist view.

MISCONCEPTIONS

Some have objected to the term Traditionalism, misunderstanding it as an attempt to claim the Hobbs-Rogers tradition as the only tradition in Southern Baptist life. Of course, it is not the only tradition. Finding no record of a single Traditionalist who has ever made such an erroneous claim, we see this as a non-issue. Others have objected to the term on the basis that it must favor old-fashioned forms of worship, dress and ministry. To be a Traditionalist, in their view, is to be an old, washed up fogey whose theology and ministry is out of place in today’s world. Once again, this definition is simply a caricature of the term’s true meaning.

ALTERNATIVES

Anti-Calvinist fails not only because it assumes an unnecessarily harsh opposition, but also because it defines one view only in relation to another.

Non-Calvinist also fails since it too defines by negation. The proper title for a balanced debate is not Calvinism—Pro or Con? but rather Calvinism or Traditionalism? We are not merely talking about one view and our differing opinions regarding it. We are actually talking about two clearly identifiable, theologically legitimate yet mutually exclusive views.

Arminian fails since we disaffirm that our depravity requires a belief in total inability, and since we affirm the Perseverance of the Saints in a mandatory rather than negotiable manner, usually expressing it as “once saved, always saved.”

Modified Arminian and Modified Calvinist both fail, first by importing the very terms we disavow, and then by attaching a generic modifier that does not explain the nature of the modification attached to the term we disaffirm. Who wants to be a non-something or a partial-something? Our view is distinct from all others. It is broadly affirmed. Therefore, it begs for a unique term of our very own.

Biblicist and Baptist fail due to simple polemical considerations—both sides claim their view is the Baptist position most supported in Scripture.

SavabilistExtensivist, Decisionist, Conversionist and Volitionist have much to commend them. They are not terms of negation, terms of modification, or terms lacking differentiation. Unfortunately, consensus has not yet formed in favor of any of these five terms. To date, the most commonly used label for a Southern Baptist who embraces the Hobbs-Rogers theological tradition is clearly the term Traditionalism.

DEFINITION

Traditionalism is simply the doctrine of salvation described in the Traditional Statement. It refers to the basic understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation espoused by each of the primary confessors of The Baptist Faith and Message—E.Y. Mullins in 1925, Herschel Hobbs in 1963 and Adrian Rogers in 2000. Although we have no data to prove this matter conclusively, we believe Traditionalism is the majority view of salvation doctrine in the Southern Baptist Convention.

CONCLUSION

To those on both sides who would protest the term Traditionalism, we would first of all agree with you that it is imperfect. However, in the same breath, we would humbly remind you that the terms Calvinism and Arminianism are also imperfect. We do believe, however, that this conversation will proceed with less rancor and a far more irenic spirit the sooner we can all agree to define those of us identifying with the Hobbs-Rogers theological tradition with a respectable term of our very own.