A longtime Southern Baptist leader warns there is a theological civil war brewing over the influence of Calvinist leaders within the denomination.
Richard Land, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says he supports Ken Hemphill to lead the SBC as president in order to preserve the gospel message and to defend the role of evangelism.
Hemphill, 69, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, announced Feb. 1 that he is seeking the nomination of SBC president in June.
The current president is Steve Gaines, who pastors Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis after the retirement of the late Dr. Adrian Rogers.
Hemphill is currently on staff at North Greenville University, where he leads the Center for Church Planting and Revitalization, which began as the SBC's Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative.
There have always been Calvinists within the Southern Baptist Convention, observes Land, who likens their influence to the "harmony and never the melody" of the 15-million member denomination.
He describes the current struggle over the next leader as a battle between the "Billy Graham wing" of the SBC versus the "John Calvin wing."
"This is about the gospel and whether or not the gospel is for everyone, not just the elect," Land tells OneNewsNow.
Hemphill would make a great president for the SBC, says author and Christian apologist Alex McFarland, who knows Hemphill at NGU.
"[Hemphill] is a disciple, an evangelizer," McFarland says of the SBC leader. "And a man who stands for everything that the Southern Baptist Church epitomizes, which is fidelity to the Word of God and to Christ's Great Commission."
McFarland says the denomination has seen an increase in young leaders who espouse "New Calvinism," an idea that he rejects. The denomination must adhere to its traditional understanding of salvation.
"We're not commissioned to talk theology over lattes," he says. "We're commissioned to go and preach the gospel to every creature – win the world for Christ – and we need a president that will inspire us."
Hemphill's announcement comes after J.D. Greear, 44, a North Carolina pastor, has been nominated to be SBC president for the second time in a row.
Greear was nominated along with Gaines in 2016. Just hundreds of votes separated them, with Gaines enjoying a one-percent lead, when Greear announced he was withdrawing as a sign of unity.
Land tells OneNewsNow that his backing of Hemphill is not an attack on Greear, whom he describes as a great pastor and attractive candidate to lead the SBC.
"This is not an anti-JD campaign," he says. " This is a pro-John 3:16 campaign."
The issue of Calvinism's influence is the biggest issue facing the Southern Baptist Convention at the moment, Land adds.