Calvinism is a system of theology named after the French reformer, John Calvin. It places heavy emphasis on the sovereignty of God, particularly in the area of conversion. Because of its talk about "predestination" and "divine election", many people see Calvinism as a threat to missions and evangelism. That is an unfair accusation, however, since many of the greatest preachers and soul-winners in history were also staunch Calvinists. These would include Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Carey, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and D. James Kennedy. Many of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention - such as James P. Boyce, John Broadus, and Basil Manly, Jr. - were also Calvinists. One cannot read Southern Seminary's Abstract of Principles without noting its highly Calvinistic tone.
On the other hand, many Calvinists in our denomination have been equally unfair in their attempts to label their opponents as "Pelagian". Pelagianism teaches that Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden affected only himself, and that people can choose whether to sin or not to sin. I don't know of any Southern Baptists who would affirm any such thing. While they may balk at the term "total depravity", most non-Calvinists in our denomination agree that man's basic nature is sinful, and they would readily agree that conversion is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit.
So where do we go from here? I believe David Platt summed up the issue quite nicely at last year's Pastors' Conference when he reminded us that God's sovereignty is a mystery. On the one hand, we can't ignore such concepts as election and predestination and claim to be biblical. Such words are in the Bible, and we have to deal with them one way or another. At the same time, the Bible also says, "Whosever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." I don't know how it all fits together, and I'm suspicious of anyone who claims to have it all figured out. As Romans 11:34 says, "Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor?" In this respect, God's sovereignty is much like the doctrine of the Trinity: any attempts to explain it usually lead to heresy. Let us also remember the question Adrian Rogers used to ask in times of controversy: "Is this a hill on which to die?" Some things are worth fighting for, but many others are not. In my opinion, one's understanding of divine election falls in the latter category.
The Calvinism Advisory Committee has addressed this issue thoroughly in its report, which can be accessed at this link: http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=40419.
We will probably never resolve this issue completely; in fact, I believe a little tension between the two perspectives can be healthy. On the one hand, I don't want us to embrace any kind of hyper-Calvinism that denies the necessity of reaching people for Christ. On the other hand, neither do I want us to embrace a hyper-Arminianism that denies or downplays the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. By embracing both Calvinists and non-Calvinists, the SBC can avoid both extremes.