Weekly weigh-in: 188 lbs. Gained .5 lbs.
Blogged a few times this week.
Bible Reading: On track.
Evangelism: So-so. I really struggle with this.
Here are some very broad, but important, categories for thinking about the Gospel. You will notice that you have to fill in the blanks. Filling in the blanks is what I’m doing in a manuscript form right now.
The Gospel is the Purpose of God.
The Gospel is a Prophecy fulfilled.
The Gospel is a Point in History.
The Gospel is a Proclamation to all.
The Gospel is a Promise for the future.
The Gospel is a Portrait of God.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the Baptist dream.
I have a dream that one day this Convention will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”
I have a dream that one day on the scholarly hills of our Seminaries the sons of Baptist Identity proponents and the sons of the Great Commission Resurgence will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my two little children will one day live in a Convention where they will be judged not only by their commitment to Baptist principles but also by their commitment to missions.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Nashville, with its vicious Calvinists, with its non-Calvinists having their lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Nashville, little Baptist Identity boys and Baptist Identity girls will be able to join hands with little Great Commission Resurgence boys and Great Commission Resurgence girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the Southern Baptist Convention with.
There is a rift developing in the SBC. This rift is not between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. No this is a division growing between two visions for the future of the SBC. And it seems that proponents of both visions are happy to accept Calvinists to their side of the issues. However, one side in praticular seems to be doing a better job at recruiting Calvinists. And so one gets the idea that one side is pro-Calvinist while the other side is anti-Calvinist. I’m not denying that there are strong anti-Calvinist sentiments among some in the SBC. But this whole thing isn’t really about Calvinism.
On the one side we have the Baptist Identity (henceforth and forevermore to be termed BI) movement which wants to emphasize Baptist distinctives such as, Separation of Church and State, Religious Liberty, and Regenerate Church Membership.
On the other side we have the Great Commission Resurgence (henceforth and forever more to be termed GCR), which wants to emphasize cooperation between like-minded believers, both within and without the SBC, for the work of missions.
I think that these letters by Reid and Finn are part of the politics of this battle. The GCR has been consistently more accessible and appealing to Calvinists who are eager to prove that Calvinist theology does not lead to apathy for missions. “Far from it, we want to cooperate with you in the spread of the Gospel”, you might hear one of these Calvinists say.
So which side am I on? Hold on a minute. I want to take some time to explain the complexities of the issues before I reveal myself.
The BI contends that too much cooperation between denominations is dangerous. Our Baptist Identity stands to be lost. The GCR contends that greater cooperation is healthy and desirable between Gospel-believing denominations. Our mission as Christians in the world depends on our cooperation with one another. And as in matters of theology and practice on the blogosphere tend to go, dividing lines were drawn. The BI was labeled Landmarkist and the GCR was labeled Ecumenical.
So what do I think? Maybe these characterizations are true in the most extreme cases, but it is certainly not true of any of the leaders of either movement. I think there is a divide and conquer strategy at work between these two camps. And, no, the mastermind is not Wade Burleson or Paige Patterson. The mastermind is Satan. And if we don’t want our denomination to be controlled by Satan, we need to understand that we have all sought refuge in the SBC for the same reasons. First, we’re Baptists. Second, we want to cooperate together for the spread of the Gospel around the world.
So, I for one, refuse to play this game. I am a committed Baptist who will not consider giving money to plant any kind of Church except for a Baptist Church. But I am also a Christian who will cooperate with anyone who believes the Gospel in order to reach people who are under the control of Satan and the condemnation of God.
I think we have a confession of faith that suits Calvinists, non-Calvinists, BI and GCR. I propose that Calvinists, non-Calvinists, BI and GCR unite under the authority of Scripture, the BF&M 2000 and a cooperative mission program. Let’s call it the Southern Baptist Convention.
Context: See here.
Disclaimers: This is not a response of the same sort that I made to Reid. Finn’s letter is addressed to non-Calvinists in the SBC, so it is not up to me to respond to his letter. Instead my comments are a general voice of agreement and support, although I do disagree in a couple of places with Finn.
Format: I will place Dr. Finn’s comments in blockquotes and italicized while my response will be in the regular format.
Responses: I encourage you to read Dr. Finn’s full letter here.
Dr. Finn begins with a short autobiographical sketch of his upbringing in the SBC, and his ‘conversion’ to Calvinism.
When I became a Calvinist in the spring of 1999, I thought for sure I would never minister in a Southern Baptist context. As late at 2001, I was afraid I would either have to become “non-denominational” or, even worse, Presbyterian. Since non-denominationalism seemed faddish and I was quite sure pedobaptism was not biblical, neither of these options were appealing. Fortunately, I learned about eight years ago that there are thousands of Southern Baptists my age that share my convictions.
Ten years later I am an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has been educated in two Southern Baptist seminaries and teaches Baptist History for a living at one of those seminaries. I am where I never thought I would be a decade ago, and I am thankful for God’s providence in putting me in this place. I wouldn’t be here if I did not love the Southern Baptist Convention. To say it as clearly as I can, I am both really Calvinist and really Southern Baptist.
I can identify with Finn’s predicament, although not exactly. I was raised Independent Baptist, which pretty much means, Southern Baptist without the bureaucracy or the organizational missions effort (we supported independent missionaries independently). But as a (still) young Calvinist, with a complicating issue for some (I did not marry a white middle-class American) and a much different preaching style than those in the Churches I grew up in, I too worried that I would have to leave the boundaries of Baptistic polity in order to find a place to minister. Then I heard about Tom Ascol and Founder’s Ministries. And my brother had just taken a pastorate in an SBC Church. As I looked into the SBC I found that I could possibly have a place to call home. The commitment to inerrancy, orthodox theology, and Baptist polity, coupled with an apparent love for missions and a broad umbrella which allowed for some disagreement while not flexing on non-negotiables was very inviting.
I am now a committed Southern Baptist, so much so that I have been privileged to help plant a Church and bring that Church into the SBC.
As a Calvinist who is part of a mostly non-Calvinist denomination, I want to offer the following suggestions for my friends who reject my particular views about salvation. Like my colleague Alvin Reid, I write this as humbly as I know how, from a spirit of brotherly love.
Once again, the humilty and love are apparent in this letter.
First, be sure to articulate the gospel unambiguously in your preaching and evangelism. Many of you have an obvious burden for seeing the lost come to faith in Christ, which I truly appreciate. But sometimes when I hear some non-Calvinists trying to evangelize, they confuse slogans or shibboleths with the gospel. The gospel is not “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” or “Jesus can straighted out your messed-up life.” This is just lingo. The gospel is also not “pray this prayer” or “ask Jesus into your heart.” These are possible ways that you can encourage sinners to respond to the gospel, but only after explaining both the good news and the nature of the response. Even biblical phrases like “repent,” “believe,” “faith,” and “sin” can be reduced to pious shibboleths when they are not clearly defined.
The gospel is the story of all that our Creator God has done through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ to rescue sinners from destruction and redeem a fallen world. This is what we must proclaim. The proper response to this gospel is repenting of sin and putting our faith in Christ and his work on our behalf. If we do not make the gospel clear and/or if we fail to articulate the appropriate response to the gospel, then our evangelism is sub-Christian. And that has potentially horrible ramifications for the very people we wish to win.
Second, be sure to never give the impression that the decision to become a Christian is a mere decision. Sometimes I hear non-Calvinists imply that “all you have to do” if you want to be a Christian is believe in Christ. This makes it sound like faith is a simple free will decision that can be made apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. I know the vast majority of my non-Calvinist friends don’t really believe that. Even if you disagree with my Calvinism, I know most of you believe just as strongly as I do that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of sinners to draw them to faith in Christ.
Surely we can all agree that though faith is certainly a decision, it is never a simple decision. Becoming a Christian is more than getting all the facts right (though the facts need to be right!). Becoming a Christian is more than being baptized and joining a church. Becoming a Christian is more than opting for heaven instead of hell. Real change must happen or real faith is not present.
After I became a Calvinist, it seemed almost inevitable that I would hear phrases that would express boldly the necessity of a special work of the Spirit in salvation. “If you are under conviction”, “If you feel the Holy Spirit drawing you”, and even “Without the drawing of the Spirit and real conviction you won’t be saved!” The interesting thing about these phrases is that they came from preachers who were vocal in their opposition to Calvinism. As I understood what they were saying, I would ask myself, “Do they really believe that?” It seemed incongruous to me that these phrases would be used when their whole message seemingly contradicted these statements. But then again, I remembered that I too believed in a special work of the Spirit that was necessary for salvation even before I became a Calvinist. So this is one point where I do think we can be united, even though I still think it is out place in a non-Calvinist’s soteriological hermeneutic and I am glad that Dr. Finn has included this in his letter.
Finally, be careful not to turn your strategies into sacraments. I have in mind here two popular practices: altar calls and “sinner’s prayers.” Now do not misunderstand me: I am not in principle opposed to either of these practices. As someone who does mostly itinerant preaching, I offer a public invitation at the end of 95% of the sermons I preach. I also think that when most people come to faith in Christ they articulate that faith in the form of a prayer. At least this was the case in my conversion and the conversion of every person I have ever led to Christ.
I am not so much concerned with either of these strategies as I am the way they are sometimes applied. More than one observer has argued that altar calls are to many Southern Baptists what sacraments are to Roman Catholics: we are not sure folks can really be saved without them! I know of one church where the youth minister led a man to Christ after the gentleman had literally walked into the church office and asked to speak with a minister about what it meant to be a Christian. The next Sunday that man walked the aisle, only to have the senior pastor lead him in a second sinner’s prayer so the congregation could see that he really was saved. I’m dead serious.
And speaking of the sinner’s prayer, it seems there are too many among us who treat this practice as if it is the secret code to enter the Christian club house. In one extreme, folks are encouraged to “repeat after me” and then pronounced new Christians based upon their correct recitation of the prescribed formula. In another extreme, I have heard more than one pastor or evangelist argue that if you don’t get the words right, you might not be saved at all! My own teenage years were spent re-praying sinner’s prayers to make sure I “got it right” and thus have “assurance of my salvation” every time we had revival services or I went to a youth conference. I suspect I am not the only person with that testimony. The point is that both aforementioned extremes are more superstition than New Testament.
I am less inclined to offer an ‘invitation’. I hope my messages have a clear call to repentance and faith, but i am less interested in someone making a public spectacle than I am in seeing a life transformed by the preaching of the Word. Can an ‘altar call’ be used to accomplish this? Maybe, but I am a little more of a ’regulative principlist’ purist than to attempt it.
I also don’t see anywhere in the Bbile where people came to faith by ‘praying’. Yes, there is always the aspect of confession of sinfulness, but asking God to ‘save me’, or, ‘come into my heart’, or, ‘please forgive me’. The Gospel contains commands. Believe and repent. Those are the responses to the Gospel that God requires. And the Gospel also contains promises. If you believe and repent you will be saved. I am not sent to ask anyone to believe, I am sent to command faith and repentance in response to the Gospel and offer the promise of forgiveness of sins, justification, eternal security, and every other Gospel promise based upon true faith and repentance.
Can these responses be articulated in the form of a prayer? Yes. They can. But again, I think the deeper issue is understanding faith and repentance as commands to be obeyed rather than invitations to be accepted.
In closing, let me say loud and clear that I am committed to linking arms with all Southern Baptist individuals and churches that love the gospel and want to see the good news proclaimed to all people. In my understanding, Calvinism is a secondary issue that should not preclude different churches from participating in the same network of churches. Our denominational unity should be around a common commitment to the theology of the Baptist Faith and Message, a commitment to the Baptist vision of the church, and a burden to see the gospel proclaimed in all parts of North America and to the ends of the earth. Insofar as we unite around these things and do not divide over Calvinism (or other secondary issues), we will press forward in a Great Commission Resurgence for the sake of the gospel and the glory of the living God.
Ditto. Amen. Selah.
I will offer some final thoughts later this week.
Context: Over at Between The Times blog, Drs. Alvin Reid and Nathan Finn each addressed open letters to Southern Baptists. Alvin Reid’s letter was addressed to Calvinists in the SBC, while Nathan Finn’s letter was addressed to non-Calvinists in the SBC. Between the two of them I think we’re all covered.
Timmy Brister recently summarized the letters for us here and here, and there is a lot of good discussion on Dr. Reid’s letter at his blog. I would encourage you to read Dr. Reid’s letter before continuing to read here.
Disclaimers: As I stated at Timmy’s blog, although I believe I understand Dr. Reid’s points and agree mostly with him, I have some concerns with his letter. While I am going to voice concerns with his letter here, I want everyone to understand that this is not an ‘attack’ on Dr. Reid, and if you have a bone to pick with him you can take it elsewhere. But because his letter is a public letter which I take as addressed to me as a Calvinist in the SBC, I believe I have the right and responsibility to interact publicly with what he has written. Also, I do not believe that I can speak on behalf of all Calvinists in the SBC, so understand that these words are my words and my opinions.
Format: I will place Dr. Reid’s comments in blockquotes and italicized while my response will be in the regular format.
As a non-Calvinist who is not an anti-Calvinist, I want to offer the following suggestions for my friends who are Calvinists. I do so out of a spirit of brotherly love and as humbly as I know how.
I’m beginning my response here because I think this is a much better introduction than the introduction that Dr. Reid chose. May I say that in reading this letter I do get a sense of humility and love. I really believe that Dr. Reid is expressing what he believes are valid concerns about Calvinists, especially those who are new to Calvinism. I also truly believe that he is attempting to be as loving and humble as is possible.
Over the course of my almost-50 years, all in a Southern Baptist context, I have watched many ideas and trends come and go. I remember well the 1970s and the eschatological fervor of the time. Of sermon series on the book of Revelation there seemed to be no end. Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth became one of many books signaling the near return of our Lord. In the middle of such excitement there were bound to be excesses, and I saw plenty. I remember a friend who was so convinced that Jesus would return by 1976 that when the Lord tarried, he walked away from his faith. We survived those years and continued on to the future.
Now we see a rise in interest and conviction about Calvinism, which hardly caused a stir in my circles throughout college and seminary.
I’m not sure why Dr. Reid begins with this comparison. Comparing Hal Lindsay and the End-Times hysteria of the late 70′s and 80′s to a resurgence in Calvinism just seems to me to be a little over the top and dismissive of the theological positions of Calvinists. So I get the since that while, as he states later, he is not a “anti-Calvinist”, that he just doesn’t care about our positions. Calvinism is a fad and it will pass. Never mind that this fad has lasted the 500 years since the Reformation, besides the point that I would make that ‘Calvinism’ is in fact what the Bible itself teaches. I’m saying this, because I hope that he may have a different explanation for this introduction.
First, embrace humility. You have an obvious hunger for truth and for theological depth, which is commendable. But when your love for truth smacks of condescension, even to the point of arrogance, you do no one any good. You will not win others to your cause or promote the cause of Christ with an attitude of superiority. Encourage those across the theological spectrum to be serious about theology, but affirm humility in heart as much as you do soundness in mind.
Point well taken. This is good advice not only for Calvinists, but for anyone who is passionate about truth. We must all seek humility. When you get down to it, humility is at the heat of the Gospel. Christ humbled himself, became the servant of all, and submitted himself to the pain of death. And he tells us that whoever would be greatest among us must be servant of all. Humility should be embraced by all Christians. And Reid’s point that when we speak the truth without love and humility we have become as Paul said, a clanging cymbal. We have been commanded to speak the truth in love. But this admonition has always bothered me for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that for some reason when a person hears the word ‘Calvinist’ he immediately thinks ‘arrogance’. The charge is a constant ringing in the Calvinist’s ears. “You should be more humble!” Just hearing it said once again makes me think that this person (not Reid) needs to get the log out of his eye. The arrogance of some people in telling another person that he isn’t humble is off the charts in my opinion.
Second, apparently there is a reason that the charge keeps being leveled at Calvinists. We are not humble in so many ways. Even though what we believe should cultivate humility in us, many times just the opposite is true. Yes, we should be firm and steadfast in our beliefs, but not at the expense of recognizing that we really don’t have it all figured out.
Second, avoid implying that Calvinism and the gospel are synonyms. Sometimes I hear Calvinist speakers argue (or at least imply) that Calvinism and the gospel are identical, and if one does not affirm the tenets of Calvinism he denies the gospel. Not only is this theologically arrogant, it is unkind. I would remind you that in our history as Southern Baptists we have had room for Calvinists and non-Calvinists, and I see no reason for that day to end. You unnecessarily alienate those who would be your friends when you use such uncharitable rhetoric. Be aware that others in the history of Christianity as well as today may hold to interpretations that vary from you, and that variation does not always mean heterodoxy.
I think I understand what Dr. Reid is saying here. The Gospel is what Christ did, and the Gospel we preach is a proclamation of what Christ accomplished and a call to repentance and faith. I agree. Calvinism is not in and of itself the Gospel.
However, I have a hard time separating out what I believe about what Christ did from what He did. In my mind the Gospel begins with the declaration that we as sinners need a work done both outside of us and inside of us. We are sinners who hate God. We would never come to love Him or follow Him if He first does not do something for us. The Gospel stands then, in the context of total human depravity. We are all going to Hell in a hand-basket, I mean that literally, and although we’re not happy about that, we wouldn’t change a thing because we hate God. So there must be a point where God decides that if anyone will be saved, then He has to start it and finish. So He starts it by choosing a people for Himself, not because of foreseen faith or any good in them because they still hate God, and He sends His Son to die for them, sends the Holy Spirit to turn their hearts towards Him through the preaching of the Gospel and its demands, and then seals them and keeps them walking in love towards Him until they arrive safely at the destination that He has prepared for them.
Athough Calvinism is not the Gospel, it is so intertwined with the Gospel that I find it hard to completely separate out from the Gospel. If the Gospel is, as defined in 1 Corinthians 15, the death of Christ for our sins, His burial, His resurrection, His appearances, and His reign, then there must be a theological framework for understanding those statements. Otherwise, we can repeat those statements till we’re blue in the face, but unless we explain them, there is no Gospel actually be proclaimed. Only historical fact. What does it mean that, “Christ died for our sins”? That He was buried, that He rose on the third day, that He appeared to many eyewitnesses, that all enemies are being put under His feet? Although I do understand that Calvinism itself is not the Gospel, I think that Reid is asking something more from me than I can do in good conscience. Not that I deny that Reid has believed the Gospel, but that I deny that he has believed the best explanations of what the Gospel is and means for us.
Third, do not hesitate to call for non-Christians to turn to Christ in faith. I understand your reticence at extending a call for decision when the gospel is preached is due to more than a few who have been reckless in their handling of such invitations. But I would urge you to call for decision both personally and corporately as did our Lord, Peter, Paul and others in Scripture. I would urge you to read the works of Spurgeon and consider his passion for calling people to come to Christ.
Now whether or not you have an “altar call” at the conclusion of your service is less the issue for me than that some of you fail to give those on whom the Spirit is doing His convicting work the opportunity to follow Christ in some public manner. I would submit some of you are far better at criticizing your brothers who give public calls for decision than at offering a biblical alternative for such calls. Some of you seem to have a practical agnosticism concerning personal conversion.
As you read this particular criticism, please do not assume I think Calvinists are not evangelistic. I am using Mark Dever’s fine book on personal evangelism as one of the texts for a class (along with two by non-Calvinists, including mine!). Dever sets a good example for his fellow Calvinists (and non-Calvinists) in personal witnessing. I would ask you to provoke one another in your camp to good works in terms of evangelistic effectiveness, including not being afraid to plead with people to turn to Christ in faith.
Another fine suggestion from Dr. Reid is that Calvinists should not hesitate in calling sinners to repentance. Nothing in Calvinism precludes inviting all men and women to repent and believe the Gospel. Jesus was the only person ever who knew who all of the elect were, and yet he went everywhere preaching that everyone should repent and believe the Gospel. If we believe that regeneration takes place by the Spirit through the Gospel proclaimed, then all Calvinists should be at the forefront of evangelism. Sadly, this seems to rarely be the case. But I don’t think the answer for this is in finding a ‘biblical alternative’ for the altar call.
I think the better answer is first, in personal evangelism, that the there be a clear presentation of the Gospel (and I don’t mean an exposition of Calvinism), and then a clear presentation of the Gospel commands of repentance and faith as a response to the truthfulness of the Gospel.
Second, I think that in our preaching we must be ‘gospel-centered’, and that part of the message that we preach must be a clear articulation of the Gospel demands of repentance and faith as a response to the Gospel. The Gospel and that call to faith and repentance should never ever be separated from each other in our preaching. You cannot preach the Gospel with clarity without explaining what this means for your hearers. Preaching is the Gospel call.
My fourth and final plea comes from my own personality. Over the years I have been in ministry I have been a bridge builder, not a bridge burner. I tend to be more a Barnabas than a Jeremiah, more a “he that is not against me is with me” type than a “my way is Yahweh” fellow. So hear my heart as a Southern Baptist who is content to agree to differ on some points (I believe God is so sovereign we can do that and He still achieves His purposes!) and still work together for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel. In your conferences and other meetings, especially those directed primarily to Southern Baptists, consider involving some speakers who may not agree with you at every point.
I have heard “Together for the Gospel” meetings referred to as “Calvinists for the Gospel” events. Would the Building Bridges conference not be a better model, especially within our Convention? I recall being part of a conference on revival years ago in which Richard Owen Roberts, a wonderful student of awakenings and a Calvinist, answered a question from the floor. He was asked if every spiritual awakening was led by Calvinists. He put his hand to his head, grimaced, and with a pained look, said, “No.” He was right. As a non-Calvinist who teaches on the great awakenings I would be the first to affirm that more leaders of revivals were Calvinists than not. But I would also submit that if we could today see an awakening sweep our land through the work of both modern-day Whitefields and modern-day Wesleys, we could bury a hatchet or two and learn from one another.
Personally, I don’t really see the need for this point to be made in the context of the SBC. If there are Calvinists in the SBC, then it must be because we want to cooperate with other Southern Baptists in the spread of the Gospel. Who we invite to our conferences really depends on the focus of our conferences. If we want to have a conference promoting what we understand to be a correct understanding of the Gospel, why should we be obligated to invite a speaker who does not share our views? But if we want to have a conference promoting cooperation among Southern Baptists, then I am all for inviting speakers from all viewpoints, so long as they understand that the focus is cooperation among Southern Baptists.
I guess I am advocating unity through distinctives rather than unity through consensus. Not that consensus is bad, I think we already have a consensus articulated in the BF&M 2000. We have unity through our affirmation of the BF&M, we can discuss our differences, but let’s not reduce unity to some abstract idea of love and understanding. We can learn from each other, but let’s also remember that both sides have already wrestled with the Scriptures and have formed some conclusions that conscience will not let us betray.
I will try to interact with Dr. Nathan Finn’s letter later in the week.
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Past two weeks:
Weekly Weigh-in: 187.5 lbs. Lost 5.5 lbs.
Caught up on Bible Reading.
Shared the Gospel once outside of a Church context.
My wife and I watched “Fireproof” the other night and thought it was pretty good. I liked it better than “Facing the Giants.”
I can’t help but wonder about something though: why is the local church absent from such explicitly Christian movies made by a church?
Did anyone else wonder about that?
Weekly weigh-in: 193lbs. Lost 1 pound. I’m really for real going to start my diet in earnest this week.
Shared the Gospel with people at the funeral home who were not Christians.
Still not caught up on my Bible reading. I might have to amend my goal to once through the OT and twice through the NT.
Posted several times on the blog.