It’s a joy to be one of the sponsors of this year’s B21 luncheon at the SBC in New Orleans, Louisiana. The panel is as robust as ever and should prove to be an interesting, thoughtful discussion on the past, present, and future of our denomination. You won’t want to miss out, so be sure to make plans to be there (you can pre-register here until June 19).
Threads is LifeWay’s young adult ministry, and we have the privilege of producing resources for Collegiates and young adults (ages 18-34), including Collegiate magazine, LifeMatters Sunday School curriculum, and short term, small group resources as well.
We’ll be giving away several short term resources at the luncheon, including Seven Daily Sins by Jared Wilson, Creation Restored by Matt Carter and Halim Suh, and Mentor by Chuck Lawless. Hear from Dr. Lawless, VP of global theological advance at the International Mission Board, about his book Mentor:
We love young adults and greatly desire to reach them for Jesus Christ. It is our passion at Threads to see them discipled and grown into a generation that lifts high the name of Jesus and gives all for His mission. It would be an honor to come alongside you or your ministry in service to young adults. Letusknow how we can support you in this great calling and endeavor!
See you there.
You can register for the B21 panel here.
Baptist21 would like to once again provide SBC attendees with a guide to the proceedings of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. Throughout the attached guide, Baptist21 provides descriptions of key items on the schedule that we believe you will not want to miss.
You can download a printable .pdf file here: B21 Guide SBC2012
In addition, make sure to register for the B21 Lunch Panel to be held during the Tuesday lunch of the SBC. You can register by clicking here.
Read the vision of Dr. Paige Patterson for unity amidst diversity in the SBC, especially in regards to Calvinism. You can go here to read it or you will find it posted below. B21 is thankful for Dr. Patterson’s clarity and vision here. B21 believes this kind of spirit with cooperation around the BFM2000 is something Southern Baptists can unite around for the future. We will be discussing these issues at the baptist21 panel on Tuesday. You can register to attend our panel at the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention by going here.
Happy Southern Baptists and the Tricky Track by Dr. Paige Patterson
In late 2007, I was asked by the editors of SBC Today to address the relationship between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention. The following article was the result and I repost it today as it represents my thoughts and hopes on the matter. While some have lugubrious prognostications as to the current discussion bringing about the demise of our Baptist Zion, I am actually encouraged by it and believe that most of the dialogue is helping to strengthen our theological understanding and shared commitment to reach the 7 billion people on the face of the globe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the better things that Karl Barth is sometimes credited with having said is, “God, deliver me from Barthians.” If not apocryphal, Barth was simply recognizing what most professors acknowledge and that is that students always have a tendency to run to the edge of the cliff with the professor, but unlike the professor they tend never to stop at the edge. While Martin Luther was the Reformation’s preacher-theologian, John Calvin was the towering figure of Reformation thought through his Institutes and through his commentaries, a monumental biblical interpreter. Calvin’s contribution, like that of Luther and a myriad of others, are subjects for which Baptists should be eternally grateful.
This should not be interpreted to mean however that we agree with John Calvin on all points and still less with some of his followers, who may have tumbled past him off the edge of the cliff. For example, Baptists have disagreed with the Reformed tradition of John Calvin and others at the following substantive points.
- First, Baptists disagree about the baptism of infants. Infants cannot have faith, and the first ordinance of the church is faith-witness baptism and hence only believers are the appropriate candidates.
- Second, we disagree about the mode of baptism, insisting that only baptism by immersion expresses death, burial, and resurrection.
- Third, we have differed with Calvin and other Magisterial Reformers over the relationship of the church to the state. Magisterial Reformers, so called, because of linking their reformations to state support and protection are contrasted normally with the Radical Reformers who argued as Baptists always have, for separation of church and state. This should not be interpreted as meaning that the church is not free to address matters of moral concern in the state, but only that the state has no jurisprudence in matters of the church and that the two are separate realms altogether.
- Fourth, Baptists have disagreed with the Reformed tradition regarding elder rule. Although it is not uncommon now to find Baptist churches advocating elder rule and while this has been the case among Baptists for generations, on the whole Baptists are Congregationalists—recognizing as they do the problems latent in congregational rule, they nonetheless believe that the doctrine of the indwelling Spirit of God in each believer means, among other things, that the congregation as a whole should be consulted and indeed determinative in the major decisions of the local church. Part of this is tied to Baptist emphasis upon the autonomy of the local church.
On the other hand, there are matters about which almost all Baptists agree with the Reformed tradition.
- Baptists have joined Calvin and other Reformers in insisting that salvation is by grace alone. Indeed it is arguable that the Radical Reformers were the only really consistent Reformers because they not only declared that salvation came by grace alone but also insisted that only those who had experienced that grace in regeneration were the proper subjects of baptism.
- Second, Baptists join with Reformers in believing that election to salvation is a prerogative exercised by God who is both just and sovereign in his disposition of all things. While even the followers of Calvin disagree among themselves about various aspects of election (infralapsarian vs. supralapsarian perspectives), Baptists also disagree among themselves about exactly what election means and how it functions in the salvific process. Nonetheless, that the Bible teaches the doctrine of election and predestination means that Baptists fully endorse it.
- Further, Baptists have almost unanimously joined with the Reformers in their belief of the permanence of salvation. Once a man has experienced regeneration and been permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit, he cannot forfeit his salvation. Again, Baptists joined with Reformed theology in declaring the full sovereignty of God over all events. This includes the rejection of “open theism” which features an incredulous God when faced with certain unanticipated events.
- Finally, Baptists are one with those of the Reformed faith and with Calvinists in emphasizing the overriding providences of God. The cosmos is simply not out of control. It is being guided by God to a designed climax over which He rules and reigns. Furthermore, God’s providence extends to all events in the lives of God’s children.
Baptists disagree among themselves over subjects such as what election means and how it should be interpreted. It is common to find disagreement over the so-called ordo salutis, that is, the order of salvation events. Most believe that repentance and faith occur simultaneously, along with regeneration, but some have held that regeneration occurs first and makes repentance and faith possible.
Some years ago, walking along a muddy river bank about six feet above a glacier melt ice cold river, I had the misfortune of being the last in line along a very narrow path made by a Brown Bear. Taking one unguarded step, the mud gave way and I found myself plunged into the ice cold river. Having to walk all the way back to camp with my boots full of ice cold water, reminded me that it is always better to remain on the path, however tricky it may be.
Southern Baptists today need to negotiate a tricky track that, so far, historically they have rather remarkably been able to negotiate. The tricky track is to disagree about the meaning of election and certain other associated perspectives, without breaking fellowship with one another over matters, however profoundly believed, which will not become decipherable for believers this side of heaven. I have a few modest proposals for successfully negotiating the tricky track.
- Non-Calvinists must not accuse Calvinists in general of being non-evangelistic. First this must not happen because it is simply not true. While a case can certainly be made that many embracing the Calvinistic perspective have apparently allowed this theology to have an unfortunate result in terms of actual evangelistic enterprise, one needs not look far to discover those who thoroughly embrace a more Calvinistic position who nevertheless have remained consistent in their witness and successful in their evangelistic endeavors. My concern here is not that non-Calvinists cease warning about the danger often seen as present in those who embrace a more Calvinistic perspective, but it is essential that Calvinistic Baptists not be painted with the universal brush in this matter.
- On the other hand, the more Calvinistic Baptists must not accuse non-Calvinists of failing to believe in the sovereignty of God. Almost every Baptist I know believes in the sovereignty of God. But for some, perhaps even for most, God’s sovereignty does not entail a particular view of the doctrine of election. God is sufficiently sovereign to act in any way consistent with His character and essence.
- Third, there needs to be recognition on both sides of the argument—that in England, Particular Baptists and General Baptists experienced a great divorce, which was healthy for neither. As Timothy George has pointed out, the General Baptists lost their doctrinal emphasis and tended to become Universalists, and even in some cases Unitarian, whereas the Particular Baptists had a strong tendency toward becoming anti-missionary and anti-evangelistic. They needed each other, and Southern Baptists so far have been able to understand that the two sides needed each other, and hence we have thus far not made the British Baptist mistake. May God help us to maintain that heading.
- Fourth, absolute integrity must be the order of the day. Although I am not a conventional dispensationalist, most people consider me such. So if I’m being considered for a faculty position or a pastorate, I must be entirely candid with the appropriate authorities in the church. I must tell them every single aspect of my theological perspective, and I must explain exactly how I will lead the church or teach my classes as the case may be. Anything less than full disclosure to the church or to an institution by which I shall be employed is a failure of integrity. This lack of integrity and full disclosure is that which disrupts churches and institutions and causes trouble that has the tendency to spill over into every aspect of denominational life. Again, if we handle this tricky track, we’ll have to do it through full disclosure of theological position and what we intend to do.
- Finally, to negotiate the tricky track, we must not cease to be less than overtly and aggressively—but nevertheless responsibly—evangelistic. Some of the shallow evangelistic methodologies and over-confident reporting of results needs to be revised and the more Reformed brethren among us are faithful to provide those criticisms. The more aggressively evangelistic need to hear them carefully and be corrected by them. On the other hand, when churches report no baptisms each year or even churches numbering four or five hundred members account for very few baptisms, the more aggressively evangelistic among us are not wrong to say that God should not be blamed for this. Human irresponsibility and a willingness to pass off our self-centered, non-evangelistic, non-missionary ways under the cloak of the sovereignty of God are simply reprehensible. Thorough-going, honest, but nonetheless aggressive evangelism is what God has blessed among Southern Baptists across the years, and we dare not let any perspective dissuade us from the example provided for us in the book of Acts and in the mandates of Jesus in such places as the Great Commission. Fairness also demands the recognition that the failure of churches in the evangelistic and missionary tasks often has nothing whatever to do with Calvinism. In fact, any doctrinal commitment, any moral practice, any methodological approach that either purposefully or inadvertently diminishes our evangelistic zeal and our witnessing performance must be jettisoned at once for one that fuels evangelistic and missionary fires.
A tricky track it is, and who knows how Baptists will come out in the end. But we need each other, and how we proceed can best be followed with something like the above perspective. May God bless us all and may God enable us to have a heart for reaching our world for Christ.
B21 is grateful to be able to share a guest post from Dr. Chuck Lawless, the Vice President for Global Theological Advance for the IMB. In this post Dr. Lawless outlines why the conservative resurgence was absolutely vital for the missions task of the SBC, and he encourages you to join this conversation at the B21 panel in New Orleans. B21 is excited about what God is doing at the IMB, and we are grateful to be able to partner with them.
I became a follower of Jesus at age 13. The first church I attended was a small Southern Baptist church in southwestern Ohio. That church gave me a strong, unshakeable confidence in the Word of God that has grounded me to this day. What they ultimately gave me was a theology for doing the Great Commission. I have learned since then just how important that theology is: a biblical theology should drive us to get the gospel to our neighbors and to the nations.
That theology is unquestionably clear. All human beings are separated from the one and only true God, desperately lost and destined for hell. No person is good enough in his nature to inherit heaven, nor can any person do enough good works to get there. Apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, no man has any hope.
Jesus, though, is indeed the answer. He willingly bore the sins of the world, paid the penalty for our wrong, and broke the back of the Enemy through his death. In his resurrection, he overcame death and now offers life to all who turn to him in repentance and faith. That message is amazingly good news.
Five times in the New Testament, this same Jesus—the perfect eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity—is recorded as telling us what we must do in response to this message. He who has the authority to do so mandated that we proclaim this message to all the people groups of the world. That we must do, for no one can be saved apart from a hearing of the gospel.
At any given point in this task, however, a faulty theology will lead to diversion from the Great Commission and disobedience to God. If, for example, the Bible is not the Word of God, why follow its teachings at all? If there is more than one God, why should we assume a need to proclaim the God of the Bible? If this God is not a perfectly holy God, why worry about sin at all?
Deny the lostness of human beings, and evangelism becomes only a politically incorrect religious confrontation. Assert that Jesus is a way to God—not the only way—and missions is then only a costly and arrogant cross-cultural endeavor. Reject the truth about divine judgment, and hell is explained as a faulty first-century worldview rather than the eternal judgment of a holy God. The cross itself becomes only a bloody means of death in an ancient city if the story of the gospel message is not truth about the one who is Truth.
Thus, I am deeply indebted to Southern Baptists who led the Conservative Resurgence. As a pastor since the early 1980s, I have reaped the benefits of men and women who stood for the Word, refused to compromise, and proclaimed the truth that my home church had taught me. I pray that future generations will always learn from me what others taught me by their courage and obedience.
Here is what frightens me, though: I know very few churches that would reject the biblical message, yet I know many who live as if the message does not matter. Most of us have more Bibles than people in their homes, but we seldom think about 1.7 billion people of the world who have little access to the gospel. Dollars given to missions are often leftover funds, not a sacrifice to support God’s work among the nations. And, actually going to the nations is, of course, someone else’s calling. In fact, crossing the street to speak to our neighbors is sometimes seemingly too far to go. We Southern Baptists have stood faithfully for a message that we have chosen to keep to ourselves.
Our inattention to the Great Commission is, despite our arguments otherwise, a practical denial of the very theology we claim to believe. Theology that does not affect the way we live is only an academic exercise—often a prideful one. Biblical theology lived out, though, will result in denying ourselves and taking up the cross. The Conservative Resurgence rightly applied should compel us to the hard places for the glory of Christ and the sake of the nations.
If you want to hear more about how the Conservative Resurgence should fuel Great Commission passion, plan to attend the B21 luncheon at the SBC in New Orleans. Be sure, too, to experience the TENT at the IMB booth in the exhibit hall. Join us in making disciples among the nations – no matter what the cost of Great Commission obedience may be.
Chuck Lawless is VP for Global Theological Advance of the International Mission Board.
The topic for the B21 panel this year is “The Conservative Resurgence, the Great Commission Resurgence, and the Future of the SBC.”Here are some of the things we will be discussing at the panel in New Orleans:
We will discuss these issues and more at the B21 panel in New Orleans on June 19th. To register for the panel go here.
Also, we would like to know what questions you have on this topic. You can submit them below, and perhaps they will be asked during the panel.
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