Monday, February 27, 2006

2006 Shepherds' Conference


I am traveling this week to the Shepherds' Conference in California. Along with a couple of men from the church I serve, I will be manning the Founders Ministries booth in the exhibit area. Founders will also be giving away copies of Dear Timothy, Letters on Pastoral Ministry to all those who attend.

If you are going to be there and have the time, come by the booth for a visit.

A Plea for Church Discipline


Church discipline is a topic that has been too long ignored by evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular. The time has come for us to face up to our failures at this point, to repent of our neglecting God's Word and to begin reinstituting discipline in our churches.

This is a subject on which those who ar
e Reformed and those who are not Reformed in theology can agree. Dr. Emir Caner (Dean of the undergraduate college at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX) is on record regarding his vociferous opposition to the historic Southern Baptist understanding of salvation as articulated in the doctrines of grace. However, he wrote this in recent comments on this blog: "The reason why only 37% of church members ever darken the door of the church on a given Sunday is the lack of church discipline" and "a church without church discipline does not meet the standards of the New Testament." His brother, Dr. Ergun Caner (Dean of the Liberty Baptist Seminary in Lynchburg, VA) has decried the doctrines of grace in even stronger language, calling Calvinism a "virus." Yet, he has written (speaking for both himself and his brother), "TRUE New Testament Churches, in our view, MUST practice church discipline to maintain fidelity to the text and model."

My point in quoting these two
respected Southern Baptist scholars is simply to underscore that church discipline is not a "Calvinist" issue. It is a Baptist issue. More importantly, it is a biblical issue.

Local churches are instructed to be disciplined. Every church which bears the name of Christ is obligated to obey our Lord's teachings which are spelled out step-by-step in the inerrant, infallible Bible which God's Holy Spirit inspired. Jesus said:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18).

This passage is not hard to understand. Even a child can outline the steps that Jesus says that church members are to follow when an unrepentant brother is among them.

Other passages give equally clear instructions to churches on how to handle wayward members. "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans. 16:17). "Put away from yourselves the evil person" (1 Corinthians 5:13). "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).

These and other passages like them spell out how a church is to respond to immorality and impenitence in their midst. This is part of what is involved in the discipline of a local church. But it is only the corrective side of that discipline that the Bible requires. Before there can be any ground for correction, there must first be positive formation.

Formative discipline must be recovered before corrective discipline can be legitimately practiced in a church. The former involves a careful use of all of the God-ordained means in promoting genuine godliness among every church member. Thus, churches must insist that the Word of God is preached with simplicity and application. Members are to be taught--and should be expected to practice--the principles of holy living. Where this takes place the members will become increasingly "formed" by the Word of God and healthy spiritual growth will become the norm in a congregation. In such situations, corrective discipline (at least in its final form of removing a member from the church) will rarely be necessary.

Those who do not demonstrate a real, saving relationship with Christ and who show no interest in growing spiritually have no business being received into a church's membership. This is not a false idealism nor an argument for perfection in Christians. Rather, it is a simple recognition that where there is life, there will be at least some demonstration of it. The church consists of new creatures. As Baptists have long argued on the basis of the New Testament, that an essential qualification for church membership is regeneration. Spiritual fruit cannot be cultivated where there is no spiritual life. What does not exist cannot be "formed" or shaped.

Thus, before corrective discipline can ever be restored to our churches formative discipline must begin. Many zealous pastors and church leaders fail to follow this pattern in restoring discipline to a congregation. The results are almost without exception disastrous. Even where disaster is averted what is being practiced is usually preacher discipline, not church discipline. A church must be taught God's Word on this subject before practical steps to institute (or reinstitute) it are taken.

Formative discipline begins by a church exercising care in how it receives members. Where such care has long been neglected, there must be instruction on the biblical standards for church membership. The importance of membership--especially in a Baptist church--must be emphasized and prospective members instructed in the qualifications and responsibilities of membership. The very thought that a church would speak in terms of "qualifications" and "responsibilities" when thinking of new members is enough to send shivers down the spine of many who have never seen discipline practiced in a church. Yet, every church has at least some qualifications that must be met before a person is accepted as a member. I am simply suggesting that these be carefully considered and biblically evaluated, then carefully taught to those seeking membership.

John Dagg, a prominent nineteenth-century Southern Baptist theologian emphasized this point in his
Treatise on Church Order. He wrote,

The churches are not infallible judges, being unable to search the heart; but they owe it to the cause of Christ, and to the candidate himself, to exercise the best judgment of which they are capable. To receive any one on a mere profession of words, without any effort to ascertain whether he understands and feels what he professes, is unfaithfulness to his interests, and the interests of religion (p. 269).
When the unregenerate are not only allowed but encouraged to join the church simply on the basis of a recited prayer, raised hand, firm handshake, completed decision card, or any other superficial method of spurious evangelism, they themselves are spiritually misled, the church is seriously weakened, and the cause of Christ generally in undermined. Yet this is precisely what has happened for more than a generation in thousands of our churches.

When he was the Director of Discipleship Training for the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Roy Edgemon studied this issue. In his comments at the 1991 Louisiana Baptist Convention's Evangelism Conference he concluded that too much of our evangelism is "manipulative," "shallow," "abortive," and "without integrity." It is more interested in decisions than disciples.

Too often modern evangelistic technique is geared toward getting a sinner to agree with some facts and recite a prayer. Once this occurs, it is assumed he is saved. Those who go through these steps are commonly judged ready for baptism and church membership. The consequence of such practice, as Edgemon observed, is that "we lose thousands of people who are going to die and go to hell, thinking they're saved. And they've never been saved." This is a sobering thought. It highlights the desperate need of churches to reinstitute formative discipline (which will in turn lead to a recommitment to
biblical evangelism).

Fortunately for Baptists, we have a rich heritage from which to draw as we seek to rediscover the biblical teachings on church discipline. Early generations of Baptists saw these teachings so clearly that they took their practice for granted. Yes, there were some abuses from time to time, but in such instances we have the benefit of learning even from their mistakes.

In generations past when Baptists had a more robust appreciation for their biblical ecclesiology, church discipline was readily acknowledged as an irreplaceable mark of a true church. Baptist leaders taught and wrote on it and Baptist churches practiced it. There was not perfect unanimity on every detail of practice as a comparison of their writings will demonstrate (you can make such a study on the
founders website; I personally disagree with some of P. H. Mell's instructions regarding those who have been unjustly expelled from a church). But there was a universal recognition that a church could not be a church without discipline. The consideration of our forefather's insights can be very useful to help promote fresh dialogue and study of church life and practice.

As a pastor, seeing a local church rediscover the blessings of discipline has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry. A church that embraces its responsibility to have a well-ordered membership is a joy to serve. Not because it is thereby free from problems. No church will ever be free from trials in this life (I have repeatedly assured my congregation that as long as I am their pastor, we will have problems!). But where discipline is being practiced, the problems can be handled in a God-honoring, healthy way. And as every pastor knows, it is not usually the "first-level" problems that seriously injure a church. The real damage is done by the problems that emerge when the initial difficulties are not dealt with in a proper fashion.

We desperately need to recover the biblical teachings on church discipline in this generation. The sincere Christians who are trying to follow Christ to the best of their ability in our churches deserve it. The insincere hypocrites who have attached themselves to our membership need it. The glory of Christ in His churches requires it. John Dagg argued, "when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it." If he is correct, then the great need of the hour is for church leaders and their congregations to repent of disregarding the Word of God at this point, and plead with Him for grace and wisdom to restore biblical order by reinstituting both formative and corrective church discipline.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Founders Breakfast at the SBC--Hear Mark Dever


Here is yet another reason to attend the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC this summer. Before the opening session, at 6:30 AM, Tuesday, June 13, the Founders Fellowship Breakfast will feature Dr. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He. will be speaking on "Election, the Gospel and Evangelism." In this talk he will address how his study of Scripture leads him to Calvinistic conclusions and the difference that makes in his life and ministry as a pastor:.

Mark is also the Executive Director of 9 Marks, a ministry that is committed to promoting church health. The tickets for the breakfast are on sale at Founders.org for $10.00 and can only be purchased online.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Whither Southern Baptists?


Whither--not "wither." It is a question, not a prediction. I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so I try to stay out of the prediction business. But I am concerned about the future of the churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention. That concern has led me to pray about and ponder the trajectory of SBC life for more than two decades.

Who knows what the SBC will look like in the next twenty years? But as with everything in life, what you plant today will determine the kind of harvest that is reaped tomorrow. Perhaps some--maybe most--of the seeds currently being sewn are being spread inadvertently. But others, particularly those in the hands of denominational leaders and influencers, are being planted deliberately.

From what is being advocated today It is obvious that there are several competing visions of the SBC's future that are currently vying for ascendancy. From my limited vantage point, here are some of the more prominent ones that I see dotting the landscape.


The Fundamentalist vision


This hope is fueled by the spirit that gave us the old "Fightin' Fundamentalist" mentality that characterized many independent, dispensational circles in the last century. I had the, uh, privilege several years ago to be a guest at a small meeting of such brethren who were concerned about the direction of the local school board. The gathering never got past the opening devotional, which was led by one of the more prominent independent pastors in the area. His text, as he announced it, was Ephesians 6:12, "For we do not wrestle... " (sorry! I meant to use the original KJV) "For we wrestle not...."

That was all that the brother read. Then he launched into one of the most lively diatribes I have ever heard (I am not making this up) as he scolded his fellow Fundamentalists for going soft, no longer fighting and being guilty of just what Paul says, "wrestling not!" That, he said, was the problem with the school board and every other social ill in the county--the Fundamentalists (or, more accurately, "pseudo-Fundamentalists") had become "sissified" and couldn't be counted on to fight even if the Virgin Birth itself were under attack.

Well, as you can imagine, after about 10 minutes of this kind of relentless haranguing a few of the brethren couldn't take it any more and they stood up to express their disagreement. And they did so in such colorful and personal language so as to dispel the speaker's thesis on the spot. I don't know how hot things eventually got because as quickly as I could I slunk out the back with the friend who had invited me, hoping that, as we drove off, no one would recognize my car.

I do not see a great deal of this spirit within the SBC, but I do see it. And I fear that there is probably more of it around, lying just beneath the surface, than I care to imagine. This vision would be happy to see the SBC become abrasive, bombastic and incurring the ridicule and wrath of society and Christians of varying stripes so that they can feel good about suffering "for righteousness sake."


The Fundamentalist light vision


This vision differs from its older, meaner cousin by recognizing that not everyone who disagrees with them ought to be treated with the same kind of intense disdain. Light fundamentalists parcel out their disdain with a certain sophisticated discrimination. In this way they have more tolerance than the unqualified Fundamentalists.

Like their cousins, however, they are theologically 4.5 point Arminians, although some prefer to think of themselves as modified Calvinists. Others go so far as to claim to be only 1 point Calvinists because they reject every point but a version of the last one. Some critics derisively refer to those who hold this position as "whiskey Baptists" because, despite denying the other 4 points of Calvinism outright, they refuse to be separated from the fifth. Actually, even their adherence to the fifth point is suspect and usually is spoken of in terms of eternal security rather than perseverance of the saints. Though certainly not true of all, among many advocates of Fundamentalism and Fundamentalism light their view of eternal security is simple antinomianism. They teach that once a person "asks Jesus into his heart" or "prays the sinner's prayer" or "walks the aisle" or does some other supposedly sacred act, then, no matter what else he does after that, no matter how devilishly he may live, he is in and there is nothing that he can do about it. In fact, they teach that a man has more free will before he is converted than he does after he is converted.

Nevertheless, this vision of the SBC is willing to tolerate a modicum of theological diversity on these points--provided that those who are more Calvinistic do not get too uppity about it. If the non-fundamentalists are willing to be quiet and keep a low profile and will quit making public the theological underpinnings of the SBC at its founding in 1845, then, in the Fundamentalist light vision of the SBC, they should be tolerated.


The Theonomic vision


This is a rather latecomer to the SBC and seems to have come from an offshoot of the previously mentioned visions. It wants the SBC to be a major player in "taking back America for Christ" because it is convinced that America was founded as a Christian nation. In this vision, the SBC demand respect from Washington DC because of our ability to deliver millions of voters to get the right people elected to get this country back in God's good graces.

This viewpoint is what motivated one very well-known Baptist pastor to write to me and other pastors in 1996, encouraging our support for the Republican presidential candidate, because, as he put it, our nation "stands at a crossroads." He went on to make this pitch: "that is why I am calling on you to help me make a difference by using your church to hold a voter registration drive." The theonomic vision would be happy to see the SBC as a huge voting bloc that is at the beck and call of the most righteous political action committees.


The Theonomic light vision


If Fundamentalism light is more sophisticated than its cousin theonomy light is the less sophisticated cousin in its family. This view has similar concerns about recovering our great Christian nation for Jesus but thinks that this can happen if we can just get prayers back in our public schools and the Ten Commandments posted in our courtrooms and classrooms again. Furthermore, the representatives of this view take retailers' references to evergreens in winter as "holiday trees" as a godless encroachment on our Christian rights. They have also been known to celebrate as a great victory any announcement that next year, such retailers are going to call them "Christmas trees."

By issuing boycotts and economic threats these folks believe that they are heavily involved in cultural engagement and combatting worldliness on major fronts. Neither Disney nor Hollywood should expect to be ignored if this vision carries the future in the SBC.




The Superficial Evangelistic vision


Southern Baptists have always been about evangelism. It is part of our genetic code. Part of the reason that this convention was formed was to cooperate together in the work of evangelism and missions. What Southern Baptists have not always been about is superficial evangelism. That has been a late and deviant mutation of our genetic code. The mutant product goes by the same name but is a far cry from the evangelistic enterprise that marked the first 75 years of the SBC's existence.

Superficial evangelism is satisfied to get as many decisions as possible regardless of how many disciples are made. It is willing to baptize anyone who is old enough to toddle down an aisle, as long as they answer is yes when asked if he or she wants to invite Jesus into their heart, or go to heaven or have a Jesus as a "forever daddy." This type of evangelism is what has wrecked so many of our modern SBC churches, filling them with unregenerate members and has made a sham of our membership rolls.

Those who advocate this vision may acknowledge there are indeed these kinds of problems, but the solution they offer is simply this, "We must do more of the same, but with greater zeal and enthusiasm!" If this vision prevails, Southern Baptists may well evangelize themselves out of existence over the next few decades.




The Serious Evangelistic vision


This is the healthier cousin of the former vision. The proponents of this view are queasy about superficial evangelism. While they would never be willing to give a car away as a prize to the person who won the most souls to Christ in a given amount of time, they would not hesitate to give one away as a door prize to get people to come to church. After all, it is simply a matter of getting enticing people to come hear the Gospel. "Whatever it takes" is the mantra of this vision because it sees evangelism as "the main thing." There will be time enough for worshipping God in heaven, now is the time for evangelizing people.

Everything must be sublimated to witnessing. Nothing else--absolutely nothing else--is more important that this. The danger in this vision is that it is this very mentality that is the seedbed from which superficial evangelism sprouts. When evangelism is the main thing then it becomes unhinged from the glory of God. Once this happens, as we have seen countless times in recent history, an "anything goes" mentality takes root and the ends is used to justify all kinds of methods and means.


The Confessional and Missional vision


As the language suggests, this is the vision of the younger generation. For an excellent summary of it see Joe Thorn's article in the upcoming Founders Journal (#63). At the heart of this vision is the recognition that Christianity is inherently confessional. There is credenda--things that must be believed. Those things should be spelled out, as they have been in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Our confessions should be clear and held with integrity.

But the Christian life also has agenda--things to be done. And what is to be done is to be on mission with the Lord Jesus Christ. Churches should not only be involved in sending missionaries to unreached peoples but should also be self-consciously aware of having been sent by the Lord to reach people, as well.

In this vision the SBC will be filled with churches that are very intentional in their convictions and activities, seeking to know truth and make truth known across a variety of cultural boundaries.


The Rigorously Reformed vision


In this vision of the SBC every church, every institution, every agency, every denominational servant and every pastor would be committed to the Reformed understanding of salvation, or the doctrines of grace. Those who do not share those commitments would be out of sync with denominational identity. The 1689 Confession would be the doctrinal standard for all agency executives and Arminians need not apply.


Lifeway would produce Sunday School literature based on Baptist catechisms. No one would be ashamed to be known as a 5-point Calvinist. Revisionist historiography that suggests the SBC was founded by something other than people of such convictions would once and for all time be exposed as erroneous. Everyone would know and believe the truth both theologically and historically. There would be no more need to describe oneself as a "historic Southern Baptist" in order to identify with the faith of the SBC's founders.


The Balanced, Biblical and God-honoring vision


Finally, there is what I call, for lack of a better description, the "balanced, biblical and God-honoring vision." Or, you could simply call it "Tom's vision" for short (for those still wincing from some of the acid-flinging that took place here earlier, that sentence together with the title for this section is supposed to be a joke). Before giving a summary of of this view, let me say that I am sure other visions could be added and various nuances to the ones I have listed would be appropriate. For example, nowhere in these suggestions have I mentioned the Landmarkist vision, though I think it would be most at home within the first two above.

Furthermore, most of the visions I have mentioned have something commendable to offer (except, of course, the superficial evangelistic one). There are things worth fighting for; we should stand for public righteousness; true evangelism must always be a priority; we should be unashamed of our confession and intentional in our mission; and, the reformed world and life view is wonderfully healthy and helps ground our living in proper relationship to our great God.

But, if I could design the future of the SBC, I would make it Christ exalting and Gospel saturated in every expression of its existence. I know that everyone who would dare to offer an opinion on this kind of speculation would say the same, or least not deny what I have said. I am not suggesting otherwise. Rather, what I am saying is that I believe we desperately need to get back to the centrality of the Gospel in our churches and relationships. The Gospel is not merely for unbelievers. It is for the church, as well. We do not merely enter into the kingdom by the Gospel, we live in that kingdom the same way. Every relationship, every responsibility, every challenge and choice is to be rooted in the Gospel of God's grace.

Local churches would be given to orderly membership and conduct. Both formative and corrective discipline would be practiced. Our message of salvation would be backed up by congregations that are characterized by the grace that we profess and preach. The priority of the local church in the kingdom purposes of God would be recognized and honored.

It may be surprising to some of my friends (and those who would not count themselves as such) that my vision for the SBC is not that it would be exclusively Calvinistic. Do not misunderstand me. I would be delighted if everyone everywhere came to believe as I do. However, I would never want to suggest that only those who believe as I do should be regarded as authentic Southern Baptists.

Personally, I would rather serve with a humble, loving, Christ-exalting, church-loving Arminian (and I know that there are such) than a narrow, harsh, argument-loving Calvinist (I also know that these creatures exist, too, though such characteristics know no theological boundaries).

Obviously, this vision, as it stands, is somewhat utopian. I readily grant that there are all kinds of practical realities that can never be factored out of any association or convention of churches. But where these qualities prevail, those realities would be seasoned with grace and the prospect of real unity as Baptists committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ would be bright.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What should we discuss for an encore?


My previous post on the presidency of the SBC ("Johnny Hunt to be nominated for President of the SBC") generated such interest that I have wondered what should be discussed next. Actually, I would like to continue (or recapture) the main points that I originally raised in that post and the one that followed it.

Contrary to what will most certainly become a cyber-legend, I did not intend to start a war of words between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. In fact, you will search in vain to find me make a reference to Calvinism anywhere in the original post. That subject was introduced by an innocent-enough question raised by deacon in the comments. He asked, "Not to get too far off track, but [are] the rumors true that Hunt is extremely anti-Calvinistic?"

I think several observations are worth making in light of the dialogue that (to date) has stretched over 240 comments.

1. There is obviously a great deal of interest in discussing the upcoming SBC annual meeting and the election of a new president. This is a good thing. We need to be thinking and talking about this. What kind of person do Southern Baptists want? What kind of person would serve us well? These questions should be asked and debated and they should be considered without acrimony or personal attack against those whose names get tossed around in the conversation.

2. It seems to be unsettling to some that faithful, conservative Southern Baptists could even entertain the possibility of voting for someone other than the person who is publicly endorsed by well-known conservative denominational leaders (although others--OK, actually one--seem to relish the thought of someone else being nominated for the sheer anticipated enjoyment of watching him get thoroughly trounced).

3. The issue of Calvinism is not going away in the SBC. It can't be ignored and those who caricature it can rarely get away with their misrepresentations going unchallenged anymore. It is time for serious convention-wide conversations on this subject to be held. Perhaps the breakout session with Drs. Patterson and Mohler where they will acknowledge their different views of election will be a starting point.

4. There are issues on which Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree, and these must not be overlooked when discussing our differences. We agree that Jesus Christ should be preached to all people. We agree that we should seek the salvation of all people. We agree that the Bible is God's Word written. We believe in the autonomy of the local church. We agree about the wisdom of cooperation. We agree that God is worthy all praise, glory and honor.

5. There are issues on which Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists OUGHT to agree, such as the necessity of discipline in the life of a local church. The illegitimacy of non-resident and inactive members. The lack of integrity in inflated membership rolls. The deadliness of denominational pride. The cheapening of grace through shallow evangelism. The lack of compassion for the lost. The need for churches to break out of cultural captivity.


The next few years will be pivotal, it seems to me, in setting the course for the future of the SBC. The issues listed above will be among those that, depending on how they are addressed, will help determine the trajectory of that course.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Jerry Rankin, President of the IMB, speaks candidly in interview


Jim Smith, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, has released a transcript of a Q & A session between Baptist state paper editors and Jerry Rankin. The question of "private prayer language" and the new IMB policy came up and Rankin responded with refreshing candor. The new baptism guideline also was addressed, though more briefly.

Regardless of where you come down on the new IMB policy and guideline, you have to admire President Rankin's willingness to speak plainly and answer what must have felt like awkward questions. That kind of openness demonstrates a humility that we need to see emulated throughout our SBC culture.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The North American Mission Board critique


The Georgia Baptist's Christian Index published today a very straightforward critique of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The folks at NAMB have responded with charges that the article is biased and misrepresents its work. Both of these articles are worth reading, particularly for those who are thinking seriously about the future of the SBC.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

IMB trustees propose change in course in dealing with Burleson


The Florida Baptist Witness has just released a report that states that the Executive Committee of the IMB trustees are proposing that the full board withdraw their motion for the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, NC to remove Wade Burleson from his duties as a trustee.

This is not surprising. It may be revealing. Read the story and note the reference to the role that blogs (informal weblogs--I guess that means they were written sans tuxedos) have played in this whole unfortunate affair. Now, I have not read blogs widely enough on this issue to know whether or not the charge that they disseminated "misinformation" is true. I do know that Burleson himself has asked to be shown where he has done so. To my knowledge, no such effort has been forthcoming.

I also find this sentence in the story very interesting:


"Since November, Burleson’s blog and several others have maintained frequent discussion of the issues. Many of the blogs include feedback from online readers rallying to the embattled trustee’s defense and calling for a large turnout at the annual meeting of the convention in Greensboro June 13-14 to vote against his proposed removal."


I stand by my original guess that Burleson's removal would have been voted down at the convention, had it come to the messengers. It looks like now we may never know.



This raises an ethical dilemma: Does Michael still owe me a dinner?

More thoughts on the SBC presidency


The comments about the process of electing the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (as well as the suggestions about who would make good candidates) have been very informative. After reflecting on them I want to set out some further thoughts in hopes of extending the dialogue.

Some have asked, "Is this even worth thinking about?" If you are serving Christ in a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention it is. It is part of who we are and how we operate. Now, having said that, let me try to put it into perspective. Who does or does not become president of the SBC is not ultimately very important at all when compared to what does or does not happen in local Southern Baptist churches. In other words, the local church is "where it is at" in the Kingdom of God. Denominational structures might perhaps be useful, but their usefulness should be measured only in terms of service to local churches. In that sense a denomination (comprised of free churches, at least) is a parachurch organization and the person who leads that organization is not nearly as important as the people who lead the local churches. Our polity demands that perspective but our politics tend to invert it in the minds of some.

I speak as one who is grateful for the conservative resurgence and supported it. But the reason that we needed a course-correction is because at too many points denominational leadership and servants had lost touch with the churches and were poorly serving us by propogating neo-orthodox and liberal ideas in publications, policies and programs. By God's grace, this deadly service was arrested and corrected. The office of president played a crucial role in that process. But in our most critical days that office was not more important than the office of pastor in a local church. Southern Baptists need to remember this, or relearn it, or perhaps learn it for the first time.

If we want to encourage healthy Christianity within our SBC family then we should seek to encourage pastors and church leaders in that direction. From an insider's perspective I can assure you that most pastors need fellowship and welcome it when it does not come with a hidden agenda. It would be nice to see someone in the office of president of the SBC who shared this kind of perspective; who didn't see the office as the culmination of a lifelong dream, as the capstone of a long, faithful ministry or as a political reward for time served in a cause, but rather, viewed it as a great opportunity to lead the denominational entities to become more useful to local churches.


Some comments betray a full-orbed pessimism about seeing anyone but a high-profile, highly-touted, popular pastor of a large, well-known church. I am not among them. Some who heard the announcement by Jerry Vines that he hoped Johnny Hunt would be the next SBC president indicated that the response of those at that conference was overwhelmingly affirmative. I would expect that. I would expect a similar response if someone were to say something similar about Mark Dever in two weeks at the Shepherd's Conference. Context. It makes all the difference in the world.

I have no idea if more than one person will be nominated in Greensboro. But I believe this: if a respected, legitimate conservative is nominated in addition to Pastor Hunt, that person will garner a significant percentage of the votes and could well win. Let me explain. A few people have reminded us of the gentleman who was nominated at the last minute two years ago in Indianapolis along with Bobby Welch. He received 20% of the votes cast. I do not think that this fact has been considered seriously enough. Stop and think what that means. Most of those who voted for him did not know him or know of him. Were they voting against Bobby Welch? Maybe some were, but I would surmise that most were not. Rather, my take on it is that most of those votes came from conservative Southern Baptists who are growing weary of the perceived manipulation of the system by some of our leaders.

Conservative Southern Baptists didn't like the idea that there were "kingmakers" (that's James Hefley's word, not mine) in the 1960s-70s and I suspect that such is still the case. In fact, I suspect that this weariness has only increased over the last two years. That is why I believe that a viable "alternative candidate" will garner 25-30% of the vote simply because he is not the one being promoted.

In addition, think of who will likely attend this year's convention in Greensboro. The Pastors' Conference has been designed with special sensitivity to "younger leaders." Though I have read that some in this target group are disappointed in the overall lineup, I would anticipate that McManus, Dever and the prospect of hearing Drs. Patterson and Mohler discuss their differing views on election would bring more than the usual number of younger crowd to the convention.

The controversy surrounding Wade Burleson and the IMB needs to be added to this mix as another unusual providence that will draw people to Greensboro who desire to have legitimate conservative options when selecting their leaders.

All of these factors make me believe that we may well be approaching a historic moment in the life of the SBC. It could be that conservatives will be galvanized to elect a legitimate alternative candidate to the office of president, not as a rejection of inerrancy or conservative theology, but as an expression that it is time to recognize the authority of local churches and their desire to keep moving forward in our pursuit of spiritual health and vitality. Remember, it is the messengers of churches that cast the votes.


Notice that I have not used the words "Calvinism" or "Arminianism" one time in what I have written above. The reason is that I do not see this as a Calvinist-Arminian issue. I believe those who want to turn it into one--regardless of which side they are on--are not seeing things as clearly as they ought. I would hate to see that dividing line become the focal point of anyone's candidacy. As we used to say back in Southeast Texas, we have bigger fish to fry. There are issues that are confronting Southern Baptists that everyone who loves God's Word ought to be concerned about. One of the foremost of these is the unavoidable reality of huge numbers of unregenerate church members that bloat our rolls. This is something that leaders on both sides of the theological divide have addressed in various forums. It needs to be taken off the backburner and made a prominent issue because it is at the heart of many local church problems. Related to that is the vitally important issue of evangelism. The sad fact is that many of our churches have not done a very good job at making evangelism a priority. We need a reformation in both our theology and practice of evangelism. Some who have a better theology of it must confess that they are not very consistent practitioners and some who are warmly devoted practitioners must admit that the vast majority of their converts don't stick. Related to both of these is the need to recover the priority of the local church in the purposes of God. Church is not optional in the plan of salvation.


Who knows what the Lord will do? I have prayed and will continue to pray that the Lord will grant us leadership in the SBC who will see these issues and address them in ways that will help our churches confront them redemptively. For what it is worth, if such a man is nominated for the office of president, he will have my support whether he is young or old, politically connected or isolated, or Calvinistic or Arminianistic.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Johnny Hunt to be nominated for President of the SBC


According to this blog, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, will be nominated to be president of the SBC in Greensboro, NC this summer.


The announcement, reportedly made by Jerry Vines as he was flanked by Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler and Bailey Smith, raises questions in my mind that I think are worth a thoughtful conversation.


What kind of person would make a good president of the SBC?
Most of our presidents have been pastors of local churches although we have also had men who have been denominational servants who have been elected. The position has certainly changed over the last 25 years. The architects of what has now become known as the conservative resurgence understood that the appointive powers of the president could be used to affect significant change in the SBC over 10 years of consistent leadership. This made the office a vitally important political tool in the effort to set the theological direction of the SBC. The men elected had to be tough-minded and willing to be unpopular. During my days in seminary (1980s) it was common to have professors and administrators speak disparagingly of the presidents who were elected to further the conservative agenda.


Today we are long past the "takeover agenda." So what kind of person makes a good SBC president? Personally, I still want a person of strong theological conviction to be in that role. I also would prefer someone who understands the real theological issues and practical challenges that are facing evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular. The president should also be a churchman; someone who understands our Baptist ecclesiological convictions and unashamedly affirms and defends them.


Secondly, what kind of process is there--or should there be--for a person to be nominated for president? James Hefley, the conservative chronicler of the resurgence, describes the process that existed before the conservative resurgence began in 1979. He describes an "informal group of SBC leaders who worked behind the scenes" to insure that their man became president. Hefley calls these leaders "SBC Kingmakers." He writes, "These well-intentioned kingmakers politicked in informal but successful ways, to get men elected to the presidency ..." (The Truth in Crisis, 5:17). He goes on to describe how the kingmakers very carefully planned to have their man speak in high profile pre-convention meetings in order to place him in "a very strategic position for election to the SBC presidency" (Ibid, 19).


C.R. Daley, who was the longtime editor of the Western Recorder of Kentucky, admitted this kind of secret process in a famous lecture he gave on denominational ethics July 20, 1984, to a class on ministerial ethics at Southern Seminary. In that lecture, he also admitted the complicity of Baptist Press and most state Baptist papers in this king-making effort. Richard Land, current Director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Council of the SBC said this about Daley's lecture: "Well, I admire his honesty, Clearly there was a conspiracy. There was an alliance of opinion shapers and editors at the Convention who sought to promote certain people, who sought to squelch other people, and to manipulate those who ascended to leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention" (quoted in Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation, 56).


I find this very interesting. Daley admits that the deck was stacked in favor of the kingmakers' anointed man in large part because of the cooperation of the "old line strongly established [state Baptist] papers" to promote this candidate to the people. Could that still happen today? In our age of the internet and rapidly deployed media, could a man not anointed by denominational kingmakers and supported by denominational public relations arms be elected president of the SBC? It is an interesting thought.


Thirdly, is it good to have more than one conservative candidate nominated for president of the SBC? Would that breed disunity? Would conservatives who suggested alternative candidates be seen as disloyal and even playing into the hands of the CBF crowd by denominational leaders? Would having two or more legitimate conservatives candidates provide an opportunity for healthy dialogue about Southern Baptist life--with all its needs and potential? I think it could.


Finally, given that the season for mentioning names as candidates for the SBC presidency is now officially open, who are some other folks that you think would make good candidates and why?


Well, those are my thoughts. I am interested in hearing yours.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

North Carolina Baptist Recorder Editor Discusses Calvinism


Tony Cartledge, editor of the Baptist Recorder, has blogged about his experience with Calvinism in the SBC. He has also included articles that report on John Piper's ministry at their Evangelism and Church Growth Conference. Cartledge does not agree with what he understands Calvinism to teach and does not pretend that he has a thorough grasp of its history and theology. The discussion in the comments section of his blog is interesting and his irenic spirit is refreshing. May his tribe increase.


HT: Mingo

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Stratton on Ascol on York


Gene Bridges informed me of a refutation of my use of Keach and Booth as examples of Baptist leaders whose testimonies stands against the new IMB guidelines on baptism. Both men were baptized in Arminian churches and later became Calvinist Baptist pastors.


Here is a comment by Ben Stratton left on Steve McCoy's blog:


I asked a Missionary Baptist preacher friend of mine who is a former General Baptist pastor and a student of General Baptist history about Tom Ascol dilemma of Keach and Booth. His answer is very interesting:

"The Orthodox Creed of 1678-79 probably qualifies as the leading English General Baptist confession of faith. Here is what it says about the perseverance of God's saints:
'Those that are effectually called, according to God's eternal purpose, being justified by faith, do receive such a measure of the holy unction from the Holy Spirit, by which they shall certainly persevere unto eternal life.; "
The major issue for the English General Baptists was the nature of the atonement. On the perseverance of the saints, (eternal Security) they were in agreement with the Particular Baptists. The same was true of the early American General Baptists such as Benoni Stinson.

This in effect nullifies Tom Ascol's examples from Baptist history. Their baptisms were perfectly in line with the new IMB policy.

Not quite. The Orthodox Creed was not an Assembly confession but derived from churches in the Midlands. It hardly qualifies as "the leading English General Baptist confession of faith." Furthermore, to measure Keach's early Arminianism by it is anachronistic since Keach was a well-established Particular Baptist by the time that document was produced. It was issued in 1678 on the heels of the 1677 (later published in 1689) Second London Baptist Confession and sought to demonstrate how far these General Baptist churches could go with their Calvinistic brethren's beliefs. Indeed, the preface of this confession states its purpose as being to "unite and confirm all true protestants in the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, against the errors and heresies of the church of Rome." General Baptist historian, Adam Taylor, in his History of the English General Baptists, says this about the pervasive view of apostasy held by the General Baptist churches: "Amongst other motives which they urged, to engage professors to a holy circumspection of conduct, a powerful one was, the fear of final apostacy (sic)." He goes on to say about the Orthodox Creed, "For we have not found any of this denomination, except the authors of the Orthodox Creed [who were 54 in number], who maintained the doctrine of the impossibility of true believers falling from grace" (217).


In addition, William Lumpkin says that this confession "does not appear to have enjoyed large influence beyond the Midlands" (Baptist Confessions of Faith, 296).


Far more influential and typical of General Baptist belief was the Standard Confession. It was first adopted by the General Assembly of General Baptists meeting in London in 1660.


XVIII. That such who are true Believers, even Branches in Christ the Vine, (and that in his account, whom he exhorts to a bide in him, John 15. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) or such who have charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of Faith unfeigned, 1 Tim. 1. 5. may nevertheless for want of watchfulness, swerve and I turn aside from the same, vers. 6, 7. and become as withered Branches, cast into the fire and burned, John. 15. 6. But such who add un to their Faith Vertue, and unto .Vertue Knowledge, and unto Know ledge Temperance, &c. 2 Pet. 1 5, 6, 7. such shall never fall, vers. 8, 9, 10. 'tis impossible for all the false Christs, and false Prophets, that are, and are to come, to deceive such, for they are kept by the power of God, through Faith unto Salvation, 1 Pet. 1. 5.


I hope this helps clarify the discussion and serves as an ample refutation of Statton's attempt to dismiss Keach and Booth as Baptist witnesses against the new IMB guidelines on baptism.

More light from the Philadelphia Association


The Philadelphia Association was established in 1707 as the first association of Baptist churches in America. That does not mean that everything they did or believed was right but it does make their records of great value for shedding light on the historic principles and practices of Baptists in America. By citing these principles and practices, I am not at all suggesting that Baptist history and heritage trump the Bible as authoritative for our Baptist faith and practice. Rather, I am simply trying to demonstrate how our Baptist forefathers understood the Scripture in their day so that we can compare it to what is being done--or in the case of the new IMB guidelines on baptism, proposed--in our day.


This kind of historical perspective has value on its own merits because it is always wise to consider what God has taught those who have gone before us. Contrary to the way that some moderns think or at least act, our forefathers also grappled with important biblical and theological questions in their day. Even when we disagree with their conclusions it is helpful to understand their viewpoints. So historical analysis is helpful to our efforts to understand and apply God's Word today.


However, it is doubly important to hear directly from our Baptist forefathers when they have been invoked for support of innovative views and practices, as has occurred in the current debate over the IMB guidelines. Mere assertions that "Baptists have always believed" or "Baptists have always practiced" should be judged by the historical record itself. Fortunately, in our day such records are readily available.


With those brief comments, consider these further insights from John Gano's diary concerning how the baptism of those who did not hold to eternal security was judged by the Philadelphia Association. Both AH Newman (A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, 203ff) and Tom Nettles (The Baptists, 2:108f) cite Gano's diary in describing an account of his travels in 1752 with John Thomas and Benjamin Miller from the Philadelphia Association to a troubled Arminian Baptist church in Virginia. After examining the members they judged that only 3 had evidence of experiencing saving grace. The church disbanded and was reconstituted with only these three as members (as Semple decribed it, the church was "new modeled") on Calvinistic doctrine. Some of the other previous members were converted and were baptized ("rebaptized") on their profession of faith. The three who were believers and who had been baptized under an Arminian ministry were not "rebaptized."


Let me make one final point in closing. I don't have a theological dog in this fight. I am a cessationist (with qualification) and I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church. This is also true of the missionaries we have sent from our church. My concern here is simply truth and integrity. For years I listened to Baptist leaders (mostly, but not exclusively, moderate leaders) say "Southern Baptists have never believed in _________" (the blank can be filled in with various doctrinal descriptions: inerrancy, unconditional election, particular redemption, total depravity, etc.) all the while knowing that they were wrong in their assertions. As more and more historical records and testimonies saw the light of day, such comments died out. It became evident to many thoughtful Southern Baptists that those who made such assertions were either distorting the historical record or else did not know what they were talking about. These leaders discredited themselves in the eyes of those who had access to documented evidence contrary to their assertions.


It grieves me to see conservative leaders making the same mistakes.


The examples that I have cited here the last few days should be sufficient to dispel the assertion that the new IMB guidelines are not innovative and are simply expressing what Baptists have always believed. Such claims simply are not true. In the face of the historical record, they should be rescinded.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Philadelphia Association accepted Freewill Baptist Baptism


The claim that the new IMB guidelines on baptism are nothing more than "what Baptists have always believed" is simply not true. There is ample evidence to the contrary. The historical record indicates that the influential Philadelphia Baptist Association did not require "rebaptism" of those who had been baptized in Arminian churches.


Tom Nettles documents this in the newly released volume 2 of his 3 volume work entitled, The Baptists. He describes a missionary trip taken by John Gano of the Philadelphia Association to General Baptists of "free-will principles" in North Carolina in 1754. After winning their confidence through his candor and goodwill, Gano gained the privilege examining many of the ministers on their views of salvation. Nettles writes, "Due to Gano's instruction, examination, and further preaching from ministers of the Association, the churches became Particular Baptist and eventually joined the Philadelphia Association" (111).


Their previous baptism in churches of "free-will principles" was not ruled invalid. It was acceptable to the Philadelphia Association missionaries and churches.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Look who wouldn't qualify under the new IMB guidelines


Herschael York has weighed in on the IMB controversy, decidedly defending the trustees' decision to require baptism in a Southern Baptist church or at least a church that practices only believers' baptism and also believes in eternal security.


York, teaches preaching at Southern Seminary and serves as pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church. He is the former pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, a church that for years published and distributed JM Carroll's The Trail of Blood, the historically dubious case for Landmarkism.


His are the first arguments that I have read in defense of the new guidelines, although he deals exclusively with the change in the baptism requirement. I appreciate reading something of substance in support of the trustees' actions.


York makes some wonderful comments about baptist beliefs on baptism--beliefs that, to my knowledge, are not in dispute in the IMB controversy. He defends baptism as a church ordinance and warns against some of the prevailing, abysmal views of what constitutes a local church. None of this, however, lends much support to his conclusion that the IMB policy represents both "the historic Baptist understanding" and "Scriptural teaching" regarding baptism. In the language of British jurisprudence, I find his claim "not proved."


What I find particularly strange are his assertions and implications that the reason this is even a controversy is because most pastors today are biblically and historically ignorant when it comes to baptism. For example, here are some of his comments (emphasis added):


"Since the policy clarified by the Board is neither innovative nor more restrictive than the Bible itself, Southern Baptists should find it completely unremarkable."


"In all candor, the controversy that has erupted over this policy is nothing less than stunning and probably reflects decades of neglect of Baptist ecclesiology.
Few pastors today have a historical or a biblical understanding of this ordinance, perhaps because Southern Baptist seminaries have not required ecclesiology and failed to teach it. This policy is one that would not have raised a question fifty years ago, and certainly not when the Southern Baptist Convention was founded."



"The greater worry is what underlies the strong objections to this policy. Are they raised because we now deny what Southern Baptists have always held? Do we now understand our founders to be provincial and not as enlightened as we? Or are the objections because we have fallen prey to the age and find it uncomfortable to set doctrinal parameters in general?"


The question still remains, why was the doctrine of eternal security elevated above all other doctrines and singled out as the one doctrine to which a church must hold in order to offer a valid baptism? Is the IMB suggesting that eternal security is more important than the Deity of Christ or the Trinity of God? If not, then why was it alone chosen as the doctrinal litmus test?


The new IMB guidelines says that if a man was baptized in a Freewill Baptist church then his baptism is invalid, or at least not valid enough to serve as a missionary with the IMB.


Here is something to think about and it comes straight out of our Baptist "historical understanding of this ordinance." Those who accept this newly invented benchmark must judge several of our Baptist forefathers as "unbaptized." Among these are the notable leaders Abraham Booth (1736-1806) and Benjamin Keach (c1640-1704).


Do Southern Baptists really want to be on record saying that the baptism of these great Baptist leaders was unbiblical? Are we willing to say that they would not be acceptable candidates for our mission board? And will anyone doubt the ecclesiological or biblical understanding of these two Baptist giants when it comes to the subject of baptism?

Friday, February 03, 2006

McDuffie--a sad postscript


This is my last post on Rev. Joel McDuffie and his unfortunate and embarrassing diatribe against Calvin and Calvinism. His personal attacks against me and "your [my] readers" in private emails have continued. That is hardly reason enough for this final post, but as Centuri0n pointed out in his comment yesterday, McDuffie is sadly too representative of a sector of "Hunt and Corner" followers who continually misrepresent the doctrines of grace.


I have made one final appeal to him, encouraging him to submit what he has written to someone he trusts who will speak plainly to him. We all need those kinds of people in our lives and we should open ourselves up to them. They can be a great means of grace to us if we will listen and receive correction when offered.


In his last email, Rev. McDuffie again accuses me--and you--of not understanding Calvinism and wants to "enlighten" (his word) us. To do so, he gives me a "summary from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology."


Here is that "summary" as he copied and pasted it in the email:


A main premise of Calvinism is God’s sovereignty and His complete control over everything. This means nothing happens in the world that is outside of God’s control. Another premise of Calvinism is God, in His sovereignty, has arbitrarily decided who will go to Heaven and Hell. God pre-determined (predestined) the eternal state of each person. Those who were chosen (elected) to go to Heaven are called the elect, and those who were chosen to go to Hell are called reprobates. (Source: Evangelical Dictionary of Theology p. 186-188.)


Now, I have used the EDT for over twenty years. While I certainly have not read every article in it, I have read widely in it--enough to know that it is generally a very balanced and reliable source for things theological. When I got this email, I went back and read this article (by WS Reid) again. Suffice it to say that if the article had a virus, the above summary would be in no danger of catching it! But, hey, don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself here.


After reading it for yourself, go take a peek at the source (now tertiary to Rev. McDuffie) for his "summary" which he cited to me, without attribution, in his email. You can read it here (look under Calvin's picture--at least they got that right!).


Rev. McDuffie did not cite a primary source. He did not even honestly cite a secondary source. Rather, he depends on a tertiary source--namely, Michael Bronson--as his authoritative insight by which to enlighten those of us who have been benighted by reading primary sources.


This, as I have already said, is sad. Not only because of the mischaracterization of a man and a theology, but also because of the slipshod way that truth has been handled. The 9th Commandment is still in the Bible and we are not free to ignore it simply because we disagree with someone. God cares about bearing a false witness! Those of us whose stock and trade is truth should be the most careful of all in making sure, to the best of our ability, that what we say about a man or his views is honest and accurate.


I have invited Rev. McDuffie to correct me publicly at any point where he believes that I have misquoted or misrepresented him.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

More from Joel McDuffie on John Calvin

Reverend Joel McDuffie has expressed great displeasure with me for posting excerpts from his article in my critique of what he had written. Although I explained to him that reviews of published material do not typically reprint the entire body of material under consideration, I offered to do so if he would grant me permission. After 3 requests, he consented. Following is the unedited version of the article as it was sent to me by him on February 2, 2006.

Reverend McDuffie has accused me of selecting the quotes that I used "out of context." He also wrote, "Sir it is obvious the article is over your head or your responses and those of your readers would not be so shallow" and made this request, "when you [sic] understanding is adequate to comprehend what I wrote please respond." He also specifically stated that "when anyone cares to point by point debate the issue I will look forward to it."

Well, though I am not sure that my understanding will ever rise to Reverend McDuffie's standard of adequacy, I will, nevertheless, give a more thorough analysis of his article--point by point, if you will. I do this, not because I take any pleasure in it. Nor do I have any desire to upset Rev. McDuffie any more than is already the case. My main reason for doing this is is twofold. First, he has requested it--almost demanded it in a sense. Second, his publicly stated views are so erroneous that the thought of anyone thinking he gives an honest representation of Calvin or Calvinism is alarming. The pastor who sent me his article was disturbed about this very thing and said that Rev. McDuffie regularly publishes these kinds of unfounded assertions in the local paper. McDuffie himself confirmed that by sending me over 40 of his articles and informing me that he is working on another with the probable title of "Calvin's Cockeyed Convictions."

What follows is his whole article--unedited--with my own observations (
in red) inserted where appropriate.

Is John Calvin in Heaven?
Rev. Joel McDuffie



Excerpt from "His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin"

"At best, Calvin was spiritually blinded by this hate and therefore, spiritually hindered from rightly dividing the word of truth. At worst, which was apparently the case, John Calvin himself was unsaved, according to Scripture"
Dan Corner


Is John Calvin in heaven? Can a true Calvinist be saved? This may not seem like a question some would ask, but the fruit of this man's teaching could very well leave many who follow him lost in the end.
A thesis this ambitious demands at least some documentation from primary sources in order to be taken seriously. How would McDuffie regard such an assertion made about him and his teaching that was then followed by a whole article that never once cited his actual words. I suspect he would cry, "foul," and he would be justified for doing so. This article does not contain one word of the man who is slanderously accused of teaching doctrines so false that many of his followers could well wind up in hell by believing them.

The heart of Calvinism contradicts the heart of everything revealed in scripture.

This is a gratuitous assertion (GA, for short; unfortunately, this abbreviation will appear many more times in my critique). It tells us more about the author than it does about Calvinism. Again, to illustrate, I could assert that "the heart of McDuffie's theology contradicts the heart of everything revealed in Scripture." But that proves nothing. It is simply an assertion and by reading it you know more about me than McDuffie or his beliefs. So all this statement says is that McDuffie believes that what he understands to be the heart of Calvinism contradicts what he understands to be revealed in Scripture.

It also makes irrelevant the heart of man, which is precisely what all of this is about.
GA. (see above)

Calvinism in its purest form, removes free-will entirely as part of the equation of who will be saved and who will be lost.

This depends on what is meant by "free will." If libertarian freedom is meant (that an act cannot be both free and determined at the same time), then McDuffie is correct, Calvinism rejects that notion as unbiblical. Calvinism recognizes compatibalistic freedom (that freedom and determinism are not mutually exclusive categories) as taught in such passages as Acts 2:23, "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God[determinism], you have taken by lawless hands [freedom], have crucified, and put to death."

The danger in Calvinism lies in assumption that the sovereignty of God will ultimately be to blame for one's eternal destiny, rather than the herat and will of each and every individual.
Surely this unqualified statement was unguardedly made. Is McDuffie saying that the heart and will of each and every man will ultimately be to blame for his own eternal destiny? Are we to suppose, then, that heaven will populated by people who can say, "I am responsible for getting myself into heaven. It is my heart and my free will that are to blame!" McDuffie's theology at this point has more in common with
William Ernest Henley than with any part of the Word of God.

If you believe God will do for you, something He has clearly revealed you must do for yourself, certainly the potential exist to bring many who hold to such, an unwelcome surprise in eternity.
This sentence is convoluted. I think he is trying to suggest that believing wrongly about your own responsibility could well lead you to hell. That is certainly true. But Jesus says, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). Faith in Christ is required to avoid hell. Calvinism teaches this and does not teach that God will believe for anyone.


The sovereignty of God cannot and should not be minimized. In fact it is an oxymoron to do so.
I agree. A minimized sovereignty of God is oxyomoronic.

God by virtue of being God, allows for the minimizing of nothing. However, it also does not exclude free-will from being part of that sovereignty. Sovereignty can and does include free-will. To place free-will under the umbrella of God's sovereignty is no different than anything else. All of its implications, possibilities and eternal ramifications fit as neatly under the umbrella of sovereignty as God's plan to crucify Christ before the foundation of the world. If He is sovereign, there is no explanation as to why true and realized free-will cannot function within His sovereignty and must be excluded.

This can actually make sense, if "free will" is not defined in libertarian terms. Unfortunately, the next paragraph disabuses us of that wish. If McDuffie would think more deeply about what the Scripture teaches on the crucifixion of Christ as it relates to God's eternal purpose and man's sinful enactment, he might find a way out of his erroneous notions about freedom and predestination.

The one who believes in Calvinism is fighting all of scripture.

GA. One would think such a sweeping accusation would be backed up with at least one Scripture reference and one reference from a credible Calvinist!

If choice and self determination is not real, then why does everything God create demonstrate this ability.
Allow me to quote my earlier observations on this: Why don't we go ask a rock? But, let's give McDuffie the benefit of the doubt that by "everything" he only means "people." Choice is not the same thing as self-determination. Of course we have the ability to choose. McDuffie exercised his ability to choose in publishing his article and I am exercising mine in responding to it. But the capacity to choose does not mean that one is free to choose any and everything which he might determine for himself. McDuffie cannot, by self-determination, choose to live on Pluto just as I cannot choose to run 100 meters in 6 seconds (I am not even sure I could choose to do it in 15 seconds!). Why is that? Because in both cases, our choices are limited by our natures. He is not a space alien and I am not a cheetah. Let me say it again, our ability to choose is limited to our natures.

Even the angels demonstrate the ability to choose unhindered, whether to follow God or not.
Can Satan now choose to follow God? Where does MeDuffie get that idea? Certainly not from the Bible.

A more important question to ask would be, if God did not intend free-will to be genuine and all things were to be predetermined, why not just create the world you want to begin with?
Again, McDuffie reveals by the presuppositions behind this question that he has more more in common with free will theists than with historic Christian orthodoxy. If he wants to affirm free will theism, then that is his prerogative, but he is out of step with historic Protestant, Baptist, evangelical and biblical Christianity.

How does sovereignty from the Calvinist point of view, explain the meaningless and futile events of history, mankind and more importantly the cross?

As I Calvinist I renounce the very idea that there are any meaningless or futile events of history and I find it bordering on blasphemous to suggest that any of the events surrounding the cross of our Lord were "meaningless and futile." Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11 and Matthew 10:29 come to mind in opposition to this view of God's world.

What Calvinist are advocating is that God predetermined an unnecessary world, with unnecessary suffering and an unnecessary savior.
Such "Calvinist[s]" exist only in McDuffie's mind. The fact that he cannot quote even one writer who would suggest such a foolhardy view indicates that once again what we have is a GA.

All God had to do was create heaven the first time, end of story. Filling heaven with beings predetermined not to sin is no more difficult than creating those who can.
Surely McDuffie is not suggesting by this second conjecture that he believes heaven will be populated with beings who are NOT predetermined to sin! Does he think that sin will be a possibility in heaven with the redeemed of earth and holy angels?

There is no rational explanation for God creating the world we live in if it is all predestined, when what is predestined could have been created to begin with.
The logic of this sentence escapes me. My only comment is to note that what seems "rational" to McDuffie is not the litmus test of truth. Jehovah's Witnesses use this same argument to reject the incarnation of Christ. "It is not rational." A thing need not make sense to me to be true. Nor is rationalism the final arbiter of truth. Some things are supra-rational and are to be believed because they are revealed.

Calvinism reduces God and this creation to the awful experiment in futility that the atheist , agnostics and the lost world say it is, if God is behind it.
GA. Hardly. Calvinism views creation, to borrow Calvin's very language, as "the theater of God's glory." God is working all of creation out to reveal His great glory for all of eternity. No one who has read Calvin with any understanding at all could make such an assertion without intentionally breaking the 9th commandment.


Calvinism also sets God up as a liar and fraud.

GA. A slanderous one at that.

From the first story of man in the Bible to the last chapter of Revelation, the Calvinist must ultimately admit, is nothing more than a grand illusion or sick prank. Although they will not express it as such, in effect that is what they are saying.
The first sentence is a GA. The second one is also with the admission that no Calvinist would ever admit to MeDuffie's assertion. If it is true, he should marshal forth evidence to prove it rather than simply assert it and expect his readers mindlessly to believe it because they saw it written in the newspaper.

In the garden of Eden, did God ask Adam not eat of a tree He had actually been predetermined to eat?
I don't remember God asking Adam anything before sin entered the world. Did God actually command the Jews and Romans not to murder Jesus whom he had predestined from before the foundation of the world to be crucified? If so, then should we not take that as a key by which to understand the nature of reality and the freedom and determinism that operate within it, including in the garden of Eden?

Did He place a tree of life there as well so he could eat of it and live forever if he didn't sin, or was that just a sick ploy? Why does God use cherubim to guard the tree of life if Adam is predetermined not to eat it? If Calvinism is true, everything in Eden, is a great big hoax. Man is nothing more than an unfortunate victim in a sick drama he had no choice to play in. In this drama he is subject to illusions, lies and manipulation by his creator. He is told not to eat of the tree or he will die, he is shown a tree of life by which he can live forever, but then God makes the decision for him and damns him for it.
McDuffie's demonic Calvinism is so obnoxious that if my definition of Calvinism were no better than his (and no more accurate historically or biblically), then I would hate it as much as he does. The problem is, he is erecting straw men and destroying them, thinking that they are Calvinists. Where in the Bible or in the writings of Calvin do we read that God makes decisions for His creatures? MeDuffie's protest sounds frighteningly close to Paul's objector in Romans 9:19. The Apostle's answer in vv. 20-21 should suffice for any humble-minded man.

A Calvinist will never express their view to such extremes,
[this is absolutely true] but these are unmistakably the implications of what they are saying [this is absolutely false and another GA].


Throughout scripture, if man is not free, God is responsible for his sin.

A simple Scripture reference would have been nice here. MeDuffie needs to define freedom before expecting his readers to accept his assertions about what implications do and do not extend from it.

If all things are predetermined then the choice to sin is not man's but God's, plain and simple.
Plain and simple to McDuffie's mind, maybe, but certainly not to the Bible. See above on the crucifixion of Christ.

If God has predetermined sinning in anyway, shape or form, God needs redeeming not us!
This sounds like blasphemy. I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the author does not mean what he actually says. In his mind, to predetermine something is to be culpable for it. Yet, even McDuffie admits that the crucifixion of Jesus was predetermined by God. I assume he would also admit it was carried out by sinful men--thus it was at one and the same time predetermined and sinful.

Also, if God will in turn punish those He predetermined to sin, what can we say about the character and nature of God himself.
McDuffie should read Romans 9 and see what Paul says about the character and nature of the God who raised Pharaoh up "for this very purpose."

And if that were not enough, what about the celebration in heaven and the presenting of the bridegroom and the bride at the marriage supper of the lamb? No one really had a choice or was invited. No one came out of true love and devotion. No one truly of their own free-will is in attendance. The praise , worship, singing and celebration was all staged. God ultimately is adored and worshipped by creatures who were predetermined to do so. He is declared to be holy, while a number as great as the sands of the sea, fashioned by Him to be unholy, look on from the flames of hell. As the last great expression of His greatness, all of creation bow down and proclaim Him Lord, Him knowing full well He predetermined it all and no one ever had a choice in any of it!
Such confusion exists because the author cannot accept that real human freedom is fully compatible with real divine sovereignty. Rationalists pit them against each other. Calvinists accept them both because they both are revealed in Scripture.


Can a true Calvinist be saved? Maybe it can be answered another way. What do you think would be the sentiments of a Son whose Father executed Him for people He predetermined to sin? How do you think a King would feel if no one in His kingdom was loyal and loved Him genuinely for who he was? And lastly, how could one claiming to be perfectly holy, live with himself, knowing he is responsible for the actions of those he has punished. That is the God of Calvinism, and all its tenants lead ultimately to the same conclusion. God's sovereignty is great enough to let God be God , but it is also great enough to let man be man, free-will and all!

McDuffie's conclusion shows the same kind of misunderstanding that is sustained throughout the article. He has misrepresented Calvinism, Calvin and all those in history who can properly be called Calvinists. He has strongly implied that Calvin is in hell as are many of those who believe as he did about sin, salvation and eternity. Among this number are some of the most noble, useful, holy and God-honoring men and women the world has ever known: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Ann Hasseltine, Charles Spurgeon, James P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, and P.H. Mell. To say nothing of such great teachers today such as John Piper, John MacArthur, CJ Mahaney, RC Sproul and Sinclair Ferguson. I wonder, is McDuffie willing to consign them to hell? Will he be honest enough, if he does not change his views, to publicly declare that such men are leading people to hell with their teaching?


Reading this article reminds me of the little boy who took a broom handle and broke a light bulb then went around boasting about how he had extinguished the sun. It is sad. Very sad.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A little light on Calvin and Calvinism


In 1997 the late Dr. William Estep unfortunately published an article that was given the title, "Doctrines Lead to Dunghill." It was an attack on Calvinism. As editor of the Founders Journal, I dedicated a whole issue (Number 29) to responding to Dr. Estep. Among the articles included in that issue is an open letter from Dr. Roger Nicole. It is very much worth reading and sheds some helpful light on the ongoing discussion of Calvin and Calvinism provoked by Rev. McDuffie's article.