Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rabbi Joffie at Liberty University's Convocation

These are interesting times. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke today a Liberty University's Convocation. In his speech Yoffie downplayed the significant differences that serious Christians of all stripes--especially those to whom he was speaking--have with his own movement's views on abortion and legally protected homosexual unions.

Here is part of what he said:

Your religious tradition prohibits abortion; my religious tradition permits it in some cases and forbids it in others, but believes that every woman must prayerfully make the final decision for herself. You oppose gay marriage while we believe in legal protection for gay couples. We understand your reading of the Biblical texts, even if we read those texts in a different way. But gay Americans pose no threat to their friends, neighbors, or co-workers, and when two people make a lifelong commitment to each other, we believe it is wrong to deny them the legal guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit the broader society.

But as significant as these differences are, my hope is that they will not overwhelm us. We need less anger and more thoughtful reflection, less shouting and more listening. Even when we disagree, let's do so without demonizing each other. I can discuss these issues and believe what I believe without calling you a homophobic bigot, and you can do the same without calling me an uncaring baby killer. Let's promote respect for each other’s religious tradition, and let’s work for civility in public debate.

You can read the rest of the speech here. As I think about his remarks and the context in which they were made I am forced to ask, "What price Zionism?"

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Worship with the Beatles

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This is the way a local church advertized a special worship service this past weekend. According to a newspaper article, some of the songs that "attendees [sang] along to" were "Eight Days a Week," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Let it Be." The pastor is quoted as saying, "This is part of who we are as Lutherans....It's commonly understood that some of the many hymns that Martin Luther wrote, the music was music that was common everyday music--even bar tunes. So we are only keeping Luther's tradition going." I can just hear Luther saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
The church's musical director is quoted as explaining the rationale behind this special service: "We are taking the secular and putting it into the sacred." Mission accomplished.
I guess we could just see this as a day in the life of our Lutheran friends although it does seem like more and more of this is happening across the universe. If you ask me why, I will simply have to say, "Because." I just don't understand, although it would make me glad all over if someone could just tell me why. It seems like just yesterday that this kind of thing was unheard of. I wonder if Ken Puls will try to do this in our church? Right! That'll be the day! Perhaps I should let it be and just try to act naturally when these kinds of things are called to my attention. That is virtually impossible for me, though, because, in spite of all the danger of this kind of church life, evangelicals seem unwilling to slow down. When we stop using the Word to govern our worship practices, everything becomes helter skelter.
All together now: Help!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Praising God for answered prayer!

So much of what I write about here deals with principles and "big picture" issues that it is easy to neglect calling appropriate attention to matters that are personal and local. Yet, life is always lived personally and locally. Today I want to let you know about a situation that has been burdening the church I serve--and some other churches--as well as several families and individuals for the last 3 weeks. Specifically, I want to tell you about our great God's kindness and grace in hearing and answering the prayers of His people.

One of the families that our church sent out 7 years ago to preach Christ to an unreached Muslim people group has been under severe stress due to concerns raised by government officials about their work in the country. The family has been divided with the dad and oldest son in one city and the mom and other children in another several hours away. The dad was not allowed to leave and they were under the threat of being deported. As the days dragged on the cloud of uncertainty grew darker.

Yesterday the elders of our church called for the members to give today to prayer and fasting for this family and their ministry in Central Asia. We specifically asked the Lord to grant the father favor with the governmental officials and to allow the family to stay in the country to continue their work. We had planned to culminate these prayer efforts tonight in our congregational meeting. However, today at 2:49 PM EDT I received an email from the wife saying that her husband and son had received clearance from the government to join the rest of the family in the capitol city tomorrow night. Details are still sketchy, but the decision was made after long meetings today during the afternoon and evening (which is our morning and early afternoon). The family will not be deported.

So, tonight, instead of continued pleading with the Lord to resolve this situation we will unite to praise Him for moving graciously and powerfully in behalf of His people. There are still serious issues that they face but we will pray about them with thanksgiving and renewed faith in the light of God's gracious intervention in their behalf.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Resolution on the Lord's Day...from 1891

When the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee recommended their changes to the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention, included was a change in article 8 that effectively reduced confessional commitments to the Lord's Day. They made this change without any stated reasons. Even when asked, committee members did not give any rationale for the change. No one was debating this issue prior to that. Their proposed change came out of the blue. When I wrote an article expressing disagreement with this move I was roundly criticized by one stronghold of the conservative resurgence as being in cahoots with the CBF. I have been accused of many things in my life, but that is the only time I have been lumped with the CBFers. I took it as an (unsuccessful) attempt to silence dissent.

In the article, I made the following observations about the change:

[It] represents a definite break with our theological heritage as Southern Baptists. John Broadus, James Boyce, John Dagg, B. H. Carroll, Williams Rutherford, E. C. Dargan, and many other early Southern Baptist statesmen, in addition to numerous confessions of faith, can all be cited in support of regarding the Lord's Day as a special day to be set apart by Christians in order to take a break from typical, daily responsibilities, and to give oneself to concentrated efforts in worship, devotion and spiritual service. There are differences as to whether or not this day should be called the Christian Sabbath, but there is great consensus regarding the sanctity of the day itself.

Why the study committee deemed it wise to break with our heritage at this point, as it was adequately expressed in the 1963 statement, remains a mystery. Committee members have left this question unanswered. If it is because the committee believes our forefathers misunderstood the Bible at this point, then this should have been expressly stated in the presentation of their report. No one else in our Southern Baptist family, prior to the publication of the committee's proposed changes, has made this issue a matter of debate.

My recent reading through some old SBC resolutions further confirmed that the BFM 2000 departed from Southern Baptist heritage in its revision of article 8. Consider the following simple, unequivocal statement that was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1891.

WHEREAS, Great pressure is being brought to bear on the management of the World's Fair to openly and officially desecrate the Lord's day in full view of the whole world; therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptists, in convention assembled, representing a constituency of 1,235,765 Baptists, respectfully petition to the World's Fair management to close its gates on Sunday, thus giving due respect to the God of nations and to that Christian sentiment that underlies our civilization.

RESOLVED FURTHER, That a copy of this preamble and resolutions be cordially forwarded from this Convention to the managers of the World's Fair.

From the annual meeting of the SBC in 1891, which met in Birmingham, Alabama.

Southern Baptists took a step away from Scripture and our heritage and toward confessional conformity to our post-Christian culture by the revision of article 8 of the BF&M. It is unfortunate that there was no discussion of this issue before and there has been no explanation of it since. Healthy denominational life would allow not only for such dialogue but also for friendly dissent.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The resolution has been sent

I submitted a slightly edited version of the resolution on integrity in membership numbers to the Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention for consideration at the 2006 annual meeting in Greensboro. It is entitled, "Integrity in Church Membership." It is now up to the discretion of the committee whether or not to let this resolution be heard on the floor of the convention.

Friday, April 14, 2006

An Incredible Opportunity: Cruise Alaska for $679.00

I announced earlier that Founders Ministries will sponsor an Alaskan Cruise in September. Today Mike O'Fallon, the dear friend and brother whose travel company is organizing this cruise, alerted me to a special deal that has made with the Holland of America cruise line. Though I don't understand all of the ins and outs of the deal, here is the bottom line: for the next two weeks he has access to cabins on the ship for only $679.

Even before this reduced price, Mike told me that ours is far and away the least expensive ministry cruise in Alaska this year. For comparison, the least expensive cabin on our cruise is over $500 cheaper than the ministry cruise whose prices are closest to us. That is a testimony to Mike's business acumen and his determination to help Founders sponsor this event as inexpensively as possible. The Alaskan coastal area is stunning in its beauty and will make a wonderful venue for a conference on "The Glory of God." Contact Mike at Sovereign Cruises for more information. The link underneath the banner in the right column will take you to his site.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why Dr. Caner thinks he is predestined never to be a Calvinist

As is commonly known, Dr. Ergun Caner preached last Sunday night at Thomas Road Baptist Church (edit: click on April 9, 2006 sermon) in Lynchburg, Virginia on "Why I am Predestined Never to Be a Calvinist (or Hyper-Calvinist). I watched a video of the message once and, to borrow a line from Spurgeon, have not sinned sufficiently to warrant having to watch it a second time. James White plans to go over his sermon in today's Dividing Line. It ought to be enlightening.

Among the assertions that Dr. Caner makes, the following are most interesting.

  • Calvinism is the hottest topic on seminary and Bible College campuses in America.

  • Questions about Calvinism are being raised with Sunday School teachers all across the nation.

  • "There is now a famous preacher in my age group who's begun teaching that it is a sin to give an invitation because it is an insult to the sovereignty of God."

  • Modern Calvinists are like the Charismatics of the 1970s, some of whom split churches, giving the whole movement a bad name. Dr. Caner announced that he has an article about this in an upcoming National Liberty Journal.

  • John Gill redefined the word "all" in the Bible.

  • Romans 2:15 teaches that there are 3 kinds of life: unconscious, conscious, self-conscious. The first includes plant life. The third is comprised of people who have reached the age of accountability. The second is made up of animals and humans who have not reached the age of accountability. To illustrate this point, Dr. Caner referred to his sixteen month old son, Drake, whom he said (and I quote), "is like a dog." He is like a dog "theolgoically." [I am not making this up!] His son learns to obey the same way a dog does, through behavior modification. [This piece of Liberty Seminary theology comes right at the 1 hour mark of the video]

  • The age of accountability is not technically in the Bible "but Romans 2:15 calls it the age of consciousness." It is the moment that a person understands that something is right or wrong not because of reward or punishment but because it is intrinsically so.

His text was 1 Timothy 2:1-8 and he used it to give 4 reasons why he will never be a (hyper-) Calvinist.

  1. He rejects it spiritually because hyper-Calvinists cannot trust in the love of God.

  2. He rejects it evangelistically because they cannot believe that God wants all me to be saved.

  3. He rejects it theologically because they don't believe Christ died for the whole world.

  4. He rejects it missiologically because they do not see missions as an obsession.

I will not go into the details of his complete historical misrepresentation of William Carey's experience with the Northampton Association as he appealed to them to send the Gospel to "the heathen." Suffice it to say, his dates were wrong; his context was wrong; and his setting was wrong. Unfortunately, he did not let the facts ruin what turned out to be a very evocative story. Some call this distortion of facts a "preacher's license." But preachers are truth brokers. And when someone who represents the God of truth distorts the truth in any area, history, science, art--whatever, then it undermines his credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of honest people.

Dr. Caner says some good things in his message--things with which evangelical Calvinists have never disagreed. It is unfortunate that his rants are directed against straw men. I genuinely would love to see him engage true Calvinism. As long as he is allowed to get away with caricatures, he will be able to continue to pose as a champion of free will who demolishes Calvinism at every point. His arguments remind me of the boy who broke a light bulb with a stick and went around bragging that he had put out the sun. It is profoundly sad to see such gifts and obvious passion for the things of the Lord given to such misrepresentation of those with whom he disagrees.

I am not going to give a pointed refutation of Dr. Caner's message. A simple and accurate reporting of serves as a formidable critique in itself.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Timmy Brister announces TG4: Band of Bloggers

Timmy Brister has just announced a meeting that he is putting together for bloggers. It will take place in conjunction with the Together for the Gospel Conference coming up in Louisville later this month. It looks like it will be a great opportunity to meet and fellowship around the Gospel. He is asking all those who desire to attend to email and provide your name, blog title, and a contact number, so that proper plans can be made for the meeting. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the conference but I look forward to reading reports from those who are there.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Resolution on Integrity in Reporting...revisited

The Southern Baptist Convention website has very clear instructions on how to submit a resolution to the annual convention. You may submit one either electronically or via regular mail as early as April 15.

Last August, in response to a suggestion made by Gene Bridges, I put together a resolution on church discipline and integrity in reporting statistics as a possibility to submit to the 2006 Resolutions Committee. There was not much response to it then. But I am posting it again to see if there is more interest now that the SBC annual meeting is only 2 months away. If enough people express support for this resolution, perhaps it might make it out of committee and be recommended to the convention for a vote. I don't know exactly how such support can be registered with the Committee on Resolutions, but I am sure there must be a way.

If you have suggestions, please let me know. I plan to submit it April 15.


Whereas this 148th annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention marks the 26th anniversary of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention; and

Whereas at the heart of this resurgence has been a determination to return to an unashamed commitment to the inerrancy and infallibilty of the Bible as the written Word of God; and

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas the inerrant, infallible Word of God instructs us not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), but to put away lying and to speak truthfully to his neighbor (Ephesians 4:25); and

Whereas in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicated that there are 16,267,494 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas well over one half of those members never attend or participate meaningfully in the life of any local Southern Baptist church and are thus no different than non-members; and

Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2005, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement out Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Immigration fiasco

I have more than a passing interest in the current debate about immigration laws that was bogged down in Congress yesterday and now, according to recent reports, seems like it might result in new, meaningful legislation. At least a third of the members of the church I serve are first generation immigrants. About half of our membership is comprised of ethnic minorities. We have members from more than 15 different countries--a fact that we celebrate annually with a "Taste of Grace" festival for our community. On this occasion (that is scheduled for this Saturday, April 8) we set up booths with native foods from a dozen or so countries we have represented in our church. We invite people to come taste the foods, learn a little about the various cultures and meet us. We use this opportunity to witness to those who come and try to establish new relationships. It is one way to show the community the power of the Gospel to break down the walls that naturally separate people of different backgrounds.

Our multiethnic leadership has grappled with the issues of immigration as it relates to membership. Should illegal immigrants be allowed to join the church? Should they be encouraged to return to their homeland? If members, should they be allowed to serve in leadership positions? Questions that had simple answers when asked theoretically take on immense shades of complexity when they are attached to flesh and blood.

I have seen the abuse that is sometimes inflicted on innocent people--unintentionally no doubt--by the system that exists for dealing with immigrants. I have tried to wade through some of the incomprehensible laws related to immigrants that have been patchworked together over decades. What I have found at points is hard to understand and harder to explain. WORLD Magazine has addressed some of the issues in thoughtful ways, including an article that shows some of the inconsistent and convoluted practices of our current immigration system.

What do you say to a woman who has been converted through the ministry of the church who wants to be baptized and join the church, but is living with a man who is not legally her husband? He was her husband for 15 years in their native South American country. But because it was easier for them to get visas into the USA as unmarried people, they divorced, came over here, discovered that "nobody in America takes marriage seriously," and so decided simply to live together. Then the Lord saved her, but not her (ex)husband. Now he is unwilling to marry her legally.

What do you say to a young man who has come to Christ through the church's outreach and wants to be baptized and join but whose visa has expired? He wants to become legal but every avenue he has pursued has resulted in a dead end. Talk of various types of amnesty has kept him hopeful, but he is here illegally.

What about the devoted Christian family that were working through what they were told was a legal channel to pursue permanent residency only to discover that they were scammed and are now left with no passport, visa, or any other form of legal identification. When we contacted legal authorities we were simply told that they were "small fish" and that, though it is unlikely, there is a slight possibility that in 10 years or so their case might come to light and receive some attention.

Living in Southwest Florida has sensitized me to the severe mistreatment that many immigrants experience both officially and unofficially. It is common to read in the local paper about immigrants who were robbed and/or beaten but who refused to call police out of fear of what might happen to them. Unscrupulous people take advantage of their fear and misunderstanding of the immigration laws and bilk them out of large sums of money.

I am a law and order guy. I believe that laws should be obeyed and lawbreakers should be punished. But when laws are unjust or unjustly applied, it is impossible to maintain a black and white perspective. Our immigration laws need to be overhauled. I am glad that Congress has followed President Bush's lead and tackled the issue. I am grieved, however, when I hear some legislators that come from my side of the aisle speaking as if all immigrants who are here illegally are willful criminals and should be treated the same. It simply is not that simple.

In the parable of The Good Samaritan Jesus explains what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It involves showing social justice to those who are in no position to help themselves. While the Samaritan may not have broken any laws in his deeds of kindness, he certainly did go against the social conventions of his day by helping a despised Jew. "Go and do likewise" is our Master's instruction to us. I think this applies the the immigrants--legal and illegal--that are among us.

I pray that the current debate in Congress will result in laws that are more just and enforceable. I personally hope that some kind of guestworker plan is included. But regardless of what comes out of Washington DC, my greater prayer is that the churches of Jesus Christ in this land will lead the way in showing love to those who are the strangers and aliens among us.

A Letter from Malcolm Yarnell

Dr. Yarnell sent me the following letter in response to my critique of his recent article in SBC Life and asked that it be posted on my blog.


Dear Tom:

Your searching critique of what I have written is, as always, enjoyable and beneficial. You are correct in your surmise about editorial changes. However, the spirit of what I wrote, if not each particular word, is substantially contained in the attenuated piece printed in SBC Life. In light of the editor's entirely appropriate concern for space limitations, a popular piece such as this should not be seen as finally definitive of this theologian’s systematic thinking but a very quick sampling indeed.

You may be interested in the fact that although Calvinism has not been a major concern of mine to this point, I do have an interest in the ultimately critical issue of God’s salvation of humanity. Although I am currently committed to a number of other writing projects, in the future, perhaps the Lord will lead me to devote more time to treating biblical soteriology in particular and in depth. At that point, perhaps we could converse some more. Until then, I must concentrate on the eager students enrolled here at Southwestern Seminary.

In the meanwhile, Tom, I hope you will join me in praying that God’s Spirit will compel all Southern Baptists--whatever our particular positions concerning Calvinism--to diligently unite our voices together to go and to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world, baptizing those who respond to God’s gracious offer, teaching them the entire counsel of Jesus Christ.

In Christ,


The Calvinist Virus

As some of you will recall, back in February, Dr. Ergun Caner commented on this blog that "Five-point Calvinism is a VIRUS. It saps the evangelism of every church it infects." In response to that diagnosis the Department of Arminian Insecurity was formed in order to monitor the threat of the spread of this virus. Unfortunately, I missed the announcement of its formation and was oblivious of its existence until Gene Bridges notified me. Included in the announcement is an outline of 6 crucial steps for detecting and treating this nefarious virus. This is essential reading for all who share Dr. Caner's concern.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Malcolm Yarnell on Calvinism

I am sure that I will be accused of only having one string on my banjo for bringing up Calvinism again, but it is difficult to remain silent when the dialogue about Calvinism gets off track so often. Sometimes it's the slight misperceptions that are the most egregious errors because they often come across as the most plausible. It is this fact that most concerns me about the article printed on page 9 of the current SBC Life entitled, "The TULIP of Calvinism in Light of History and the Baptist Faith and Message" by my friend, Malcolm Yarnell. Recent readers of this blog (previous posts dealing with another article by Yarnell are found here: 1, 2, 3, 4) will be familiar with Dr. Yarnell and may recall that he is the Assistant Dean for Theological Studies, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. I do count him a friend and appreciate his ministry very much. My interaction with and critique of his article should not be construed as any kind of personal animosity at all.

I would much rather have Dr. Yarnell attempting to define historic Calvinism than many other denominational employees I know. He is obviously familiar with the historical background of the so-called "5 points." However, I am disappointed by some of the imprecise language that his article employs because it results in giving the wrong impression about a few of the key points involved. Perhaps some of these were mere editorial mishaps. Be that as it may, the resulting misperceptions are no less unfortunate.
On "Total Depravity," Dr. Yarnell writes:
Calvinists at Dort viewed man not simply as sinful, but argued that every aspect of man's being is affected by sin, including his will.
Though he does not directly say so, by the way this is stated Dr. Yarnell gives the impression that he disagrees with Dort's view and would favor thinking of man "simply as sinful." Yet, in Romans 3:10-18, Paul seems to go beyond that kind of simple declaration. His catena of Old Testament descriptors gives the impression that he is following the trail of a tornado that has ripped through human nature leaving nothing, including the will, untouched. Dr. Yarnell continues:
Some of Calvin's later followers went so far as to say that God actually decreed humans to become sinners. On the basis of Scripture (Romans. 3:23), Southern Baptists have consistently affirmed that all humans are sinners by nature and by choice, but have generally rejected extreme views of post-Dort Calvinists that man is incapable of moral action and that God is ultimately responsible for human sin (emphasis added)
I know of no Calvinist in history who has ever argued that fallen man is "incapable of moral action." The argument that some Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Fuller and others do make is that fallen man is incapable of any morally GOOD action (as God reckons goodness). Specifically, fallen, unregenerate man is incapable of seeking God, obeying His law or doing anything that is pleasing to Him. Isn't this exactly what the Bible teaches? "There is none who seeks after God" (Romans 3:11), "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7, emphasis added), "So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8, emphasis added). By linking "man is incapable of moral action" and "God is ultimately responsible for human sin" Yarnell misconstrues a historical theological debate (about the nature of human inability) and links it to a conclusion that he unjustifiably deduces from a theology of decrees.

Dr. Yarnell may think that any doctrine of an eternal decree necessarily requires his conclusion, yet he surely knows--and should let his readers know--that the London Baptist Confession published in 1689 is representative of most Calvinists in its disavowal of that notion. Chapter 3 opens with these words:
God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree (emphasis added-TA).
In his treatment of unconditional election, Dr. Yarnell writes as if Calvin did not believe in "double predestination." Again, he does not actually say it, but attributes not only this position, but also the decree to elect to "followers of Calvin." Then he makes this unverifiable assertion:
Most Southern Baptists would counter that it is God's revealed will that all people experience salvation, citing texts such as: The Lord ... is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance (emphasis added [MY], 2 Peter 3:9) and God our Savior ... wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (emphasis added [MY], 1 Timothy 2:4). In response, Calvinists argue their system is part of God's "secret will," not His "revealed will." but the source of their knowledge of this "secret will" is unclear. [this quote ends with a footnote: "The Canons of the Synod of Dort," First Head, art. vi; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.xxi-xxiii, especially III.xxiii.1; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 213-16, 683-84.]
Anytime anyone speaks for "most Southern Baptists" you can be sure that they have forgotten the greatest malady facing Southern Baptist churches: AWOL church members. As long as we cannot find the majority of those on our rolls, it is impossible to speak for "most" of them. Call it a technicality, but it is one that I intend to continue to point out as long as denominational leaders continue to refuse to address it. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 29:29 is the source of my knowledge that God has a secret will: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

Here is more:
The Baptist Faith and Message, in simple accord with Scripture, states: "Election is the gracious purpose of God" which "is consistent with the free agency of man." [footnote: Baptist Faith and Message, art. v.] Southern Baptists affirm diverse understandings of divine election (cf. Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5-11), but most would likely reject the view of those Calvinists who narrowly define unconditional election as double predestination.
But what about those Calvinists that see election as God's choice of specific sinners whom He intends to save? Or, as the Baptist Faith and Message puts it, "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners" [emphasis added]. It would have helped his readers to see just how Calvinistic the Baptist Faith and Message is at this point if Dr. Yarnell had not omitted the rest of this sentence (which I put in bold) when speaking of election.

His treatment of "limited atonement" rightly notes that, according to Calvinism, "the atonement is limited to the elect." Then he makes this (unverifiable) assertion, "The vast majority of Southern Baptists would disagree with those who claim that Christ's death on the cross was only intended for "'the elect.'" Don't misunderstand my protest. He is probably right, but who knows?

It is in the section on "irresistible grace" that Dr. Yarnell makes makes some of his most unfortunate mistakes. First, he writes:
Arminians concluded that men could resist God's grace. The Calvinists of Dort disagreed, saying that God's grace is ultimately irresistible, that divine election works unfailingly, and that the depraved and fallen human will is not exercised in conversion. When the converted human will is later exercised, it is only because God "powerfully bends" it. [this is footnoted to "'Articles,' art. iv; 'Canons,' Third and Fourth Heads, arts. viii, x, xii;" emphasis added by TA]
This is either a misunderstanding or an imprecise, and therefore misleading, expression of what Dort actually asserts. Article 16 of the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine says this:
But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature, endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the whole race of mankind, deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist. Wherefore unless the admirable author of every good work wrought in us, man could have no hope of recovering from his fall by his own free will, by the abuse of which, in a state of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin (emphasis added).
Dr. Yarnell confuses regeneration with conversion, something that careful Calvinistic theologians would protest strongly. Regeneration initiates conversion. That is, it brings forth the fruits of repentance and faith in the sinner's heart and mind. Yarnell's mistake at this point is even more problematic when he misstates what the Baptist Faith and Message says about "salvation" (rather than "regeneration"). He writes:
Avoiding this concept of irresistible grace, the Baptist Faith and Message states that salvation is a "change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," and adds: "Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace." [this is footnoted to: Baptist Faith and Message, art. iv.a; emphasis added by TA]
But look at what the Baptist Faith and Message actually says:
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace (emphasis added).
Just as regeneration and conversion are not synonyms, neither are regeneration and salvation. Rather, salvation is a more comprehensive term that includes regeneration (as well as justification, adoption, sanctification, etc.) as a constituent part. This distinction is vital to a clear understanding of what Calvinism does and does not teach. Furthermore, as the Baptist Faith and Message's statement stands, it actually affirms effectual calling (or "irresistible grace") by asserting that regeneration is "a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." In other words, regeneration creates faith and repentance in the sinner. It is of such a nature that when it works in a sinner's life, that sinner "responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." Dort describes this response by saying that "a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign."

Some may accuse me of quibbling over minor details in an article that, in some respects, has much to commend it. However, I agree with the Puritan Richard Rogers who, when criticized for being too precise, responded, "Sir, I serve a precise God." When representing the views of others, especially when writing about issues that are important, controversial and often misunderstood, it behooves us to be as careful as possible. Lack of precision mars Dr. Yarnell's article. Consequently, where it could have greatly helped clarify all of the the issues that it addressed, it may unfortunately wind up confusing uninformed readers almost as much as it properly instructs them.