Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A conference on Southern Baptists and Calvinism

Today at the Founders Breakfast in San Antonio, I announced an upcoming conference on "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism." The conference is being jointly sponsored by Founders Minstries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is scheduled for November 26-28 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.

Details will be made public over the next few weeks. The reason for making the announcement now is to encourage people to hold the dates and begin making plans for what promises to be a historic gathering for Southern Baptists.

The purpose of this conference is to bring together Southern Baptists of various theological commitments in order to hear pointed presentations and dialogue about what is arguably the most important theological movement among us today. It is certainly one of the most controversial movements on the scene. Some people seem to despise those doctrines that have historically been denominated Calvinism. Others greatly fear them. Some caricature them beyond recognition.

Among the proponents of Calvinism there are some who seem to be more interested in winning theological debates than in advancing the Kingdom of God by preaching Jesus Christ. Others allow their commitment to God's sovereignty in salvation to excuse their lack of evangelistic passion or to justify a pugilistic spirit.

It is time for Southern Baptists to come together to discuss openly and honestly these particular doctrines of grace that once were the theological consensus among our forebears and is now becoming more prominent among us again. The organizers of this historic gathering envision sessions addressing the strengths and weaknesses of both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic positions on salvation. The presentations will be exegetical, theological, apologetic, passionate and pastoral. Our desire is for the issues to be addressed in what I call a ruthlessly biblical manner. Such an approach will be neither rude nor superficial. Rather, if our goals are met, they will be energetic, thoughtful and humble and all who participate will walk away with a deeper respect for arguments both for and against the Reformed understanding of salvation. More importantly, we hope that all will recognize more clearly the glory of God displayed in the salvation that He has provided for sinners in the person and work of His Son. That is something which both Calvinists and non-Calvinists need in increasing supplies.

Please join me in praying that the Lord will use this opportunity to strengthen the fellowship and spiritual health of His people known as Southern Baptists. I believe that both are within reach.

Stay tuned for forthcoming details.


MarieP said...

It's little surprise that it will be at Southeastern. I have to say that Danny Akin, although not a 5-pointer, is a man of integrity, cares about Biblical truth, and has not entered into the strawman burning crusades that so many others have embarked upon. I truly hope and pray that this will be used by God to cause many to think through these issues.

m b redmond said...

Very, very exciting!

Kern R. said...

Great! It is long past due. We cannot let this issue divide us. We are all Christians and only by the grace of God. Way to many on both sides are trying to win brownie points instead of discussing it in love and grace. It is only by the grace of God that any of us have any knowledge and many times we act as if we have discovered things because of our intellect.

Brian Hamrick said...


So how was the breakfast with Voddie?

Wish I could have been there. I still think Dever's sermon on Romans 9-11 last year is one of the best I've ever heard.

G. Alford said...


I just hope that the divisive effects of “Hyper Anti-Calvinism” will be addressed.

Grace to all,

Brian said...

Awesome Awesome Awesome!!! Finally, the rhetoric that has become so common among various groups can be silenced (hopefully). I only hope that my pastor, a church that has become the bastion of "Hyper-Anti-Calvinism", will be in attendance, or at least be willing to share this conference with others, including our "preacher in residence". I love both these men, and only want them to understand where we as Calvinistic Southern Baptists stand. I believe that this discussion will, above all, bring Glory to God. Tom, I will do my best to be there. Dr. Akin is a hero to me, and I man I deeply love. This conference, which clearly has his blessing, only solidifies my respect and admiration for this man.

Wayne Hatcher said...

The message delivered by Voddie Baucham was excellent! Well worth the early rise for us!

Tripp said...

I am encouraged to see this conference being planned. I hope that it adds to the discussion currently taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention.

I truly hope though that the truth will not be compromised in the name of "unity" and "cooperation" at this conference.

This conference is a great first step in this discussion. I pray God will add His blessings to it.

Rev. said...

It sounds as though this conference will not only permit, but encourage open and honest dialogue between those of differing positions to think more clearly about the topic at hand.

I hope that this helps to bring more focus upon the Kingdom (rather than upon the "Calvinistic castles" and "evangelical empires" so many seem eager to build). I also hope that this conference helps to bring authentic Christian unity between "Calvinists," "Non-Calvinists," and "Anti-Calvinists."

G. F. McDowell said...

I support the idea, provided you really meant what you said about building bridges.

David B. Hewitt said...

Dr. Tom:

This is very encouraging! I do hope all goes well in bringing it about and also that God uses it mightily for the glory of His Name.


Darel said...

I'm always encourged by you every time I read your blog. It's one of the few places that I find thoughtful and honest presentation of historic Baptist principles out in this blogosphere.

Thank you for everything you do.

Tom said...

I share the enthusiasm of those who are excited, and I understand the skepticism of those who voice concerns about my sincerity or the wllingness of those who plan this conference to address controversial issues. My hope is that as final plans are announced that those concerns allayed and the excitement will build.

Bill Lollar said...

So why do you think "another conference" is a step in the right direction, Tom? There are conferences galore for anyone who is really interested in understanding the Reformed faith, plus lots of books, multimedia, and internet resources.

Looks like everyone else here is thrilled, but why would any non-Calvinist attend something like this, even at Ridgecrest? You may end up preaching to the choir.

Don't you think something like this needs to happen at the annual pastors conference of the SBC to really impact both sides of the fence, as far as reaching pastors and denominational staff?

Grace Church Planting Ministries

Drew said...

This thrills my soul. I think a significant portion of non-calvinists will be encouraged to attend, because it is being co-sponsored by SEBTS, whose president is not a calvinist. I do hope that this conference helps us to achieve the stated goals.

kingofbleh said...

Tom -

I look forward to attending the conference. It's right down the road from me. Thank you for taking the initiative to engage others on a denominational level on behalf of reformational southern baptists. I will be praying for you, the organizers and all those who will be participating in this event.

irreverend fox said...


will either of the dynamic Caner duo be involved? I hope so!

SelahV said...

G.Alford: now I was thinking just the other way :)
I just hope that the divisive effects of “Hyper Anti-NON-Calvinism” will be addressed. Isn't it funny how we can look at an elephant and see two different sides to that bugger? I hope you know I'm joshing.

This might prove to be wonderful, even if those things aren't addressed G. Let's think positive. selahV

Tom said...


I think it is a step in the right direction because anytime brothers can meet to address potentially explosive differences and do so in a humble way, good results. Also, so much of the debate over the doctrines of grace consists of talking past one another or at one another rather than to one another that more heat than light is generated. Our hope is that this conference will be free from that tendency.

Of course, I would rather see this kind of thing addressed at the pastors' conference, but I don't have that opportunity. Why would a non-Calvinist attend this meeting? The same reason that Calvinistic Southern Baptists might attend--to learn, fellowship, challenge and be challenged biblically by brothers with whom we cooperate in the SBC.

I am certainly not about conference for conferences' sake, just as I am not excited about books or websites for their own sakes, either.

The conference we are planning will be unlike anything else in existence. If the Lord blesses as we are asking, I believe it can accomplish much good for Southern Baptists.

David Wilson said...

Bill wrote: "but why would any non-Calvinist attend something like this..."

Understanding your response and appreciating your spirit, Tom, I second what Bill wrote. I am not a Calvinist, but try hard to work with people who are Kingdom minded regardless of their stance on this. If I'm going anywhere this fall, it would be to the FL Conv or something like Catalyst. Hearing the debates and point counterpoint just doesn't appeal to me.

Michael Corley said...

Dr. Ascol,
I too am excited about the conference and I would love to do an interview on our radio program about the conference and the outcome of your membership resolution at the annual meeting. I will follow-up with your office or you can contact me through www.mikecorley.org.

G. Alford said...


“Hyper Anti-NON-Calvinism”

Thanks… I really needed to smile… and lighten up a bit…


I think Bill was (as were some others of us) hoping the Big announcement would be along the lines of reformed missions?

However, I am excited about the conference and I will be there… perhaps another Big announcement will be made soon?

Grace to all,

David said...

I will make plans to attend as more details become available. I live less than an hour from Ridgecrest - let me know if I can help somehow. I'd also like to reorganize a founders fraternal in western NC. If anyone is interested, visit www.foundersnc.com or email me at david.roberts@foundersnc.com and let me know if you're interested.

Chris Jordan said...


I am pleased to hear about the conference. Keep up the good work and striving toward a healthier SBC! I hope that there will be many more conferences in the future about doctrinal issues.

Though Morris Chapman would rather avoid “disputable doctrines that lead to destructive distractions" and “embrace the core beliefs [we] hold in common”, my fear is that the “core beliefs” are getting harder to nail down. Subjects such as “What is the Gospel?” and “What is a True Believer” and “What is Inspiration?”, etc.

For example:
In a recent article by Baptist Press (found here - http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=25807), I read some very troubling words from the winner of the 2007 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference May 20-24 sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources.

The winner apparently is a dear sweet lady named Sherry Carter. The troubling part is when the article credits her in saying "I never wrote anything before!... All I can say is, these are God's words, not mine. He dictated so fast, I couldn't type fast enough. I'm His workbench, and that's all I ever care to be," she said, her humble and grateful acceptance delighting the audience.”

Now, I’m sure what she wrote was inspiring, but are we to believe that these are the very words of God? Is this book inspired just as Paul, Peter, James and John were inspired by God to write the New Testament? Or are these similar to the claims of Joseph Smith who received the golden tablets from an angel that is now “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”?

I guess my biggest question is: Where has the doctrine of inspiration disappeared in the Southern Baptist Convention? And let’s assume that Ms. Carter didn’t actually mean it this way. Then why does Lifeway Christian Resources seem to be celebrating the fact that she is the best writer because “[God] dictated so fast.”

Please help me to understand where the SBC is headed! Do we believe any longer in the closed cannon of Scripture? Do we trust that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and ALL-sufficient?

We MUST continue to sharpen our understanding of the time-tested doctrines. Those who came before us gave their lives for the sake of Christ and His truth... let's not so easily turn our back on them!

Les Puryear said...


I am putting this conference on my schedule.

The breakfast this morning was wonderful. Voddie's sermon should be heard by every pastor in the SBC.


Bill Lollar said...

Tom, you can call me a bit cynical or jaded, but I have serious doubts regarding the appropriateness of such measures for the times we live in.

I attended the very first Founders Conference and I would have to say that these conferences have served as a lifeline to many of us over the years, so I have no axe to grind about the overall value of conferences. However, due to these and other factors (like Mohler's appointment to SBTS, the impact of John Piper & others), there is now virtually an army—or at least several regiments—of Reformed men and women who are looking for a far more significant step than just another conference!

Why not do something really bold? In many respects, you remind me of the character named "Jack" in the hit television series, Lost, who has been thrust into the position as the reluctant leader of the island survivors. Everyone's looking to you, Tom, like the British evangelicals looked to Lloyd-Jones back in the 50's, who called them out of the crumbling mainline denominations to form a new Reformed evangelical alliance. All he had to do was "say the word" and they followed.

I know that Founders was not started for this purpose, but we're twenty-five years into this movement and Founders is still just promoting conferences!

Your friend in Christ,

Bill Lollar
Grace Church Planting Ministries

Bill Lollar said...


Just to clarify something after reading over my previous comment: I'm not suggesting that you call the Reformed folk OUT of the SBC, but that a bolder step might be to call them INTO a more formal association of Reformed SBC churches within the denomination. We had this conversation three years ago. Why not develop a Founders Convention where churches can withdraw from their current geographically-prescribed associations (GASP!) and join themselves into a more like-minded relationship where pooled resources can support the work of missions and church planting, far from the control of SBC politicians.

Bill Lollar
Grace Church Planting Ministries

Tom said...


I understand your cynicism. I fight against it regularly. Of course, Founders has done significantly more in its 25 years than just promote conferences. If you think otherwise then you are way out of touch. And, as I have already said, I have not interest in simply organizing another one.

Furthermore, no one should think that putting together this kind of conference is mutually exclusive with other plans or activities to promote the recovery of the Gospel and reformation of local churches.

Many good things are happening, some publicly and more privately. I have no delusions that everyone appreciates that or agrees with what we do or how we do it. Each one must labor according to his or her light and power and be prepared to answer to God alone, whether or not others appreciate or understand those efforts.

Keep pressing on in your good work!

Tom said...


You are correct that we need to learn basic biblical doctrine, especially the doctrine of revelation. The extreme kind of view that you cite from this contest winner has been fostered by some of the most popular preachers of our day who throw around the phrase, "God told me," without care and thereby unwittingly undermining the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

We need to learn how to think and dialogue more biblically than is currently the norm.

kingofbleh said...

Brother Bill,

I think when we look back at the various Calvinist movements within evangelicalism at large and the baptist denomination specifically, we see that they come and go every 20-30 years. Most of these ended up in one of two ways: either they seperated themselves from the percieved mainstream and eventually died off due to lack of resources and organization or they tried to stick with their denomination in an effort to reform them which ended in futility and apathy due to lack of power and clout.

In either situation, their reformation-mindedness became an end unto itself, rather than a means to an end. I am certainly not accusing you or anyone here of this. I think if we are going to break through this time we are going to have to desperately seek to work with others towards ultimate ends, using our reformationalism/calvinism as a means to that common end.

hisbygrace said...

Does God not always have a faithful remnant? Men still preach and teach these doctrines, and God's people still believe them. These men may not have well-known names or reputations, but I don't believe God is impressed by that anyhow. They may not carry the tag "reformed" but they preach the doctrines of grace unapologetically. I can't help but believe that wherever there are children of God who will believe what His Word says and be faithful to it, He will bless it. It may not impress or reform a "denomination", but who are we trying to please? The truths of Scripture aren't something to toss around like a football, they're to be preached, taught, and believed. As a layman, I'm struggling to understand why, if we truly believe that our understanding of the gospel IS the gospel, that there's this continual struggle to get along with folks who don't believe it, for the sake of a denomination. Is the SBC really that important?
Just a dude in the pew

dwilli said...

I am very encouraged by this upcoming conference. I have written down the dates and am planning to attend. It would be great if many within the SBC could gain a good understanding on the historical background of our own denomination. Too man view Calvinism as some "new movement" within the SBC. There seems to be no recognition that these are truths upon which the SBC was founded. Very encouraged about the conference. Thanks, Tom

Ivan said...

I am very interested in attending the conference in November. It's interesting...last night I tried to reserve a room at Ridgecrest for the dates of the conference and there was "no room in the inn". I'm wondering what that means. Any idea?

THIRSTY said...

i live in downtown asheville which is very very close to ridgecrest, we are starved for some more reformed believers and dialogue, this conference will be such a breat of fresh air

anyone interested in hanging out in downtown asheville get in touch with me


in Him alone,
Devin Murphy

Vicki said...

My husband Brian and I thank God for the planned conference and hope to be there. The "we're the faithful remnant" mentality will not bring the desired result. Any truth I understand of the scripture has come via God's mercy to a sinner whose MIND is also fallen. Therefore, there is only room for humility and dependence on God to move in the hearts and minds of all of us as we approach an event like this. I pray that all who think they have no need to grow in the knowledge of the truth and have an attitude of superiority or a lack of genuine love for those Christ died for, who may not agree with them, stay home and not hinder the spirit in which this meeting was conceived. Vicki

Ivan said...

Amen, Vicki.