Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Update on Amazing Grace over Florida

Thank you for your prayers for the Amazing Grace over Florida project. The DVDs are landing on the desks of pastors throughout the state and we are beginning to receive feedback. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

As I had expected, I have heard from brothers who believe the doctrines of grace who are very appreciative of this effort. Some were not familiar with the DVD and, after viewing it, now intend to pass it aong to others.

As I had hoped, several brothers who don't line up with me theologically at every point have also expressed appreciation for this effort. Far from feeling threatened or in any way disrespected, they have received the DVD in the spirit in which it was intended. I tried to convey that spirit in the letter that accompanied each packet. It said, in part:
As you probably know, "Calvinism" has become a topic of conversation across our denomination and the broader evangelical world the last several years. With the renewed commitment to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible over the last three decades, this is not surprising, since historically, Calvinism can only thrive where the Word of God is taken seriously.

The rediscovery of our Southern Baptist theological heritage has also contributed to this conversation. Early SBC leaders like James P. Boyce, P.H. Mell, R.B.C. Howell, John A. Broadus, and B.H. Carroll were not ashamed to be called "Calvinists." It is only natural that we who are their spiritual heirs should be discussing this issue.

Of course, the term "Calvinism" has been greatly misused in our day. Too often it is uprooted from its historic meaning and associated with all kinds of things that the men listed above would never avow. Tragically, such misunderstandings tend to provoke more heat than light and hinder any meaningful dialog on the important issues involved.

Southern Baptists need to be talking about these issues--things like sin, grace, election, atonement and perseverance. We need to be willing to reexamine what the Bible says about the core doctrines of our faith and encourage one another to be as faithful as we can in proclaiming the message of salvation to everyone in the world. We need to be talking to one another rather than about one another.

That conviction is what has motivated the recently announced conference coming up at Ridgecrest, NC November 26–28, 2007 on "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism." Dr. Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay, Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary and I are cooperating to make this the kind of conference where serious theological dialog can take place in a brotherly, helpful way. [INSERT: Watch for the press release on this within the next week].

It is in this spirit that the highly-acclaimed Amazing Grace DVD has been sent to you as a gift. The generosity of churches and individuals who share that spirit has made this possible.

Our desire is that you will watch it with an open mind and open Bible so that, whether you agree or disagree with what is presented, you will be strengthened in your life and ministry as a result.

Thanks for your time. May the Lord richly bless you as you continue to make His Gospel known to lost and dying sinners.
As I feared, I have also heard from some who are not thrilled that the DVD arrived in their mailbox. The first phone call I got was from a fellow pastor who said, "I mean no disrespect, but why don't you go ahead join the Presbyterians?" To which I responded, "Because I am a Baptist." We had a very cordial conversation. He intended no offense and I took none.

Continue to pray that the Lord will use this effort to promote genuine theological dialogue among pastors within the state of Florida, and that with such dialogue there will come a renewed commitment to the unashamed preaching of the Gospel of God's grace as revealed in Jesus Christ.

9 comments:

Mike Hall said...

Tom,

I am so proud of you and your handling of this issue and the issue of church membership accountability. You have set the example that drives the enemies of historical Baptist, reformed, theology nuts. I appreciate your humble spirit in this effort. I do all that I can to further the dialog at my blog and among my friends and co-laborers here in NC. Keep up the good work down there in Fl.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Mike

Belief Matters said...

Tom,

I too appreciate your leadership. I would be interested to know how the pastor responded to the claim that many of the early leaders of the SBC were Calvinists.

Jeff

Tom said...

Mike and Jeff:

Thanks for your kind and encouraging words. There are many, many people who gave, prayed and worked diligently to get this project completed. I am grateful to have a part in it.

Jeff, the pastor you asked about admitted that the early SBC founders were reformed in their view of salvation but, he said, "no man is above making mistakes, and they were mistaken, just they were mistaken about slavery." I asked if he did not feel at least a little uneasy about being in a convention that was founded on a theology he thinks is erroneous. He said he did not. After further conversation he said that he would work to get the SBC to go on record saying that the founders were wrong in their theology. We then agreed that if he were able to accomplish that, then I would leave the convention. I want to reiterate that there was no animosity expressed in our conversation. We were able to speak as two brothers who disagree.

Mike Hall said...

Tom,

I know what it is like to deal with pastors like that. I was raised an indy, fundy, baptist. Needless to say that my old friends think I have gone off the deep end. It always saddens me, however, to come upon someone who loves the tradition of man over the theology of God's word. To me the equation is simple: reformed soteriology=Christ centered, arminian (free will) soteriology=man centered. Keep up the fight Tom you've got brothers up here in NC.

centuri0n said...

Tom --

Just wanted to say that you are a theological iron man. The SBC is fortunate and should be grateful for your spirit and your effort.

irreverend fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
irreverend fox said...

Brother Tom,

is what distinguishes reformed baptists from presbyterians simply (basically) our understanding of baptism? Is it congregationalism? both? neither?

I think I'm baptist...I assume I am. If I am not a baptist then I'll be ashamed! My soteriology is reformed...yet I am not a congregationalist...at all. but I teach believers baptism by immersion...no babies...

God in Miami said...

Tom,
I received and have watched the first dvd of Amazing Grace. I am a non-Calvinist pastor who listened to Jerry Vines' sermon and was eager to get my hands on a copy of "the other side" when I first heard about it on your blog. I felt I needed to share my impressions and give a chance for others to respond. I admit that I have not seen all of the video yet, but so far I am deeply disappointed for two reasons.
1)Whereas Jerry Vines was largely gracious in speaking about Calvinists, the same does not seem to be true in this dvd. I am getting very frustrated with the constant implication that everyone who is not a full fledged Calvinist is a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian and therefore a heretic. I am also frustrated by the arrogant spirit in which many of the statments are made in favor of Calvinism.
2)I am disappointed by the way the video has handled Scripture thus far. The video seems to put way more importance on church history and creeds than any Baptist should be comfortable with. While the video affirms that Scripture is authoritative for doctrinal matters, it goes on to make multiple statements that say that the methodology for this presentation are just the opposite. The worst of which was the statement that "throughout this presentation we will examine church history in light of the Scriptures." Does this not mean that church history is the authoritative guide for the study? In this view the Scriptures are brought in only as a way to make sure you have the right understanding of history. So far, even when Scriptures have been mentioned in the video, there are usually only Bible references flashed on the screen, and quotes from passages are mixed in with Calvinistic interpretations of the passages with no distinction of what the passages say. I know it is my responsibility to look up the passages, but the video itself isn't grounding it's arguments on the actual words of Scripture, and seems to say at the outset that it has no intention of doing so! Don't get me wrong, I love to study church history, and even as a non-Calvinist enjoyed some of the history section in the video, but this seems to elevate an interpretation of church history to a place of authority over theological debates.

Tom said...

God in Miami:

Thanks for offering your views on the DVD. I am sorry that what you have seen so far comes across in an "arrogant spirit." That certainly was not the intent and arrogance is never justified.

Isn't is strange how people can see such things in such different lights? Many folks have told me how they found Dr. Vines' comments to be tinged with what that same spirit in his CD sermon.

Sin has certainly affected our minds and emotions and none of us is immune to its impact. That should sober us can call us to humility in engaging these kinds of issues.

I appreciate your interaction. May the Lord richly bless your life and ministry.