Sunday, November 11, 2007

Building Bridges vs. Burning Bridges

Nathan Finn writes about the Building Bridges Conference coming up November 26, 2007 at Ridgecrest, NC. He will be speaking on "Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight." He is also asking for examples of common myth about Calvinism that people have heard. Click over and offer him your insights as he plans to help build bridges in the SBC.

In stark contrast to the design and efforts of that conference there is the action of the Arbuckle Baptist Association in Oklahoma, that voted last week to "take a public stand against Reformed theology" in the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and to register their opposition with the Executive Committee of the SBC. Click on the image below to read a letter from DOM Terry Mott that reports these actions. It is a great example of bridge burning in the SBC.
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Attitudes and actions like this are exactly what the Building Bridges Conference hopes to address and work to change--not by any kind of coercion or intimidation, but through brotherly fellowship and God-honoring dialogue. If you have not signed up to attend yet, there is still time. Pray for that meeting that honest, humble, biblically-guided, plain speaking will characterize each session as well as the informal times of gathering.


Ben Stevenson said...

Would it be a good idea to repeat the idea of the Florida Baptist Truth Project (which sent out copies of the Amazing Grace DVD to every Southern Baptist pastor in the state of Florida) with the churches of the Arbuckle Baptist Association?

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Hmmm. As a Baptist (non SBC), I would ask how the Arbuckle Association plans to deal with all of those SBTS grads that the flagship SBC seminary keeps turning out into ministry???

Joe said...

Sad. But the BB conference is encouraging and I really wish I could be there. I'm praying for that gathering!

M. Jay Bennett said...

Here is what one popular Southern Baptist minister in Florida recently preached about the problem of SBC seminaries graduating Calvinistic students.

M. Jay Bennett said...

BTW, for the direct reference to SBC seminaries graduating Calvinists (called hyper-Calvinists by this pastor), see part 1 in the series I linked to above.

Bob Cleveland said...

Tom: As an old calvinist, I think I know why they would not want to debate. Both sides would trot out the verses they use to support their positions, as well as the rationale they use for saying the other guys' verse don't really mean what they say. I've heard that from both sides, with notably less "explaining-away" done by calvinists.

Brad Williams said...

May the truth triumph over all. I pray that the conference will be a great example of humility and brotherly love.

Tony Kummer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S. Todd Young said...

Doesn't your heart just ache to know that people are so deceived about reformed theology! They have no idea that our hearts burn for their benefit! We mean no Arminian any harm; many, if not most, were gloriously rescued by grace by the preaching of Arminians.

I think the most telling issue is that they are unwilling to discuss the topic.

Darby Livingston said...

I too am praying for the Building Bridges conference, precisely because I doubt whether bridges can be built. Calvinism and Arminianism aren't two different ways of seeing the same thing. They are two different things. One doesn't build bridges with Arminians. They must be converted. Of course, I'm saying this as a one-time staunch Arminian who came to accept the doctrines of grace early on in my Christian life. I was absolutely hostile to Calvinism, and saw it as the enemy of salvation. Eventually, enough John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and John Piper seeped in to convert me.

Tom said...


Thanks for praying for the BB conf. I genuinely believe that brothers can disagree and discuss their disagreements in ways that are helpful. Granted, that doesn't happen as often as it should, but it can happen and ought to be encouraged. If a new culture of respect and humility can be cultivated among us, then those who have no interest in such fraternal relationships will see their influence diminish.


Rob said...

I find it interesting that if you go to the Website for the Arbuckle Association they have a link to comentaries with the following write up:

Several classic commentaries online by: Calvin, Darby, Geneva, Gill, Jamieson Faussett and Brown, Lightfoot, Johnson, Luther, Matthew Henry Complete or Concise, Spurgeon, McGarvey and Pendleton, McGee, & Wesley

Seems like, in light of there current stance, they need to edit some of these "classic commentaries."

Just an observation

Worship Leader Ron said...


Thanks for this post and for reminding us to pray for our convention. It seems more and more that unity means uniformity. I'm proud and glad to demand uniformity in upholding the five solas. But killing each other over particularities that go beyond the BFM is so dangerous and injurious to us all. I'll pray that we can build bridges that acknowledge that we can serve together and unite for missions and kingdom work while disagreeing, all for the glory of God in Christ. Your post is yet another important reminder of where our priorities should be.

Rhuiden said...

Will the audio of the conference be available for purchase for those of us who can't attend?

Tom said...


The DOM of the Association seems to be simply following instructions from the messengers who voted on the motions. It may well be that he and/or others do not share the sentiments of those motions.


There will be audio of the conference available.


Greg Welty said...

FWIW, I'm slightly disturbed by comments like the following:

I too am praying for the Building Bridges conference, precisely because I doubt whether bridges can be built. Calvinism and Arminianism aren't two different ways of seeing the same thing. They are two different things. One doesn't build bridges with Arminians. They must be converted.

Surely the point is to build bridges *of communication and respect*,
not to paper over actual differences in theology.

Wes Kenney said...


Robin and I just visited with Dr. Mohler here at the BGCO pastor's conference, and we asked him about this specific situation with ABA. We'll be posting the audio of the interview at in the next couple of days.

GUNNY said...

I've labored as to what to say in response to this.

Part of me thinks, "Thems fightin' words" and another part of me thinks, "Why stay when you're not wanted?"

So, I'll refer you to my brother's words, for they are a good indication of what many of us who've been at this a decade or so in the SBC are thinking.

Taking a Stand Against Reformed Theology
-James Galyon

P.S. Jay the Bennett's series is praiseworthy. It's particularly helpful for that sermon with which he interacts is by no means an anomaly.

Wes Kenney said...

The aforementioned interview has been posted at SBC Today.

MLS said...

Could y'all help me with something? I'm currently leading a small group men's Bible study at our church on The Letter of Paul to the Galatians. We've met four times, two hours a pop, and haven't gotten past the 15th verse. And yet I sometimes feel we're going to fast.

I'm referencing commentaries from Luther, Calvin, Henry, Vaughn, and MacArthur, praying fervently, and trying to be diligent and study to rightly divide the word of truth.

All of you I'm sure are aware of Paul's anathema against the Judaizers in the first few verses... and also the absence of Paul's customary commendations and courtesies... which is evidential of his deep concern for the purity of the gospel.

Henry writes...
"It seems a small matter to mingle the Law and Gospel, faith and works, but it creates more mischief than man’s brain can conceive. To mix Law and Gospel not only clouds the knowledge of grace, it cuts out Christ altogether."

Luther says...
"Paul herewith curses and excommunicates all false teachers including his opponents. He is so worked up that he dares to curse all who pervert his Gospel. Would to God that this terrible pronouncement of the Apostle might strike fear into the hearts of all who pervert the Gospel of Paul."

He continues, commenting on verse 10...
"No man can say that we are seeking the favor and praise of men with our doctrine. We teach that all men are naturally depraved. We condemn man’s free will, his strength, wisdom, and righteousness. We say that we obtain grace by the free mercy of God alone for Christ’s sake. This is no preaching to please men. This sort of preaching procures for us the hatred and disfavor of the world, persecutions, excommunications, murders, and curses...

...With Paul we boldly pronounce a curse upon every doctrine that does not agree with ours. We do not preach for the praise of men, or the favor of princes. We preach for the favor of God alone whose grace and mercy we proclaim. Whosoever teaches a gospel contrary to ours, or different from ours, let us be bold to say that he is sent of the devil."

So when those who deny the doctrines of grace preach that all YOU have to DO to be saved is A, B, and C... is that nothing more than a Judaizer in modern-day sheep's clothing? If they deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone, isn't that "another gospel?" And if they preach that the ultimate determining factor in the conversion of a soul lies with the "free will" of man and not with a sovereign God, should we not be as bold as Luther and Paul and pronounce an anathema on all those who deny these truths?

Could then our boldness be the very means God uses to bring folks to the end of themselves, that they might cry out to God for mercy? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom... and I can think of no greater doctrine than the doctrine of election to drive men to fear God...

Spurgeon writes...
"My dear friends, after all, the kicking against the doctrine of election is a kicking against the gospel, because this doctrine is a first principle in the divine plan of mercy, and when rightly known, it prepares our minds to receive all the other doctrines. Or on the contrary, misunderstand this, and you are pretty sure to make mistakes about all the rest... Nay, the doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works, lifted up; for he always thinks faith is a work of the creature and a condition of his acceptance. It is as false to say that man is saved by faith as a work, as that he is saved by the deeds of the law. We are saved by faith as the gift of God, and as the first token of his eternal favor to us; but it is not faith as our work that saves, otherwise we are saved by works, and not by grace at all."

Help me understand why building bridges is not primarily pragmatic in nature? Please... I'm just a layman and novice theologian... please help me understand.

for the sake of the Gospel,
Marty Smith

Chris Johnson said...

Ignorance is no excuse for trying to emulate being an Arminian or a Calvinistic thinker. Preachers and teachers must study to show themselves approved concerning the doctrines set out in scripture. If you paint yourself Arminian or Calvinistic, you miss the point of the ministry of the Gospel.

It is very obvious that the Arbuckle resolution is one penned out of emotion. I would encourage and focus on “studying biblical doctrine” instead of pursuing a lot of effort into bridge building.


Daniel Cassady said...

I attended an SBC church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma that would not allow the Doctrines of Grace to be taught in the church. I was there for about a year and eight months. I left almost 2 months ago and went to another SBC church that is more Calvinistic in the area. One of the most painful separations from a church that I have ever experienced. We really loved our family there.

I hope this issue doesn't split the SBC, but the Arminian camp is very hostile toward their fellow Calvinistic brothers. This is a perfect example.

They love their tradition more than they love the Word of God.

lordodamanor said...


I think that this is one of the great dilemas facing the BB Conference. There are many commentaries, and even though they are used, by and large, those issues that contradict the status quo are glossed over.

We can see what has divided the SBC for years beginning to surface. Though we fought the fight of inerrancy, when the rubber meets the road we do not believe it.

I too went through the leaving of a SBC church over this issue and the recalcitrance of the embedded traditionalism that breds ignorance as a defense of the Gospel. When it came down to discussing the truth, it was sacrificed over the idea of unity for Kingdom growth.

I would love, along with ta to see that there was some way to agreeably disagree without sacrificing exegetical study or shelving commentary because they do not uphold the status quo. I do not hold out much hope, however.

Machen and Whitefield were clear about their doctrine, but both did not emasculate the body of the Arminian view. Machen at least held out hope that the two could work agreeably together. I have always thought this attitude to be the death of Calvinistic thought in the SBC. As the petition makes clear, and other places have claimed, the Arminian camp believes the Reformed to be the virus that has infected the SBC, instead of the other way around.

We first need to get past this attitude, and back to the true history. When we can settle that, then we can move to how we are going to accomodate both under the rubric SBC.

Tom said...


Thanks for your comment. Let me take a stab at your question. The reality that we must all acknowledge is that a person's experience can be better than his understanding (and vice versa). I have no hope of establishing fellowship with those who attack the Gospel or ridicule those with whom they disagree. Such people were never even considered to participate in the BB conference.

But I do have hope of establishing and strengthening fellowship with those who do not hold to the doctrines of grace the way that I do. I was not any less a Christian before I came to believe the doctrines of grace than I am now. My understanding was just catching up to my experience. (This works the other way, too--at times our experience needs to catch up to what we understand and profess!)

BB is not a pragmatic exercise. If it were, I would have no interest in it. It is an effort for brethren to come together to address some issues that are both important and controversial. Each speaker has been encouraged to be bliblically ruthless and carefully Christlike. My hope and prayer is that we will all be afforded the opportunity to be challenged, admonished and encouraged by the presentations and informal times of fellowship.

I may be naive (trust me, I have been called worse!) but I have been involved in pastoral ministry for nearly 30 years--all but two of them as a 5 point Calvinist--and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly sides of life within the SBC. I have some knowledge of the conflicts that too often attend the disagreements over these doctrines. Nevertheless, I believe the BB conference is worth the effort. The Gospel empowers us to speak the truth in love and we desperately need some examples of how to do that when the issues at stake matter. Hopefully, BB will provide such examples.


risen_soul said...

I like ben stevenson's idea, however I fear that they might just hold a bonfire. It's really sad that any protestant can completely turn their back on the theology that led us out of Rome, but especially southern baptists who have a deep root in the same theology.

Wes Kenney said...


I hate to keep plugging our blog, but sometime tomorrow at SBC Today we will post our interview with Dr. Akin, in which we asked him about the upcoming conference. He was very excited about it, as am I. I wish I could be there.

As someone who does not identify as a Calvinist, I am anxious to see toleration and cooperation on this issue become a reality.

Tom said...


Thanks for letting us know about it. I look forward to listening to the interview.


Darby Livingston said...

"Surely the point is to build bridges *of communication and respect*,
not to paper over actual differences in theology."


I agree in principle with what you're saying. I just question the actual effectiveness of the endeavor. That was my point about coming from a Arminian background. I didn't respect the Calvinist, nor did I have any desire to. I found their theology repugnant. I was not alone in that attitude. It is my hope that I'm wrong about the whole issue, but so far time has proven me right.

Wes Kenney said...


The interview is now available by clicking here.

Chris Johnson said...

Yesterday, Anthony Chute of California Baptist University present a paper to us at the ETS Conference in San Diego entitled; "When we talk about Calvinism, Lets be Honest using Historical Theology to add Perspective to a Baptist Debate"

Chute did a good job of laying out the real motives in both Calvinism and Arminian thought, which moved toward a better understanding for those trying to wrestle with the debate.

It appears that over reaction to Calvin and Arminius has at least being met with some sense of reality in papers like that penned by Chute.

Those that label themselves Baptist's will do well to get the facts before responding out of uninformed emotion to either account.


MLS said...


Thank you so much for attempting to answer my questions. I'm still not convinced that the Arminian and Semi-Pelagian theoligical views are not "another gospel." I don't believe most of these folks outright attack the gospel... they just add onto it... like the Judaizers... saying what YOU must DO to be saved.

It is amazing grace that God presses through our ignorance to save his sheep... for I was saved under Semi-Pelagian preaching. So I rest in the promise of Isaiah 55:11 and the truth that "the Lord knows those who are his."

Thomas... I appreciate your comments as well. It blows my mind how folks quote Spurgeon (and other Reformers) all the time just when it suits their argument. They should check the doctrine he (and Paul) affirmed.

Wes... thanks for linking the interviews. I thought it very telling that Dr. Akin confesses that we are hard-pressed to find a good Bible expositor that isn't Reformed.

I will continue to pray for the BB conference... that those who deny these doctrines of grace (which IS the gospel) will see Christ in you, Tom... and also in all those whom God has revealed these glorious doctrines. Let us who have been shown grace show grace. May they see the folly of the wisdom of man, and submit themselves fully to the Word of God.

BTW... R.C. Sproul just began a series today on his radio program called "Chosen By God." How timely! You can listen online at I hope these truths are conveyed at the BB conference.

By faith, Luther took his stand... as did many others, like those mentioned in Hebrews 11. Who will stand, and be the Luther of our day?

in Christ,
Marty Smith

lordodamanor said...


Do you have a link to that paper?

jon said...

I came to faith in Christ as a child at an arminian church in the 60's. It wasn't until the mid 90's that I began to study reformed theology. One thing I find troubling is when I hear prominent Christian apologists state that both arminianism and calvinism are acceptable views within orthodox christianity. I ask how two systems that are completely opposite in what they affirm concerning God's great salvation can be accepted as true? What ever happened to the law of non-contradiction? Jon Freeman

lordodamanor said...


I think you're right, it does violate the first law of logic, and I think also there are many who would agree with you. It is only through accomodation, fudging on certain definitions, that there is any means by which the two camps coexist. I think Whitefield was quite correct:

The historical precedent is that any attempts to accomodate the Arminian, and more specifically the doctrines of Rome, that is the semi-Pelagianism of decisionalism, which is in part what Luther argued against in Erasmus' Diatribe,
results in the dimunition of Augustinian principles; we have experienced since the 19th Century the encroachment and near anihilation of Reformed teaching. The current resurgence is the result of men who took the last stand and drew the line in the sand, saying, "No more."

I think that what most of us want, is not the compromising kind of accomodation of the past, but one of a secured future of openness. The primary issue in the SBC is unity and we have one common cooperative goal, the fulfillment of the Great Commish and neither side is willing to relinquish their "truths," to accomplish that. This begs the question: If unity is to be maintained, then how do we create the ideal of liberty of conscience in concert with expository discipleship in the truth of God's Word. Both are Baptistic ideal's expressed in our cooperative base document, the BFM. We cannot continue down the road of dumbing down discipleship to protect and exclude. To fulfill the commission we must teach both to keep and to do. That means we cannot bury on the shelves our history, or the competing doctrines that are woven into our past. It would be just as evil to forbid instruction in the competing system no matter which camp is in control.

One of the things that needs to be kept in mind, is that despite the poor active membership, the SBC has worldwide influence in the matters of moral life and practical application of those principles of living. This among others is a driving force behind the desire to maintain unity.

Anyway, these are my thoughts....

Worship Leader Ron said...

I know that this a little late, but I just heard about this church here in Kentucky who was removed a couple of weeks ago and in the Associations newsletter, no reason was given. You can check out My friend's blog who's trying to get answers. He is away from the association but was formerly part of an active church in the association.

The reasons given in the newsletter are pretty sad. But not calvinism this time.

Chris Johnson said...

Thomas T., you will probably need to email Dr. Chute directly for the paper at California Bible College.

Chris Johnson said...

sorry, meant to say California Baptist University. I'm sure he would be willing to share his paper.


Chris Johnson said...

Thomas, Here is Dr. Chutes web page....

Great Commission Unity said...

I’m glad to hear that there has been a productive discussion. I was unaware of this conference, but it sounds like it was handled in a godly manner. Though this discussion and debate will always persist, I hope that we can find enough agreement based on Scripture and the core of the gospel that we can bury the hatchet from arguments over extra biblical theological minutia. If God had intended for us to have a simple 5 point system to box in his truth, Jesus could have easily allowed another inspired chapter in scripture. I am a Biblicist and believe it is time to focus on what is clear from Scripture and realize there are some areas godly people may interpret differently based on their experience, training, or adherence to a particular system as their lense for truth. God has called us all to a great communision in which we can unite for the glory of Christ, while trusting God to know how he is accomplishing the work of the gospel in people’s souls. I’ll do what I’m called to, and trust the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ on the cross to be sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose regardless of my ability to comprehend the bredths of God’s salvific work. Let us walk in the peace of Christ and let the gospel banner be our only war cry before a lost world.

Strong Tower said...

Great Com U-

"extra biblical theological minutia"

"whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors" (1925 BFM)

"whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation" (2000 BFM)

Do you consider this minutaie?Compare the two statements. Can you see that they are two entirely different and contradictory truths?
The first is Calvinistic and biblical. The second is Hobbsian semi-Pelagianism and anti-biblical. For people like Al Mohler these two are compatible with Calvinism, and they are when looked at with Calvinistic presupposition. But, when viewed neutrally, or from an Arminian presupposition, the first cannot stand, and the second establishes an exculisvistic SBC Baptist Distinctive, which some of the speakers at the BB Conference asserted and defended.