Sunday, December 02, 2007

Building Bridges Conference--final thoughts

They said it couldn't be done. Many doubters--both friends and those who would not want to be so identified--thought a meeting on Calvinism sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries and hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources, simply could not be "pulled off." The issues are too divisive, the rhetoric that has been employed by both "sides" in the debate within the SBC has been too hateful, there is not that much interest, there are too many more important things for us to be doing...these were among the rationales offered by those who thought this kind of meeting either could not or should not happen.

It was done, and, by the grace of God, it was done beneficially. There are many specific events that took place during the conference that were wonderfully helpful to those who participated. I have commented on the some of those highlights previously. But the cumulative effect of the whole event is far greater than the mere sum of the individual presentations. The conference was marked by a gracious spirit. There was plain speaking, which we all desperately need. And for the most part that plain speech was communicated with real humility and boldness.

That is too rare in our day. Too often we confuse boldness with brashness and humility with excessive self-deprecation. But while brashness and talking poorly about oneself may be mutually exclusive, true boldness and true humility are not. Think of Moses. Better yet, think of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't go around talking about how humble he was. He simply lived His life in service to others (Mark 10:45; Romans 15:3).

I believe a Christ-like spirit permeated not only the presentations, but the times of singing and praying and fellowship around the tables. It was almost surreal to stand in meal lines and hear snippets of conversations taking place all around, with phrases like "imputation," "common grace," "compatibilism," "free offer," "libertarian freedom," "decree" and "concurrence" being voiced.

Despite what might have been expected, a common theme that ran through most of the presentations was the importance and centrality of the Gospel for Christian living and ministry. Speakers from both "sides" sounded the need to return to Christ-centered living and preaching.

Another recurring theme is the need to admit and deal with the sad state of many--probably the majority--of our churches. Most Southern Baptist churches are dominated by members who show no signs of spiritual life. This robs God of His glory in His church, greatly hinders evangelism and undermines the pursuit of holiness. It is, in my estimation, the most serious issue that confronts Southern Baptists today. And it is not a "Calvinist" issue. It is a Gospel issue.

I witnessed genuine deference displayed in large and small ways at the conference. Rebukes were humbly given ("your clapping is not helpful") and were humbly received. Scripture was reverently read and heard. Prayers were sincerely offered. Gospel-centered songs were simply, robustly sung to the Lord. And hard-edged theological issues were addressed head-on.

When was the last time you went to a Southern Baptist conference and heard messages on particular redemption, election, effectual calling, hell, Romans 9, Romans 10, Ephesians 1, Calvinism and Molinism (!). And have you ever witnessed Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists pointedly challenging each other's views and affirming their common convictions all the while maintaining genuine goodwill even to the point of actually enjoying each other's company? In Dr. Akin's talk he made this statement, "One of our problems has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinist with a chip on their shoulder." Almost without exception those attitudes were absent from the conference.

I don't expect everyone to celebrate the success of this conference. I have hoped against hope that with the mp3s made quickly and freely available, it would not be easily dismissed or misrepresented. Norman Jameson has reminded me, however, that we still have some among us who are unwilling to let facts influence their opinions. In his recent editorial in the Biblical Recorder Jameson demonstrates that, despite listening to at least some of the recordings of the conference, he simply does not understand the issues addressed or the good that was accomplished. I regret that, but I am very grateful that no one is left to the misrepresentation of his views. The recordings of the conference are available. Listen for yourself and compare his warped perspective with what was actually said.

I suppose a Jamesonian spirit will remain with us until the Lord returns. Hopefully, it will diminish in influence as people check the sources for themselves and discover that the reality is far different from the distorted report. But whether the naysayers increase or decrease, what I experienced in Ridgecrest gives me hope for the future and encouragement to redouble my efforts to work together with those committed to the recovery of the Gospel and the renewal of churches whether or not we see eye-to-eye on the five points of Calvinism.

After demonstrating many points on which Bible believing Southern Baptists agree, Danny Akin concluded his presentation with this challenge to begin a "Great Commission Resurgence":
So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.
I unashamedly join him in his effort, and encourage others who are committed to the Gospel of God's grace to do the same.

10 comments:

DoGLover said...

Tom

The conference was wonderful. I pray that more people will embrace the spirit of the event than those who will combat it. Perhaps if we will commit to resisting the temptation to respond in kind to any attacks & criticisms, "though they accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:12).

Thanks for your leadership in the efforts communicate the gospel of grace in our generation.

Nathan said...

I would like to thank God for working through all the participating individuals and organizations that made this event possible.

I attend a small SBC church that, as of yet, has no demonstrated interest in any of the very important issues that were discussed at the just concluded conference, most particularly that of regenerate church membership.

Yet I am encouraged, and remain confident that God is working through obedient men and women to proclaim truth.

I have listened to several messages from the conference and have been edified and inspired by the God in the message.

Thank you.

Nathan Petty

irreverend fox said...
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irreverend fox said...

my only regret regarding the conference was not being there personally. but I listened to each session online and can only say two things. wow and praise the Lord!

Travis Hilton said...
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Travis Hilton said...

Tom,

It was good to talk to you again at Ridgecrest. There was a good spirit at the meeting. I believe the conference may possibly forge a consensus in the SBC. We found that there is much that we agree on together.

What is sad about Jameson is that he did actually attend the meeting. I don't know how many sessions he attended, but he definitely sat at a table during lunch with me and some other brothers. He introduced himself as the editor of the Biblical Recorder. He kept bringing the CBF into the conversation even though that was the least of interest to anyone at the table. I think he may have forgotten which denomination we represented. Regardless, he left everyone at the table amazed at how openly he sang the praises of the CBF with little regard to whom he was speaking.

I don't suppose that should suprise anyone considering the tone of his article.

Thank you for your part of helping to organize this event. It was very beneficial and much needed.

TBH

Ivan said...

So what is the next step?

Elijah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom said...

Elijah:

Your own words are the reason I took your post down:

"The Following is a paper that I wrote for a class at Indiana Wesleyan University concering women in the ministry. I know this has nothing to do with the blog topic, but I am trying to find a Baptist blog that can dialogue with me concerning the issue. Feel free to respond to me, and/or direct me with a Baptist blog that would like to dialogue with me."

This is not the place, nor is your paper relevant to the topic at hand.

DefenderOfTruth said...

Perhaps I am a little slow at listening to some of the messages spoken at BB's. I must say, listening to Dr. Yarnell....much of what he said about Calvinism is not how I understand the Doctrines of Grace. Frankly, I found what he said just another misrepresentation of the doctrines and most of those who hold the doctrines as the gospel, clearly defined.

Perhaps the Calvinists out numbered the "non".....but I found it particularly interesting the lack of "Amens" during Dr. Yarnell's "speech" vs. Jeff Noblitt's. Personally it was clear to me that Dr. Yarnell places Sovereignty in man's hands and Jeff Noblitt put it in God's hand.

I would like to say to Brother Yarnell....unregenerate man will ALWAYS reject the gospel....because he is spiritually dead.....only God can raise people from the dead. Your disseration says that man has the ability to raise himself....when Jesus clearly said..."No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."....my comments are NOT a personal attack on the good Dr. he simply didn't represent what most Calvinists believe.....and for the record, I speak against Hyper-Calvinsim whenever the opportunity presents itself!

I wanted to also say that Jeff Noblitt's message has really hit home for me. That the real problem in the SBC and Christians is a lack of belief that Scripture is sufficient....just preach it, and leave the "results" up to God.

Honestly, I am baffled how any man, once he has studied and measured these doctrines with Scripture can believe anthing else other than "Salvation belongs to the LORD!".....praise God that my salvation was not in my own hands!

Jonah 2:9,10
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!" And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

What a picture of salvation!

1Corithians 3:6,7
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

To God alone be the glory, forever and ever! Amen!