Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Southern Baptist Convention Must Change or Die

Yesterday Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave an address to students on the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Mohler's analysis is very instructive. He compares the SBC to General Motors, which had its heyday in the mid-20th century and, because of a failure to adapt to a changing world, saw its fortunes decline to the point of bankruptcy.

I encourage every Southern Baptist to listen to (or watch) this address. For some, his words will resonate as a welcome addition to what has been voiced from various sectors of the SBC for years. For others, what he has to say may be eye-opening or even alarming. Though I could wish it were otherwise, there will no doubt be a few who try to dismiss his warnings as extremist and somehow disloyal to all things conservative in the SBC.

The winds of change are blowing across the SBC. Those who recognize the need for change must stand with and encourage those denominational leaders who are trying to point the way forward with a renewed commitment to the centrality of the gospel. In his address to SBTS students, Dr. Mohler is doing just that.

I have tried to explain these issues for a broader audience of readers in a different forum. At the suggestion of Marty Duren (who has also written on this issue), I have recently agreed to write for examiner.com, a new online news outlet that features local writers for most of its news. My assigned area is "Christian Spirituality Examiner" for the Tampa Bay area. Most of my articles there will be broader than the SBC world and will seek to address issues from a gospel-centered, Christian perspective. If you are interested in knowing more about this new venture, email me.

56 comments:

Grady Bauer said...

Great comparison by Mohler. The bigger issue for us is that there is no Obama to bail us out....if we don't flip upside down and reinvent ourselves as a denomination then the IMB cuts this year will become the norm.

Will said...

Brilliant man, gifted and a prophet in the NT sense.

David Platt has it right. God doesn't need us and will put us on the ash heap of history if we don't change.

Thanks for sharing tom
Will
Cedar Hill TX

volfan007 said...

The end does not justify the means. Will some people compromise their convictions to come into power?

And, how does the Providence of God figure in this speech by Dr. Mohler, especially when he said,"Are the people who are actually in our churches today and the people we are trying to reach today, are they attracted to that kind of logic or does it seem like an age gone by?"

David

Tom said...

David (volfan):

Could you further explain your questions? I am not sure what you are asking.

volfan007 said...

Tom,

The first statement is that I dont understand how five point Calvinism goes along with the missiological/church growth/cultural relevance crowd. I dont understand how you and Timmy Brister and Dr. Mohler and others of your persuasion can join with those who believe in polls and surveys and in making our Churches more attractive to the lost crowd in order to reach the lost crowd? I'm puzzled, because it looks to me like yall are joining with people that yall are very much in disagreement with...in terms of theology...people like Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Floyd and Ed Stetzer. I'm just gonna flat out ask you, Tom, are yall joining with them, because this is the way to take over the SBC? to gain control of the SBC for five point Calvinism? Are yall joining with people like Johnny Hunt and other non-Five point Calvinists, and the "Church must be culturally relevant" crowd, because this is a means to an end? I'm genuinely curious. I'm not trying to offend you, nor anyone else. I'm just thinking out loud, and trying to understand what is going on in SBC land? when Tom Ascol and Johnny Hunt and Ed Stetzer and Dr. Mohler all seem to be coming together for the GCR? I really never thought that I would hear Dr. Mohler make a speech like he did about the SBC needing to change, with the reasons that he gave.

Also, the second statement/question has to do with theology, and really goes along with the first. How does Dr. Mohler's statement go along with believing in the providence of God and election and the Holy Spirit's work in salvation....according to the theology that yall hold to? I just cant see how Dr. Mohler's speech could not only come out of his mouth, but to also be praised by you? I'm very curious about this?

David

Tom said...

David:

Thanks for clarifying. I don't understand the conspiratorial fears of you and your Baptist Identity friends. Sometimes I guess I forget that you think that way and that keeps me from understanding where you are coming from.

I will try to answer you but I somehow fear that what I have to say won't satisfy you due to your thinking that I am a part of some kind of plot to "take over the SBC."

The reason that people like Johnny Hunt, Ed Stetzer, Al Mohler, Ronnie Floyd Tim Brister and I can cooperate is because that on which we agree is the gospel that trumps other things on which we may disagree. This is not the first time this point has been made, but it continuously seems to escape you and other spokesmen for the Baptist Identity guys. I don't know if it is because you genuinely don't understand Calvinism, or because of your unwillingness to distinguish gospel essentials from Baptist distinctives (as evidenced by the BI repudiation of Al Mohler's theological triage arguments). Maybe its a combination of both.

I don't mean any offense by all of this, David, I just really don't understand you guys.

As for your second question, all I can say is that the doctrines of providence and election in no way mitigate against Dr. Mohler's point. Again, I think that it must be a misunderstanding of those doctrines that have provoked your confusion.

David, I really wish you BI guys would get on board with rallying around the gospel for the sake of making disciples to the glory of God, even with those who might disagree with you on certain important, but secondary issues. But, I guess if you really believe, as one of your spokesmen has said, "New Testament Christianity has no secondary doctrines," then my wish is an impossibility for you.

volfan007 said...

Tom,

I think that you do misunderstand the BI guys, and what they are all about. The fear, or concern, that we have is that we dont wish for the SBC to leave the doctrines that we hold dear as Scriptural truth. And, it seems to us that there is a certain segment in our SBC that is willing to do away with these doctrines in order to become more of an ecumenical evangelistic organization. That is our concern.

I, I cant speak for everyone who has convictions as I do, but I believe that everyone that you would call a BI guy is very much for a GCR. They are for the SBC to become more focused on evangelism and missions. But, we would not be for compromising secondary doctrines in order to join with certain groups. Secondary doctrines are important doctines in holding to what the Scripture clearly teaches. You see, I do see Dr. Mohler's triage as a good thing...if....if, we dont take the attitude of some that secondary and tertiary doctrines are not important. Dr. Yarnell, and others, hold to the no triage system because of that very concern...that some people are starting to talk like the only important doctrines are first tier doctrines, and it's as if the others really dont matter. I believe that all the commands of the Lord Jesus are of the utmost importance...all of them. I do understand that some doctrines are essential to the faith. But, also, doctrines that separate us from other denominations are of the utmost importance in us staying true to the Bible....like, baptism by immersion, once saved-always saved, congregational polity, the Lord's Supper being symbollic and a Church ordinance, etc. Are these doctrines that you and the others are willing to lay aside for the sake of joining together?

Also, Tom, from Dr. Mohler's speech, I could say things like he's not depending on the sovereignty of God and on the providence of God if he thinks that there are things that we can do to reach more people. And, according to the view that yall hold, is he saying that there are things that WE CAN DO to reach more people for Christ? That what it sounds like he said. That is curious to me...to hear coming from a five point Calvinist. I mean, I just cant see you and Dr. Mohler saying that the Church needs to be more culturally relevant, and we need to study what lost people think about the Church, so that we can win more people to Jesus. And yet, that's what it sounded like Dr. Mohler was saying.

Also, Tom, and I'm not trying to be cute, nor smart alecky, and I hope that you read this in the spirit with which I'm writing this, but are you telling me that it's not the goal of the Founders to lead the SBC "back into five point Calvinism?" to get the SBC to have five point Calvinists running the Seminariies, and the different entities? to see the SBC become five point Calvinist in theology? Because, Tom, that's what I really think that the Founders, and the Founders sympathisers, have as a goal. From all the talks I've had with five point Calvinist fellas, and from listening to five point Calvinists fellas talk and write and preach....that's certainly the way it comes across. Am I wrong on this?

And, do you believe that if WE change the way we do the SB entities, and our Churches; that we can reach more people for Christ?

David

volfan007 said...

Tom,

Also, I'm in a discussion similar to this at Denny Burk's blog. There I asked a fella this question, and I'd like to throw this question to you...it goes along with the rest of what I've said...I said,"So, are you saying that five point, reformed, Calvinist beleive that we can change the way we do Church, and it will lead us to reach more people for Christ by doing so?

That, if we change the way we do SB work, that it will lead us to win more people for Christ in foreign lands?

That there is something that WE CAN DO to bring more people into the kingdom of God?

That there are things that…if we dont do…that those lost people wont get saved?

And, is that not what Dr. Mohler was saying in this speech?"

David

Morris Brooks said...

Vituperative is what I would call David's words, not smart-alecy.

Steven said...

I listened live to Dr. Mohler's address and have since listened to it again. It is frightening that the denomination has begun to suffer loss of this magnitude. Much of the loss is, I believe, on account of failure of conviction. Those that support the GCR believe that what the denomination needs is a return to preaching, both in the pulpit at home and on the mission field abroad, the gospel and a repudiation of attempting to read and react to whatever might be considered culturally relevant and therapeutic for the moment. My understanding is that we can preach the gospel and still maintain our denominational distinctive.

I am certain that the Baptist Identity contingent (as Bro. Tom identifies them) does not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. I am also certain that most know and preach the gospel with great zeal, knowing that it is the preached word that saves. Their reluctance to affirm and, in some instances objection to, the CGR seems to stem from a belief that by preaching the gospel, the GCR crowd will not also, among other things, affirm the need for baptism by immersion as a first sign of obedience. I do not know of any GCR supporter that has abandoned his support for this or any other Baptist distinctive. We can equally proclaim the gospel and require recognition of, and adherence to, Baptist distinctives for church membership and friendly cooperation. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Am I missing the primary point of disagreement in this discussion. If not, I fail to see why the BI folks are making such a fuss.

volfan007 said...

Morris,

What does vita mena pera... vitape...vita...what does that word mean?


Stephen,

It's about joining with groups, or supporting Church starts, that do not hold to Baptist convictions of Scripture.

David

Man of the West said...

Ummm--I know it's kinda picayune, but I have to point out that GM's woes are not due just to pig-headed mismanagement; excruciatingly bad tax policy and ham-handed governmental interference in the market come in for their fair share of the blame.

Now, as to the SBC, maybe it is pig-headed mismanagement and nothing else. But I sure hope not.

Tom Parker said...

Who made the following statement:""New Testament Christianity has no secondary doctrines,"

My thanks in advance.

Tom said...

David:

As everyone who understands Calvinism knows, the Calvinistic understanding of election does not preclude the vigorous use of means in the work of evangelism. Your questioning of this betray a serious misunderstanding.

Nearly everything that Founders Ministries has ever produced is readily available--most of it for free. We are committed to seeing the gospel recovered and churches reformed according to the Word of God. We are primarily--though not exclusively--concerned with church life within the SBC because we ourselves are Southern Baptist. But we have great fellowship with and concern for those who are not in the SBC family.

My great concern is to see the gospel recovered and restored to its place of preeminence in the Christian life and in the church. In many respects what this means for Southern Baptists is that we quit assuming our people understand the gospel and know how it works. Furthermore, it means that we move beyond mere theoretical adherence to teachings on conversion, regeneration (and regenerate church membership) and perseverance.

I don't know how to be any more plain about these matters. And, as I have said many times, our record is very public. If you really want to know what we believe and stand for then I encourage you to do what any honest inquirer should do--read more than just the few isolated quotes that some bloggers pull from our website. The information is there for anyone who genuinely wants to know.

Tom said...

Stephen:

I think you get it just about right!

Gabaptist said...

Tom,
Can I throw in a few thoughts? The SBC founders were men devoted to the doctrines of grace while highly cooperative with their fellow Baptists (and other denominations when not compromising Baptist beliefs). They used the gospel of means (i.e., the preaching of the gospel as well as planned methods of evangelism, such as itinerent preaching and evangelistic assn gatherings). The Founders Ministries is to be commended for following this example. You guys are not second-degree separationists (those who separate and associate with only others who are in exact agreement) in your work in the SBC.
The Founders of the SBC always made an effort to work with the Landmarkers, even while the Landmarkers took a rigid stand on "external Baptist rites." Inevitably, even JR Graves had to abdicate his theology to his forebearers in the faith. In other words, he too believed in the doctrines of grace at the end.
Keep up the good work.
Southern Baptists have always attempted to cooperate on the basic theolgy they shared without majoring on minor extravagances. This is why all conservatives can join hands--they believe the essentials--but they do not let secondary issues break their primary goals--missions and evangelism.
In Him,
GABaptist

steve.rives said...

If I could sum up his speech: We, the SBC, must not let form define us. The content of our message must define us. The forms of the SBC were useful for their time, but times have changed. The 1970s are gone. The 1980s are gone. The 1990s are gone. Wanting to have structures that worked back then is not why we exist, nor is preservation of form our mission. We don't cling to the past 40 years because those were the glory years. However, the desire to hold onto the past 40 years is a major temptation for many (think old-time deacons who still rule SBC churches). We must change as a convention and adapt our forms while agreeing on the content of our Biblical message. If I got that right, then I have only one observation.

My observation was a nagging question: will we change, as a convention, such that we don't use verses, like John 9:4, because they "work" for our speeches or sermons? I am not convinced that John 9:4 was properly used in his talk. And that is not a minor observation, but a massive critique. The core of what we are going to have to be (we the SBC) is people zealous for getting the Word right. And getting it wrong in a speech of this sort is not nothing, but almost the whole point. In a speech about our focus for the future, and getting that focus right, can't blunder the only text used. The content of our message is what will define us. Isn't that the major point?

Of course, I could be wrong about the misuse of John 9, so I can be corrected here.

Morris Brooks said...

David,

Its primary meaning is wordy and vehement (like a mad rant), but it can also mean verbally abusive. My usage here is tied to its primary meaning.

Those who hold to a reformed view of salvation, which stresses God's sovereignty in salvation, are not trying to take over the convention, do take Matthew 28:19 seriously, don't mind working side by side with those SBC brethren who are non-reformed, and obviously do care about the future of the SBC. Now their vision on what is wrong and what needs to be done is different than the BI faction, and I think that is a big part of where the rub is.

One of the things that many have against Mohler is not his Reformed views per se, but that he is also an evangelical at the same time he is Southern Baptist and makes no apologies for being both. That makes many scared and suspicious that he might somehow make the SBC less Southern Baptist.

Personally, I think the SBC needs to get its head out of the SBC sand it has been buried in, and see what is going on the larger arena of Christendom in our country. Despite its problems, the SBC has much to offer the broader evangelical culture, both in our country and abroad. Some group, not just an invidual, needs to take the lead in bringing the church in our country out of the moral morass it is in. The Puritans did it, why not the SBC in our day? But the SBC needs to get itself prepared to do that.

And, yes, those of us who are Reformed do believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation, but that same God is also sovereign in the means by which He brings us to salvation, and He has sovereignly told us that we are to be that means.

volfan007 said...

Tom,

Please keep in mind that I have talked to many who are five point Calvinists, and I have read many, many books by five point Calvinists, and I have had seminary profs who were five point Calvinists. It is a collection of these thoughts that drive me, and guide me, so to speak, to say what I do about five point Calvinism, especially the brand that Founders types espouse.

Anyway, let me ask you some questions, and help me to understand this. Thanks for your help.

So, are you saying that five point, reformed, Calvinist beleive that we can change the way we do Church, and it will lead us to reach more people for Christ by doing so?

That, if we change the way we do SB work, that it will lead us to win more people for Christ in foreign lands?

That there is something that WE CAN DO to bring more people into the kingdom of God?

That there are things that…if we dont do…that those lost people wont get saved?

And, is that not what Dr. Mohler was saying in this speech?

Thanks for your answers. I am very curious about this.

David

volfan007 said...

Tom,

Please keep in mind that I have talked to many who are five point Calvinists, and I have read many, many books by five point Calvinists, and I have had seminary profs who were five point Calvinists. It is a collection of these thoughts that drive me, and guide me, so to speak, to say what I do about five point Calvinism, especially the brand that Founders types espouse.

Anyway, let me ask you some questions, and help me to understand this. Thanks for your help.

So, are you saying that five point, reformed, Calvinist beleive that we can change the way we do Church, and it will lead us to reach more people for Christ by doing so?

That, if we change the way we do SB work, that it will lead us to win more people for Christ in foreign lands?

That there is something that WE CAN DO to bring more people into the kingdom of God?

That there are things that…if we dont do…that those lost people wont get saved?

And, is that not what Dr. Mohler was saying in this speech?

Thanks for your answers. I am very curious about this.

David

Russell Franklin said...

"So, are you saying that five point, reformed, Calvinist believe that we can change the way we do Church, and it will lead us to reach more people for Christ by doing so?
That, if we change the way we do SB work, that it will lead us to win more people for Christ in foreign lands?
That there is something that WE CAN DO to bring more people into the kingdom of God?"

David,

I love the way you are trying to bait some five pointer to say "Yes, we can do something to win others to Christ! Oops, I didn't mean that." The only problem with you bait is its silliness.

We will all agree that the Great Commission is our ultimate mandate. We are not to be known for our great programs, but our dedication to making disciples throughout the world. He called us to go and this requires doing. Yes there are things that we do to share the gospel with more people, but no one responds to what we do. Converts only respond to the Holy Spirit calling them to salvation. Our doing is obeying the command of Christ salvation is up to Him.

Russell

Greg Welty said...

Volfan,

Calvinists believe that God does not only ordain the end, but also the means to that end. So, for instance, God doesn't just ordain that I hear the gospel, but that I hear the gospel *by way of* a college student telling me the gospel. In other words, God doesn't just ordain that X occur; he ordains that X shall occur by means of Y. This is the distinction between primary and secondary causation that is enshrined in most Reformed confessions, such as the 1689 LBCF and WCF.

What follows from this is a particularly strong doctrine of human responsibility. If God ordains that X shall occur by means of Y, it follows that if Y doesn't occur, X won't occur either. If that college student never tells me the gospel, then I will not hear the gospel. This is true because of, and not in spite of, God's ordaining X by means of Y. If God ordains that his people shall be preserved from famine by way of Joseph's betrayal, then Israel's preservation *depends upon* Joseph's betrayal. Thus it matters whether or not Joseph is betrayed. Given God's complex decree, Israel won't be preserved 'no matter what'.

So, if God ordains that people shall be brought into the kingdom of God if we do X, then yes, it follows that 'there are things that WE CAN DO to reach more people for Christ.' For given the divine providential scheme, if we did not do those things, fewer people would be saved. Calvinism is not in tension with this affirmation. It is the reason for the affirmation!

Of course, we do not know the divine providential scheme in any particular case, before it is revealed to us by actual history. But we can certainly discern, through the wisdom of Scripture, which are the means that God *ordinarily* blesses to his salvific ends. Thus Mohler's message.

"I endure all things for the sake of God's elect, that they too may receive the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2:10).

GL Campbell said...

Greg, as I was reading the brief exchange, I kept thinking that God's use of means to effect his will should be adequately addressed. You remedied that. Well stated.

volfan007 said...

Russell Franklin,


I'm not trying to bait anyone, Brother. Are you the Holy Spirit? Can you know my heart, and see what my motives are?

You really need to take a step back and examine your own heart.

I'm just trying to figure this thing out.

David

volfan007 said...

Greg,

Thanks for your answer. I also appreciate the way you answered me; without the accusing, rude attitude that so often occurs when asking things, or trying to point out things, or trying to make a point. I do appreciate your spirit.

I see what you are saying. I've not heard many five point Calvinist say that if we witness, then more people will be won to Christ, and if we dont witness, then less will be won to Christ. I was having a hard time seeing the five point Calvinists view of predestination and election and irresistible grace being compatible with "the more we witness and the more missionaries we send, then the more people will get saved. Most of the time when I've brought this up, I was told that the elect will be saved, and nothing that man can do will change that. That what man does, does not change the plans of God. That God is not dependent on man to carry out His purposes. Thus, my dilemma about Dr. Mohler's speech on the SBC dying if we dont change. And, we must become more culturally relevant in order to win the younger crowd type of statements. How does that jive with irresistible grace and limited atonement and the five pointers view of predestination?

David

Tom said...

Greg:

Excellent answer. As always, you say more with fewer words than most people do. Thanks.

David:

What Greg has written is the standard, garden variety view of Calvinism. You said that you have read "many, many books by 5 point Calvinists" that helped shape your understanding of Calvinism that caused you not to see how Dr. Mohler could say what he said. Would you now mind citing just one of those books to show how you came to your conclusions about Calvinism?

Thanks,
tom

volfan007 said...

Tom,

I have talked to many five point Calvinists face to face about these issues. I have read books that they recommended to me. I have read the blogs of five pointers. I have had Seminary profs like Dr. Jimmy Millikin and Dr. Tom Nettles. It's a culmination of all of these that shaped my view on what a five point Calvinist is.

Tom, I would suspect that you and I believe more alike than we disagree. But, I am not a five point Calvinist. I do believe that God planned to save you and me before the world began. I believe that God chose to save me. I believe that the Lord came to me, and He called me. His Holy Spirit convicted me and brought me to salvation.

But, I also believe that the Bible teaches that man has choice and responsibility. I believe that the Lord earnestly desires to save all men. I believe that His death is sufficient to cover the sins of everyone in the world.

I guess I hold close to Criswell's view of predestination and election as heavenly language; and Spurgeon's illustration about the two sides of a mountain. On one side is predestination, election, and the sovereignty of God. On the other side is man's responsibility. The two sides meet at a peak in the clouds. How they come together, we cant see right now.

So, Tom, I know that you hold to the TULIP theory. So, you and I might disagree over the particulars, pardon the pun, of predestination and election and salvation; but we hold to the main things...the essentials of the Gospel...alike.

I want to ask you...do you believe that the more we witness, then the more we will win to Christ? Or, that if we change the way we do Church; then the more people we will reach with the Gospel?

If you do, then maybe I have misunderstood five point Calvinists all these years.
David

Tom said...

David:

It does seem that you have misunderstood 5 point Calvinism. Perhaps if you could give me even one citation from one of the many books that have shaped your opinions, then perhaps I could better understand how you came to your conclusions.

I agree with everything that Greg Welty has written in his comment. Furthermore, I don't know of any Calvinists who would disagree. That, I hope answers your questions.

I look forward to seeing a citation from one of the books you have read by Calvinists that disagree with this view.

Thanks,
tom

volfan007 said...

Tom,

You are not answering my questions.
Could you please answer my questions.

I cant give you one book that gave me my views on five point Calvinism. But, I have read Gill, Reisinger, Sproul, Piper, and others.

A lot of my views on what five pointers believe has come from face to face conversations. Back when I first went to Mid America Baptist Seminary, I had some five pointers who tried to convert me. I honestly considered it. I read the books that they gave me to read. I really cant remember the names of all the books they gave me. But, as I studied Calvinism and the Bible, I just couldnt accept five point Calvinism.

David

Tom said...

David:

I thought my agreement with Greg would suffice as an answer to your questions. Do you think that what he wrote leaves any doubt?

Now, please, since you have read "many, many books by 5 point Calvinists" would you please just give me one--only one--citation that disagrees with what Greg wrote about ends and means?

All I am asking for is merely one quote; one citation from one of the books you have read to help me understand how you have reached your conclusions.

Thanks,
tom

volfan007 said...

Tom,

Okay, I've gone back and reread what you said. So, you do believe that the more we witness and the more missionaries we send, then the more people will recieve Christ. So, the more we obey God's command to witness and send missionaries, then the more people will get saved. And, the less we do this, the less people will get saved.

Okay. I see what yall are saying. You believe that God has ordained the means and the end.

I guess we just disagree on God's desire to save everyone, and on man's choice in salvation, and in the atonement being sufficient for the sins of everyone. Also, I dont believe in irresistible grace. But, I do believe that salvation is all by the grace of God.

Well, I have to go to bed. Worship in the morning. May God bless yall in great ways.

David

volfan007 said...

Tom,

I would like to continue this conversation if it's ok with you. And, it would be great if Dr. Greg Welty is still listening in.

I understand five point Calvinism, Tom. I understand the Tulip theory, the five points,etc. But, from my perspective, I couldnt see how Dr. Mohler could say what he did, as a five point Calvinist. I didnt think that a five pointer would say something like that. I understand now, after Dr. Welty's explanation.

So, would the flip side of that be true from a five point Calvinists point of view? That if the SBC does not change things and dies, then God ordained that it die? Or, if Churches dont make changes to be more culturally relevant, and they die, that God ordained that Church to die? Would you say that a five point Calvinist would believe that?

Secondly, Tom, you keep asking for a book, with chapter and page, that gave me my perspective on five point Calvinism. I cant give you that. I have stated several times that my perspective of five point Calvinism has come from sitting under five point Calvinist teachers, reading books from five pointers, and mostly, from talking to five pointers face to face, as I'm talking to you now. Well, we're not face to face, but we are having a conversation.


David

Greg Welty said...

[Part I]

Volfan,

You've really asked two questions here:

(1) Would God ever ordain that the SBC die, if the SBC does not change things?

(2) Would God ever ordain that a church die, if that church does not become more culturally relevant?

Well, first, as a historical point, Calvinists have not been shy about claiming that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass:

"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" (1689 LBCF III.1)

"God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass" (WCF III.1; Savoy Declaration III.1).

Typically, these statements are balanced out by equally explicit disclaimers that "God is not the author of sin," nor is "violence offered to the will of the creature," nor is "the liberty and contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established," etc. (Cf. the second half of the confessional citations above, if you were to look them up.)

So, if God ordains all things, then *a fortiori*, if the SBC dies or a church dies, then God would have ordained that too.

Second, as I tried to note in my previous comment -- though I'm sure I could have done a better job -- it seems that Scripture supports the notion of *complex* providential purposes, such that in many cases God doesn't just ordain that X occur, he ordains that X-occur-by-way-of-Y. This means that, in the divine providential scheme, the occurrence of X *depends upon* the occurrence of Y. If Y does not occur, then neither will X. For example, God didn't just ordain that Jesus die no matter what, as if Jesus's death were some isolated event of history. Rather, he ordained that Jesus-dies-at-the-order-of-Pilate, that Jesus-dies-by-the-hands-of-Roman-soldiers, indeed, that Jesus-dies-by-the-betrayal-of-Judas, and so on. There were quite a few providential means that God used to bring about the most wicked and the most glorious event of redemptive history.

This is an important point, because it means that God's ordaining is not a 'bare' ordaining, some fatalistic act of divine will totally unconnected to human beings and their responsible agency. Calvinists who forget this point must be encouraged to do better.

Now, the SBC is a collection of churches that have voluntarily associated together for the purpose of funding Christian education, evangelism, and missions, by way of the Cooperative Program, in accordance with a written doctrinal standard. Could God ordain that such a noble but humanly devised association cease to be in the future? I not only say 'yes,' but I say that that truth should make us tremble. We tremble in filial fear, rejoicing in the privileges and promise afforded by our ecclesiastical bonds, but knowing that their continued existence is by the grace of God. The individual believer has the repeated promise of God that he or she shall persevere to the end. We have received no such promise about the voluntary associations we sustain. God could dissolve the SBC as easily as wheat gets separated from chaff.

There is a clear principle in Scripture to the effect that, although our salvation may never be revoked, various of our earthly blessings can be removed by God if we live disobedient, God-dishonoring lives. The SBC is one such earthly blessing. On my view, God can ordain that the-SBC-dies-if-we-do-not-honor-God-by-our-lives (an instance of 'God ordains X by means of Y'). If hundreds of earthly kingdoms have risen and fallen by the providence of God, how much more an association of churches? With greater privileges comes greater responsibility, and the SBC has greater privileges than any secular kingdom.

Greg Welty said...

[Part II]

So I guess my answer to question (1) above is 'yes,' although I add: as far as I know. No one knows what God has in store for the SBC. Only God does. But we do know that the retaining of God's blessings often depends, humanly speaking, on what we do with them. That much is clear from Scripture.

As for question (2), I have no problem with the idea that God could ordain that a 'church' die. This seems sensible in light of Jesus's sovereign disposal of the lampstands in Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus declares, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Rev 2:5). In fact, throughout these chapters Jesus warns that if these churches continue to do Y, then he will do X. Thus, if X were to take place, it would be by-way-of-Y.

A sound application from this passage seems to be that no individual local church is immune from the temporal judgment of God. God could ordain that a church die if it does not repent. Of course, no individual can ever lose his or her salvation. But a church as a voluntary association of believers could be scattered. I saw this happen to a church I pastored in Oxford from 2000-2003. As of January 2009, it is no more.

Could the death of a church, in the sovereign providence of God, by occasioned by that church's refusal to be 'culturally relevant'? Well, at the risk of trivializing your question, that depends on what you mean by 'culturally relevant' :-) How culturally relevant a church should be is a matter to be determined by sanctified reflection on the wisdom of Scripture, as we consider the providential cultural situation in which the church finds herself, and consider how to make the best use of that situation for the glory of God. My overarching rule is the following: I believe the churches should vigorously promote those forms and avenues of communication that keep the gospel from being obscured by either overly scrupulous traditionalism or overly credulous cultural absorption. The dialectic between these twin errors in our Convention is ongoing.

I suppose I should say that I think very little of my reasoning relies on 'five point' Calvinism, specifically. Most three- and four-point Calvinists would hold to the doctrine of providence found in the confessional statements cited above.

In closing, I want to say that I am entirely happy to speak of God's ordaining something -- in those cases where he uses secondary, earthly, responsible agents to bring it about -- as God's *permitting* it to come to pass. In my view, Calvin himself held to a doctrine of divine permission. His main point in this connection against his opponents -- at least in the Institutes -- is that God's permission is never a 'bare' permission, as if God has no say in what occurs in his universe. Rather, it is a *willing* permission, since if God hadn't willed to permit something to come to pass, it would never have come to pass. If this explicit language of 'permission' helps to preserve for you the very important distinction between primary and secondary causation (as it does for me), then I encourage you to use it. And I offer a mild chiding to any of my fellow Calvinists who do not have a category for divine permission. It's clearly there in Calvin and, I think, in the Scriptures. It is also enshrined in such Baptist confessional statements as the following:

"God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures" (Abstract of Principles IV).

Your enduring this lengthy comment could be called an instance of 'the perseverance of the saints'.

Tom said...

Greg:

Thanks for such a comprehensive, thoughtful & clear explanation of predestination and secondary causes. Your contribution to this exchange has been very helpful and I hope will clear up misunderstandings no only on the part of David but also for anyone who truly wants to understand how God's unqualified sovereignty in no way undermines genuine human responsibility.

Tom said...

David:

I cannot add anything to Greg's two part explanation of God's sovereignty and human responsibility as it relates to things that from our point of view are tragic. Certainly, the crucifixion of Jesus provides the ultimate paradigm for thinking about how God can be involved in such things.

As to my question to you, let me clarify: I am not asking "for a book, with chapter and page, that gave [you] [your] perspective on five point Calvinism." Rather, I am asking you to give one citation from the many, many books that you have read on Calvinism that would *support* your conclusion that Al Mohler's comments were inconsistent with his stated beliefs. I understand that you have formed your opinions from sources other than books, but citing published works by respected authorities is standard procedure for analyzing theological positions and drawing conclusions about them.

I didn't think my request was too demanding. I assumed that you could easily give me a quick reference from one of the many books you have read on the subject. If you are unable to provide such a citation then I guess I will just have to accept it.

I hope you had a good Lord's Day today.

Steven said...

David:

You said "It's about joining with groups, or supporting Church starts, that do not hold to Baptist convictions of Scripture." I guess that my response to that would be that if some folks feel compelled to associate with groups that do not have as similar understanding of scripture as us in the SBC, then we need to offer these folks similar programs and procedures under our umbrella. In my understanding, this is part of the GCR goal. So why should the BI folks be opposed to offering these programs in which the Baptist distinctives are included?

volfan007 said...

Dr. Welty,

Thank you for the response. I do appreciate it. It does help me to understand better what a five point Calvinist would believe about things such as this. Thanks.

Tom, it's been a long, long time since I have read a book by a five point Calvinist. I have no desire to read them anymore. So, I cant just reach back on my bookshelve and point this out to you. Sorry. I have told you that my opinions and perspective have been formed from many, many sources. Mostly from conversations with five point Calvinists face to face. I guess the ones I've been talking to dont quite see things as you and Dr. Welty. I have been accused of preaching a false Gospel by five pointers...because I dont believe in the five points. I have been told that I'm an intellectual inferior for not embracing the five points. I have been told that I'm not preaching the whole counsel of God by five pointers...due to me not beilieving in the five points. I've been told that I'm a universalist for not believing in the limited atonement. I've been told that I preach a works salvation, when I dont. And, Tom, quite frankly, I've been told a host of other mean, rude things by five point Calvinist in the past; all because I do not hole to the five points. So, a lot of what I believe about five point Calvinist views has been formed from my face to face conversations with five pointers.

I have read many five pointers in the past, though. Especially in seminary when I had a group of fellow seminary students try to "convert" me to Calvinism. I sincerely tried to become a five point Calvinist...due to their "evangelising." But, I could not see this system fitting with all the Scripture. Therefore, I did not embrace the five points.

Steve, SB Churches are autonomous and can join with whoever they want to join with. But, they should not expect the SBC to embraced everyone that they associate with.

David

Grady Bauer said...

We could actually be talking about the SBC and the GCR...instead certain people always turn the conversation into Calvinism discussion.

This is the point of the GCR, we're in a boat heading towards and a waterfall and we're busy fighting about who's at the wheel.

Will said...

Tom

Your thoughts are appreciated.

If in fact this exchange with David is representative of the SBC in general, particularly as regards misunderstanding of the basic theological tenents that this denomination was founded on, then perhaps the merciful thing for the Lord to do would be to put us out of our misery so that all of our energies could be concentrated on the gospel and local church.

In the business world we have a concept call "opportunity cost". It basically addresses the business lost by either misusing the resources you have or focusing on the wrong opportunities.

Do you ever ponder that concept re. the SBC?

YBIC
Will
Cedar Hill Tx

volfan007 said...

Will,

Wow. You're comments above are a huge reason that a lot of people have a big problem with 5 point Calvinists.

Dr. Welty and Tom,

The answers you gave me above about the SBC and Churches living or dying, and the ends and the means being ordained by God beg another question, imho. Ok, who makes the choice if the SBC lives or dies, then. Based on your answers to me above. Who makes the choice of a Church living or dying?

I mean, if you answer that God makes that choice, then is this not fatalism? would it not mean that God just arbitrarily chose to grow the SBC, or a Church; or did He choose to end it? and, I would have to again refer back to my original question of "how could a 5 point Calvinist make the statement that Dr. Mohler made, and it jive with his theology?" I mean, if it's just an arbitrary choice of God, then what's the point of changing anything? or trying anything different? or, thinking that we can do anything to promote Church growth, or to help the SBC do more for the glory of God? Because, then, whatever's gonna happen in the SBC, or in your Church, is just gonna happen. It's just whatever God wills to be.

Now, if you answer that man makes that choice, then how would that fit with 5 point Calvinism? If man's decision to change, or to make the Church more culturally relevant is your answer; then how would this fit what you told me in the comments above? Because, that would mean that man's choices determine if the SBC grows, or not. That means that man's decisions would cause your Church to grow, or die?

Ultimately, in your view, from your theological perspective, is it fatalism? all determined by God no matter what man thinks or believes or does? or, is it God interacting with man...with God initiating things, and man choosing, or responding to God's working, that leads to the SBC growing, or dying? or, a Church growing, or dying?

Can you help me to understand this...from a 5 point Calvinst perspective?

David

Tom said...

Will:

The local church is where the rubber meets the road. Denominations can be useful, but they are far from essential. I take great comfort in the knowledge that God doesn't need the SBC and that His kingdom will triumph.

The sad reality is that we have lived through a recent era in the SBC when serious biblical thinking and rigorous doctrinal reasoning were not valued very highly. This was part of the serious downgrade in our churches over the middle decades of the 20th century. Though ignorance still abounds, there are more and more who are given to genuine theological reflection and to applying biblical, gospel-centered thinking to life and ministry. I see this change as mercy from God and I want to encourage that any way I can.

Blessings,
tom

Tom said...

David:

>>Can you help me to understand this...from a 5 point Calvinst perspective?<<

I wish I could, but this comment stream has made it pretty clear that I cannot.

Blessings,
tom

volfan007 said...

Tom,

I am honestly asking these questions to help me further understand yall, and where you're coming from. I guess you dont want to further this discussion. And, it appears that you're giving me a little dig as you end it. Ok. I appreciate the interaction thus far.

May God bless you.

David

Tom said...

David:

I gave you an honest answer to your honest question. It is very evident to me that I cannot help you to understand. If what has been written already does not help, then it would not be profitable for me or you for me simply to restate the same points.

Blessings,
tom

Greg Welty said...

> Ultimately, in your view, from
> your theological perspective,
> is it fatalism? all determined
> by God no matter what man thinks
> or believes or does?

No. The whole point of my comments was to eschew fatalism. Fatalism says that what will happen, will happen "no matter what man thinks or believes or does" (as you put it above). But what I said -- and I thought I made the point several times -- is that God uses means to bring about his chosen ends. Thus, if God purposes that X shall occur by way of Y, then *Y matters*. It is not the case that X shall occur *no matter what*. Y has to occur too, or else X won't occur. I think you're going to have to take me at my word that this is in fact my position :-) because I can't state it any more clearly.

At this stage, if you think the position I've articulated says that God determines that events occur "no matter what man thinks or believes or does," then I think we have a fundamental breakdown in communication. The main reason I entered the discussion was to forcefully argue against that fatalistic position.

> or, is it God interacting with
> man...with God initiating
> things, and man choosing,
> or responding to God's working,
> that leads to the SBC growing,
> or dying? or, a Church growing,
> or dying?

Yes.

> Can you help me to understand
> this...from a 5 point Calvinst
> perspective?

As I stated earlier, five-point Calvinism, per se, has very little to do with it. If the position I've articulated is objectionable, then four- and even three-point Calvinism is at stake as well. That represents quite a sizable proportion of Southern Baptists thinking and writing on the topic, I suspect.

Morris Brooks said...

After reading all of the interchanges it seems to me that David's problem is not with Calvinism per se, but with the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is the basis of Calvinism. If you do not fully agree or understand (or both) the sovereignty of God, then you will never agree with or understand the Reformed view of salvation, much less be able to understand the hand of Divine Providence in the affairs of man.

For many this lack of understanding is willful because it smacks man's autonomy and pride right in the face. Yes, God is so sovereign, in every sense of the word, that He can give man the ability to make choices and still control and direct the outcome of those choices to achieve His great eternal purpose. For some, who rest in that sovereignty, it is a great comfort and security; for those resist understanding and accepting that sovereignty, it is a constant source of irratation.

It was this resistance and rejection of His absolute sovereignty, I believe, that is one of the main catalysts behind Open Theism.

volfan007 said...

Morris,

I have no problem with the sovereignty of God. Wow. I believe that God is sovereign, and He can do whatever He wants to do, whenever He wants to do it. If He wants to do away with the SBC right now, He could do it. He could use others to accomplish His purposes. God doesnt need us. We need Him.


Dr. Welty,

Ok. I guess I'm not asking what I'm thinking in a clear way. I do see what you're saying. Really, I do. :) And, I really appreciate you answering. I do understand better, even with your latest answer. It just helps to clarify in my mind about this issue that seemed so foreign from what I was used to hearing from the 5 point Calvinists that I have talked to. I have even talked to some other 5 point Calvinists about this issue, who seem to be confused that Dr. Mohler would say these things. One of these 5 point Calvinist friends of mine even said that he read Dr. Mohler's statment with clinched teeth.

Anyway, thanks for the help.

David

PS. Tom, I believe that God does lead us to make needed changes. I believe that He gives us the wisdom and the heart to do it, as we seek Him. And, I believe, that we must respond to the things that the Lord wants us to. By faith, we must believe and obey, and then carry those things out. And, if we dont...for a lack of faith, or short sightedness, or due to not seeking the Lord like we should, etc.; then, yes, we wont grow, or we'll die. And, I dont think that it was God's desire for us to die. I believe that He really does want us to grow and win people to salvation. And, with His help, we can grow, and reach people, and spread the Gospel to all the world.

Will said...

Tom
As always your thoughts are beneficial.

Here is change I could believe in: (hold on to your hat)

1. A Name Change. Heretical I know, but we will never be the diverse body that Christ wants us to be with the name we have. The rationale for the name does not exist. We are not a Southern tribe any longer. We certainly don't support slavery.
2. Organic, structural change. When only a few cents of a dollar given to support a missionary actually reaches the missionary, God can't be pleased. We have become like the federal government. Bloated, beueaucratic and admistrative.
3. Return to basic principle of Biblical sufficiency, not just biblical authority. At the very heart of our issues is we really do not believe that the Bible is suffficient for Christian faith and practice.
4. Immediate renouncement and repentance for claiming to have 16million members when we know it is a lie.

Yours in Texas
Will

Tom said...

Will:

Well, send your suggestions to the task force! Who knows what recommendations they may report back to the [Southern] Baptist Convetion?

ta

RichardS said...

It seems that Dr. Mohler is an example of one of the problems with the SBC. He wants to analyze problems using analogies and other methods apart from Scripture and apart from the character of God. I watched/listened to his presentation and was amazed at the absence of Scripture and the character of God in it. The SBC must get back to God Himself and to Scripture as more than something to mention now and then or its present judgment will continue. Relevance is found in being full of God and not in methodologies.

Kevin Rhyne said...

David,

I'm quite late to this game, but would like to point out, I think, a key difference in the Calvinist approach and the fundamental assumption of your questions on the means God uses to save some.

For a while there, you trumpeted a variation on a theme: "do you believe that if WE change the way we do the SB entities, and our Churches; that we can reach more people for Christ?"

The fundamental assumption of your question is that "reaching more people" is the highest end goal. While it is an important goal, as a "five-point" Calvinist myself, I would argue that the highest end goal is glorifying God through faithfulness to His commands to us in Scripture.

Certainly, Christ taught us that we will be responsible to God for our stewardship over the "talents" He has given us. Maybe I can be corrected on this if I am in error, but it seems to me that God honors faithfulness, and sometimes with a harvest of true conversions. We need to be about faithfulness, even if we don't see an increase in market share in the market place of ideas.

I must also add that I am encouraged by Tom's settled commitment to staying in the SBC because of his observation that God is raising up those who know that Jesus wants us for more than a sunbeam.

volfan007 said...

Kevin,

My point was that I was surprised to hear a 5 point Calvinist saying that we could do this, or that, to reach more people for Christ. I was shocked to hear Dr. Mohler saying that we can change this in the SBC, or that we must change that in our Churches, so that we can reach more people.

I agree with you completely that the main thing is that we are faithful to the Lord, and to His Word. I agree with you completely that the highest goal we can have is to glorify God and be faithful to Him in the way we do Church.

I do believe that when our Churches are spiritually healthy, then the sheep will reproduce. We will reach more people for Christ. But, the main goal of a Church, or the SBC, should be to be faithful to God and to His Word.

Thus, my shock to hear Dr. Mohler speaking as he spoke about cultural relevancy.

David

Tom said...

David:

Your comment to Kevin illustrates why I am convinced that you do not understand Reformed theology. I am not suggesting you don't know what the "5 points" are, but you really don't understand Calvinism, at least not in the way that all evangelical Calvinists have understood it throughout history.

Even his most strident opponents acknowledge that Al Mohler is a world-class theologian. That doesn't make his views right, but it should make us willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he advocates positions that might seem contradictory with other views that he holds. Chances are he has thought about the things that you think are inconsistent and has theologically assessed all of his position in the light of Scripture.

And in fact, the things that he said in his speech make perfect sense to me and to others who hold to historic Calvinism because they are perfectly consistent with it. Thus, your "shock" betrays a lack of understanding of our view.

Dr. Welty has articulated simply and succinctly the way that God's sovereignty is compatible with human responsibility. You may not agree with that view, but if you really understand it then you wouldn't be shocked by the kinds of things that either he or Mohler have said.

I am not taking any shots at you here, just trying to explain why it is hard for me (and others) to believe that you really understand our view of God's sovereignty.

Kevin Rhyne said...

David,

My point was that I was surprised to hear a 5 point Calvinist saying that we could do this, or that, to reach more people for Christ. I was shocked to hear Dr. Mohler saying that we can change this in the SBC, or that we must change that in our Churches, so that we can reach more people.

My hope is that through this little exchange you will see more clearly that your Calvinist brothers in Christ do believe in missions, do want to reach out in effective evangelism, but recognize that our evaluation of our service to God is not based upon notches on a belt or counting noses of those who've been dunked in a tank, only to walk out the back door.

It is based upon a clear and accurate proclamation of the Gospel and our faithfulness in being bold in that clarity. We preach, teach, witness, write, etc. to be used as a means of the outward or general call of Christ and long to see human efforts resulting in "many are called". However, we recognize, and urge others to do so as well, that in the Providence of God and only by His Spirit is true faith given and "few are chosen".

A failure to recognize this by non-Calvinists shows either ignorance of Calvinism or just naked intellectual dishonesty. I don't mean that as a slam. I lack knowledge of a great many things.

Ignorance is understandable in today's climate and should be gently corrected in love. If that is the case with David here, I think that Tom and others have endeavored to do that. However, if it is the latter, dishonesty of any stripe is not walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Eph. 4:1-3. I trust that this is not the case.

n6okj said...

Al Mohler, ever the effective scribe! Cultural critic, data distributor, colorful commentator, able history-handler, and number-cruncher, but issue-evader.

Sure, the SBC is somewhat livin' in the past, but many of their churches are "successfully" integrating, sending, and planting.

Look at Rick Warren's Saddleback, Erwin McManus, and the Mosaic mess.* They're missional, sending, diverse, forward-looking, and growing!

Isn't the supreme issue for the SBC the GOSPEL?

Where is Mohler's critique of the SBC "gospel" of free will?

Has he answered last year's John 3:16 Conference attack** on God's sovereignty?

If not, this other stuff is just what he criticizes: Missing the mission for marginal matters.

The mission of SBTS, of the SBC, indeed, of all Christians, must be Christ's mission of proclaiming the gospel. This issues forth in churches being planted, missionaries raised up & sent, etc.

"Another gospel" foundation will result in disaster, per Matthew 7:15ff.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic_Church

** Compare James White: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdUtAy2Hc-4#movie_player