Tuesday, November 13, 2012

30th anniversary of the birth of Founders Ministries

Thirty years ago--November 13, 1982--I met with six other men in a hotel room near the DFW airport in Texas. It was a Saturday. One was a Southern Baptist seminary professor. Two were pastors. One was a vocational evangelist. One was an assistant pastor. I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Seminary and on staff at a church in Dallas. The other man was a class mate of mine and a church planter. What brought us together was not only a common commitment to the doctrines of grace but a common concern over how far from important Baptist ideals most SBC churches had drifted. Those were the early years of the inerrancy movement, also known as the "conservative resurgence." We were all committed inerrantists, but we were all very convinced that inerrancy isn't enough for healthy Christianity.

We spent the first half of the day in prayer, reading Scripture and singing. The second half of the day was given to more prayer and to discussions about what we could or should do (if anything) to try to address our concerns in a more public way. Once we decided that we should plan to host a conference for pastors and church leaders the next year, we drafted the following Statement of Principles:
The motive of the conference is to glorify God, honor His gospel, and strengthen His churches by providing encouragement to Southern Baptists in historical, biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies.
The purpose of the conference is to establish and continue an annual meeting under the oversight of a local Southern Baptist Church for Southern Baptist ministers, elders, deacons, and theological students.
The desire is to be a balanced conference in respect to doctrine and devotion expressed in the doctrines of grace and their experimental application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. This is to be accomplished through engaging a variety of speakers to present formal papers, sermons, expositions, and devotions, and through the recommendation and distribution of literature consistent with the nature of the conference.
The theological foundation of the conference will be the doctrines of grace (election, depravity, atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance) and specifically related truths. These subjects will be presented doctrinally, expositionally, homiletically, and historically. Each conference will concentrate on the experimental and pastoral application of the respective doctrines.
Because the historical record reveals that these convictions are nothing less than that which was believed by great Southern Baptist statesmen of the past (like James Boyce, John Dagg, P.H. Mell, W.B. Johnson, et al), we called the conference, "The Southern Baptist Conference on the Faith of the Founders" (later mercifully shortened to the "Founders Conference"). Over the years, as the conference grew into an annual event and other ministries developed, such as regional conferences, Founders Online, fraternals, the Study Center, the Founders Journal, Founders Press, ministers' search list, Founders Friends' lists, PLNTD church planting network, etc., we changed the name to "Founders Ministries." We also refined our statement of purpose to reflect these broader ministries:
The purpose of Founders Ministries is the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches. We believe intrinsic to this recovery is the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace in their experiential application to the local church particularly in the areas of worship and witness. This is to be accomplished through a variety of means focusing on conferences and including publication, education, pastoral training and other opportunities consistent with the purpose. Each of the ministries will be developed with special attention to achieve a healthy integration of doctrine and devotion.
Our abiding concerns:
We desire to be orthodox without being obnoxious.
We want to be confessional, yet contemporary.
We are Southern Baptist, though not sectarian.
Our goal is to be doctrinally and devotionally balanced.
Much has happened in the ensuing thirty years since that prayer meeting. There has been an undeniable groundswell of pastors, churches and, especially, students discovering the sovereignty of God's grace in salvation as revealed in Scripture. Some are alarmed by this movement. Others are more curious. I am convinced, however, that it is a good thing and is indicative of a movement of God in our generation.

Having said that, however, from the vantage point of three decades later, I must quickly add that, as is true of inerrancy, Calvinism, at least as understood as delineated by the so-called "five points,' is not enough, either. What we continue to need is a full-orbed return to the centrality of Jesus Christ in the church. We must be careful not to assume the gospel but rather be intentional and careful in proclaiming and defending it.

By God's grace, this is also happening amidst the growing revival of the doctrines of grace. It is extremely encouraging to increasing concerns being expressed about being explicit regarding the nature and power of the gospel. God is at work in His church in ways that we desperately need as western civilization continues its rapid decline into spiritual and moral darkness.

Please pray for Founders as the Lord brings this ministry to mind. We are committed to pursuing our purpose of not only working for the recovery of the gospel, but doing so in the spirit of the gospel. For such work, we are completely dependent on God's grace.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

3rd brief comment on Dr. David Allen's response to Whomever He Wills

This is the 3rd part of a short series of brief comments on Dr. David Allen's review and critique of Whomever He wills. Dr. Allen is Professor of Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. 
(Part 1, Part 2)

Dr. Allen repeatedly makes the charge that both David Schrock and I are guilty of the "negative inference fallacy" in our appeal to certain texts as supporting definite, particular atonement. One case in point is his critique of my appeal to Jesus' words in John 10 about laying down His life "for the sheep" (15) and then saying to the Pharisees who were there, "You do not believe because you are not part of my flock" (26). Allen writes,
Next Ascol turns to consider Jesus’ statements in John 10. “He [Jesus] pointedly excludes His critics not only from His flock but also from the scope and saving  benefits of His death by revealing that they are not His sheep” (274). Actually there is nothing in Jesus’ statement that limits the scope of his death. As long as his critics refuse what Jesus is saying, they are incapable of receiving the saving benefits of His death. Even if Jesus’ statement indicates that his critics are not now nor ever will be among his sheep, such does not affirm or entail limited atonement. Ascol here succumbs to the negative inference fallacy – the proof of a proposition cannot be used to disprove its converse.
In his chapter in Whosoever Will (WW), Allen explains his meaning plainly: "One cannot infer a negative (Christ did not die for group A) from a bare positive (Christ did die for group B)" (93). Such reasoning, while impressive on the surface, undermines the very hermeneutical commitment that Baptists use to argue for baptism of believers alone. Jesus commands His disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, ..." (Matthew 28:19). The "bare positive" (to borrow Dr. Allen's phrase) is to baptize those who have been made disciples. But if we follow his logic in avoiding what he insists is a "negative inference fallacy" we must then go on and say, "One cannot infer a negative" (that we are not to baptize those who have not been made disciples). Let me restate it the way that Dr. Allen does in his critique. According to his logic,
One cannot infer a negative (we must not baptize those who are not disciples) from a bare positive (we must baptize disciples).
While our paedobaptist friends would no doubt say "Amen" to such reasoning, historically Baptists have carefully avoided such missteps, based on our appreciation for and application of the sufficiency of Scripture (for a thorough and rigorous treatment of this I highly recommend Dr. Fred Malone's, The Baptism of Disciples Alone).

The General Baptist, Dan Taylor, raised the exact critique against the stalwart 18th century Baptist leader, Andrew Fuller, that Dr. Allen raised against David Schrock and me (Taylor: "It is nowhere expressly said that Christ died only for a part of mankind"). Fuller responds,
It is expressly said that he gave himself that he might purify unto himself a peculiar people; that he laid down his life for the sheep; that he loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he died that he might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad; and that those who were without fault before the throne of God were bought from among men. But be it so that we no where (sic) expressly read that Christ did not die to redeem all mankind; the Scriptures do not so much deal in negatives as in positives; their concern is not so much to inform mankind what is not done, as what is done. I know not that it is any where expressly said that all mankind are not to be baptized; yet I suppose P. [Philanthropos] well understands that part of our Lord's commission to be restrictive (Works, 2:495).
Once again we see that these debates have been around for centuries. Though it is no infallible guarantee of accuracy, I am glad to stand where Fuller stood in deriving the doctrine of particular redemption from Scripture.

Friday, November 02, 2012

A 2nd brief comment on Dr. David Allen's response to Whomever He Wills

As I mentioned in my last post I am very grateful that Dr. David Allen has given so much time and energy to critique two chapters in Whomever He Wills. Thoughtful engagements like this can serve to promote serious dialogue about one of the most serious theological issues confronting Southern Baptists today. By doing so he is serving Southern Baptists well as one of our seminary professors and administrators. Even when such critiques badly miss their mark the attempt can be helpful if it leads to further clarification and encourages more careful exegesis of the biblical text and communication of exegetical results.

I want to make a few observations about Dr. Allen's criticisms in the same spirit in which he offered them. By doing so, I hope to promote the very things mentioned above without fueling any fires of animosity that may be smoldering on either side of this doctrinal divide.

First, I propose that as we engage brothers and sisters in theological debate that we do so with a reasonable assumption in place. Let's grant that each of us knows that we come to our doctrinal positions through interpreting Scripture. Dr. Allen takes exception to John MacArthur's provocative statement that "Jesus was a Calvinist" and my attempted explanation of his meaning. He protests that MacArthur (and Spurgeon) should have said "something along the lines of 'Calvinism derives its views from a particular interpretation of the teachings of Jesus.' Otherwise, this is nothing more than a classic example of begging the question." This strikes me as unnecessarily (and unhelpfully) pedantic. Is not every doctrinal assertion of what the Bible teaches based on a particular interpretation? If, in order to avoid hurt feelings we must always qualify our assertions as being based on our interpretation then I fear what we might possibly gain in protecting feelings will not be worth what we lose in plainness and clarity. 

It will not surprise Dr. Allen to learn that I find many of his arguments in his critique to be unwarranted, erroneous or otherwise unconvincing. I recognize, however, that they are indeed, his arguments and that he has derived them from his own study and reflection on the subjects at hand. I do not expect him to qualify all of his assertions as being based on his particular interpretation.

I also find it helpful to believe that when my disputant makes pointed assertions about me, my positions or my arguments, that he does not mean to be personally hurtful. Granted, this is easier to do with some disputants (like Dr. Allen) than others (like...well, use your imagination), but love hopes all things and refusing to take criticism personally can help keep the dialogue from degenerating into incessant mud-slinging or one-upmanship thereby obscuring the the subject at hand.

Sometimes the best way to make a point is to do so sharply. When brothers are debating matters of grave importance we should not be surprised at occasional barbs. For example, Paul prods the spiritually immature Corinthians by comparing them to babies (1 Corinthians 3:1). Sometimes plainness demands a sharp tone.

In my chapter of Whomever He Wills (WHW), I respond to what Dr. Allen sees as one of Calvinism's "problems for evangelism." He finds it seriously problematic that a Calvinist "cannot look a congregation in the eyes or even a single unbelieving sinner in the eye and say 'Christ died for your sins'" (Whosoever Will [WW], 97). This "untenable" position, according to Allen, cannot help but "undermine one's evangelistic zeal" (WW, 97). I point out that nowhere in Scripture do we find unbelievers being told that "Christ died for your sins" and that to insist on such language is to betray allegiance to a canon beyond the written Word of God. Furthermore, I elaborate, "Allen's criticism impresses only those whose consciences are bound by something other than the inerrant, infallible and sufficient Word of God" (WHW, 275). Dr. Allen calls this an "unnecessarily disparaging comment" and erroneously charges me with leveling it against "those who disagree with [me]." He further asserts, "Such a statement is unworthy of theological discourse and needs no ink spilt in refutation." 

Perhaps he simply misunderstood that my criticism was directed not at those who disagree with me but exclusively at those who are impressed by his insistence that a phrase which the apostles never used in their evangelistic preaching nevertheless must be used in our evangelism or else evangelistic zeal will necessarily be undermined. Be that as it may, my intent was not to be disparaging or hurtful but rather, to be pointed in refuting an unwarranted, unbiblical, and unjustifiable criticism made by Dr. Allen. Rather than taking offense, Dr. Allen's critique would have been strengthened had he taken the question seriously, "By what authority does he cast aspersions on those who are hesitant to use non-biblical language when engaging in biblical evangelism?" I find it ironic that Dr. Allen avoided giving a simple response to my concern given the fact that he spilt so much ink castigating those who confess that "Christ died for sinners" for using a phrase that is not found in the Bible.  In WW he criticizes the doctrinal statement of Together for the Gospel (T4G) for its declaration that "Christ died for sinners." He charges the use of this phrase as being "studied ambiguity" that employs "sinners" as a "code word." Further, Dr. Allen emphatically states that this language of the leaders of T4G "is not biblical in the denotative sense that no explicit form of words 'died for sinners' appears in the NT" (WW, 108; cf. 97; emphasis in the original). 

Here is the irony clearly delineated:
  1. Dr. Allen criticizes the T4G confession (that is not imposed on anyone) for using a phrase ("Christ died for sinners") that "is not in the NT." 
  2. Yet, he insists on the use of a phrase that is not in the NT  ("Christ died for your sins" to unbelievers), criticizing those who do not use it. 
  3. When his insistence is challenged as rooted in something other than the Word of God he shows none of the scruples that governed his criticism of the T4G statement but rather dismisses it as "unworthy of theological discourse." 
I would be helped by further clarification at this point by Dr. Allen.

I take Dr. Allen's use of sharp language in his critique as designed to underscore what he judges to be an important point. In his multi-part review of two chapters of WHW he repeatedly makes charges of logical fallacies and failure to deal with the biblical text as well as finding fault for not dealing with matters that were beyond the scope of the chapter being reviewed. At one point he states of my dealing with the biblical text, "There is more eisegesis than exegesis at work here." His language is pointed but it would be counter-productive to take it personally. Instead, I have tried to understand his concerns and weigh carefully his arguments, going back to the biblical and historical texts that he says I have misconstrued (or neglected completely). It has been a profitable exercise for me.

Much good can be gained if brothers are willing to discuss points of serious theological differences plainly, kindly and charitably. This goes for both how we speak/write and how we hear/read. Being thick-skinned in this arena is simply another way of demonstrating the kind of love that covers a multitude of sins.