Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Building Bridges" to be published soon

Last November, I attended a conference with Brian Burgess, Brian Pestotnik, Andy Lackey, Jamie Steele, and Greg Barefoot. The conference, Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism, was jointly put on by Lifeway, Southeastern Seminary, and Founders Ministries. It was to be a discussion from both sides of the aisle and it was a wonderful 2 1/2 day event.

Now, all of the lectures have been edited and collected into a single volume called Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, edited by Brad Waggoner and Ray Clendenen. You can pre-order the book for under $14 and it should be available in the late summer/early fall.

The table of contents will include the following (with my remembrances of the lectures):

  • Ed Stetzer, “Calvinism, Evangelism, and SBC Leadership” - Stetzer provided a look at recent statistics from Lifeway Research's surveys of pastors and recent seminary graduates. The numbers have been rehashed multiple times but the main point made was that while Calvinists are nowhere close to challenging the majority view, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC, especially among the newly graduated. Only ten percent of current pastors agreed with the statement "I am a five-point Calvinist." That is good news because all the doom and gloom of recent days cannot be laid at the feet of the Southern Baptist Calvinist. There's just no way that 10% of the pastors of 42,000 churches can be blamed for the lack of baptisms and decrease in growth. However, if I remember correctly, around 30% of recent graduates from all six seminaries between 1998-2004 did agree with the same statement.
  • David S. Dockery, “Southern Baptists and Calvinism: A Historical Look” - Dockery was extremely amiable and I thoroughly enjoyed his lecture, even though he admitted he was "the leadoff hitter on the 'Akin Amyraldian team.'" He went with the "Two Streams" theory of Baptist History, which has been revealed to be slightly revisionistic (go about 2/3 of the way down this post).
  • Tom J. Nettles, “A Historical View of the Doctrinal Importance of Calvinism among Baptists” - I love Tom Nettles but I had a very difficult time making it through this talk. My notes are very sparse. He spoke of the issues of inerrancy, Trinitarianism, substitutionary atonement, religious liberty, missions and evangelism, Christ-centered preaching, holiness of life, and regenerate church membership. He told us that these are inherently Calvinistic doctrines but I imagine truly conservative Christians of all stripes would adhere to these.
  • Malcolm B. Yarnell III, “Calvinism: Cause for Rejoicing, Cause for Concern” - Yarnell, along with Noblit below, provided the two most provocative lectures (sermons) of the conference. Yarnell upset the Calvinists in the crowd by redefining the label. He said that within the SBC there are classic Calvinists like Bucer and Calvin and Beza. He referred to this as a philosophy and a dangerous one at that. He mentioned that the traditional Baptist finds this position to be "reprehensible." The second category is Baptistic Calvinism. The third is Hyper-Calvinism. The main point of all this was his statement that "Hyper-Calvinists and Classical Calvinists are unwelcome." (I want go back and listen to the MP3 but that is what I wrote and circled in my notes.) Near the end, Yarnell told a ridiculous anecdote of a man leaving his wife and kids after turning to Calvinism - I had forgotten that but can still feel my hackles rising over that sensationalistic and manipulative point. He ended with the statements that "Classic Calvinism is unwelcome!" and "Baptist Calvinists must refute Classical and Hyper-Calvinism."
  • Jeff Noblit, “The Rise of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention: Reason for Rejoicing” - If Yarnell upset the Calvinists, Noblit probably upset the non-Calvinists just as much. He did not lecture; he preached. In fact, he did not preach; he went to meddlin'. He said that we should rejoice in the Calvinistic resurgence because (1) it helps us overcome our inerrancy idolatry and helps us move to biblical sufficiency; (2) it produces better church splits; (3) it exposes and removes covert liberalism, (4) it restores true biblical evangelism; (5) it seems to grasp the new wine of biblical church ministry; and (6) it is supremely God-focused.
  • David P. Nelson, “The Design, Nature, and Extent of the Atonement” - A very well done and even-keeled presentation by both Nelson and Waldron, especially after the heightened emotions of the previous two. Nelson argued that the atonement is unlimited because of the design, nature, and extent of the atonement. He referred to John 3:16, 2 Timothy 2:1-6, Hebrews 2:9, and 2 Peter 3:9.
  • Sam Waldron, “The Biblical Confirmation of Particular Redemption” - Sam Waldron is a great writer. As a speaker, he is a great writer. He offered four proofs: (1) the substitutionary nature of the atonement, (2) the restricted recipients of the atonement, (3) the guaranteed effects of the atonement, and (4) the covenantal aspect of the atonement. He also dealt with the "problems" of the Calvinistic view (universal terms such as "all" and "everyone" and "world," the free offer of the Gospel to all men, and the apostasy passages in Rom 14:15, 1 Cor 8:11, 2 Peter 2:1, and Heb 10:29).
  • Chuck Lawless, “Southern Baptist Non-Calvinists—Who Are We Really?” - Issues covered by Lawless include the common stereotypes such as non-Calvinists are more interested in numbers than good theology, they promote pragmatic church growth, they use faulty approaches to evangelism and are unconcerned about regenerate church growth, and finally, the incorrect assertion that they do not like Calvinists.
  • Nathan A. Finn, “Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight” - Finn covered five myths about Calvinists (perhaps calling on Olson's book). He dealt with the stereotype that Calvinists are a threat to evangelism, are opposed to altar calls and invitations, are really Hyper-Calvinists (or "extreme Calvinists"), deny free will, and that an authentic Baptist could never be a true Calvinist (contra Yarnell).
  • Ken Keathley, “A Molinist View of Election, or How to Be a Consistent Infralapsarian” - I was looking forward to these two lectures more than any other. Welty did not disappoint but I was sorely disappointed in the choice to bring Keathley to the stage. He did not present the common non-Calvinistic views of election(elect according to foreknowledge, elect in Christ, conditional election) but instead championed the seldom-heard position of Molinism. I suppose the chief redeeming feature of this (from my perspective) was that Keathley admitted that both non-Calvinism and Molinism posit that libertarian free will is the prima facia view.
  • Greg Welty, “Election and Calling: A Biblical Theological Study” - Welty did a phenomenal job (a little biased but I believe all would agree). He did not come close to covering all he wrote but the book will take care of that. He was one of the few that actually dealt exegetically with the biblical passages instead of merely reading them or, even worse, merely listing the references. He covered Ephesians 1:3-11 and Romans 9. He also dealt with expected objections, a la Paul in Romans 9. If you only listen to one lecture from this conference, listen to this one.
  • Daniel L. Akin, “Answering the Call to a Great Commission Resurgence” - We ended the conference with these two heavyweights. Akin, the president of my alma mater (SEBTS) told us that we needed the following: sound theology, to let biblical theology drive our systematic theology, a revival of authentic expository preaching, a balance in our Great Commission theology, and to love and respect those with whom we are not in complete agreement. Well said.
  • Tom Ascol, “Working Together to Make Christ Know: Considerations for the Future” - Tom Ascol spoke on the five points (imagine that?) of bridge-building. We must agree on what is the gospel, what is a Christian, what is a church, what does it mean to obey truth, and what does it mean to live in love.
There were four other speakers at the conference but it doesn't appear their messages will be included (they were also not included in the posted MP3s):
  • James Merrit - a sermon on Ephesians 1 that spoke of the emerald of election, the pearl of predestination, the ruby of redemption, and the gold of grace. As I listened, I wrote a prayer in my notes: "God, please deliver me from cliche'-driven preaching!"
  • Al Mohler - a sermon on Romans 10:8-17 with a lengthy overview of the first nine chapters of Romans.
  • J.D. Greear - a sermon on Romans 9:11-23.
  • Don Whitney - Dr. Whitney filled in at the very last moment for a sick and absent Voddie Baucham. While extremely disappointed in Baucham's absense, Whitney delivered one of the best sermons I have ever heard. It was on the "Clarity of the Gospel" and dealt with the doctrine of hell from Matthew 25:31-46.
Get the book.


Baptist Theology said...

Mr. Spry,

It is obvious that you did not understand my essay. Notice there are three types of Calvinist outlined, and two (not all three) are declared unwelcome, and for good reason, unless you wish to baptize babies or cease evangelism. As for the illustration you disliked, ask yourself why you disliked it. Then ask yourself whether it is true, for indeed it is. Moreover, there are historical examples of such antinomianism available in Baptist Calvinist history. If you desire to know the truth, we can converse. Please see the seminary website for my email contact. If you desire to preserve a myth of perfect Calvinsim, then by all means, don't.

Jeff A. Spry said...

Dr. Yarnell,

I appreciate your input on my meager blog. Your single post has put you in the "Top Ten" of all-time responders. I would like to email you soon but it's VBS week here in North Carolina and there's much evangelism to be done, not to mention a soon-coming trip to Venezuela with my wife and four children.

By way of quick response, I offer this:

1) I went back and read my post a few times to make sure of what I wrote. In the post, I see that I noted your three categories of Calvinism in the SBC. I further noted that two were declared unwelcome, just as you said. I could find no reference to all three being unwelcome. You remarked about my "obvious" inability to understand your presentation but it appears I got it right the first time. To quote you (and I do not intend this to sound insolent, merely ironic), “It appears you did not understand my [post].” I'll have to go back and listen to the distinctions of the Baptist Calvinist to see if that is what I am. I don't want to baptize babies (Are four- and five-year olds OK?) and I am not about to cease evangelizing.

2) I just now listened to the part of the presentation containing the personal anecdote (it comes at the 44 minute mark). To answer your second question, I have to believe it is a true account because I am not about to call your honesty into question. In answer to the first question as to why I disliked it, I again stand by my words: I thought it was an isolated incident about which I could find no purpose but to manipulate the audience. You will disagree with my assessment. However, I imagine most of the preachers in that room could have marshaled not a few equally true stories about some non-Calvinists who based sinful decisions on their theological beliefs. If so, what would that have proved? Only this - there are some sinful and misguided people in each of the categories, including your own. Just as you wrote that “there are historical examples of such antinomianism available in Baptist Calvinist history,” there are also historical examples of legalism available in non-Calvinist history. Does the authenticity of that fact have any impact on your position? I would hope not. I imagine that a student who used such an anecdote in a theological paper in your class would not receive good marks from you. That pitiful man’s theological misunderstandings are not damaging to Calvinism and, in my opinion, your reference to him severely weakened your presentation.

Again, thank you for participating in the “Building Bridges” conference and your response here. I do appreciate and respect all you do to train our next generation of pastors and missionaries.