Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SBC 2013 Calvinism Advisory Panel

I was hopeful that this panel discussion would have cleared up some the concerns in the SBC regarding the "resurgence" of Calvinism.  I listened to the discussion, took notes (some quotes & some paraphrases), and made personal observations.  With the exception of Dr. Page & Dr. Dockery, all of the speakers listed served as members of the Calvinism Advisory Committee.  The questions are from the attendees at the July 2013 Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Frank Page, SBC President:  "I had some doubts if we could come together, recognize our differences, and be honest about them.  Most important for me--how can we do missions & ministries together?  I believe in winning people to Christ.  I love to win people to Christ; this is the bottom line for Frank Page."  He wants Calvinist (or reformed) and non-Calvinist to share Jesus together because that's what this is all about.  He is among the group with a strong opinion.

Observation:  The Holy Spirit regenerates sinners; man (including Dr. Page) does not win people to Christ.  What does he mean 'to share Jesus together'?  This is a very vague statement for it to be what it's all about.

Dr. Eric Hankins, Sr. Pastor:  He wanted to create this document to call all southern Baptists together around the gospel.  He recognized real, distinct differences that put us on different sides of the theological fence, but wanted to partner together for the cause of Christ and the announcement of the gospel all around the world.  He also wanted to create this document that allows us to share theological differences, but that the rhetoric wasn't so harsh--to begin to love one another, to grant one another liberty in the positions that we hold theologically and to cut out the meanness so that the gospel is not obscured and our partnership together is not harmed.  "Be serious about theology because it is critical to doing good evangelism--knowing what you believe and why you believe it & holding those things deeply."

Observation:  If theology is critical to evangelism (which I agree), then how can we grant liberty in theological differences?

Dr. Al Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President:  "We are on the same page of this document which is about where we don't always stand in agreement, which is alright.  We've had this conversation from the beginning of our denomination.  Friendship is strengthened by the discussion of theology, not by the avoidance of it."

Question #1:  This individual is uncertain about the statement from the document (the last bullet under Tensions):  "We agree that most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so."

Dr. Daniel Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President (who identified himself later as a moderate Calvinist):  "Reformed Baptists must believe in elect infants and non-elect infants, which seems unfair, but we know that it is really God's grace.  He has worked on this issue before with Dr. Mohler.  There is a strong reformed tradition on the election of infants--that all infants go to heaven.  Charles Spurgeon was adamant about this; B.B. Warfield was adamant about this; Charles Hodge was adamant about this.  How infants are brought into heaven is approached differently by different theologians.  We believe those who do not reach a stage of moral awareness are not able to conscientiously sin against God in acts in the body; therefore, they are recipients of God's amazing grace."  He wanted to set the record straight theologically by providing a document that is helpful to parents and grandparents pastorally.

Observation:  LBCF Chap. 10 para. 3 states that elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit.  Dr. Akin's view contradicts the LBCF and gives false hope to the parents and grandparents.  This wrong view of the nature of sin stems from the Arminian belief that we do not inherit the guilt for Adam's sin, and therefore, we can only be guilty if we actually sin.  At what age or stage does a person attain moral awareness?

Question #4:  This individual praises the document for diversity at all levels and proceeds to ask:  Can a robust particular Baptist (or Calvinist) view and a strong revivalistic version exist in the same church?  Or must the church distinctly choose which side they fall on?

Mr. Steve Lemke, Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry Provost & Director:  "The theology of the pastor will affect who joins the church; but a large church will have more diversity.  We are one in Christ, but we don't have to be one in theology or one in worship style; we can disagree, but still love and care for each other."

Mr. Mark Dever, Sr. Pastor:  Uses the New Hampshire Confession.  "The things we have in common are more important that the disagreements we have.  We are sharing the same gospel.  Work on unity in your local church."

Observation:  To be affective for Christ, we do need to be one in theology; the weakening of the Church today is due to the lack of agreement and clarity of the biblical doctrines found in God's word.  Without the correct view of the depravity of man (see question #1), we are not sharing the same gospel.

Tammi Ledbetter, Homemaker & Journalist:  "Focus on winning people to Jesus."

Observation: A lady should not have been part of this committee, (1 Tim. 2:12).  No one is going to argue with this vague statement.  The whole point of the current debate is that we have fundamental differences on how to obey Christ's Great Commission.

Question #6:  What constitutes a Calvinist?

Dr. David Dockery, Union University President:  A true Calvinist is not represented because no one is a paedobaptist like Calvin.  There is no one who represents true Arminianism.  We agree about the structure of Calvinism:  depravity, eternal security, God initiating salvation (but differences come at this point).

Mr. Tom Ascol, Pastor:  He affirms the historical 5 points of Calvinism.  "It's not what the gospel is, but how the gospel works in bringing about salvation."

Dr. David Allen, School of Theology Dean at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:  "The committee didn't have the responsibility of negotiating the different nuances of what qualifies  as a Calvinist (5-point, 4-point, etc).  It's very important that we respect what people say they believe and allow them to define what they say they believe.  But they can't be upset when someone differs from them.  Their position or entailment may be problematic, but we have to have a respectful discussion with them speaking the truth in love."

Observation:  Defining Calvinism and Arminianism for clarity of the document and ensuing discussions should have been a priority for the committee.  The 5 tenets of Calvinism have nothing to do with baptism.  Baptism is only an issue between Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians because of their different view of Covenant Theology.  Dr. Allen's comment is a weak stance for Christianity because it leads to ecumenism and relativism.  Embracing this view has opened the door to ineffective witnessing not only to our own American culture, but also the world at large.

Question #7:  'Who is able to be saved?' and 'How is that person saved?' are two important questions that the SBC needs to agree on.  The T5 document does not state the answer to these questions.  Will the leadership be honest about their beliefs (5-pt Calvinist)?  There is no liberty for the answers of these two questions and disagreement in this area will cause the questioner (and others like him) to separate.

Dr. Al Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President:  "Who?  Romans 10--Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How?  There's no disagreement in this; God saves sinners unilaterally through Jesus."

Dr. Frank Page, SBC President:  Agrees with Dr. Mohler, but knows that there are nuances in the interpretation of those scriptures.

Observation:  What nuances?  Isn't the whole point of this to identify the differences and work toward reconciliation?

Question #8:  What now?  How does the document affect SB life?  What do we do with it?

Dr. Frank Page, SBC President:  "There will be continued writing and discussion.  Don't sign the document, but live it out.  Build relationship and trust."

Dr. Al Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President:  He won't publish without talking to his friend Eric Hankins because of the relationship they now have.  He will pick up the phone before he picks up the pen.

Observation:  This is pandering to the Arminians to show unity within the SBC.

Dr. Daniel Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President:  "The purpose is to come together under a conservative resurgence standing on an inerrant Bible to get the gospel to every person on the planet to have the opportunity to repent and believe."

Observation:  "Although the Gospel be the only outward means by revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual, insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God," (LBCF Chap. 20 para. 4).

After listening to this discussion, the issue continues to be whether or not man has a role in the salvation process.  We go; we teach; we baptize, but salvation is of the Lord alone.  Specific unbiblical church practices like altar calls and repeating a sinner's prayer were not addressed (which I think is what question #7 was trying to address; not the theological 'who' and 'how', but the practical 'who' and 'how').

The outcome from the T5 document, along with this discussion, seems to be that while there are still disagreements within the SBC, we should try to be nice to each other.  The committee spent a lot of work, time, and money on this issue, but no real solution was achieved.  It would have been easier if everyone involved had quoted the Golden Rule from Luke 6:31 and moved on.  Either way, the theological differences within the SBC still remain along with the problems that brought this controversy to a head in May 2012.  They may have quieted this boiling pot for now, but it will cause a mess again sooner or later.