Calvinism & Evangelism in the SBC

debate-over-calvinism-1-1For at least the last decade, there has been hot debate within the Southern Baptist Convention surrounding the apparent resurgence in the theological system known as Calvinism.  I will assume in this post that the reader is familiar with the “five points” or tenants of Calvinism which form the acronym, TULIP.  If not, you can Google it and come back and see us. Sorry. I will also assume that the reader is well versed in the sides taken and major points made by Southern Baptists on both sides.  What is intended here in this post is to encourage my fellow Southern Baptist Christians, especially pastors, to be true to the Bible, no matter your theological leanings.  To keep your Bible open at all times when talking theology with others.  To draw your theology from careful exegesis and preach with an exegetically informed theology.  To not begin sentences with prepositions!  You may be laughing right now because it seems too good to be true: “just stay in the Bible, son!”  I don’t mean to sound trite, but we’ve all heard that before, right?  I’ve even had people laugh when in answer to their question as to whether or not I’m a Calvinist, I replied, “I am a biblicist!”  Of course I could have answered, “Neither, I’m a Baptist!” But we all know that dog don’t hunt with people of above average intelligence.  So let’s consider some good points that the recent debate brings up.

Evangelism – Many are concerned with how the resurgence in Calvinism has effected or will effect evangelistic zeal among Southern Baptists.  This is perhaps the main concern that I have heard coming from those who consider themselves “non-Calvinists.” The fact that we are concerned with this, is a good sign for our denomination.  Regardless of where one falls along the spectrum of atonement or election, the Bible gives many examples of preaching with a zeal for people to be saved.  It is also accompanied with an earnest invitation to the audience to repent and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior.  Some preachers are pictured in the New Testament as “begging” for sinners to be reconciled to God.  Even the Calvinist who differentiates between a general call in preaching and an effectual call of the Spirit in preaching, should always plead with sinners to repent and believe.  Such a plea does not deny the sovereignty of God in salvation, but rather manifests the design of Almighty God in salvation. (How will they call upon whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?) The Calvinist is not forced to give up “sovereignty” when pleading with sinners, for as he is pleading verbally with sinners, he is pleading in his spirit with God.  The verbal plea should be directed toward the listener plainly and earnestly.  The Bible teaches us to call sinners to repentance, let us continue to do so.

Evangelism is also a concern for the Calvinists in our convention, especially when involving the “public invitation.”  Because our state conventions have all but abandoned their initial purpose for existence, which according to definitions of terms and history is to facilitate the “convening” of sovereign, autonomous churches,  we have been inundated with baptism goal numbers and man-centered success stories that have led to false conversions and thus, unregenerate churches.  I am not blaming the conventions for this, however the current view of many Southern Baptists is that the churches are subservient to the state convention.  Because of the pressure to be a “benchmark church” or a “great commission church” or “hallmark church,” based on baptism numbers is so great, then churches and other ministries are creating their own numbers based upon “decisions” rather than the work of God.  I believe that the resurgence in Calvinism is needed in the area of evangelism in order to restore our historic dependence upon the mighty power of God unto salvation.  The manipulative use of psychology and suggestion directed at men, women and especially children from our Southern Baptist pulpits must cease and give way to earnest prayer and petition to the God who alone can convict and save souls.   There are church roles flooded with unregenerate people who think they are going to heaven because they did “what the preacher told them to.”  The Bible teaches us that God alone saves by His grace, through faith alone, in Christ alone, not a three step program, or a prayer, or a walk down the aisle.  Let us embrace a restoration of full dependence upon God in our inviting sinners to repentance.  Let our state conventions hold conferences not only on evangelism, but also on holiness and doctrine; on church health instead of only church growth.

Preaching –More to come.

The Valley of Vision: Conflict

“O Lord God, Thou art me protecting arm, fortress, refuge, shield, buckler.

Fight for me and my foes must flee;

Uphold me and I cannot fall;

Strengthen me and I stand unmoved, unmovable;

Equip me and Satan will depart;

Anoint my lips with a song of salvation and I shall shout thy victory;

Give me abhorrence of all evil,

as a vile monster that

defies thy law, casts off thy yoke,

defiles my nature, spreads misery.

Teach me to look to Jesus on his cross

and so to know sin’s loathsomeness in thy sight.

There is no pardon but through thy son’s death,

no cleansing but in his precious blood,

no atonement but his to expiate evil.

Show me the shame, agony, the bruises of incarnate God,

that I may read boundless guilt in the boundless price;

May I discern the deadly viper in it’s real malignity,

tear it with holy indignation from my breast,

resolutely turn from it’s every snare,

refuse to hold polluting dalliance with it.

Blessed Lord Jesus, at thy cross may I be taught the awful miseries from which I am saved,

ponder what the word “lost” implies,

see the fires of eternal destruction;

Then may I cling more closely to thy broken self,

adhere to the with firmer faith,

be devoted to thee with total being,

detest sin as strongly as thy love to me is strong,

And may holiness be the atmosphere in which I live.”

From The Valley of Vision

Eighties Music & Theology

george-harrison-001-1024-600x450A song made famous by George Harrison in the eighties was the hit, “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You.”  It is one that I heard many times on the radio and one that stuck in my head for better or worse, you know the kind.  I thought of it today as I was working through a passage of the Bible in Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.  In chapter three of his letter to a church who received many kudos, Paul explains the change that should occur and does occur in the life of a person who has been transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In verse two he exhorts the believers in Colossae to “set your mind on the things above.”  “Seek the things above” in verse one.  After exhorting his readers to do these things he then explains what each action will look like.

In George Harrison’s hit, we learn that because he “has his mind set on someone,” he is willing to do whatever it takes with what he has. “It’s gonna take money, a whole lotta spendin money, it’s gonna take plenty of money, to do it right child.”  “It’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time, it’s gonna take patience and time….etc.. you get the picture!  In the same way, Paul, (the Apostle, not McCartney) explains to believers that when we set our minds on the things above, our actions will follow in a way that is indicative of the transformation we have undergone by the grace and power of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We will cease to “walk” (that is a continual forward motion) in the things we once walked (3:7). This is what it means to “do it right, child.” Colossians 3:1-17 – Check it out (that’s eighties slang).

“Can Atheism Save Europe?”

Oxford professor John Lennox debated the late Hitchens in Edinburgh Scotland concerning the New Atheism.  The question on the table was “Can Atheism Save Europe?”  This clip only shows Lennox and his response to Hitchens; more of this debate can be viewed elsewhere, but I thought this would serve as a good example of how theists and Christian theists can respond to the anything but passive, assault of New Atheists.

Plummer on Biblical Interpretation

PlummerThere are several very good reads related to the topic on biblical interpretation.  I have recently discovered Robert L. Plummer’s “40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible.”  Plummer is an associate professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Plummer’s book begins by covering the basics of Hermeneutics and reminds me much of Robert Stein’s “Basic Guide.”  However, Plummer also delves deeply into more substantive theological issues which one may find in D. Brent Sandy’s “Cracking Old Testament Codes”, and “Plowshares and Pruning Hooks.”  In “Part 4” of the book, Plummer engages the reader in current hot topics within the hermeneutical conversation.  Treatment is given to Speech Act Theory and Eschatology in the final pages of his work.  This very useful and thorough book on interpretation is more of an easy read than one might expect.  Plummer masterfully explains critical and common issues that believers face when reading their bibles and seeking understanding from the text.  His book has been helpful to me and to bible study teachers and students in my church.  I recommend that you pick it up and use it in your home and church.

New Blog

Since my last post in 2011(wow), my family(7) and I have moved from Quinlan, Texas to Davis, Oklahoma.  We miss the church that we served in for seven years (Bridgeview, Quinlan), but love our new home in south-central Oklahoma.  Oklahoma is a beautiful state and the church where I now serve as pastor is full of great people who love Jesus and have a desire for gospel ministry.

I am no longer a full-time student and my ministry has changed somewhat.  I have entered into a new phase of ministry and life.  For the first time ever, Emily and I have all five of our children in school and the church where we are serving is larger and has come with more challenges and demands.  All of this is very good, just different.

Upon our arrival in Davis, we spent about six months building a house and settling into things.  Not long after finishing our house, the Lord sent two new staff members to our church to serve alongside us.  Now we are settled and the honeymoon phase of our ministry here is over.  Needless to say, now that things have settled down, I intend to blog a bit more. Sorry it has taken so long!

More to come later, I promise.  No really, stay tuned.  If you have suggestions or things you want to talk about, write a COMMENT.

Apologists and Apologies

Justin Martyr I remember as a young boy thinking that Christian apologists were people who basically regretted preaching the cross of Christ and were sorrowful for telling the truth.  I obviously did not understand the real meaning of the term “apologist.”  Historically, Christian apologists have been people who vehemently and unswervingly preached and taught the great doctrines and truths of the Holy Scriptures no matter the cost.  They sought to defend the Christian faith in the face of fierce persecution even unto death.  To defend the Christian faith meant to “make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an acount for the hope that is in you, yet with gentelness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15) The early Christian apologists such as Athenagorus, Justin, Theophilus and Tatian and of course the Apostle Paul were tenacious in engaging their culture, exegeting and expounding the Scriptures with expert precision in order to convince kings and win the lost. 

The Greek term“apologia” is quite a different term from the English “apology.”  Furthermore, to apologize today is to perform an act so removed from the biblical historical meaning that it is scarcely recognizable.  In Merriam Webster’s English Dictionary there are two major categories of meaning for the English word “apology”: 1. A formal justification.  2. An admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.  I think that we can all agree that the way in which modern thinkers use the term “apology,” is consistent with #2 by Webster.  However, in my experience only half of the #2 definition is employed.  Usually when someone “apologizes,” they simply express regret.  Such expression of regret is rarely if ever preceded by a real admission of error or discourtesy.  This is the case many times because there has been no error or discourtesy for which to be regretful much less express regret.  This however doesn’t seem to matter to people who feel they have been wronged.  So whether or not the alleged offender actually has reason to apologize becomes a null point.  So, what usually happens today is that people receive apologies without reason. Or do they? 

Can a simple expression of regret for the unhappy or hurt feelings of others pass as an apology.  It cannot if we are to use this term consistently.  If I say that I am sorry for the way you feel, you should not take this as an apology.  It is simply an expression of regret; not of my actions but for your sad state of affairs.  An authentic apology even by modern English standards must contain both “an admission of error or discourtesy,” and “an expression of regret,” not for the way you feel, but regret for what I have done.   

It seems that we have dumbed down the real meaning of an apology.  We tell hurt people what they want to hear to make them feel better while practicing injustice upon ourselves and lying to the offended party about how we really feel simply to quiet their provocations.  As the Christian apologists of old let us deal justly, however  “with all gentleness and reverence.”  Let us stop apologizing for the way people feel and start apologizing for our actions.  Conversely, let us stop pursuing empty apologies from others which only placate our situation (one that is is sure to be repeated, because we have allowed others to determine our degree of happiness.)