Campbellsville, Chitwood and Calvinism

Earlier this month, Campbellsville University in Kentucky informed one of the professors in its theology department that his contract would not be renewed going forward. This notification would in effect make any application for tenure needless. While this decision was made by the trustees of the university, it no doubt reflected the input of the administration of the school. The professor, Dr. Jarvis Williams is a 5 point Calvinist. He was a key note speaker at the Desiring God National Conference in 2012, a movement spearheaded by John Piper. While the school and its officials are not at liberty to disclose pertinent information with respect to the reasons behind their decision, it is apparent that those on the outside can and have. Criticism has been leveled and public statements made revealing the disappointment of some over this trustee decision pointing to Dr. Williams’ theological position as the reason for his dismissal.

Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has a long history of support from the KBC. Last week, Dr. Paul Chitwood, Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention announced his intention to lead a delegation from the KBC to visit with the leadership at Campbellsville to have an “open and honest dialogue. The purpose of this undertaking is to better understand the theological convictions that chart CU’s course and whether or not those convictions are still compatible with the mission our Lord has given the churches of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.” Dr. Chitwood acknowledges the KBC’s financial contribution indicating that one million dollars is given in support of the university annually. What Dr. Chitwood does not say is that while the money is given to the school, most of the money is given to students in the form of scholarships and discounts who are associated with KBC churches enrolled at CU. The scholarship and discount total that CU provides Kentucky Baptist students exceeds the KBC contribution by several million dollars.

Dr. Chitwood acknowledges the tenuous relationship that exists between all Southern Baptist conventions and their liberal arts schools. He writes, “Higher education, by its very nature, requires the kind of academic freedom and exploration that is sometimes difficult to envision being funded by mission’s offerings. But if academic freedom is no longer afforded to those who hold to “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) and teach a high view of Scripture (2Tim 3:16), the time for church support has clearly passed.

Is this the case for Kentucky Baptists and another of their historic educational institutions? I certainly hope not and appreciate the wisdom of God’s word where it says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). Given the claims being made by CU’s detractors, open and honest dialogue is necessary to reveal the answer to this question.” Dr. Chitwood makes the following statement highlighting his concern with the school: “Claims, however, that CU retains other professors in the school of theology who reject biblical authority and professors in other disciplines who affirm evolution, are difficult for many Kentucky Baptists to swallow. This is especially true when well over $1 million of their missions offerings are helping pay the salaries of those professors every year.”

Campbellsville is a liberal arts university with courses in mathematics, sciences, languages, nursing, criminal justice, accounting, computer sciences, the arts, education, sports management, journalism and theater to highlight some of the courses offered in addition to those in its theology department. CU is ranked #74 in the 2013 US News’s ranking of Universities in the South. The university has 144 professors serving 3071 students apparently very well. Are there professors among this group that do not believe in the infallibity of the Bible; probably. Are there professors in this group that believe in evolution; probably. Is Campbellsville University an institution that the KBC can be proud of; absolutely. Dr. Chitwood does caution rushing to judgment and rash decisions and emphasizes the continued importance of supporting the Cooperative Program. Dr. Chitwood’s statement can be read in its entirety at http://www.paulchitwood.com/2013/04/20/campbellsville-university-and-the-churches-of-the-kentucky-baptist-convention/.

In an article posted at SBC Voices, Dave Miller who is currently serving as Second Vice-President of the SBC chimed in on the discussion. In his article, he made the following comment: “There have been some disturbing stories from colleges related to Southern Baptists at one level or another. The fiasco at Louisiana College has been pretty well documented. Some confusing things have happened at Cedarville University. In the last week or so, there have been some disturbing reports about the goings-on at another SBC-related school, one supported by the missions gifts of Kentucky Baptists.” While Miller does not state any direct association with the CU situation, his comment with respect to the Louisiana College’s “fiasco” had everything to do with the contracts of Calvinist professors not being renewed. Miller’s associating that situation with the CU situation seems at least to be a subtle hint that the same problem exists at CU. Miller’s makes the following comment on the importance of Dr. Chitwood’s visit that is indeed unfortunate; Miller writes, “He (Chitwood) recognizes both the problem and the seriousness of the problem. No polishing the rotten apple! He is meeting the issue head on.”

While Miller states the purpose of his article is not to question the decision of the university directly, Dr. Williams he notes is “by all accounts a bright young scholar, one who teaches (and believes) in line with the BF&M 2000. Disturbing reports indicate that the reason he is being released is that he is considered too conservative by other professors at Campbellsville. Miller goes on the state, “he (Dr. Williams) has received the highest endorsements from some of our best scholars.” While Mr. Miller says he has no intention of speculating as to CU’s decision, it does appear obvious that Miller can see no reason for their decision to dismiss such an accomplished professor. Miller in the comment section of his article acknowledges that the reason the KBC needs to meet with CU is the money. Miller says, “What is at stake is the money the KBC gives to the college.” Miller’s article and the interesting comments to it can be read in their entirety here: http://sbcvoices.com/when-a-leader-leads-dr-paul-chitwoods-response-to-campbellsville-university/

This week, Dr. Jason Allen, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri decided to weigh in on the situation as well. He too praises the KBC for its proactive, innovative work with the churches and speaks highly of its leadership, stating that he believes “the KBC has proven to be a model state convention in their collective witness for Christ and collaborative ministry efforts.” Allen acknowledges and applauds Chitwood’s announcement to meet with the university in an effort to “assess the ongoing compatibility of the two entities.” Obviously the only “ongoing compatibility” between the two entities is related to the continued financial support the convention gives to the university.

Allen acknowledges a couple reasons that contracts with teachers are not renewed. He admits that he is not privy to the trustee’s decision in this particular case. He also fails to acknowledge there are many other reasons a contract may not be renewed. It is clear that Allen does not see this issue as being an insignificant one, especially where Kentucky Baptists are concerned. He goes on to list what he identifies as five considerations must be kept in mind not by the KBC delegation but by the university representatives.

Notice Allen’s first consideration: “First, when representatives of the KBC meet with representatives of Campbellsville University, they do not come to the table as negotiating equals. The former has funded, governs, and holds accountable the latter by approving their trustees. The posture of both should be one of openness and respect, but the KBC is not the supplicant.” In layman’s terms, what Allen has said is this: of the two groups meeting, the KBC is the one that has all the clout. The KBC is “not the supplicant;” they are not the ones coming to this meeting as a petitioner or humbly seeking an explanation. Allen says, the KBC does not come to the table as “negotiating equals.” Allen’s position in this article is clear; it is not the representatives of Campbellsville University that need to explain where they stand; it is the KBC that needs to explain where they stand and CU needs to listen and take note. This is an interesting perspective indeed. If this position were to be adopted and employed by other state conventions and the SBC with respect to the various entities that are charged with the task of serving the churches of those various conventions as Allen suggests here, there would no doubt be serious cries from the leadership of several of the entities.

Note Allen’s fifth consideration: “every institution in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability. Kentucky Baptists are not morally obligated to investigate and demonstrate the doctrinal faithfulness of Campbellsville University. Rather, Campbellsville, and any other church-governed entity, bears the moral responsibility to demonstrate, prima facie, they are operating in good faith with those churches. If cleavage has occurred between Campbellsville and the KBC, it is Campbellsville’s moral responsibility to adjust accordingly.” Allen concludes with the following statement: “In a very real sense, we all are Kentucky Baptists now. – See more at: http://jasonkallen.com/2013/04/campbellsville-university-the-kbc/

Dr. Allen makes a very critical mistake in his reference to Campbellsville University; He suggests that CU is a “church governed entity.” That statement is simply not even close to being true. The entities of the SBC as well as those in the various the state convention, are controlled by their trustees and not the conventions, much less the churches that send messengers to the various conventions. Consider the following example. In 2011 the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention voted in favor of a resolution instructing Lifeway to remove the 2011 New International Version of the Bible from its shelves. In February of 2012 the trustees of Lifeway later reviewed the issues and voted unanimously to keep it. That is what Lifeway did. That move sent a clear message to the convention and to the churches for that matter, that the entities are trustee governed and not convention governed nor are they church governed and as such the trustees can and continue to do what they believe to be in the best interest of the institutions they are charged to serve. The same is true of CU.

Allen’s initial statement in his fifth consideration should be one to remember. He states “every institution in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability.” This is the way things ought to be but sadly that is not the case today, either. Take this issue at CU. The outrage and the criticism that has been voiced publically in response to CU’s decision with respect to Williams’ contract has been focused solely on his espousal of Calvinism. This has been publically suggested as the sole reason for William’s contract not being renewed. It must be noted that the school has made no such suggestion. Here is what has happened. A vocal segment of the KBC and beyond has made this an issue because of Williams’ position on Calvinism. This is an effort of a vocal minority to send a message to colleges and universities that are associated with SBC and its affiliated state conventions that such dismissals are not going to be taken lightly. The accountability issue here has very little to do with the churches but rather everything to do with the vocal proponents of Calvinism and its revival of popularity in the educational system in Southern Baptist schools. It is time for the SBC to deal with the issue of Calvinism and the ramifications of its continued revival of influence in the entities of the SBC. It is clear that those espousing and promoting Calvinism in the SBC are intent on protecting their hard earned positions of influence at all costs.

It is time to move this discussion into the open arena and come to some conclusions with respect to the future of the SBC and the state conventions as well the churches they serve. Go back to Miller’s comment with respect to Dr. Williams’ credentials, Miller says that Williams is “by all accounts a bright young scholar, one who teaches (and believes) in line with the BF&M 2000.” There is one group in the SBC that continually makes reference to being in agreement with the BF&M2000; it has become the battle cry of Calvinist Baptists, especially the New Calvinists almost exclusively. It is time for Southern Baptists to clarify themselves on this issue. Calvinists believe that it is God and God alone who decides who gets saved and who does not. They believe God and God alone decides who will spend eternity in heaven and who will not. They believe a person is born again just like a person is born physically; the individual has nothing to do with the process. When you were born, the doctor popped your rear end and you took your first breath and you were born alive. When you were born again, God did it all once again; you automatically became a child of His and because He chose you, you chose Him. Welcome to the family of God. It does seem to be a stretch to associate this kind of theology with the BF&M2000 but that is now the case for the New Calvinists.

If Southern Baptists want this kind of theology being taught in its schools and being foremost in its new church starts and being the theological flavor of the hour in the literature at Lifeway, then so be it. As Dr. Allen has suggested, “every institution in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability.” The time has come for the church to stand up and ask the tough questions to the entities of the SBC and the various state conventions concerning the continued influence of Calvinism in its entities and in the respective conventions. As Allen suggests, we have a responsibility to past generations and to our future generations that will be influenced and impacted by the ministries of the entities that have been given the trust to lead our convention’s effectiveness to the generations to come.

Two final comments. With respect to the issue of the KBC’s interest and involvement with Campbellsville University, should it choose to withdraw the money they give to support what seems to be an excellent institution, it is certain that there will be someone in the state who will welcome that money. Dave Miller is indeed correct, “What is at stake is the money the KBC gives to the college.”

A second observation. One should not miss the praise being given to Dr. Chitwood and his involvement in this situation in contrast to Dr. David Hankins’ involvement in what Miller calls the Louisiana College “fiasco.” Hankins is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Both seem to be equally involved as each seeks to serve the church’s interests in helping to bring some kind of resolution to the various situations. Both situations share a common issue; both are being criticized by the same group for the same reason. One state director is being praised for his involvement while the other is being heavily criticized for his by the same group. One is more sympathetic to and supportive of the Calvinist position than the other.

It is time for resolution. This battle is not going to go away. All indications point to a heightened intensity as Calvinists continue to voice their disapproval for anyone that dares make a move against one of their own.

May God help the SBC though these very troubling days that definitely lay ahead.

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David Platt’s Message at the 2012 Pastor’s Conference of the SBC

Dr. David Platt’s name was on the program to address the 2012 Pastor’s Conference. I have Dr. Platt’s book, Radical and found it to be very inspiring and especially challenging as he talks about the importance of being radical for Jesus in our part of the world that is dying and headed for a devil’s hell. I do need to transform the way I live so that the world will see the Good News that Jesus came to bring to us all! I have also listened to the video clip of his message at the Verge Conference where he talked about the misuse and irresponsible use of “the sinner’s prayer.” I understand that it is very easy to be overly critical of things people say because of comments they may have made in the past and because of comments made by other people or groups they may be closely associated with. It is easy to read too much into some statements. I am very much aware of that tendency.

However, when I listened to Dr. Platt blast “inviting Jesus into your heart” I was certainly taken back. To assert that this practice is unbiblical was in fact, incorrect. To suggest that it is a superstitious practice is insulting and that it is in fact damning was simply inexcusable. While much of Dr. Platt’s message may have had merit, it is interesting that this 3 minute clip was what was chosen to encourage people to order the digital version of his message in its entirety. Needless to say, I did not do so. Had Dr. Platt’s comments been made apart from the theological implications surrounding this new emphasis on “The Gospel” and getting the gospel right, and this revival of Calvinism in the SBC and its effort to correct decades of incorrect theological foundations being taught in the church today, Dr. Platt’s words might have gone unnoticed. However, when you factor in the controversy over Calvinism that is growing by the minute in the SBC and the reluctance of some to the theological differences posited in the varying soteriological positions now being promoted, his statement was especially significant and I believe deliberately stated.

With that in mind, I reluctantly decided to go and sit down to listen to David Platt’s message to the 2012 Pastor’s Conference. His second paragraph referenced his comments in the popular 3 minute internet video clip and his effort to be more deliberate. I thought, ok; let’s see what he has to say and as he goes to a very familiar text, John 3, prefaced by the last 3 verses of John 2.

After reading the text, Dr. Platt said,

Let us beware the danger of spiritual deception. Verse 23 – “Many trusted in his name.” Verse 24 – “Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them.” Many trusted.  Many people in John 2 believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe them. Many people in John 2 accepted Jesus, but Jesus did not accept them. Clearly, from the beginning of the gospel of John—this gospel that revolves around the necessity and centrality of belief in Christ—John makes clear to us that there is a kind of belief, a kind of faith, that does not save.

It was at this point that I decided to get up and leave the conference center. This is all I heard of Dr. Platt’s message to the pastors that afternoon. “Many people in John 2 accepted Jesus, but Jesus did not accept them.” This reverberated in my mind and given the reluctance to even bother sitting down in the first place, I admit, I simply decided to exit instead of sitting through the remainder of his message. I have since coming home, read Dr. Platt’s message in its entirety and my comments will come from the manuscript provided of that message. You may read his message in its entirety by CLICKING HERE.

Platt indicates that John employed the 3 verses of chapter 2 to intentionally set the stage for Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus. It is true that Nicodemus’ statement is similar to the statement in chapter 2 in that there is a common reference to the signs that Jesus had done; but understand something; everyone, those who were on the street as well as those in the Sanhedrin were talking about Jesus. So, while there are similarities in the two statements, the former does not necessarily set the stage for the latter as Platt attempts to assert in the opening part of his message.

Let’s look at the second chapter in John.

Jesus has not fed the 5000. There is no Biblical record that He has healed anyone. The record of His first miracle is recorded for us by John beginning in verse 1. John is the only writer to record this event. Jesus is at a wedding with His mother. She comes to Him and says, “They have no wine.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4) This is an interesting statement and one that has perplexed me for years. What was Jesus saying to Mary? Perhaps He knew that the moment He performed a miracle publically, His ministry would be set into motion and His date with destiny at Calvary would be set. I believe that is exactly what Jesus was saying to His mother. Note verse 11: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”

Apparently the wedding feast at Cana was just before the Passover celebration in Jerusalem and Jesus went. His popularity had begun to spread. There was excitement in the air. People knew about Jesus even though they may have never actually seen Him or heard Him speak. Rumors began to spread that He could be the long awaited Messiah. He went into the Temple and ran the money changers out. “So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” (John 2:18) Everyone heard what had happened!

Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem was a lot like Dr. Platt’s statement on the sinner’s prayer; everyone was talking about it. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.” (John 2:23) John does not tell us what signs Jesus did that caused people to “believe in His Name.” I do not believe it is an accident that John deliberately used the phrase, “believed in His Name.” The Bible tells us Jesus taught the people and I believe they no doubt “believed in His Name” and I unlike Dr. Platt believe they were saved. Listen to John’s next statement: “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)

John does not say Jesus rejected their faith.

We can debate the interpretation of John’s statement here concerning Jesus’ response to those who believed in His Name but one thing is crystal clear to me; John does not say Jesus rejected their faith. John says, Jesus did not commit Himself to them. I believe John is simply noting Jesus’ reluctance to let this outbreak become an influential event at the Passover celebration which could lead to a public promotion of Him as the Messiah! John simply says Jesus knew their thoughts; He knew once again, His hour had still not yet come. I see this reluctance on Jesus’ part as being similar to His telling people on a number of occasions, to go and tell no one about the miracles He had just performed.

So what about Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus and the dialogue that ensued in chapter 3? Nic did acknowledge the signs that Jesus had performed, although I believe the signs he was referring to may have been very different from those the people on the street saw. I believe Nicodemus probably was explicitly referring to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, although that is not specifically mentioned in the text. Nicodemus complimented Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus responds immediately to Nic’s compliment and says to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He repeats Himself in verse, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”

I believe Dr. Platt takes a very liberal stab at this early dialogue as he says,

So Jesus looks back at Nicodemus and says, “Your belief, your trust is insufficient for salvation. “You must be born again” (John 3:7). This is shocking. Here is a devout, passionate, respected, law-following, God-fearing man. He has devoted his entire life to entering the kingdom of heaven. He prays to God. He studies God’s Word—he teaches it and he lives it. And he does all of this in an effort to honor God. Yet Jesus says he has no spiritual life in him whatsoever. This man of faith who believed in Jesus was dead in sin, and at that moment he was destined for condemnation. That is frightening. It is frightening in John 2-3 to see people who would have thought that they believed in Jesus and said that they believed in Jesus, people who would have thought that they were entering the kingdom of heaven, but they had no spiritual life in them, and they would not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, there is a serious hermeneutical problem with the following statement that Platt makes; “This man of faith who believed in Jesus was dead in sin and at that moment he was destined for condemnation.” Nicodemus was not saved. He was not a believer in Jesus.Platt is correct in saying that he is dead in his trespass and sin but he in serious error when he suggests that Jesus is rejecting Nicodemus as a believer in His Name. Platt completely steps out of bounds in this statement to try to justify the theme and thrust of his message.

Now, Platt changes direction and asks,

“Is this possible? Is it possible for people to say they believe in Jesus, to say they have accepted Jesus, to say that they have received Jesus, but they are not saved and will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Is that possible? Absolutely, it’s possible. It’s not just possible; it is probable.”

Here Platt gets on track and he is absolutely correct. He accurately quotes Matthew 7:22-12. However, he immediately gets off-track in his next statement.

“Jesus is not talking, in Matthew 7 or in John 3, about irreligious pagans, atheists, or agnostics. He’s talking about deeply, devoutly religious people who are deluded into thinking that they are saved when they are not. He’s talking about men and women who will be shocked one day to find that though they thought they were on the narrow road that leads to heaven, they were actually on the broad road that leads to hell – people who believed, but were not born again. Beware the danger of spiritual deception.”

John 3 is not speaking of people who are deluded into thinking they are saved when they are not. Matthew 7 does, but not John 3. Dr. Platt has simply erred in his effort to flesh out the text.

Dr. Platt changes direction in his message to speak of the beliefs and lifestyles of those who consider themselves to be “born-again Christians.” His message here is on track and dead on. I will point out that he is speaking of people in general and not those in the SBC specifically. That distinction being made, the condition of those confessing to be “born again in the SBC” will not fare much better. The distinction however, must still be noted. Here is what is especially interesting. Dr. Platt moves from the wayward “born-again” condition to the use of a “sinner’s prayer” that he was so critical of just a short time ago. Dr. Platt has meticulously set the stage to justify his position on the misuse of “inviting Jesus into ones heart.” Dr. Platt offers the testimonies of two of his church members who as youngsters prayed a sinner’s prayer only to come to the realization later in life that they in fact had not really been saved and following a more accurate presentation of the gospel they were truly saved and now were on fire for the Lord and doing great things for Him.

Listen to Platt’s preconceived conclusion to all this:

“I don’t think Tom and Jordan’s stories are unique. They represent a pandemic problem across contemporary Christianity, and some of you have the same story. You made a decision, prayed a prayer, signed a card, got baptized. You were told that you were a Christian, and you know now that you were not. You were deceived.”

Well, I am sorry but the fact that these individuals were still in the race may well indicate that they were actually saved in the beginning; they have simply persevered as the 5th tenet of Calvinism contends. Who is Dr. Platt to determine who was or was not saved at an early age, simply because someone later in life came to question their original decision to trust Christ; especially when the preaching they are sitting under questions the validity of those earlier decisions in the first place.

Platt goes on to state, “The question that John 2-3 begs us all to ask is, “What kind of faith are we talking about?” What kind of faith are we calling people to? Are we calling people to biblical faith?”

No one would disagree with this statement however, it would be prudent to remember conversion is the beginning point; not the final destination. No one becomes a Christian understanding the full ramifications of a relationship with Christ that is to grow and mature. So this criticism of what is and what is not “Biblical faith” has a lot of implications. There is no question that there is an attitude of “easy believism” that creates casual or cultural Christians or what Paul calls carnal Christians. Platt concludes that these are not “true Christians.” He says these folks are “Christians who do not know Christ, who have never counted the cost of following Christ; we must be biblically clear about saving faith, lest any of us lead people down a very dangerous and potentially damning road of spiritual deception.” Platt demonstrates his determination to continue his original position that the sinner’s prayer is dangerous and damning.

Platt then goes back to his original thesis of trying to tie John 2 to John 3. He says, ““What is the difference, then, between spurious faith that marked the crowds in John 2, and saving faith according to Christ in John 3?” What is the difference between false, superficial faith, and true, saving faith?” As I have already pointed out, I am not sold on the correlation that Platt has attempted to build between the references to “believing” in these two chapters and I am confident Platt’s insinuation of Jesus’ rejection of the two types of believing is completely baseless. Platt is correct that we need in our preaching and sharing of the gospel to point out man’s problem with sin and his inability to do anything about it. This is absolutely essential in the presentation of the gospel message.

I might also point out, the sinner’s prayer itself is always a response to a message and is virtually never the message itself and that is a point that is skimmed over in most of these discussions related to its use or misuse.

In giving credit where credit is due, Dr. Platt nails it as he says,

“This is man’s problem, and we must make it clear. Our problem is not that we’ve messed up a few times. Our problem is not that that we’ve made some bad decisions. Our problem is that we are dead in sin.

So what can save us from this state – raise your hand, say these words, sign this card, walk this aisle? We all know that none of these things can save us. What we don’t need is superficial religion; we need supernatural regeneration. We are dead in sin, and we need to be born again.

So how can a man be born again? Scripture resounds with a clear answer to that question. Two primary words: repent and believe.” Repent and believe.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” – Acts 16:31. The Gentiles in Cornelius’ home “believed” in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 11:17). And that’s the word that’s used all over John 3 and this entire Gospel. Seven times from verses 11-21: “believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, believe.” Repent and believe.”

We tell men and women, boys and girls everywhere: repent and believe in Christ. Whether we say, “Pray this prayer after me,” is not the issue. The issue is that together we say, “By the grace of God in the cross of Christ, turn from yourself and trust in Jesus. Come from darkness to light. Come from death to life.” We urge people, “Believe in Christ. Follow Christ.”

We tell them, in a day of rampant easy-believism, “Following Jesus will cost you everything you have, but He is worth it!” Repent and believe in Him. Receive new life, eternal life. Look to Him and live.”

Amen and Amen!

This section is as solid a message as anyone could preach. It is indeed the gospel message. Repent and believe. “We tell men and women and boys and girls everywhere to repent and believe in Christ! Turn from yourself and trust in Jesus. Believe in Christ; follow Christ. Receive new life, eternal life. Look to Him and live.”

If this is the appeal at the end of a gospel filled message, then whether or not one calls it a sinner’s prayer or invitational evangelism, I am all for it and I will continue to employ it until the Holy Spirit tells me different! I will continue to till the ground, plant the seed, water and weed the ground and leave the results up to the Father!

To God be the glory, AMEN.

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An Argument for or Against Calvinism

There is a real problem with the Calvinist’s position on soteriology: if God and God alone saves the elect and He and He alone is responsible for all who are saved, then why is it that so few in our world are actually saved? It would be difficult to even venture to guess what the percentage of Christians is in the US today much less the percentage of the population of the world might be. If one were to go back even 25 years when satellite television and the internet were just beginning to make a mark in the communications explosion, evangelism opportunities and the proclamation of the gospel message were not as easily available then as they are today. It would appear that the percentage of the world’s population that has heard about Christ and has had an opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus is at least greater today than it has been at any time in the history of the world. With this in mind, while a very small number of people around the world are Christian, that number must be significantly greater today than in any generation before. So, if God is responsible for every person who will spend eternity in heaven as the Calvinist contends, then why is this number or percentage of the world’s population so pitifully poor?

Here is another question that seriously challenges irresistible grace and limited atonement and unconditional election: if God and God alone saves the elect and He and He alone is responsible for all who are saved, why are our churches are so weak and why are there so few in our churches who are committed to walking with God as He would have them walk? Some have argued that many on the average church roll are not even saved and there is no debating the fact that a vast majority of those on the church rolls (who may be saved) show very little commitment to God or His church. If God and God alone regenerates individuals and those and only those are truly born again, then something is terribly wrong because God does not fail in anything He does. If His grace is efficacious as Calvinists’ contend, God’s sovereignty in salvation is certainly subject to challenge as its effect is obviously suspect in the lives of those He supposedly has efficaciously called to be His people. Because God has made Jesus BOTH SAVIOR AND LORD, He cannot make Jesus one without making Him both, if He is the One who is solely responsible for this conversion process in the first place. Since this is not the case, it has to cast doubt on the exent of God’s involvement in this process as posited by the Calvinist’s position.

If on the other hand, salvation is a choice made by individuals who have been convicted of their sin and are responsible for their own choice, the whole scenario changes. If God in His sovereignty chose to make man sovereign over his choices and responsible for those choices, then the lack of spiritual commitment in the body is explainable as well as the lack of evangelistic fervor in our world. While there is no question about the importance of one’s responsibility to walk with God and be involved in evangelism in the Calvinist platform, the lack of either hardly limits God’s ability to do what He intended to do from the foundation of the world where conversion and salvation are concerned. The fact that neither, conversion nor sanctification is as pronounced as one would expect it to be in the world or even in America, a “God fearing” society, would seem to be an argument against the tents of Calvinism as opposed to an argument in support for it.

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Total Separation as Opposed to Total Depravity

The following is an abbreviated summary of a post at Transformed Theology on the subject of Total Separation which can be read in its entirety BY CLICKING HERE.

When Adam sinned his sin was not imputed to mankind. Mankind did not die in Adam’s sin. Adam was banned from the Garden of Eden, which represented God’s perpetual presence. As a result, every person who has been born of Adam was born outside of Eden and outside God’s perpetual presence. God created Adam and placed him in the garden where He could meet every single need that Adam had. Because Adam was in God’s presence, every provision that God had was available to Adam. When he sinned, God put Adam out of the garden and away from His perpetual presence. Because God is the source of life, being banned from God’s presence and withdrawn from God’s provisions was in effect death for Adam. This state of separation from God’s perpetual presence is the root cause of sin in mankind because God’s purpose for creating man was to be the source of life for him. In fact, God’s desire to bless man may well be the key to understanding what it is that brings glory to God. God is glorified when He is able to do in us and with us all that He has planned to do, which will make our lives their absolute fullest. As long as man is separated from God’s presence, nothing he does will bring honor and glory to God because God is not present and His provisions for man are limited. Anything that falls short of God’s glory is defined as sin.

In the Old Testament, God seeks to solve the separation problem by calling a nation of people unto Himself and seeking to be their God and wanting them to be His people. God protects Israel and provides for them and gives them His commandments and promises to bless them if they will just honor Him and keep His commandments. Israel does not keep God’s commandments. So God tells Moses to make a tabernacle and the tabernacle itself becomes a symbol of God’s presence with His people. His shekinah glory is connected to the tabernacle and various aspects of the tabernacle itself prove to the people that God’s presence is with them. Israel still is disobedient and rebellious. God being with His people was not enough.

So God sends His Son in the form of human flesh as the Word became flesh and in Jesus God cures man’s separation problem. Jesus endured temptation and fulfilled the Law and became the sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was crucified on the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb and 3 days later was bodily resurrected and then later bodily ascended into heaven. God made Jesus both Lord and Savior and He is preparing a place called heaven for all who make Jesus the same in their hearts and in their lives. God has made a way for all to come to Him by believing in Jesus and in doing so, by coming to God in repentance and faith, believing that God is everything that His Word reveals about Him and that He will do everything he says in His Word He will do, the Bible promises that God will hear his prayer and will forgive his sin. When an individual places his faith and trust in Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his heart and God’s perpetual presence is forever joined with the individual. This presence solves man’s separation problem with God’s perpetual presence and sets the stage for the death of the old man and the sin nature and the new birth of the new man who has a new heart and is set to begin the transformation of having the mind of Christ.

There is one other aspect of this new man and new found solution to the separation problem and that is seen in the practice of prayer. Prayer allows us to come into God’s special presence. Prayer allows us to be as close to God as we can possibly be at any given moment in our lives. As we come into His presence, we are most likely to experience His power and His provisions and God is once again allowed to do for us what only He can do. He is glorified as we allow Him to be God once again in our lives. Very quickly, why does being a Christian not free us completely from sin in our lives?

It does not do so because we do not do as Paul said, and “pray without ceasing.” Even as a Christian and even with the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, we still have this old nature that seeks to be in control of our lives and wants to do what seems right in our own eyes. God’s plan all along was simply to be obedient to His Word no matter what because that is what brings His life into our lives and that makes our lives the absolute best that we can be. The separation problem is the root problem of all sin. While correcting the separation problem does not guarantee the absence of sin; the separation problem does guarantee the presence of sin.

A person who is once born dies twice. A person who is twice born only dies once. The person who is once born never corrects the separation problem that Christ came to correct. The person who is twice born has been born again and the separation problem is corrected in his heart and will be ultimately glorified and that glorified state will result in a state of eternal bliss that will be characterized once again by God’s perpetual presence in heaven.

An Open Letter to Drs. Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Trustees

The following letter was delivered to the leadership of Lifeway’s trustee meeting held in Nashville, February 13 and 14.

An Open Letter to Drs. Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Trustees,

I have been a Southern Baptist since my earliest of days. I was saved at the age of 10 at a revival meeting in a Southern Baptist church in West Tennessee. I graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. I am a proud product of Cooperative Program giving. I have been proud of my association with the SBC because of the Cooperative Program and the opportunity it affords so many to partner in sharing the Great Commission in so many ways. Sadly, this attitude is swiftly changing.

I am very concerned over the publishing of a project that Lifeway has undertaken and is now in the process of promoting titled, “The Gospel Project.” The recent Baptist Press article introducing this project really spoke volumes. Consider the following comment, “This is more than curriculum,” said Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project. “The goal is to provide a theologically driven study that points people to Jesus. It’s easy to come to Scripture looking for just new information or immediate application. We can even have Bible knowledge and not be focused on Christ,” Wax said. Add to that Dr. Stetzer’s comment and my concerns are amplified; “Going ‘deep’ means different things to different people.” Stetzer could not have been more accurate in his statement.

The list of contributors to this project is indeed telling. In looking over the list, it is obvious that there is a clear bias in this group that lacks any theological diversity and it is virtually reformed to the core. In reading Dr. Stetzer’s comment regarding the direction and input from those who are serving the local church, it is unclear to me who Stetzer is referring to. If Dr. Stetzer is indicating an expressed need for a Reformed theological project of this magnitude, then it might be considered a prudent move to undertake such a bold project. It is clear to me in Stetzer’s comments that this particular group was carefully selected, for whatever reason, to “speak into this project at the outset,” and help them “think through important high-level issues at the outset of the curriculum’s development,”

If it is true that there was a demand from local churches for such a special project as this, my strong suggestion is to title this project, “The Gospel Project: A Reformed Perspective.” In this way, those in the local church who have expressed the need and desire for such a project will know that this project has been developed for them. If that is not the case and there was no specific demand for a “Reformed perspective” as such, then the question begs to be answered, “Why such a radically theological leaning advisory board and writing consortium?”

There is no shortage of widely publicized jargon that makes it perfectly clear that those in this carefully selected group consider the Doctrines of Grace and the Reformed position of soteriology the most consistent form of Christianity and the purest presentation of the Gospel. It is also absolutely clear from Dr. Stetzer’s own statistical data, that the SBC is overwhelmingly non-Reformed in their soteriology, no matter how “shallow” their understanding of the deep theological truths concerning the things “God has accomplished in the Gospel for us,” may or may not be. In speaking for myself, I do not desire to have a project of this magnitude produced by Lifeway that has any appearance of attempting to reform the people who attend the average Sunday School classes in non-Reformed churches. Lifeway ought to be diligent with respect to the products it produces to make sure this does not happen. That is not the case with “The Gospel Project.”

Why this expressed concern for “The Gospel Project”? Unless there is indeed a call from church leaders across the SBC for a Reformed Curriculum then it can only be assumed that Lifeway has produced “The Gospel Project” with the expressed purpose of reforming the shallow and incorrect understanding of just what the true gospel is within our autonomous Southern Baptist congregations. While I believe in my heart that there is no real demand for this kind of project from the typical SBC church, I have no problem with churches purchasing this kind of literature as long as they understand up front what it is that they are buying.

I do have serious concerns with Lifeway’s labeling this project simply as “the Gospel Project” with no reference to its theologically leaning perspective. The administration of Lifeway knows full well that Baptist churches have looked to Lifeway for decades for theologically pertinent literature for their members. Many churches will see the promotional information on the “Gospel Project” that is new and exciting and Lifeway knows churches will purchase the literature. There is absolutely no doubt that this project will have a Calvinistic leaning perspective; otherwise there would be no reason to choose such a tightly knitted theological group.

Here comes the anticipated two-fold defense. “This is not a theologically biased project.” That argument is an argument from naivety, ignorance, or intentional cover-up. To attempt to even make this kind of argument, in my opinion, a brazen insult to this group of writers who were carefully selected for this project. No one should expect them to set aside their strong theological persuasion to produce a project of this magnitude and not be biased in their understanding of the synonymous position that the “true gospel” is Calvinism. It was their own admission and original purpose to make this project “Christ-centered, mission-driven, shaped around the narrative of God’s redemptive plan.” For this select group of writers that plan is best set forth in the Doctrines of Grace and Calvinism.

The second anticipated response is, “There is no hidden agenda on Lifeway’s part to put this project into churches to help ‘reform them’.” Great. Label the project’s title as “A Reformed Perspective” and all will be kosher. This is a simple request. Anything less, will shed serious doubt on Lifeway’s intentions and its ongoing ability to provide theologically pertinent literature to the mainstream Southern Baptist church. This potential problem MUST be avoided. According to Dr. Stetzer’s 2006 research 90% of SBC churches are not Reformed in their theology and as such, I suggest that they are not very likely to be looking for literature to move them in that direction any time soon.

Respectfully submitted,

Bob Hadley
Pastor, Westside Baptist Church
Daytona Beach, Florida

Changes Coming to the Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is being changed. As I look at the rich history of the SBC, our strength has been our unity that has been centered around the Cooperative Program. While there have been significant differences in our theological positions, we have always been able in varying degrees to work together for a common cause of taking the gospel message to our neighborhoods and then to the world.

Today things are decidedly different. Theology and not cooperation is now the focus. The problem the SBC is facing is not Calvinism or Arminianism. It is not inerrancy or liberalism. The problem the SBC is facing today is not theology; the problem we are now facing is the need to define who we are today and who we will not be tomorrow. While theology itself is not the problem, it will be the focus of the identity problem that is inevitable. We as a convention have managed to cooperate for missions and all the while, theology has been for the most part a secondary issue. Today theology has moved to the forefront and cooperation has taken the back seat and that is the problem. Before the scud missiles begin to fly, remember something. The SBC is not a church. While theology is essential to the church, that is not necessarily the primary focus of the SBC, The primary purpose of the SBC is to do collectively as a convention of churches what individual churches cannot do on their own. While theology is important to the SBC, cooperation is the principle characteristic that holds it together. This theological battle that the SBC is embroiled in now will see as an unanticipated result, a convention that will begin to force limits on its ability to cooperate together and that is the real problem we are facing as a convention.

I have looked at this theological issue and have said, “Calvinists cannot continue down the road they are headed for if they are allowed to do so, the face of the convention will be forever changed.” Here is the reality of it all. Calvinists have managed to do the same thing today the Liberals did in the 70’s and 80’s. This liberal group of Southern Baptists saw the Scriptures differently than the majority of Southern Baptists. They were able to position themselves in the seminaries and graduates were becoming more liberal in their interpretation and application of the Scriptures. This became unacceptable to many and a few took the reigns to lead a conservative resurgence to get “Back to the Bible” and to establish what they decided would be an inerrant view of the Scriptures. Calvinists led with non-Calvinists in this resurgence. Liberals were expelled from the seminaries and entity positions and Calvinists stepped up and gradually over the next 20 years took their place in the seminaries and then began to fill key positions in SBC entities just as the liberals did a couple decades before. This in and of itself is not even the problem. Many today argue, Calvinists have always been a part of the convention and they deserve to lead as they believe God would have them do. While I do not agree with Calvinism, I do agree with this sentiment.

Many, including myself have looked at Calvinism as a threat to the current landscape of SBC. I am beginning to realize that this in and of itself is really not the case. So, what is the problem? The problem as I see it, is the inevitable move that the SBC must now take to identify itself theologically, namely Calvinist or non-Calvinist. This will have an indelible effect on the most basic Baptist identities of the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church, for this move of the convention to identify itself will have its effect on those who choose to cooperate. The move to establish just who the SBC will be in the future will almost definitely isolate those who lose the identity battle. I have argued that this would definitely be the case if the Reformed position continued it current course. Those leading the reformed revival are obviously not at all pleased with the non-Calvinist position that still virtually dominates the SBC today. One argument is that as the Reformers manage to gain control of the convention, it can be expected that those leading the charge will make changes that will solidify the Reformed position so that this problem will never again be repeated. I would expect nothing less. This is the fear that originally caught my attention.

If the non-Calvinist contingency were to manage to hold onto the convention, the same problems would still exist. In this case, the convention would almost by necessity be forced to identify itself in non-Calvinist terms so that it would be more difficult for Calvinist leaders to be able to hold key positions of leadership and influence in the convention. Either way, the ramifications of the convention’s attempt to settle this theological battle will have disastrous results.

The BF&M is headed for change. That is now inevitable. It will be changed to settle the issue of regeneration with respect to repentance and saving faith. Some will suggest the issue of church government must be addressed. Once this step is taken, the SBC will be forever changed because the priesthood of the believer and autonomy of the local church will be usurped by the convention’s new theological stance. One could argue against this citing the conservative resurgence and the battle of the 80’s. The liberals did leave the SBC and it survived. The major difference can be seen in the battles themselves. Inerrancy was a winnable battle for Southern Baptists. The issue we are currently embroiled in is much more detrimental and controversial. The battle lines are not so clearly defined. Calvinists cannot even decide among themselves who is or is not Reformed enough. Non-Calvinists have never really cared. Once the SBC takes a stand on this issue, everyone loses.

Following the release of the BF&M 2000, there was a move by some to modify it because of some of the language use and it is my understanding Dr. Al Mohler stood at the convention and in effect said, if we start changing the BF&M people, especially our critics in the world, will see us as unstable and unsure of what we actually believe. (My interpretation of his retort.) His argument or that argument in general, whether he made it or not, is exactly where the SBC is today.

The only possible caveat may be what some call the apathy in the pew. There is an argument that regardless of what takes place with respect to control of the entities of the SBC, the people in the pew will adapt and churches will conform and the CP will continue to work as it has always done. I do not believe that will be the case this time. This divide is too deep and too ill defined and this inevitable attempt at a resolution will be disastrous and those who feel polarized will in all likelihood lead their churches to leave the convention. Those who remain will have no choice but face an endless barrage of ongoing theological nuances that will no doubt continue to plague the convention as new power players seek to lead the convention and force further division among its churches and the people who are in the pew. Actually, this problem will plague both sides as each seeks to establish itself in its new found attempt to maintain a viable identity.

Richard A. Spears in McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs speaks about Matthew 26:52, “Live by the sword, die by the sword” and he warns, “You can expect to become a victim of whatever means you use to get what you want.” I am afraid this statement tragically describes the inevitable plight of the SBC. I for one am saddened by these prospects and hope that I am wrong.

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Here is an editorial note on the day after this post.

The following is a personal response to a series of questions posed by Dave Miller at SBC Voices. Dave’s article can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention a united community filled with people with a passion to serve Christ, honor him and walk in the fruit of the Spirit?

We are not a united community. That is sad but true. Are we a community with a passion to serve Christ? I believe we have a number of churches in our convention that this would describe. I also believe there are unfortunately a large number of churches who do not have this “passion”. They have other priorities and would admit they need this passion but they have simply not be taught the importance of walking and talking with the Lord and establishing a personal relationship with Him as a goal for their lives and the life of their church. The truth a lot of churches are more focused on what goes on inside the church than they are outside the church. The problem plagues churches of all sizes and theological underpinnings.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention focused on the Great Commission and our divinely-ordained purpose to bring the gospel to the world?

I believe for the most part, that has been the overarching priority of the SBC in years past. That priority was cooperation. As long as the primary focus of the SBC was cooperation, I believe the potential was there for the purpose of carrying the gospel to the world. Have we done the most with what we had? No. Have we made mistakes in administrating the task set before us in our convention entities? Yes. Has the SBC been diligent in attempting to accomplish this task, yes.
Is the Southern Baptist Convention holding the line on theological orthodoxy?

I discuss this question in detail in an article I posted last night at SBC Issues. I believe this move to “hold the line on theological orthodoxy” has usurped the cooperation priority and that in and of itself has now moved the convention into uncharted waters that I am not sure it can navigate its way out of.

The convention is NOT a church; it is an organization that exists to assist churches in doing together what individual churches cannot do on their own. The theological positions of the convention itself are not as big a factor as some I believe might suggest, because the churches who cooperate together determine their level of cooperation, not the convention. It is the responsibility of the churches to direct the convention and not the other way around and that is now the troubling aspect of the current theological climate that exists in the SBC today.

As individuals and churches, we do not have today nor do we want tomorrow a convention that decides for us who we will be or what we will believe in order to cooperate together to accomplish the Great Commission. I know there are already very broad statements that we must adhere to and that is necessary. There is a major difference in what exists today and the call for “holding the line of theological orthodoxy” as a convention.

After thinking about Dave’s questions and my response, here is a second response I felt led to make.
As I think about these questions raised I am realizing the importance of putting some things in their proper perspective. Blogs give us the ability to be vocal, we sometimes take the mistaken idea that it also makes us experts. I have been abundantly guilty of this and I know better. We are all basically working things out in our own minds as we speak our minds and hopefully benefit from things others say as they are doing the same.

Here is the problem we all need to remember. Our opinions are like those of a 6 year old when it comes to asking what our priorities ought to be in our lives as adults. The 6 year old can no doubt give us a heartfelt honest and sincere answer; the problem is his perspective is way too limited. What we are arguing about is not really theology, at least where the SBC is concerned. We are looking at things like a 6 year old might. We have no real idea what the overall ramifications would be to the suggestions we are making because of our limited perspectives concerning what the reality actually is concerning what the SBC is and what it is doing.
In essence I am seeing some of these things as I write this comment. What we are actually doing is this; we are bringing our input into discussions that have been taking place in the Executive Committee and trustee meetings of the various entities for decades. The questions that we are really asking have more to do with the entities of the SBC and what they do and how they do it than anything. Who is qualified to lead them; who is qualified to go; what should they do when they get there and how should they do it?

We can all be great mail room managers; that does not qualify us to be the CEO. We all have opinions about play calling in our favorite sports and can be expert arm chair quarterbacks and coaches. That does not qualify us as experts on the field and in the game where it all counts. I suppose the same thing needs to be said in our discussions regarding the SBC and how it ought to operate and what is ought to be.

Do we have a right to have a say in what takes place and do we have a right to be critical, maybe. The problem with our answers to both of these questions again must be kept in check because of our limited perspective of what is actually going on as opposed to what we think ought to be going on. I may do things today that appear to be leading in one direction but in reality it is only a step that is necessary to get me from where I am today to the place I want to be in the future. Sometimes, we have to go south to get on the interstate to go north.

I need to remind myself of that fact as I speak my mind especially where I am being critical in analyzing what I see as the “priorities of the SBC” and the ramifications of decisions and actions being taken by it. One thing is consistently true; Things are almost never what they seem.

It is easy for any organization to get off track. It is easy as individuals to get off track. It is easy for us all to lose our focus and our overall best intentions. Hopefully we can all learn from each other and benefit from one another even with our differences and know that we all share a common bond in Christ and a love for and an adherence to His precious Word.

That is my prayer for us all!

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The Future of This Ole Ship, The Southern Baptist Convention

The SBC is embroiled in a politically charged environment that is not going to go away. At stake is the direction this old stately ship is going to sail in the future. Everyone knows that this is the case. There are many who do not mind and support the direction the rudder is facing today. That is part of the process. It is one of the difficult aspects of being so diverse. It will work itself out.

While I have been criticized for being so critical of what I see taking place, I am trying as best I know how to be as fair as I can, given the information I have to go on and things that I see taking place that I do not approve of. I clearly recognize the responsibility of those who disagree with me to express their concerns and opinions accordingly and welcome and respect those opinions. if I did not, I would not be posting here.

It is helpful to read those who have differing opinions, or else the whole concept of blogging would be a waste of everyone’s time. All the Calvinists would just gather over at “The Voices” and rant and rave about the non-Calvinists that gather to rant and rave at Peter’s Place. The interaction I think can be helpful to some degree. However, this propensity to refuse to acknowledge a dissenting opinion and perspective and marginalize the one who is making it, it petty and unbecoming to everything we should be here to do.

I have made statements that fall into that category as well and have apologized for doing so and will apologize again. I would love nothing more than to find a comfortable balance here but I do not believe that is possible and I also am becoming increasingly more aware of the fact that the Calvinist agenda may well now be so far along that the convention’s future will no doubt look much different than it did yesterday. That is a compliment, for the record.

I will continue to express my opinion and solutions as I see them to avoid what I believe will be the inevitable change that appears to be coming. Do I have a crystal ball, no. Do I believe everyone always says what they mean and mean what they say, no. Sorry; no one else here does either. So with that being said,

May God lead and guide and direct the future of the SBC and may He maintain the glory in all we undertake to do. The SBC needs God; God does not need the SBC.

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