The ongoing divide between the reformed and non-reformed camps seems to be unending. I spoke recently with the editor of a Christian newspaper who lamented that it seems to ebb and flow, but never go away. The debate saddens me mostly because it is often less akin to debate among peers and more like lobbing theological hand-grenades at perceived enemies. This division (call it what it is) is bad for the church.
After spending some time thinking through the situation, I’ve begun to believe that our lifestyles of self-centered insulation breed this sort of division. Rather than seeking out those who are different from us with the intent of understanding them and their position, we surround ourselves only with those who think, dress, act, and believe the way we do and, if we aren’t careful, vilify those who differ from our version of “normal” or “right.”
In all of this, I believe, is a certain fear that we must protect truth as if the truth can somehow be lost. Michael Card says this about truth,
I had been given the notion that truth is so frail and fragile, it needs to be sheltered and protected from those who would seek to shatter it with untruth. Instead, Bill would introduce me to the Truth than can stand on its own against the gates of hell itself. This Truth does not shackle a person to a lifetime of defending and protecting it. Instead, this truth sets us free.
At the end of the day, if we are confident in our theological position, we should not fear those who would disagree with it. However, for those who may hold to a different view of soteriology, for instance, before we divide and insulate into like-minded camps, we should seek to understand the reason they … Continue reading
Here are a few quotes from W. A. Criswell to get your week off to a good start.
- “To lift Him up, to preach His name, and to invite souls to love Him and to follow Him is the highest, heavenliest privilege of human life.”
- “The word we preach from our pulpits ought to be like the Word of God itself–like a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.”
- “After seventy years of expository preaching, I have yet to touch the hem of His garment.”
- “God sends people into our lives just when we need them, to say the right word, His word, just when we need it.”
- “When our trials come, when we feel pain and suffering, when our tears flow again, it is our joy and comfort to lift our faces heavenward and to go on, standing on the promises of God.”
My favorite T-Shirt has a picture of Charles Spurgeon on the back with this quote:
I am never ashamed to avow my self a Calvinist; do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’
Somewhere along the way, it seems that Christ has ceased to be creed enough for us Baptists. It is sad that today, a claim to be neither Arminian or Calvinistic, but biblical, is seen as prideful rather than as an honest attempt to be faithful. I fear that J. C. Ryle may have been correct when he wrote,
I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system.
Ryle, expounding on John 3:16, goes on to argue that the Bible is filled with many holy tensions that we must accept as consistent with the character and nature of a holy God rather than seek to explain them all away. God both loves the whole world and hates sin and sinners. The presence of Christ is good for the whole world and not just for the elect. The Bible affirms both God’s sovereign, divine election and man’s responsibility to repent and believe. If regeneration is seen to be the work of God in the life of an unbeliever, conversion is the work of the unbeliever in response to a holy God.
We have for too long hung our hats on theological systems that divide rather than unite. To a large degree, we will not be able to avoid the distinctions that exist within our theological traditions. Some people are more or less reformed than others. This is a fact of … Continue reading
The nature and question of true conversion is a hot topic in the church today. At the Southern Baptist Convention this year, David Platt found himself in a bit of hot water by questioning the validity of the “sinner’s prayer.” The debate there hinges on the exact usefulness of a canned prayer to bring about salvation. No one questions whether or not prayer is important in conversion, but whether or not it is sufficient. Does a prayer offered by a 16 year old who attends church for 6 months and never returns really constitute salvation? If so, then what do we do with the Biblical teaching on repentance? If not, then why do we continue to lift up the sinner’s prayer as the end-all-be-all of evangelism? Much of this is reminiscent of the Lordship Controversy of the late eighties and nineties which brought evangelical leaders out on both sides.
In Turning to God, David Wells seems content to stay above the fray and out of the argument. Though this book was originally published in 1989, most of the primary voices in the Lordship debate are left out of Wells’ bibliography. Rather than engage the arguments, Wells seems content to engage the text of Scripture. His purpose in writing this book is to place the emphases for conversion in the places where the NT writers place the emphasis,
The New Testament writers view conversion dynamically–as something one does–and they interpret it theologically with words such as faith, repentance, grace, forgiveness, and regeneration.
Far from arguing that conversion is solely an act of the will, however, Wells presents conversion as an act of God upon sinners that brings about a response. Nevertheless, his emphasis in this book … Continue reading
I heard recently of a pastor who was censured by his deacons because he refused to allow a woman to sing in the church choir who was living in open and unrepentant sin. Odd to consider that a group of leaders who are supposed to use the Bible as their guide opposed the biblical mandate and their pastor. Would this have happened if the church were governed by elders?
That’s a question for which I do not have answers, but the deacon vs. elder issue has raged on (and on and on and on…) in my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, for quite some time. The question is not whether or not the two offices exist, but exactly how they exist. Does the Bible specify one elder or multiple elders in a church? How does congregational rule co-exist with elder leadership? I’m really tired of the controversy because at the end of the day, we all look at each other and affirm the autonomy of the local church and shake hands and walk away. However, in the midst of the controversy, I think one thing has been sorely missed.
We have talked so long on the style of leadership in the local church that we have seemed to neglect the qualifications for leaders, no matter what you call them. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives the qualifications for deacons and elder/overseers.
[3:1] The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not alover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all … Continue reading
The New Calvinism is a hot issue in the world today, and especially in evangelicalism. It’s big for those who are Calvinists and it’s galvanizing for many who aren’t.
Many opponents view Calvinism as anti-evangelism and ant-missions and many proponents view those on the the other side of the debate with something akin to disdain. In this melee, brotherly love and humility often seem to be lacking on both sides of the argument. For some time now, I’ve been convinced that there needs to be apologies on both sides of the debate. Many Calvinists need to apologize for behaving in a way that could easily be seen as arrogant (often because they are indeed arrogant) in their reformed position. Many on the other side of the debate need to apologize for creating and destroying straw men of hyper-Calvinism without significant evidence to back up their position.
As I’ve considered the apologies I believe are necessary, I’m thankful for Kenneth Stewart’s new book, Ten Myths About Calvinism because Stewart addresses issues that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists need to deal with. He divides the book into two sections, the first of which is titled Four Myths Calvinists Should Not Be Circulating (But Are). Here he lists myths such as the myth that the Reformed position can be completely summed up in the person of John Calvin. He argues that Calvin’s view of predestination is not the only reformed position historically. He shows that TULIP has been the yardstick of the Reformed for only a short time (the earliest usage is around 1913). Lastly, he shows evidence that Calvinists have not historically held a dim view of revival, but that many in the reformed tradition (think Jonathan … Continue reading
Two recent articles from Trevin Wax and Brad Whitt highlight a growing divide in Southern Baptist Life. Trevin writes on the importance of Being Southern Baptist Among and For Evangelicals. Whitt, on the other hand writes representing the branch of Southern Baptists who seem very intent of late on establishing a stronger and more isolated Southern Baptist identity in an article titled, What Makes Us “Southern Baptist?”
I’ve been accused many times over the past few years of trying to oversimplify issues, and I suspect that this article will result in much of the same kinds of oversimplification. However, it seems to me that the two articles listed above do a great job of defining the line between camps that currently exist within the SBC.
Both camps are concerned with spreading the gospel and with seeing the kingdom of God built up. One camp believes that the best way to enlarge the Kingdom is to cooperate with believers of other denominations for the sake of the gospel. The other camp seems to believe that the SBC is the answer to the spread of the gospel. Trevin argues that the SBC is the last great hope for evangelicals in the 21st Century, Brad and his camp seem to suggest that the SBC is the last great hope for the gospel in the 21st.
Whitt and those in his camp are very concerned with maintaining the Southern Baptist Convention and see change as a bad word:
Some denominational leaders, conferences and even our literature are now pushing us to overlook drastic differences in theology and ecclesiology for the sake of “new church starts” (but only of a CERTAIN kind). And on top of that there are rumblings from these same … Continue reading
Missional is a big catch-word in church growth circles these days, and in the SBC. In conversation with some friends recently, I suggested that maybe the divide between many churches was ideological in part and could be defined along a missional line, ie. missional verses non-missional churches. The problem, as pointed out in that conversation, is that no church will admit to being non-missional, and most (if not all) Baptist churches would claim defiantly that they are missional. Yet, the nature of our own Southern Baptist Convention screams otherwise. As a denomination in decline, it is obvious that the majority of our churches are not reaching people for the gospel, and yet, we continue to claim to be missional. What is needed is a clear definition of what it means to be missional. Mark Driscoll has said “Without a clear definition of what a missional church community is and does, tragically, community will become the mission of the church” (Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. p. 32).
I think Driscoll is correct, so what does it mean to be truly missional, and can the rifts in our denomination (and even in evangelicalism) really be defined along these lines? If so, can we right the ship of the SBC and of evangelicalism by appealing to all churches to refocus around the missional claims of the gospel? Jurgen Moltmann is helpful here:
It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church (Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, London: SCM Press, 1977, 64).