Archives For Calvinism

The New Reformers

ib2newseditor —  October 12, 2017

You’ve heard about the “old” Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Their recovery of core biblical doctrines paved the way for what we call Protestantism.

Those first Reformers certainly did not agree on everything, but when it came to the mysterious interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation, they all leaned toward prioritizing God’s role. This position has come to be referred to as ‘Calvinism’ or ‘Reformed theology.’

Yet from the earliest days of Protestantism there arose an alternate stream that tilted toward a greater emphasis on human free will. This camp is generally called ‘Arminian’ or ‘non-Reformed.’

Throughout the last 500 years of Protestantism, each of these traditions has enjoyed times of ascendancy and also experienced periods of decline in popularity. Even among Baptists, both strands have been present since the beginning, and continue to vie for influence today.

To the consternation of some and celebration of others, Reformed theology has been on the rise over the last several decades. In 2009, Time magazine even included the movement on its list of “10 ideas changing the world right now.” Here are some of the new Reformers who have been instrumental in Calvinism’s comeback:

JI PackerJ.I. Packer
Though he is British, J.I. Packer’s impact on late 20th- and early 21st-century American evangelicalism has been profound. Better known for his writing than his speaking, Packer’s books and articles have re-introduced the spirit of the Puritans to new generations. While displaying theological meatiness, genuine and lively piety also comes through in his works, like the best-selling classic “Knowing God.” And his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” seeks to dispel the idea that Calvinists do not have motivation to share the gospel.

 

RC SproulR.C. Sproul
Together with Packer, R.C. Sproul was a key figure in the “Battle for the Bible” in the 1970s and 80s that produced an articulation of inerrancy that continues to moor many evangelical institutions. In addition to being a popular author, Sproul is also a pastor in Florida and founder of Ligonier Ministries that spreads his teaching through multiple media. Countless people have been introduced to Reformed theology through Sproul and his teaching that if God is not sovereign, God is not God.

 

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the faithful ministry of John MacArthur plods on. He is best known for his expositional preaching ministry through books of the Bible. In almost 50 years at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Ca., he has preached on every single verse of the New Testament. His Calvinistic flavor is distributed through his radio program “Grace to You,” his conference speaking, and the school he founded, The Master’s Seminary.

 

John Piper

John Piper
Calvinism can be found in several different forms. Packer is an Anglican. Sproul is a Presbyterian. MacArthur is a non-denominational dispensationalist. The next, and arguably the most influential, of the new Reformers is a Baptist. John Piper left academia for the pastorate in 1980, serving at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis until he retired in 2013. His preaching passionately portrays a big and majestic God who is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper is known for re-applying the emphases of 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards to today, combining rigorous biblical thinking with white hot religious affections. Piper’s most famous book, “Desiring God,” became the name of his ministry which furthers Reformed theology largely through free online content. Now retired from pastoring, he is still a sought-after speaker and is chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, which he founded to further spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

 

Tim KellerTim Keller
If Piper is best known for directing attention to God’s glory, Tim Keller tries to help people see that the pinnacle of God’s glory is his grace in the gospel of Christ. Keller co-founded The Gospel Coalition, a broadly Reformed network of churches that advocates for gospel-centered ministry.

He has also done more than any other to highlight cities as strategic places for gospel ministry. Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the center of New York City in 1989. After seeing dynamic conversion growth over the last 20-some years, he has just recently retired from the senior pastor role there. Now he works with the church planting center that spun off from his church and has helped start 423 new churches in the last 15 years. Keller waited well into his ministry before publishing much, but now he is cranking out about a book a year, many of which model how to winsomely engage today’s secular city-dwellers with the gospel.

 

Al MohlerAl Mohler
Al Mohler has been the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) since he was 33 years old. In his book “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Collin Hansen called SBTS “Ground Zero” not only for the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), but also the upsurge of Calvinism. Mohler courageously led the seminary to return to the Abstract of Principles, its original doctrinal statement, which not only reflects a high view of Scripture but also the Reformed bent that some claim was held by the founders of the SBC. Under his leadership, the denomination’s flagship seminary now claims to represent the largest number of students training for pastoral ministry in one place at any time in the history of the Church.

 

Mark DeverMark Dever
Mohler teamed up with friend and fellow Southern Baptist Mark Dever and others in 2006 to start a conference called Together for the Gospel, which has fanned the flame of Calvinism via bi-annual conferences. Dever also has pastored the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., since 1994, overseeing its renewal. Out of that experience he wrote a book titled “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” that birthed a ministry by that name which seeks to build healthy local churches. Through materials, conferences, and internships, Dever has impacted many pastors seeking to reform the church.

While all the figures mentioned above are currently alive, they range in age from 57 to 91—not exactly young. Who will provide leadership for the next phase of this movement? Several new New Reformers have already crashed and burned.

Furthermore, there is a (white, male) elephant in the Reformed room—the list above includes no people of color or female voices. There are some signs Reformed theology is gaining traction in minority contexts, as seen in places like the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) led by Jemar Tisby. There are also Reformed conferences, blogs, and books popping up that are for and/or by women (e.g. Aimee Byrd’s “Housewife Theologian”).

In many ways, the future of the new Calvinism remains to be seen. But as a Calvinist would quickly remind you, “God knows, and he is in control.”

-Nathan Carter

Our differences are theological and generational—and growing.

Wittenberg Doors

Nailing his 95 theses to it on October 31, 1517, disgruntled monk Martin Luther made the church door at Wittenberg a famous 16th-century landmark, and a modern-day tourist attraction.

Five hundred years after Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation with his publicly posted list of grievances against Catholic church leaders and practices, to say the movement made a lasting impact on Christians of all stripes is a gross understatement.

Southern Baptists have certainly been shaped by the doctrines of the Reformation, but the question of just how Reformed we are has created a growing divide in the denomination. As Christians worldwide celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, Southern Baptists continue to wrestle with how deeply we will be people of the Reformation in the next hundred years or two.

In his 2017 book on the Reformation, Alec Ryrie wrote that “like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.” And, like all revolutions, the Reformation has come with its own set of growing pains. Over 500 years, believers and non-believers have struggled with the tenets of the Reformers, leading to the formation of many Christian denominations, and differing strains even within those groups.

Baptists have roots in the Reformation, but often hold with varying degrees of conviction to the five points of doctrine most closely associated with Reformed theology, or Calvinism.

In the past decade, the debate over theology in the Southern Baptist Convention has found a new home: Blogs have given voice to proponents of Calvinism, and also to those who consider their soteriological views to be more traditionally Southern Baptist. The two streams hold separate meetings and conferences, but also gather annually at the Southern Baptist Convention, and have pledged to focus on the primary issues of evangelism and the Great Commission, rather than letting secondary issues divide them.

But exactly what that looks like is unclear, as is how the theological debate in the Convention will ultimately affect Southern Baptist churches. With baptisms trending downward, the questions of why and how and when we do evangelism, and what we say when we do it, have never felt more important.

As Alabama pastor Eric Hankins told the Illinois Baptist, “The controversy (over Reformed theology in the SBC) isn’t driven by pragmatic issues of working together. It’s driven by the growing realization that the two soteriological systems are incompatible.

“Should I want to share the gospel [along] with someone who thinks I have a deficient view of the nature of conversion? We’re going to have to articulate very specifically why we want to continue to work together when we believe very different things, or one side is going to have to make some adjustments in its doctrine.”

Judging from the proliferation of passionate theological arguments shared over the past decade, that’s unlikely.

Diagnosing the divides
“I am not a Calvinist,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines wrote in an e-mail exchange earlier this year. Yet Gaines, pastor of a Tennessee megachurch, leads a denomination that most admit is increasingly Calvinistic in its leadership, if not in its pews.

“Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know,” Gaines said in the e-mail interview with Kyle Gulledge, editor of the blog SBC Today.

“I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved….If someone hears the gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation,” Gaines said.

“Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople.”

Gaines’ words are echoed in the principles that bond Connect316, a group of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who organized in 2013 around what they called a “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding of salvation theology. At the recent Connect316 meeting in Phoenix, Hankins pointed to the influence of Calvinism in the SBC over the past 25 years, noting, “It’s clear that traditionalists, even though we are the theological majority in the SBC, are the minority in terms of leadership and influence in the convention.”

Much of that influence emanates from SBC seminaries, including arguably the most influential Southern Baptist Calvinist, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Many credit him with facilitating the rise of Calvinism in the denomination. And two of his former staff at Southern are now leading SBC seminaries as well, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern, and Midwestern President Jason Allen.

Together, three of the six SBC seminaries have schooled a generation of pastors in the Reformed perspective. The question is whether any of the remaining three will shift their theological slant when new leadership takes office.

In 2006, Mohler sat down with another seminary president to publicly discuss the growing theological divide in the SBC. Paige Patterson, 74, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a non-Calvinist, was Mohler’s foil in two standing-room only sessions during the Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro,

Baptist Press’ reporting on the conversation between Mohler and Patterson emphasizes both men’s congeniality toward one another, despite their clear theological differences. “This is a conversation among close friends,” Mohler said. Each warned those who would agree with them against vilifying the other side.

“I would caution my non-Calvinist brethren against the conclusion that the doctrine of Calvin automatically means that a person will not and cannot be evangelistic,” Patterson said. “…One of the commands that the Lord gives is to take the gospel to the ends of earth. No Calvinist worthy of his stripe would thereby disobey a command of God.”

Mohler urged Calvinists to remember their first priority. “It is not healthy to have a person who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won’t even drive across the street to share the gospel.”

The seminary presidents pointed in 2006 to the key area of impact for today’s theological debate: evangelism.

Multiple views

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines (left) and other SBC leaders addressed several denominational issues, including theological differences, during a panel discussion at June’s annual meeting in Phoenix. With Gaines, panelists are (left to right) Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, ERLC President Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Texas pastor Matt Chandler, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Kevin Smith, and moderator Jedediah Coppenger.

Competing views on salvation
The level of debate intensified in the years leading up to 2012. Just before the 2012 SBC annual meeting, a group of Southern Baptists released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Primarily authored by Hankins, the document lays out “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding on salvation, and calls out some “New Calvinists” for trying to establish their position as “the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

In its 10 articles, the statement addresses points of doctrine affirmed by traditionalists, and others they reject. For instance, on the election to salvation, the traditionalist statement says, “We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are his by repentance and faith.

“We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.”

Mohler, responding to the statement, said it was time for the two sides to come together and talk. “May God save us from dividing into tribes, even as we gladly and eagerly talk with one another about the doctrines we cherish, and especially when we discuss the doctrines on which we may disagree.”

The traditionalist statement set the stage for a potentially contentious annual meeting in New Orleans, the very year that the Convention was set to take an historic step.

Trying to find common ground
“Calvin’s been around 500 years, and we have to debate this now?” SBC President Fred Luter winningly joked about the SBC theological debate on a visit to Illinois in 2013, nearly a year after he was elected the denomination’s first African American president. “Why do you guys want to do this on my watch?”

Luter’s good-natured handling of the debate surrounding theology was mostly mirrored at the New Orleans convention, as speakers from the podium urged unity despite differences. Messengers approved a resolution on the “sinner’s prayer,” affirming it as a biblical expression of repentance and faith. And that fall, SBC Executive Committee

President Frank Page appointed a Calvinism study committee to come to a consensus—of sorts—as to how Baptists could work together despite theological differences.

Prior to the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in 2013, the Calvinism study committee released its report. In it, the group, which included Calvinists and non-Calvinists, wrote about what principles ought to govern theological conversation within the SBC, and detailed specific points of doctrine.

The report also included specific suggestions for Baptists operating within the theological tension, like how candidates for ministry positions (and the search committees interviewing them) ought to be “fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine.”

Mohler and Hankins had a public conversation about their experience on the study committee in the fall of 2013, modeling for seminarians at Mohler’s institution how to have a dialogue about areas of disagreement. When the conversation turned to evangelism, Mohler used the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield—leaders who had different soteriological views, but who shared the gospel the same way, he said.

“I think we can mislead not only others but ourselves in thinking that we have to have an absolutely common unified soteriology in order to tell people about Jesus because, if so, Southern Baptists would have had to stop doing common missions a very long time ago,” Mohler said.

Their conversation also touched on some of the more personal fallouts of the debate, with Hankins confessing that he as a traditionalist had been made to feel like his soteriology was deficient, or that he was dangerous.

Mohler countered that because they disagree, he does indeed find Hankins’ soteriological views deficient (to laughter from the audience), but not deficient enough to disallow missional cooperation.

“I would not want to be in cooperation with someone who’s soteriology I felt was deficient in a way that harmed the gospel and made common evangelism and missions impossible….If I felt that your soteriology was deficient in any way such as that, this isn’t the kind of conversation we’d be having.”

Castle at Wittenberg

Inside the castle at Wittenberg on a Reformation tour (right), Southern Seminary President Al Mohler preaches in the chapel where Luther regularly spoke.

Igniting evangelistic fire in both camps
The 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas could be the next time the theology debate is poised to make an impact on Southern Baptist life. Gaines will complete his second and final one-year term as president, and could nominate North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear for the office. Gaines mentioned that prospect in 2016, after Greear withdrew his candidacy to prevent a second run-off election between the two.

At the 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, Gaines confirmed the account, but declined to speak further because he and Greear haven’t discussed it since, according to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.

Prior to the 2016 convention, Gaines and Greear were viewed as representative of different parts of the SBC: Gaines, then 58, is by his own admission “not a Calvinist.” Greear, then 43, represents a generation that has increasingly embraced Reformed theology. Before Gaines’ election in St. Louis, The Christian Post online newspaper said in a headline, “SBC votes today on whether Millennial Reformed theology represents the future.”

In the end, unity and a cooperative spirit won out. The candidates met, each seeking a way to avoid division, and both volunteered to step aside before Greear ultimately convinced Gaines to accept his concession.

In 2018, should Greear be nominated and elected, he would be the first of his generation of Reformed thinkers to hold the office of SBC president. He also would have the responsibility that all SBC presidents hold to name the Committee on Committees, which names the Committee on Nominations, which nominates trustees for SBC boards. Gaines recently outlined that process, in answer to a question by SBC Today about how everyday Southern Baptists can have a voice in SBC life.

“If ‘the grass-roots, mom-and-pop Southern Baptist members’ want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions,” Gaines said. “They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC president who will best represent their views.”

Gaines has made prayer and evangelism the markers of his presidency. At the June annual meeting in Phoenix, he encouraged all Southern Baptists to focus on evangelism, “regardless of their doctrinal convictions on the matter,” Baptist Press reported.

“Our world is going straight to hell and we need to be one in telling people about Jesus and not letting these secondary things divide us,” Gaines said during a panel discussion hosted by Baptist21, a network of younger Baptist leaders.

He has appointed a soul-winning task force to reverse the trend of declining baptisms and to renew evangelism in the denomination. Greear is part of the team.

“The main thing we can do to go forward is to focus on winning people to Jesus Christ,” Gaines said in Phoenix.

“If you’re a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist, you don’t know who’s lost and who’s saved. I would just say if you’re going to be a Calvinist be a Spurgeon Calvinist, and let’s go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. The bottom line is this: we’re supposed to ask people to repent and believe in the gospel.”

– By Meredith Flynn with reporting by Baptist Press

The Reformation at 500

ib2newseditor —  January 30, 2017
70116rose-parade-jan-2

Rose Parade Jan. 2, 2017

When the Protestant Reformation gets its own float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, something big must be happening. Not that we needed the Pasadena tableau to underscore the upcoming event, but we must admit it was surprising to hear NBC’s Al Roker announce the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as three flower-covered church bells tolling “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” cruised by at 10 mph.

Would Martin Luther—ex-communicated, jailed, and persecuted for his pursuit of biblical faith—have been shocked to see his life’s work trussed in rose petals and paraded before cheering crowds?

I was.

There, following the surfing dogs, the Rose Queen, and the Salvation Army Band, was the Wittenberg Door, covered in black beans and poppy seeds, commemorating that All Hallow’s Eve in 1517 when the angry priest Luther nailed his complaints against the Catholic Church on the front door. Inscribed on the giant bells was “Faith Alone,” “Grace Alone,” and “Scripture Alone,” the three-sola distillation of Reformation theology.

Also at the front of the float was a man dressed as Jesus, waving to the crowd on one side of Colorado Boulevard and then the other. We can’t fault the sponsors, Lutheran Layman’s League, for their exuberance, for Luther himself redirected the attention of the faithful worldwide to the finished work of Christ as the only means of salvation. Not obeisance to saints or Mary, time served in purgatory, the purchase of “indulgences” for others or ourselves—only God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ can save us. So commonplace today, this must have sounded radical to Luther’s first audiences. Yet, here we stand, benefactors of his brave actions, celebrating his Halloween escapade and all that resulted from it.

70116luther
But five centuries after the fact, this anniversary is an opportune time for Southern Baptists to ask a few serious questions:

How Reformed are we? What was started by Luther was picked up, refined, and defined by John Calvin and others. The line from Calvin (and other Reformers) to Southern Baptists isn’t as obvious as is the line from John Knox to the Presbyterians or Luther to the Lutherans, but the Reformers have certainly informed our Baptist theology.

Some Southern Baptists fully embrace Calvin’s doctrines of grace, the sovereignty of God, and election, considering themselves “five-point Calvinists.” Others, who defined their position as “traditional” Southern Baptist in the 2012 debate at the New Orleans convention, accept some of Calvin’s points, but rely more on the verses about God’s desire that all would be saved. Some would say they live in the tension between Calvinism and Arminianism, between the sovereignty of God in bringing people to salvation and the free will of man to accept or reject God’s offer.

This anniversary is a good opportunity for churches to study the principles of Reformed theology and ask, How Reformed are we?

What is the appeal of Reformed theology? For people who have grown up in an era of slushy theology and postmodern uncertainty, Reformed theology offers clear, clean delineation of belief. It’s faith with handles on it. That might explain the appeal to Christians who were described as “young, restless, and reformed” in Collin Hansen’s seminal work by that name in 2008. Hansen capsulized a phenomenon that had been in development for two decades by the time he wrote the book, and must be credited in large part, in SBC life, to Albert Mohler. From his position as president of Southern Seminary starting in 1993, Mohler has schooled a generation of young pastors, theologians, and now seminary presidents.

What is the long-term impact of rising Reformed theology on the SBC? Not everyone is enamored by the growth of Calvinism in Southern Baptist ranks. Some leaders have expressed concern about the possible impact on missions and evangelism.

Certainly our theological debate has been invigorated in recent decades. A denomination given to pragmatic, applicable theology through the Baby Boom years has more recently turned to serious consideration of the nature of the gospel. Can committed Calvinists, “traditional” Southern Baptists focused on evangelism, and the “somewhat Reformed” all coexist in the SBC tent, with a shared purpose that unites us, despite differences over finer points of theology? Or is another schism coming?

What will happen to evangelism? Our denomination’s baptism numbers continue to decline. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, a “traditionalist,” continues to express concern that rising Calvinism will naturally cool the fires of evangelism.

International Mission Board President David Platt might demonstrate a new kind of Reformed pastor, for whom evangelistic work by God’s people has high priority in God’s sovereignty. Will Platt’s zeal prove characteristic of the younger generation who are following his charge: “For the nations!” Or will the soul-winning Calvinist prove to be an anomaly?

Now, 500 years after Luther struck the first blows for Reformation, these are a few of the issues Southern Baptists must address—before the parade passes by.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Note: The column below is excerpted from a response to “Is ‘missional Calvinist’ an oxymoron?” by Eric Reed. Read the original column here.

COMMENTARY | Josh Flowers

Two weeks ago I sat in a village in Brazil where I have been ministering alongside a Presbyterian national missionary. Over lunch that day, I had challenged the methodology of this brother for being too theological. I asked him if he really thought they were ready for this level of deep thinking. He defended his methodology. A few hours later, in front of our small group, my partner asked those in attendance if the material was too deep or too theological. The aged spokesman of the group stood up and emphatically responded, “Absolutely not!” He continued to explain that they must hear and study the deep teachings of the Bible to grow in their faith.

…My family left Illinois in 2009 to attend seminary and are now in serving the IMB in the Amazon Basin. I left a good job and proximity to family and friends. These were not decisions taken lightly. The Lord called our family to share Jesus Christ with the many UPGs in the Amazon Basin. The cost has been high in the eyes of the world, yet Acts 20:24 has remained an important verse during our transition to the mission field. It has been worth it. I say all this in response to your apparent fear that evangelistic zeal might be in jeopardy. With all my heart I want every group in Brazil to hear the message of the gospel and respond affirming their need for Christ. However, one day I will return to the United States. On that day, I don’t want the then current missionaries redoing what I’m investing my life into right now. I want those brothers of the villages where we’re working to be active in their faith reaching into the furthest corners of the Amazon to reach every tribe for Christ. If that means that baptism numbers don’t look as good, so be it.

David Platt is a man who has the anointing hand of God upon his life. His passion for reaching the lost is incredible. While his theology may be different than the status quo, I believe his selection is providential for driving Southern Baptist missions endeavors. I pray that our national and state convention leaders will choose to support the leader of the IMB as God’s anointed man for this time. As for me, my family, and my colleagues, we will support David Platt as he pushes Southern Baptists to attack lostness around the globe.

Respectfully,
Josh Flowers
IMB Missionary, Brazil

John Calvin, 1509-1564

John Calvin, 1509-1564

COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

Like “jumbo shrimp” and “paid vacation,” some phrases bring together contradictory words and give them new meaning. They’re called oxymorons. Even that is an oxymoron, connecting two Greek words meaning “sharp” and “dull.” And there’s “awfully good,” “near miss,” “minor miracle,” and “adult children.”

Some would say we should add to the list “missional Calvinist.”

The election of David Platt as president of the International Mission Board prompted this hallway conversation:

“What’s the effect of Calvinism on missions?”

“Historically, not so good.”

“Oh, I guess I’d better read up on Calvin.”

Yes, that may be helpful in understanding some objections raised about the choice of Platt, but there’s a new breed of Calvinists today, identified by the editorial director of The Gospel Coalition, Collin Hansen, as “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” In his 2008 book, Hansen coined the term “the new Calvinism.”

Historically, strongly Reformed denominations weren’t strongly committed to missions. It is true that a couple of brands of Presbyterians were early leaders in the missions movement, sometimes blazing trails that Southern Baptists would later follow. Lottie Moon’s own biography is littered with Presbyterian missionaries who shared her field in China and, as deeply, her passion for converting lost peoples.

But for most Reformed denominations the passion didn’t last. The record of “old Calvinism” is that conversions declined over the years as the emphasis on evangelism was eclipsed by the dedication to discipleship and doctrine.

Although Southern Baptists generally would say “evangelistic discipleship” is not an oxymoron, the two seem to get pitted against each other in the debate over how people are actually saved. The challenge for Platt will be to bolster the evangelistic zeal of missionaries on the field while he espouses more disciple-making and less easy-believe-ism.

If he’s concerned about abuse of “the sinner’s prayer” in leading people to Christ (at the 2012 Convention, Platt famously tried to explain his challenge of Southern Baptists’ favorite evangelism tool), then he must clearly explain how IMB missionaries are to guide converts to the point of public commitment.

Baptists, historically, have been good at helping seekers commit to Christ and show it by believer’s baptism. We’ll have to watch the baptism numbers from our foreign fields to see how well the union of Reformed theology and missional praxis works. Is it—or isn’t it—an oxymoron? Platt, and his IMB, will be Southern Baptists’ most public test of that question.

No one doubts Platt’s passion. Even his biggest supporters rib him for his intensity. “Do it for the nations, David,” a famed Reform pastor teased during a panel discussion in Baltimore. The crowd laughed, recognizing one of Platt’s driving phrases. But Platt is serious about it.

“For the Nations” might serve well as IMB’s motto under Platt’s leadership. There’s nothing oxymoronic about that.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention visited families whose homes and livelihoods were disrupted by Typhoon Haiyan. The volunteers listened to the families’ heartbreaking stories and prayed with them, then distributed badly needed food and building supplies.  BGR photo, via BP

Disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention visited families whose homes and livelihoods were disrupted by Typhoon Haiyan. The volunteers listened to the families’ heartbreaking stories and prayed with them, then distributed badly needed food and building supplies. BGR photo, via BP

THE BRIEFING | Posted by Meredith Flynn

Nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan, some aid organizations have completed their work in the Philippines. But Baptists are gearing up for a long-term relief effort, led by Baptist Global Response.

“…The need is massive,” BGR Executive Director Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press. “We are initiating large-scale work with communities, local believers and volunteers and will be constantly assessing and gauging the effectiveness of our choices.

“Please continue to pray for our team members and volunteers as they help in the face of overwhelming needs. Pray that we choose the most strategic and effective places to work that truly help people physically and spiritually.”

The biggest repair needs are for water systems, homes and schools, Baptist Press reported. BGR has created a housing kit that will construct a small home on stilts for about $250. The goal is for the construction projects to breathe life into the local job market, Palmer said.

“The community has a labor force needing work, and capable, skilled men will be contracted to work alongside [a] U.S. disaster response team and local volunteer labor when available.”

Disaster Relief chapters from five state conventions – Missouri, California, Tennessee, Kansas-Nebraska, and the Southern Baptists of Texas – have adopted different areas of the Philippines. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Other news:

Frank Page addresses denominational fault lines in ‘State of the SBC’ speech
The president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee began a Jan. 15 speech with an analogy about earthquakes. “Fault lines happen even in organizations,” said Frank Page during a “State of the SBC” address at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And like on the earth, where the fault lines and tectonic plates come together, pressure builds. If that pressure is not alleviated, then deep damage occurs.”

Page addressed some of the denomination’s current and past fault lines, including the debate over Reformed theology. He also spoke about the task force he appointed to study how Baptists with theological differences can work together. “Do I think that fault line is fixed forever? Hardly. But I said to them in all honesty, ‘I want us to work together so that we can at least win some people to Christ for now. Can we do that?'”

Read the full report by Midwestern’s Tim Sweetman at BPNews.net, and click here for a link to Page’s address.

Church ministers through abortion recovery class
Dr. Chris Midkiff likely didn’t know what kind of bombshell she had just dropped during a women’s leadership meeting at Bethel Baptist Church in Troy. The OB/GYN mentioned an abortion recovery Bible study she’d read about called Surrendering the Secret. Some of the women in the meeting personally understood the need for such a study. Read the story here.

One Baptist prof’s take on the Grammy’s
You’ve probably heard about the 33 couples, including some same-sex pairs, married by Queen Latifah during Sunday’s Grammy awards show. The song performed by Macklemore during the ceremony “took aim at Christians and their views on marriage,” blogged Denny Burk, an associate professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. But the lyrics got one thing right, Burk said: We all come from one creator God. Read his post here.

Disaster Relief volunteer Dave Weger from Sullivan, Ill., clears debris from a backyard in Washington.

Disaster Relief volunteer Dave Weger from Sullivan, Ill., clears debris from a backyard in Washington.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

In Washington, Ill., Disaster Relief chaplains were struggling to know exactly how to minister to residents digging their homes out of the devastation left by an EF-4 tornado Nov. 17.

Until someone thought of Twinkies.

“By faith we sent a team of chaplains to walk the streets and try to engage people in conversations and prayer,” Illinois Disaster Relief coordinator Rex Alexander wrote in an e-mail update. “They quickly found that homeowners were not really in the mood to talk because they were busy with their work and very cold.”

But the chaplains broke the ice with a surprising treat, Alexander added.

“They first offered water and were usually turned down. Then they followed up with the question, ‘Would you like a Twinkie?’ Repeatedly the homeowners replied with, ‘Twinkies! You really have Twinkies!’”

Washington, which had been closed for security reasons, opened Nov. 23 to volunteer agencies like Disaster Relief. Braving daytime temperatures in the 20’s, chainsaw teams worked there and in East Peoria over the weekend. A childcare team also served at the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) set up by the Red Cross. The volunteers minded kids while their parents signed up for recovery assistance.

A feeding team at Woodland Baptist in Peoria continued to prepare 1,700 meals a day for storm victims and responders.

Disaster Relief also staffed a table at the MARC, where they took orders for jobs over the next several days. The areas that sustained the heaviest damage were closed again Monday and Tuesday for debris removal.

Alexander said Disaster Relief is currently planning for an active response in the area through Dec. 7. If the work slows, teams could be told to stand down. “Right now, we still think there’s going to be quite a bit of work in Washington and even the outlying areas for the next two weeks,” he said.

Additional volunteers are welcome to join with the teams currently on the schedule. Contact Rex Alexander at (217) 391-3134 or RexAlexander@IBSA.org.

Disaster Relief volunteers and local churches also responded in other parts of the state affected by severe weather in mid-November. For more on the recovery efforts in Brookport and other areas, read the new issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Other news:

Poll: Pastors favor immigration reform
A new poll finds 58% of Protestant pastors favor immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who currently are in the U.S. illegally, but far fewer – only 15% – say their churches are hurt by the current system. The LifeWay Research study also says 51% of pastors believe immigration reform will help their church, denomination or movement reach Hispanic Americans. Read more at LifeWayResearch.com.

Mind your manners when talking Calvinism, leaders on both sides say
Two Southern Baptist leaders on opposite sides of the Calvinism debate sat down this month to demonstrate good “table manners” to seminary students. Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler and Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins engaged in a public discussion on Calvinism before students and faculty, modeling how people who disagree on the topic can still work together.

“We have to learn the table manners of denominational life,” Mohler said. “There is a certain etiquette and kindness that is required, just like in the family reunion.” Read the full story from Towers, the news service of Southern Seminary.

Are we having the wrong conversation?
Caleb Kaltenbach, the California pastor who found Bibles labeled as fiction in Costco, tells his side of the story on Ed Stetzer’s blog. He writes that he wanted to start conversations about the Bible; read why he says most of the outraged posters missed the point.

Pen pals with C.S. Lewis
As a child, Kathy Keller exchanged letters with C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago this month. Christianity Today interviewed Keller, wife of Redeemer Presbyterian Church Pastor Tim Keller, about how she remembers the author.