Archives For Paige Patterson

By Eric Reed

Red BishopWe might feel sorry for the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Three of our leading SBC entities are without presidents, and the incoming convention president will find himself leading in the aftermath of a firestorm. At least we hope it’s the aftermath.

One resigned because of personal moral failure (Frank Page of the Executive Committee). One was removed for inappropriate comments about women and alleged inaction to protect abuse victims (Paige Patterson of Southwestern Seminary). Only one was not under a cloud (David Platt of the International Mission Board). Yet, his departure leaves a great gap in representation by the younger and reformed generation. A lot of people had pinned their hopes on Platt.

Here’s what the next SBC president faces: The EC, IMB, and SWBTS all need new heads. Their presidential search committees operate independently of each other and, officially, free from outside direction and pressures. Yet, with three major vacancies at the top, the SBC seems particularly vulnerable right now, and the next president will be expected to offer whatever assistance he can to stabilize the ships in the fleet. The new heads of those entities will just be getting their feet under themselves during the next SBC president’s first term. Helping them all is a tall order for the next guy.

What kind of leadership is needed in a season of change and uncertainty? How can he lead after this firestorm?

The next SBC president must be public. Past presidents Fred Luter and Ronnie Floyd were very public, both in mainstream media and Baptist press. Steve Gaines was less public, appearing rarely in the national media, especially in his first term. The new guy must be available to the press, write for publication often, and make effective use of social media.

The next guy must be winsome. In this era of failure and the resulting distrust, it will be up to the next SBC president to bolster public opinion of Baptists with thoughtful apologetics and likeable presentation. It won’t hurt to have a good personality.

The next guy must understand the times. Like the leaders in Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32), he must be wise and culturally aware. He must take action befitting the age, bringing biblical response to today’s needs. Southern Baptists have been characterized as “tone-deaf” on the subjects of women and abuse. The next guy shouldn’t aim for political correctness, but he must rightly assess the needs of the people in the pews and the watching world.

Indeed, that’s a tall order.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Updated May 23, 2018

By The Editors

As with most things in Texas, this gathering of Southern Baptists promises to be a bit bigger than usual, both in attendance and in the scope and possible impact of the issues likely to be discussed.

Generation and direction: The two announced candidates for SBC president are markedly different, both in age and theology. While recent conventions have concluded with some attempt at conciliation and commitment to work together, this two-man race serves to highlight the differences. Its outcome will likely be interpreted as a shift in direction.

This presidential election is marked by an increase in campaigning by the candidates’ supporters. Young and Reformed J.D. Greear was the candidate who stepped aside two years ago, rather than force a second run-off election and risk deepening divisions between younger leaders beginning to take their place and their parents’ generation, and between Reformed Southern Baptists and those who would call themselves “traditionalists” on the topics of salvation and election.

The elder Ken Hemphill’s experience in a variety of SBC leadership roles positions him as a statesman candidate. A number of other SBC leaders support him as a defender of traditional theology and the Cooperative Program.

The need for assurance: Messengers will arrive in Texas feeling some fallout from Frank Page’s departure as head of the SBC Executive Committee due to personal moral failure. And David Platt announced his intention to step down as International Mission Board president earlier this spring. Both entities have search committees working to fill the vacancies.

The search for new leaders has generated conversation about diversity among denominational leadership. One pastor said it’s “imperative” that at least one of the two roles be filled by a minority candidate (see our report from MLK50 on page 10).

Diversity: The SBC’s process for nominating trustees for its entities is in the spotlight for a lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. According to the “SBC This Week” podcast, the announced group of 69 nominees to serve on SBC boards is made up of 58 men and 11 women; 67 are Anglo, one is African-American, and one is Asian-American.
Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin tweeted in response to the report, “We have got to do better than this. Our trustee boards must reflect the WHOLE SBC.”

The report from the Committee on Nominations is still a work in progress (the group generally has to fill 5-10 spots that come open prior to the convention). Chairman James Freeman said the committee initiated measures at their March meeting to increase diversity, a decision that he said was reinforced by the social media discussion.

ERLC AND social justice: Racial justice and unity may be raised again in Dallas. Throughout his tenure, ERLC President Russell Moore has galvanized younger Baptists with his brand of compassionate activism. Others, though, bristled at his harsh words for supporters of then-candidate Donald Trump, and have since questioned whether the ERLC’s policies reflect the majority of the SBC.

Last year the convention voted on a Moore-led resolution condemning “alt-right racism.” Now Moore has raised the issue of race again at an April conference that ERLC hosted commemorating the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. The ERLC’s report to the convention is, like last year, near the end of the meeting agenda. Moore will be among the last leaders heard from before Baptists leave Texas.

Paige Patterson: The man who led the conservative reclamation of the SBC starting in the 1970s is scheduled to preach the convention sermon in Dallas and many are calling on him not preach the sermon. On May 23 at a special called meeting of the Board of Trustees at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth he was removed as president and appointed president emeritus.

It comes after comments he made in 2000 about domestic abuse recently required a statement from the seminary offering clarification 18 years later. In the comments, which resurfaced last month, Patterson said his counsel to a woman being abused by her husband would depend “on the level of abuse to some degree.” He said he never counseled divorce, and at most temporary separation.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Patterson’s full statement is more stunning today. Fellow Texan Beth Moore, who will speak at an event for pastors’ wives in Dallas, was among the hundreds who tweeted in response, posting “We do not submit to abuse. NO.”

As the trustees met the Washington Post released an article about an incident at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson was president in 2003. A former student said she told Patterson she had been raped and he urged her not to go to the police, but to forgive the student who was alleged to have committed the crime. Southeastern is investigating the report.

The cost of unity: Perhaps what will mark the Dallas convention isn’t which difficult conversations will be had, because there will certainly be some, but how we Baptists emerge from them. Will the meeting be marked by willingness to stand in unity because what unites us is the gospel? Or will our differences over the nature of gospel itself, and how God brings people to salvation, make the divide, largely generational, even clearer and wider?

Also read #SBCtoo: What we forgot to report may also be forgotten after the convention

– The Editors

The Briefing

Seminary president sorry for comments ‘hurtful to women’
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued an apology May 10 for comments he made in sermon illustrations about domestic violence and the physical attractiveness of women. After the comments from 2000 and 2014 resurfaced online last month, more than 3,000 people signed an open letter from Southern Baptist women calling on Southwestern’s trustees “to take a strong stand against unbiblical teaching regarding womanhood, sexuality, and domestic violence.” Another letter in support of Patterson has garnered more than 500 signatures.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines addressed the Patterson controversy in a statement to Baptist Press, expressing his disagreement with the comments and noting, “The church especially is no place for misogyny or disrespect for anyone.”

The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will meet May 22 at Patterson’s request.

Sermon stirs up Old Testament debate
North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley’s encouragement to Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament revved up debate online about its place in the life of modern Christians. Theologian David Prince countered Stanley’s view, writing “Any attempt to sever Jesus from the entirety of Scripture amounts to fashioning a Jesus for your own purposes, one that changes with the times.”

High court ruling permits sports betting in all states
In a 6-3 ruling May 14, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that prevented state authorization of sports gambling. The decision — which reversed opinions by lower courts — means all 50 states may legalize and operate betting on professional and college sports.

Willow Creek elders apologize
The elders of Willow Creek Community Church have walked back their initial defense of former pastor Bill Hybels, saying they owe apologies to women who accused Hybels of misconduct. “The tone of our first response had too much emphasis on defending Bill and cast some of the women in an unfair and negative light,” said outgoing elder board chair Pam Orr. “We are sorry.”

Hybels stepped down from his role at Willow Creek in April.

Americans suffering from ‘loneliness epidemic’
A new survey by healthcare company Cigna found nearly half of Americans sometimes or always feel alone or left out. One possible solution: more frequent in-person interactions.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), The Christian Post, Chicago Tribune, Cigna

 

By Eric Reed

5-07-18 IB cover lgAfter our last issue of the Illinois Baptist went to press, we remembered what we left out of the article, “Why this one matters.” Our collection of items to look for at the Southern Baptist Convention in June should have included the forthcoming report on evangelism in the SBC by Steve Gaines’ blue ribbon committee. The panel, which includes Illinois’ own Doug Munton, pastor of FBC O’Fallon, is scheduled to present its study on the declining rate of baptisms in SBC churches and several key proposals to turn that around.

The report, by seminary presidents, SBC entity heads, and megachurch pastors, was to be Gaines’ parting word to the convention as he concludes two years as president. It is a very important word at crucial moment in the life of our denomination. We meant to say that in our May 7 issue previewing the Dallas convention.

We didn’t.

We forgot.

Gaines’ important prescription for recapturing the SBC’s evangelistic fervor got muscled out by breaking news about abuse of women and the argument over inappropriate statements by statesman Paige Patterson two decades ago.

The same appears likely to happen again at the convention in June.

Any one of these stories could be the headline coming out of Dallas:

“SBC shifts generation and theology in top leadership vote.”

“Proceedings slowed as messengers argue diversity among nominees.”

“Messengers debate ERLC leadership and another round of resolutions repudiating racism.”

“SBC speaks on abuse, women, and their place in the denomination.”

“Patterson announces retirement, takes final lap before exiting SBC stage.” Or, “Patterson unseated as convention’s keynote; denied final sermon after controversial comments.” (A special called Board of Trustees meeting May 25 at Southwestern Seminary may determine if either of last two headlines proves true.)

But the headline will likely not be: “SBC adopts new plan for evangelism to turn decline in baptism and refocus churches on leading the lost to faith.”

Why?

Because the overwrought news cycle of the current era has overtaken the SBC too. If only we could come out of Dallas writing stories about a fresh wind of God’s Spirit and our renewed commitment to share the gospel. If only we could file reports of our people falling on their faces in repentance for failing to share salvation with lost people, then hitting the streets to tell the good news.

Yes, all these news stories are very important. As a people, we must deal faithfully with women and our treatment of them in the church as well as the larger culture. But while we are doing that, we must remember what brought us together as a denomination in the first place. The world needs Jesus. And all today’s headlines are evidence of that great need.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

The Briefing

Beth Moore pens open letter on sexism
A member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council has released an open letter, giving an apology to noted evangelical Bible teacher Beth Moore over the sexism she has experienced in some church leadership environments. Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries, penned an open letter describing her experiences of misogyny within certain conservative evangelical circles.

Patterson comments draw range of women’s responses
A growing group of Southern Baptist women called for Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) due to what they claimed was his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.” An open letter from Southern Baptist women objecting that Paige Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” despite his statements on sexuality and domestic abuse garnered more than 1,800 signatures in its first 24 hours online. Other Southern Baptist women defended Patterson’s character without affirming all his specific comments.

IL senate bill requires schools to teach LGBT history
The Illinois Senate approved a bill requiring all public schools in the state to teach about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in history. The bill would require that textbooks “accurately portray the diversity of our society, including the role and contributions of people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, and must be non-discriminatory as to certain characteristics under the Act.” It would also become effective be July 1, 2019.

Disney ends Christian concert after 35 years
After 35 years, Disney World says it will no longer host the Night of Joy Christian music festival. The annual event held in early September started in 1983 and drew popular Christian artists like TobyMac, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, MercyMe, Jars of Clay, and Michael W. Smith. Despite the cancellation, Disney says various Christian groups and artists will still continue to hold concerts at the resort in Florida.

Trump reveals White House Faith Initiative
President Donald Trump has marked the National Day of Prayer with a new policy designed to protect faith groups and their involvement with the American government. After over a year of ad-hoc meetings with evangelicals, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will formalize his administration’s ties with faith leaders and offer faith-based organizations equal access to government funding.

2018 SBC Credentials Committee announced, Tellers also named
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines has announced appointees to the 2018 Credentials Committee. Gaines has also named tellers for the SBC 2018 annual meeting June 12-13 in Dallas.

Sources: Christian Post (2), Baptist Press (3), CBN, Christianity Today (2), Washington Post

Compiled by Andrew Woodrow, IBSA Multi-Media Journalist

Paige Patterson clarifies comments on abuse and divorce
Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson’s spoke out to address his position on domestic violence after old comments he made regarding counseling women in abusive marriages circulated on social media over the weekend. Patterson said he has advised and helped women to leave abusive husbands, but stood by his commitment to never recommend divorce: “How could I as a minister of the gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

200 evangelical leaders tell Congress to pass prison reform
Well-known evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham, Ronnie Floyd, Jack Graham, and nearly 200 others are calling on members of Congress to pass bipartisan re-entry reform legislation that aims to provide federal prisoners with the training and rehabilitation they need to be successful once they are released back into society. The letter was sent to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and congressional leaders voicing support for the Prison Reform and Redemption Act of 2017, also known as H.R. 3356.

GuideStone, ERLC defend ministerial housing allowance
GuideStone Financial Resources and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 26 that asks the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to reverse a lower court decision invalidating the exemption. It will decide on a section of a 1954 law that permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance.

Pew: 25% of survey’s Christians don’t buy biblical God
A fourth of self-identified Christians believe in what Pew described as “God or another higher power” who is not necessarily all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent as Scripture reveals. “In total, three-quarters of U.S. Christians believe that God possesses all three of these attributes — that the deity is loving, omniscient, and omnipotent,” the study found.

Butterfield: Christian hospitality’s radically different from ‘Southern hospitality’
In Rosaria Butterfield’s newest book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post Christian World,” she articulates a gospel-minded hospitality that’s focused not on teacups and doilies, but on missional evangelism. It has nothing to do with entertainment—and everything to do with addressing the crisis of unbelief. Interviewer Lindsey Carlson spoke with Butterfield about opening hearts and front doors to our neighbors.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Christianity Today

red leaves church steeple

This past June, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines put together a task force charged with recommending how we might deal with the alarming decline in baptisms in our Convention. What a daunting task it is. Baptisms have declined precipitously for the past 17 years. We have gone from more than 400,000 baptisms per year, to less than 300,000. The needs in America are greater than ever, but our effectiveness in meeting those needs has plunged. This ought to greatly concern all of us who care about the Great Commission and this land in which we live.

The task force’s first meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, was both disquieting and encouraging. We stared the terrible problem of lostness in the teeth. It is daunting. But we prayed long and hard to the God who is greater than our problems. Dr. Paige Patterson, chair of our group, called us to prolonged periods of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance. The Lord’s power and direction, after all, is what we most need. These times of prayer were so refreshing to my soul.

We heard from all the members of the task force—and there are some outstanding people on this team. Each member spoke about some aspect of evangelism. I was moved by their passion and insight and clarity. We began the process of thinking through what might be recommended to our churches at the convention next June. Subsequent meetings will begin to hone in on those possible recommendations more directly.

The SBC’s Evangelism Task Force has a big challenge: Helping churches recapture their evangelistic zeal.

Two things have become crystal clear to me. I speak for no one on the task force but myself, but these two things seem obvious to me. First, we have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Second, we need a renewed passion for evangelism. I will give my thoughts briefly to each:

1. We have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is hard. It takes work and effort and intentionality. It doesn’t happen without commitment to it. Evangelism, it seems, is the first thing that goes when a church faces controversy or problems or challenges. It doesn’t happen unless it is a concerted focus in our lives and churches.

Dr. Gaines uses the term “soul winning.” It comes from the Bible passage I learned in the old KJV as a boy: “He that winneth souls is wise.” We don’t hear that term so often anymore. Come to think of it, we don’t hear about evangelism in any form as much anymore. We are far more likely to hear about church planting or discipleship or worship—all good and important things. But evangelism is spoken of less often in our Baptist circles, it seems to me.

I know this in my own life: If sharing the gospel is not high on my radar it is not practiced in my life. I can fill my life with meetings and sermon preparation and dealing with a myriad of problems. And, if I am not conscious about it, I can forget about sharing the gospel with those around me. Somehow, evangelism must again become a focus of my church and your church, of my life and your life.

2. We need a renewed passion for evangelism. Passion is a powerful force. Passion changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions. It changes our lives and it changes our churches. Let’s get passionate about sharing the message of the gospel. Let’s get passionate about seeing lost people saved. Let’s be so passionate about evangelism that it changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions.

I want more passion for evangelism in my personal life and in my church family. As a pastor, I want my church to know that I am sharing my faith and I want my church members to join me in sharing the gospel. Without evangelistic passion, we will just go about the routine business of the church without doing the primary business of the church!

Perhaps that passion will show itself in strategic decisions or training programs or events. But passion always makes a difference. Let’s pray for more evangelistic passion personally and corporately.

Will you pray for the Evangelism Task Force when you think of it? It will take a work of God to turn our Convention to greater effectiveness. But by God’s power we can see that change made. My prayer is that God will use our group toward that end.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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
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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.

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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.

For the Supreme Court to attempt to define marriage, when marriage is already clearly defined in the first chapters of Genesis forever and ever, is unbridled chutzpah. They have no business even attempting it.

Paige Patterson, at the “Marriage on the Line” breakfast hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission