Wednesday, March 12, 2008

John 3:16 Conference, take 2

Diane Lytle alerted me in a comment that Dr. Steve Lemke has explained the purpose of the announced John 3:16 conference coming up this fall in Woodstock, Georgia. Dr. Lemke writes,
This conference is intended as a majoritarian Southern Baptist response to the "Building Bridges" and "Together for the Gospel" conferences. The announcement of this conference has already provoked considerable buzz and speculation in the blogosphere.
As I wrote in response to Diane, Dr. Lemke's "majoritarian Southern Baptist" descriptor is at best best ill-stated and at worst a joke perpetuated and believed only by those who refuse to deal with the implications of the fact that the majority of Southern Baptists can't be found! If Dr. Lemke's description turns out to be accurate, then about 60-70% of those who sign up for the conference will not even show up!

When will people who know better begin to speak honestly about "the majority of Southern Baptists?" The majority of Southern Baptists don't care enough even to attend worship services in the church to which they belong.

I appreciate Dr. Lemke's candor in letting us know that the conference was provoked by concern over the Building Bridges and T4G conferences (although the latter is not in any way promoted as a "Southern Baptist" event). Based on his words, obviously the planners of the Woodstock conference believe that they will speak for the "majority" of Southern Baptists. It will be very interesting to hear what their understanding of the "majoritarian" mentality is, although it does not take much imagination to speculate on this.

Nevertheless, my hope remains that, regardless of the rationale behind it, the conference will be marked by a Christ-honoring spirit and thoughtful, helpful presentations.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Building Bridges Conference--final thoughts

They said it couldn't be done. Many doubters--both friends and those who would not want to be so identified--thought a meeting on Calvinism sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries and hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources, simply could not be "pulled off." The issues are too divisive, the rhetoric that has been employed by both "sides" in the debate within the SBC has been too hateful, there is not that much interest, there are too many more important things for us to be doing...these were among the rationales offered by those who thought this kind of meeting either could not or should not happen.

It was done, and, by the grace of God, it was done beneficially. There are many specific events that took place during the conference that were wonderfully helpful to those who participated. I have commented on the some of those highlights previously. But the cumulative effect of the whole event is far greater than the mere sum of the individual presentations. The conference was marked by a gracious spirit. There was plain speaking, which we all desperately need. And for the most part that plain speech was communicated with real humility and boldness.

That is too rare in our day. Too often we confuse boldness with brashness and humility with excessive self-deprecation. But while brashness and talking poorly about oneself may be mutually exclusive, true boldness and true humility are not. Think of Moses. Better yet, think of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't go around talking about how humble he was. He simply lived His life in service to others (Mark 10:45; Romans 15:3).

I believe a Christ-like spirit permeated not only the presentations, but the times of singing and praying and fellowship around the tables. It was almost surreal to stand in meal lines and hear snippets of conversations taking place all around, with phrases like "imputation," "common grace," "compatibilism," "free offer," "libertarian freedom," "decree" and "concurrence" being voiced.

Despite what might have been expected, a common theme that ran through most of the presentations was the importance and centrality of the Gospel for Christian living and ministry. Speakers from both "sides" sounded the need to return to Christ-centered living and preaching.

Another recurring theme is the need to admit and deal with the sad state of many--probably the majority--of our churches. Most Southern Baptist churches are dominated by members who show no signs of spiritual life. This robs God of His glory in His church, greatly hinders evangelism and undermines the pursuit of holiness. It is, in my estimation, the most serious issue that confronts Southern Baptists today. And it is not a "Calvinist" issue. It is a Gospel issue.

I witnessed genuine deference displayed in large and small ways at the conference. Rebukes were humbly given ("your clapping is not helpful") and were humbly received. Scripture was reverently read and heard. Prayers were sincerely offered. Gospel-centered songs were simply, robustly sung to the Lord. And hard-edged theological issues were addressed head-on.

When was the last time you went to a Southern Baptist conference and heard messages on particular redemption, election, effectual calling, hell, Romans 9, Romans 10, Ephesians 1, Calvinism and Molinism (!). And have you ever witnessed Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists pointedly challenging each other's views and affirming their common convictions all the while maintaining genuine goodwill even to the point of actually enjoying each other's company? In Dr. Akin's talk he made this statement, "One of our problems has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinist with a chip on their shoulder." Almost without exception those attitudes were absent from the conference.

I don't expect everyone to celebrate the success of this conference. I have hoped against hope that with the mp3s made quickly and freely available, it would not be easily dismissed or misrepresented. Norman Jameson has reminded me, however, that we still have some among us who are unwilling to let facts influence their opinions. In his recent editorial in the Biblical Recorder Jameson demonstrates that, despite listening to at least some of the recordings of the conference, he simply does not understand the issues addressed or the good that was accomplished. I regret that, but I am very grateful that no one is left to the misrepresentation of his views. The recordings of the conference are available. Listen for yourself and compare his warped perspective with what was actually said.

I suppose a Jamesonian spirit will remain with us until the Lord returns. Hopefully, it will diminish in influence as people check the sources for themselves and discover that the reality is far different from the distorted report. But whether the naysayers increase or decrease, what I experienced in Ridgecrest gives me hope for the future and encouragement to redouble my efforts to work together with those committed to the recovery of the Gospel and the renewal of churches whether or not we see eye-to-eye on the five points of Calvinism.

After demonstrating many points on which Bible believing Southern Baptists agree, Danny Akin concluded his presentation with this challenge to begin a "Great Commission Resurgence":
So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.
I unashamedly join him in his effort, and encourage others who are committed to the Gospel of God's grace to do the same.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Building Bridges Conference--Hot Links

Here are some sources of information and opinions about the Building Bridges conference.

Audio files of the talks

Baptist Press Reports
Calvinism examined in its Baptist context.
For whom did Christ die?
Does God choose who will believe?
Stereotypes hinder SBC's Calvinism dialogue.
Akin envisions 'Great Commission Resurgence.
Selected Blog Comments
Timmy Brister, one and two
Tim Rogers interviews participants, one and two
Sam Waldron, one and two
Les Puryear
John Pipes
Mark Kelly
James Galyon
Scott Brown
Taylor Tsantles, one, two, three
(Taylor has some great pics to go with his comments)
I may have missed some. If so, feel free to add a link in the comment section.


Building Bridges Radio Interview today at 1PM (Eastern time)

Kevin Boling and Paul Dean of the Calling for Truth radio talk show will interview me today at 1PM (Eastern time) about the recently concluded Building Bridges conference. The program airs live on the airwaves in SC (and parts of NC, TN and GA) on Christian Talk 660am. A live audio stream is also available via the web at the link above (select the Listen Online button in the top right-hand corner of the homepage) and at Sermon Audio.

Listeners may call 1.888.660.9535 during the program with comments and questions.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Building Bridges Conference - Initial Thoughts

The conference ended on a high note with Danny Akin's presentation on Working Together to Make Christ Known. His comments were insightful, inspiring, bold, courageous and gracious. He argued for why and how Southern Baptists should make the effort to work together for a "Great Commission Resurgence."

This is on talk you absolutely must hear from the conference. It (along with the other talks) is available at the LifeWay website.

I will recap with further reflections when I have more time. I am currently sitting in the Ashville airport with my beautiful wife waiting for the first leg of our trip home. All in all, the conference met or exceeded my hopes and prayers. I believe that much good will come from it. Much good has already come from it.

Thanks for your prayers. I hope to get my thoughts together and post them in the next day or two.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Building Bridges Conference #3-Music

Mike Harland of LifeWay is leading our singing for the conference and is doing an outstanding job in guiding us in worship. Theology sings and those who recognize the importance of theology tend to love to sing. That is as it should be since all theology should lead to doxology.

Here is one song that we haven't sung, though I understand that someone emailed it to Ed Stetzer suggesting that he ask Mike sing it as a special today. ;-)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Building Bridges #2--Dockery and Nettles

David Dockery identified himself as the "lead off hitter for the Akin-Amyrauldian-quasi-Arminian team" as he began his talk on the historical record of Baptists and Calvinism. Using 1 Thesalonians 5:21 (Test all things; hold fast what is good) as his guide, he led us through a very helpful birds-eye-view of history, from Calvin to Baptist beginnings to Southern Baptist origins to the recent conservative resurgence.

David's presentation was marked by his characteristically irenic spirit and careful treatment of the material. I would take exception to a couple of his historical assessments (such as describing Shubal Stearns as a kind of Arminian) but could not help but be encouraged by his winsome treatment of the subject. His talk would make a very good introduction for anyone intersted in knowing about the Calvinistic influence on Baptist life.

Tom Nettles approached his subject differently by noting the conserving power of Calvinism on the essential doctrines of the faith. Using Baptist leaders from our history he argued that Calvinism inherently encourages and maintains orthodox views of Scripture, Trinity, substitutionary atonement, regenerate church members, Christ-centered preaching, religious liberty, missions and evangelism and one other that I am too tired to recall.

It was a very creative way to demonstrate that where you have a Baptist Calvinist, you have an strong ally for biblical Christianity. The quotes--especially the ones from Basil Manly--are worth having.

These two presentations very helpfully complemented each other.

Voddie Baucham called me tonight from his sickbed in Houston where he is battling the flu. Pray for him and for Don Whitney, who will preach in his place tomorrow night. Be sure to check out Ed Stetzer's blog for more consistent updates. I doubt that I will be able to give another until after the conference.


Building Bridges #1 Stetzer

Ed Stetzer talked about recent research from LifeWay and NAMB under the heading of "Calvinism and SBC Leadership and Evangelistic Implications." My take on Ed's report is that research indicates that the conservative resurgence is becoming a Calvinistic resurgence. As he put it, "It would be difficult to say that Calvinism is not a growing influence in the SBC."

The information he presented was very insightful. He will post his findings at his website later tonight. Check it out.

Here are some nuggets from his presentation:
  1. Five point Calvinists tend to share the gospel weekly slightly more than non-Calvinists.
  2. Non-Calvinists tend to pastor larger churches in terms of worship attendance than Calvinists.
  3. The baptism rate (number of baptisms:number of members) is virtually indistinguishable between Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Stetzers conclusion: None of us should be overly encouraged by these states. We are not doing a very good job engaging the lostness in America.

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Building Bridges Conference audio files

The Building Bridges Confernce: Southern Baptists and Calvinism conference is scheduled to begin in a few hours. There will be no live webcast of the sessions but it is anticipated that some will be live-blogging the meeting. If this indeed does happen, and I discover who is doing it, I will post a link to their site(s). Bloggers that I know are here include Tim Rogers and Ed Stetzer (who, by the way, will make a brief presentation in the opening session this afternoon that should be of great interest to all Southern Baptists, regardless of your views on the doctrines of grace). Though my schedule is packed the next 3 days, I will try to offer some perspectives during the conference, if at all possible.

The audio files of each session will be made available as soon as possible after each session. Look for this afternoon's and tonight's recordings to appear at tomorrow morning.

Pray for the conference as the Lord brings it to mind. The team at LifeWay have done an outstanding job of making preparations. Ridgecrest is a tremendous venue and everything seems to be in place for the week. Those who have been asked to speak bring a wealth of experience, biblical understanding and passion to their assignments. The topics are relevant. The participants have gone to great expense and trouble to be here. But none of that will finally matter if God's Spirit does not come and own the conference. The most important work that must be done cannot be done by mere mortals. Only the Holy Spirit can help. So, brethren, pray!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

With the upcoming Building Bridges conference I will not be posting much for the next two weeks. If you are able to make it to Ridgecrest I hope we can have a few minutes at least to say hello (the schedule is really packed!). If you can't attend, please do pray for what takes place there.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and...pull for my Aggies on Friday!

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism conference Schedule

The schedule for the Building Bridges Conference has been finalized. This historic gathering next month promises to be a wonderful time of fellowship, instruction, worship and encouragement. Here is what you get for $104.00:
  • 2 evenings of worship
  • 3 days
  • 5 meals
  • 7 sessions
  • 19 speakers
One of the great hopes of the organizers of this conference is that those who gather will experience the joy and encouragement that come from having open, honest dialogue on important theological issues. God has entrusted His Word to us. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Too often, we have been guilty of either ignoring controversial points of doctrine or of using the Bible as a club against others in an effort to establish our own points of view.

Our Lord calls us to speak the truth in love. Christian brothers and sisters not only violate this admonition but also miss out on rich blessings when they refuse to speak for the sake of love and when they fail to love in the name of truth. Some people do not believe that Southern Baptists can discuss an issue like Calvinism without falling into one of those two errors. By God's grace, this conference will demonstrate otherwise.

If you have not signed up yet, there is still time to register. Whether you are able to attend or not, please join me in praying that the Lord will cause this meeting to be characterized by grace and humility.

Building Bridges:
Southern Baptists and Calvinism

November 26-28, 2007
Ridgecrest Conference Center

All sessions to be held in The ARC -- Auditorium Recreation Center

Monday, November 26

3:00 - 3:45 p.m. Introduction -- The ARC
Greetings from LifeWay Research
Brad Waggoner - Vice President, Research and Ministry Development
Ed Stetzer - Director, LifeWay Research and resident missiologist
Building Bridges Theme
Thom S. Rainer - President and CEO, LifeWay Christian Resources
3:45 - 5:30 p.m. Session 1 -- The Historical Record
David Dockery - President, Union University
Tom Nettles - Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
5:45 - 7:15 p.m. Dinner -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

7:30 p.m. Worship
James Merritt - Pastor, Cross Pointe, The Church at Gwinnett Center, Atlanta, GA
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. - President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Tuesday, November 27

7:00 - 8:00 a.m. Breakfast -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

8:00 - 8:30 a.m. Prayer Time -- The ARC

8:30 - 10:15 a.m. Session 2 -- Calvinism: A Cause for Rejoicing, A Cause for Concern
Malcolm Yarnell - Assistant Dean, Theological Studies; Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Jeff Noblit - Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, AL
10:15 - 11:00 a.m. Break

11:00 - 12:30 p.m. Session 3 -- The Atonement: Its Design, Nature, and Extent
David Nelson - Senior Vice President, Academic Administration; Professor of Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Sam Waldron - Academic Dean; Professor of Theology, Midwest Center for Theological Studies, Owensboro, KY
12:30 - 1:45 p.m. Lunch -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

2:00 - 3:45 p.m. Session 4 -- Theological Stereotypes: Let's Be Fair and Honest with Each Other
Charles Lawless - Dean, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Nathan Finn -- Instructor of Church History, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
3:45 - 5:30 p.m. Session 5 -- Election and Calling: A Biblical/Theological Study
Ken Keathley - Senior Associate Dean; Professor of Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Greg Welty - Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
5:45 - 7:15 p.m. Dinner -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

7:30 p.m. Worship
J.D. Greear - Pastor, Summit Church, Durham, N.C.
Voddie Baucham - Church planter and Pastor of Preaching, Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, TX
Wednesday, November 28

7:00 -- 8:00 a.m. Breakfast -- Rhododendron Dining Hall

8:15 -- 9:45 a.m. Session 6 -- Panel Discussion

10:00 -- 11:30 a.m. Session 7 -- Working Together to Make Christ Known
Daniel Akin - President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Tom Ascol - Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL; Executive Director, Founders Ministries


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Said at Southern podcast

Tony Kummer, Tim Brister and others launched a blog last summer called, "Said at Southern." It regularly has very helpful information that is relevant not only to those connected with Southern Seminary. Anyone interested in current trends in evangelicalism and the SBC will not be disappointed by regular visits to the site.

One feature I just discovered is SAS podcasts. I just listened to Kummer's interview with Dr. Brad Waggoner of LifeWay Resources. It is insightful and encouraging. It is entitled, "Podcast #4 - Brad Waggoner on Calvinism, the Gospel and the SBC." At about 15 minutes in Waggoner addresses the rise in the Reformed understanding of salvation within the SBC, but don't skip over the part before that or after it, because the whole interview is very good. He also talks about the upcoming Building Bridges Conference on Southern Baptists and Calvinism. If you have not registered for this historic event, you should do so asap!.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism Press Release

The formal announcement for the upcoming conference at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, November 26-28, 2007 is now available at the LifeWay website. Registration information is available there, as well. Speakers include Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Tom Nettles, David Dockery, Sam Waldron, Ken Keathley, Nathan Finn, Malcolm Yarnell, Greg Welty, Thom Rainer, James Merritt, Charles Lawless, David Nelson, JD Greear and Voddie Baucham.

The conference is being sponsored by Founders Ministries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. LifeWay is hosting the event.

I am personally very encouraged at the prospect of this conference. The Lord has worked in wonderful ways already in the planning. It is time for Southern Baptists to quit talking past one another on important theological issues. The issue of Calvinism has become increasing prevalent in the minds of many over the last several years. Brother and sisters in Christ ought to be able to discuss such an important topic like this without condemning those with whom we disagree.

This conference will provide a forum for just such a dialogue. We have a significant lineup of excellent theologians and expositors who represent what Scripture means when it says iron sharpens iron. This conference is an opportunity for Southern Baptists to experience the kind of theological sharpening that takes place when brothers and sisters come together to learn from one another and to challenge each other to follow our Savior more faithfully.

I hope there will be a wide cross-section of Southern Baptist life represented by those who come and participate in this conference. It promises to be a historic gathering. Please join me in praying that the Lord will use it in a mighty way to encourage and strengthen pastors, leaders and churches throughout the SBC and beyond.

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