Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Charles Simeon, Calvinism, Arminianism and Cooperation

Charles Simeon was an Anglican who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. The story of his life and ministry are fascinating and challenging to modern pastors who tend to be soft and too quick to retreat in the face of opposition and trial.

Simeon tells the following story from his early years of a meeting that he had with the venerable John Wesley. A young, largely unproven Calvinist engages an older, much revered Arminian. The conversation--and heart behind it--is instructive for us today as we contemplate how brothers should relate to those with whom we disagree on important doctrinal points. Too often we allow our disagreements to eclipse completely the fundamental beliefs that we hold in common.

Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford have recently addressed the issue of Calvinists and non-Calvinists working together in the Southern Baptist Convention. What they write is helpful and exudes the kind of spirit that should characterize all of us who genuinely want to see spiritual and doctrinal renewal in the SBC, hopefully through efforts to promote a Great Commission Resurgence. Tim Brister has added his reflections to the conversation as well, reminding us that while we should not allow secondary or tertiary concerns unnecessarily divide us in gospel enterprises, we must never lessen our insistence that primary, fundamental issues be firmly and clearly held.

Now let's allow Charles Simeon join the conversation (he writes about his experience in the third person perspective). He has something to teach us. May the Lord grant us a double portion of his spirit today.
A young Minister, about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians in this kingdom; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words: "Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction." Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask, "Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put [it] into your heart?"--"Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed."--"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by any thing that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"--"Yes, solely through Christ."--"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"--"No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last."--"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"--"No."--"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?"--"Yes; altogether."--"And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"--"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."--"Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."
The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connexion between the parties, he retained an unfeigned regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.
(Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1: Genesis-Leviticus Preface, pp. xvii-xviii)

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Justin Taylor on Steve Lemke's scholarship

Dr. Steve Lemke, Provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and featured speaker at this week's "John 3:16 Conference," recently published an article in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (vol. 5, no. 2, Fall 2008), entitled, "What Is a Baptist? Nine Marks that Separate Baptists from Presbyterians." I read the article shortly after it came out and was greatly disappointed. Much of what he included in the article has appeared before and I have already interacted with it here, here, here and here. I resisted dealing with the new article for many reasons. Tim Brister has interacted extensively with the article.

Instead of writing about it, I emailed Dr. Lemke and asked if we could talk about what he has written. I am confident that Dr. Lemke has no desire to misrepresent anyone's theological position nor any historical record. But he has. Due to his busy schedule we have not been able to talk, yet, but I genuinely look forward to the opportunity--not to try to "win" an argument. I quit caring about that long ago. My desire is to understand how he and I can read the same sources and come to such radically different understandings of what they actually say.

Justin Taylor has offered a critique of Lemke's article that is both even-handed and cool-headed. He writes as an "outsider" to the particular SBC angst that exists in some sectors over the rise of reformed theology. He also writes as an accomplished and recognized scholar, whose recent editorial work on the ESV Study Bible will serve evangelicals for generations. Beyond that, Justin is a very well-informed, gracious Christian brother. He has no axe to grind.

His critique of Dr. Lemke's article, though far from exhaustive, is revealing. Upon reading it I was reminded of J.I. Packer's commendation of John Woodbridge's book, Biblical Authority, which is a critique of the popular "Rogers/McKim proposal" on biblical inerrancy. Packer wrote that "exposing shoddy scholarship" is an "unpleasant task" but that Woodbridge's book was "a nasty job nicely done." Justin's critique of Dr. Lemke's article was no doubt an unpleasant task, but it has been carried out in an exemplary manner.

Read it. First read Dr. Lemke's article. Then read Justin Taylor's critique.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Brister cools off Global Warming Debate

Finally, someone has brought much-needed sanity to the recent Global Warming flap in the SBC. Through extensive research and interviews, Timmy Brister has brought together information that cannot be found in any other single source. The combination of cool heads and hot air make for the kind of moderate climate that breeds the kind of seriousness that much of this denominational debate deserves.

I think his post deserves some kind of environmental award.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Brister accepts call to Grace in Cape Coral

Tonight Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, where I serve as Senior Pastor, called Tim Brister to become our Associate Pastor. He has accepted that call and hopes to be on the field the last week of May.

The process has been very deliberate and marked by clear indications of the Lord's guidance throughout. Tim has recently compared it to giving birth.

This picture was taken last week when the Bristers visited Cape Coral and Tim was recommended to the church as a candidate for the office. The response from the church has been enthusiastic. Tonight at the close of our worship service we were able to have a live video chat with him and witness him accept the call in front of the church.

I figured out tonight that Tim is 3 months younger than I was when I was called to come serve Grace as pastor in 1986. We like to pick 'em young and keep long around here! I look forward to the privilege of working along side him for many years, if the Lord wills.

Pray for Timmy and Dusti (and Nolan) as he finishes up his last few weeks at Southern Seminary and prepares to transition to life in the subtropics.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Doing the work of an evangelist at UPS

You must read Timmy Brister's post about an encounter he had this week during his graveyard shift at UPS in Louisville. Determining how to honor one's employer by giving a full day's work for a full day's pay while not overlooking opportunities to speak of and for Christ can be tricky business. Sometimes we don't speak because we are intimidated or fearful. Sometimes we do speak when we should remain silent and our job.

Tim's story points the way forward through his own example of faithful, evangelistic zeal that is wedded to a humble, genuine desire to honor his employer.

Read it and be encouraged and challenged.

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