It has been approximately one month since The John 3.16 Conference was held at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, and still, as of this writing, at least 3 of the top 7 most viewed posts among the SBC Voices are speaking about it. A couple of conference presenters/attenders have chimed in (notably Dr. Allen and Dr. Malcolm Yarnell), as well as a couple of recognizable names from across the table (i.e. Tom Ascol, Phil Johnson, and the currently infamous Dr. James White), and it seems just about every SBC blog has had something or other to say about it.
Overall, I would say, from what I’ve seen, the total response has been about expected. There are voices on both sides of the aisle which have played it tight and offered little to say while clearly taking a side, and then there have been more extreme voices (both in volume and in vitriol). I would hope that, though this blog has probably fallen in with the extremely loud, it would not be said to have fallen in with the extremely vitriolic.
Personally, I am still receiving a lot of hits over my Open Letter to Johnny Hunt and Jerry Vines, though it seems two people who have not read it are Dr. Hunt and Dr. Vines themselves, as I have still yet to hear back from them in as much as a form letter two and a half months later (I do not mean to cast evil intentions on these men. I guess I just expected at least a “Thank you for writing the President of the SBC; please send money” letter to come eventually).
So, seeing where things have gone, and still continue to be going today, there is one major thing I would like to say. It appears to me, after all of this discussion and bomb-throwing back and forth, that the non-Calvinist side still doesn’t get it. There seems to be a common notion that SBC Calvinists, or Calvinists in general, are simply angry that their theological system has been questioned, and are now firing back in defense of the five petals of the TULIP (see here for an example, article and comments). This could not be more wrong. If there is anything Calvinists are accustomed to, particularly in the SBC, it is having their beliefs questioned. What has so many SBC Calvinists up in arms I think is two-fold.
First, I believe that the only reason that SBC Calvinists and Calvinists in general outside the SBC (i.e. Dr. James White) have gotten caught up in defending the doctrines of the TULIP is because these were so poorly represented by many at the conference. As noted earlier, most every presenter spoke of 5-point Calvinists as if to imply that they do not believe faith is the necessary response of the believer to the Gospel, a claim which is patently false. As well, there were Dr. Kelley’s comments about Calvinism being the cause of our evangelistic crisis, Dr. Lemke’s remarks that evangelistic Calvinists are only so in spite of their Calvinism, the unchallenged remarks by a questioner that Calvinists believe Hitler could not have been among the elect, and Dr. Allen’s now famous claim that James White is a hyper-Calvinist (which, though I don’t mean to get into it in detail, I think all sides in, Dr. Allen should be stand-up enough to retract having said). I do not believe it is inherent of Calvinists to want to argue, as some have claimed, but I do think that such a bad representation of another’s beliefs, at least by supposed brothers, is meritorious of a response.
Second, and what I believe is the driving factor of SBC Calvinist disillusionment, is the tension between the words spoken calling for unity and the actions taken which speak to the contrary. As blogger Peter Lumpkins at SBC Tomorrow has so keenly demonstrated, people on the non-Calvinist side of this debate do not understand why saying that you are for unity with SBC Calvinists (as many presenters expressed) and then gathering together to misconstrue and pervert Calvinist beliefs under the tacit or express support of the SBC President and half the SBC seminaries with their presidents, seem to be at odds. If these men are for unity, why are they effectively circling the wagons against Calvinism in the SBC? If these men are for unity, why were they so sloppy in handling the beliefs of those they claim to call ‘brothers’? I am willing to grant these men what they’ve said, but it would be wise to recall that actions speak louder than words and, at least in the eyes of SBC Calvinists, these actions speak volumes to the actual attempts at unity they can expect from their non-Calvinist brethren.
I hope this discussion continues. As I’ve posted previously, I believe this is a huge issue for our convention to settle over the next few years or else the sheer stress of disharmony will drive a stake right through us. That said, we need to be careful that we are always handling each others words and character with integrity and obeying the Golden Rule in our comments. At the end of the day, though we want to make our point, we shouldn’t want to do it at the cost of our Christian witness.
I pray for eyes of understanding among our leadership and will stay vigilant to inform you guys of any developments as this debate carries on.