Ringing the Man-Centered Bell Again- Jerry Vines and His Great Commission Caveat

June 4, 2009

If you keep up with anything in Southern Baptist news then you have heard about Dr. Danny Akin’s proposed Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) (I’ve even posted on it here already).   In the wake of Dr. Akin’s chapel message on this point there has been a document floating around which people within the SBC have been hemming and hawing over whether or not to sign.  Now, I’ll be honest, as much as I support what Akin said in chapel, I don’t necessarily think that I am all that in favor of a petition circulating our convention since all that does is bring a whole bunch of unneeded theological/opinion posturing to the table.  

Case in point, Dr. Jerry Vines.  Full disclosure: it is well known on this site that I am not the biggest fan of Jerry Vines’ ministry, particularly in light of last fall’s horrendous John 3:16 Conference.  That said, he has decided to interject himself into the GCR conversation by signing the document and then appending the phrase “with caveats” to it, which of course leads to the obvious question (and Internet hot topic) of, “What are his caveats?”  Thankfully we did not have to have another poorly named conference to flesh these out as he answered the question recently in an interview with the SBC’s own Baptist Press (here). 

So, what are his caveats?

In Article II ["We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God"], I understand Gospel-centeredness to include that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).

In Article V [" We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission"], I understand the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 to be a minimal guide, not a maximal one.

Good night!  This is exactly what I’m talking about!  First, neither one of these things is essentially to fulfilling the Great Commission (and thus shouldn’t be caveats at all!), and second, both of them are simply an attempt for Dr. Vines to further push his anti-Calvinist agenda within the SBC.  

1 John 2.2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  That is a nice verse, divinely inspired and glorious in its revelation.  However it does not exactly say that “Christ died for the sins of the whole world.”  Besides, if we are going to use one verse to make a theology, why don’t we use John 10.11 (“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”) or Matthew 1.21 (“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins“)?  My point being, universal redemption (or unlimited atonement) is not a cut-and-dry doctrine, especially for consideration within the gospel.  

In his great book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, here is what J.I. Packer has to say about the extent of the atonement and the gospel:

It is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable, and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching.  You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon.  But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say, or ever has reason to say, when preaching the gospel.  For preaching the gospel . . . means inviting sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, who, by virtue of his atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in him.  What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given.  And this is all that has to be said.  The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all. (p.76)

Thus, this caveat definitely seems extraneous given its tenuous justification and lack of necessity as demonstrated by Dr. Packer.

Then on the second caveat, this is really just more of the same.  Why does Jerry Vines want to “caveat” that the BF&M 2000 is a minimal guide for building theological consensus?  Well, let’s look at the things that Danny Akin says are not covered in the BF&M and do not need to be held in agreement for us to unify within the GCR: 

  1. The exact nature of human depravity and transmission of the sin nature.
  2. The precise constitution of the human person.
  3. The issue of whether or not Christ could have sinned. (We all agree He didn’t!)
  4. The ordo salutis (”order of salvation”).
  5. The number of elders and the precise nature of congregational governance.
  6. The continuance of certain spiritual gifts and their nature.
  7. Does baptism require only right member (born again), right meaning (believer’s) and right mode (immersion) or does it also require the right administrator (ever how that is defined).
  8. The time of the rapture (pre, mid, post, partial rapture or pre-wrath rapture).
  9. The nature of the millennium (pre, amill or post)
  10. And, saving the best for last in our current context, we are not in full agreement about Calvinism and how many points one should affirm or redefine and affirm!

Now, of these, I wonder which of them Dr. Vines believes is necessary for building theological consensus?  I would highly doubt he is being strict over mind/body/soul issues (#2), the possibility that Christ could have sinned (#3), proper administration of baptism (#7), or eschatology (#8 and 9).  That leaves #1, #4, #5, #6, and #10.  Of these, at least three (and probably four considering the nature of polity issues) are related to Reformed theology.  Maybe Jerry Vines feels like he can’t be in cooperation with someone who believes in the possibility of speaking in tongues.  But what seems more likely the case based on precedent and the above statistics is that Jerry Vines would have trouble consensus-building with Calvinists.  I’m sorry Dr. Vines, but as a Southern Baptist, and particularly one who sat on the committee which wrote the BF&M 2000, that’s pathetic!  Again, caveat unnecessary.

Why does it have to be more of the same?  Like I said earlier, Dr. Akin’s message was grand, but now that it has made it into the hands of SBC “dignitaries” watch out.  The only thing likely to come of it now is more of the fabulous SBC infighting which the point of the whole freakin’ message was against in the first place!