Having written extensive reviews and responses for each of the five TULIP presenters, I now want to spend a few lines in summing up what I saw and felt at the conference as a whole.
Coming in on Thursday night I was unsure quite what to expect, though admittedly not expecting to be pleased. However, I did come away quite disarmed by the conciliatory and humble nature with which Paige Patterson presented the first point (though I did not necessarily agree with his conclusions). This came in spite of the fact that both Dr. Hunt and Dr. Vines, in rehashing messages they had delivered previously at Southern seminary, used anti-Calvinist rhetoric that, had it been included in the previous incarnations of their talks in Louisville, would likely not have gone over too well. Yet Dr. Patterson started things off nicely and to his credit did not feed into the frenzy which would eventually rise up.
Returning Friday morning, the day started with a much different tone than it was left with on Thursday night. This was, in my opinion, due to the fact that Dr. Chuck Kelley, President of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the day commenting on how the SBC is facing a crisis in evangelism and how he can’t help but see this as being a result of the theology (i.e. Calvinism) that is being taught in our churches. (This sentiment was reiterated at numerous times during the conference, even with the admission that many of the most ardent and famous Christian evangelists and missionaries held/hold Calvinistic beliefs [they were said to be this way in spite of their Calvinism].) Speaking with much the same humility as Dr. Patterson, Richard Land managed to hold off the attack dogs throughout his presentation on election, but after David Allen took the stage for his message against Limited Atonement the rhetoric took full force.
From this point I don’t feel the need to call out specific commentators, only to say that the biases and true nature of the conference were apparent in the latter half of Friday’s assembly. It is this rancor towards Calvinism which gives me great worry. How can we on one hand say that we need unity and to seek a blend of melody and harmony in the Calvinism debate (as Richard Land made mention a couple times) and on the other hand say that a move towards Calvinism is a move away from the Gospel (as David Allen exclaimed)? These ideas are irreconcilable. How could one make unity with someone that they perceive as being so wrong, maybe even a false teacher or blasphemer? The simple answer is they can’t, and if you are interested in which sentiment carried the day here, please know that Dr. Allen received a standing ovation after his comments.
Going further, the overall lack of knowledge or understanding of Calvinism presented by many of the people who spoke during the weekend was astounding. There were multiple instances during the conference in which 5-point Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism were conflated into one view, often with hyper-Calvinism being made to look like the prevailing perspective. This is just wrong, as a reading of most any account of modern Calvinist beliefs will make clear. 5-point Calvinists DO believe that man is called to respond in faith to the Gospel, it is just that they believe that man CAN’T do this without the irresistible drawing of the Holy Spirit towards it. At no point was this admitted, only the bald-face lie that Calvinists reject the notion of faith and even believe that God will save people against their own will (which is pure fatalism and absolutely opposite what most [all?] modern Calvinist leaders teach).
And don’t forget the Q&A session, where we got a glimpse at what the non-Calvinist Joe Southern Baptist thinks. The two most outstanding accusations made against Calvinists in this were: (1) that Calvinists don’t believe Hitler could have prayed to receive Christ on his death bed because he had done too much evil beforehand (how is this a Calvinist viewpoint?); and (2) that Calvinism had caused someone to falsely believe they were saved and it was only in shedding their Calvinistic convictions that they found God, therefore Calvinism is evil. [Note: this is a hard criticism to make because, on the one hand, I am happy for that young man seeing that he has come to a saving knowledge of Christ, which is important above all else; and yet, at the same time, I am saddened that his experiences with the spiritual confusion of Satan has led him to regard Calvinism as the reason why he wasn't saved earlier.]
So, as a couple people have asked me, What is the endgame for this debate? To be honest, I see two possibilities. The first, most desirable end, would be for voices of reason and moderation, such as Al Mohler, Danny Akin, and as seemed from the conference, Paige Patterson and Richard Land, to win out and draw people into a unity where Calvinism and non-Calvinism are seen as acceptable, in-house convictions, and that the greater importance is on the supremacy of Christ coming out of both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic evangelism, attempting to reach the world with the preaching of God’s Word, without which no one will be saved.
The other possibility is that voices of rancor and division, such as apparently Chuck Kelley, Steve Lemke, David Allen, and possibly Jerry Vines, seem to be, will win out and we will see a denomination either abandoned by the younger generation of resurgent Calvinist thought, or split into separate Calvinist and non-Calvinist branches.
The biggest fear I have going forward is in this: that we have big names like Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, and Chuck Kelley, lining up with entire seminaries such as New Orleans, Liberty, and possibly Southwestern, to say, in agreement with David Allen, that a move towards Calvinism is a move away from the Gospel. This type of stubbornness and uncharitable spirit is sure to lead the SBC towards destruction and not further blessing. I pray this won’t be the case, but after what I saw this past week at the John 3.16 Conference, I am sadly not too hopefully.